What we have here is an example of a persistent urge to locate truth in what the American sociologist Howard Becker terms "a hierarchy of credibility". This tendency can perhaps be seen at its clearest in one of two editorials which the Independent devoted to the campaign in February. Expressing caution over the proposed wording in view of the public reservations stated by the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions, the editorial, rather than specifying the defects in question, makes recourse once more to the argument from authority: "It seems to be vaguely suspicious that learned legal men have not been able to find the right form of words so far. It is also disturbing to know that there are other legal experts who claim that there is nothing wrong with the wording as it stands." (Irish Independent February 16: my italics).
When the experts cannot agree, the deferential ideology of the Irish Independent is rocked to its very foundations. However, all is not lost for there is still a second line of defence that should draw our unquestioning allegiance. Despite the disagreement among the experts, the editorial suggests that: "A pro-abortion attitude would be quite wrong. The leaders of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail have allowed (sic) adopted an uncompromising anti-abortion stand and we should believe them." (My italics.)
My argument throughout this analysis is not simply that the Irish Independent is biased in its presentation of the campaign, whereas the Times and the Press expose us to the harsh glare of objective reality. All of the papers are arguing from committed positions, and none can claim to have privileged access to a reality beyond the reach of ideology and valuejudgements. However, my point is that whereas some positions seek to promote and actively encourage debate, others attempt to suppress discussion by enjoining people to shift responsibility for making up their own minds onto experts and authority figures, or when that fails, by resorting to the silent elision of opposing points of view. The denial of difference and democracy implicit in this position is seen at its starkest in the concluding paragraph to an article written by Joe Power, the Independent religious correspondent, early on in the campaign:
"Ireland should today be a nation of people who make things happen. Regrettably we have sat back and let others make the running. If the pro-abortionists succeed in convincing Irish society to vote against the amendment, there is little point in wringing our hands later and saying "if only we knew", as thousands of unborn Irish babies are carted off to the incinerators" (my italics).
Here the use of the words 'we', 'our' and 'the nation' is identified with the Pro-Amendment point of view, denying the reader or indeed Irish society any alternative but to acquiesce to this partisan position. It follows that those who persist in their opposition to the Amendment are deprived of their identity and hence eliminated as Irish citizens.
In the final analysis, the cursory and peremptory coverage of the campaign in papers sympathetic to the Pro-Amendment position suggests that the argument from authority inherent in this standpoint does not depend solely or even primarily on the media for its dissemination. This lack of reliance on the media is so pronounced that one is tempted to see in this a confirmation of a historical pattern in Irish society whereby progressive or radical causes have tended to mobilize around the press and related media forms, whereas opposing, conservative forces, particularly of a sectarian nature, have tended to engineer consensus without reference to the media, indeed often portraying the media as their main antagonist.
This generalisation, sweeping though it may be, tends to suggest that the media have an important contribution to make in eliminating sectarianism in Irish society. In this respect, there is perhaps a measure of irony in the fact that it was a spokesperson from SPUC who touched on the heart of the matter regarding the role of the media in the campaign. "There can be no room for a neutral stance by journalists on the abortion issue".