Call my agent
Friday 7 July, 2023 – by John Naughton – Memex 1.1
(The following via John Naughton — link above. Original report in the Irish Times)
Fintan O’Toole on RTE’s slow-rolling crisis.
JN: RTE is Ireland’s national broadcaster and it’s now embroiled in an epic crisis because of revelations about its chaotic management, casual ethics and undercover payments to a leading broadcasting celebrity named Ryan Tubridy. The trigger point for the crisis was the discovery of undercover payments made to Tubridy during the Covid lockdown to compensate him for reductions in his non-broadcasting income caused by the pandemic.
JN: Since public money is involved, the Republic’s legislators opened hearings on the matter, which meant that from Day One my fellow-citizens have been enthralled (and increasingly enraged) by daily revelations about the managerial chaos, ineptitude and arrogance that prevailed in the country’s leading media organisation.
JN:From the outset, though, Tubridy maintained an air of high-minded detachment. All of those non-disclosed payments had been negotiated by his agent, Noel Kelly, disclosed to the revenue authorities, and the tax due on them had been duly paid. “Nothing to see here: any questions see my agent” was the general tenor of his responses.
JN: This pose has exasperated Fintan O’Toole, Ireland’s leading opinion columnist, and he penned a terrific column about it the other day. Like most of his stuff it is hidden behind the Irish Times’s paywall, but since I pay through the nose for a subscription I think it’s time some of his high-octane indignation got a wider airing. So here goes…
He starts with a story about Seamus Heaney, Ireland’s greatest poet since Yeats.
In 1981, Seamus Heaney wrote to his American agent, Selma Warner, about the fees she was demanding for readings by him on US campuses. He was angry because they were too high.
Heaney was not yet quite as famous as he would become, but his reputation was already very considerable and he was a mesmerising performer of his own work. Warner had started to ask for $1,000 for a reading – the equivalent of about $3,300 today.
Heaney’s complaint was that this was too much money:
“I do not wish to be a $1,000 speaker. Apart from my moral scruples about whether any speaker or reader is worth anything like that, I do not wish to become a freak among my poet friends, or to press the budgets of departments of literature at a time when the money for education is drying up in the United States.”
Which later brings him (FO’T) to Tubridy:
Let’s not succumb to “my agent made me do it” stories. Agents, however colourful and assertive, are intermediaries: these deals were done between RTÉ and Tubridy.
It was Tubridy’s job to have the “moral scruples”. Kelly is not his Father Confessor – he’s his attack dog. It is always up to the conscience of the client as to whether the dog should be called off before he bites off any particular pound of flesh.
Remember Johnson’s line: no official told me having a piss-up was against the law.