By Eoin Molloy
Thomas Jefferson said that ‘the man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers’. Fast forward two hundred odd years and the same advice still applies. The man who doesn’t watch TV news is far better off than the man who watches nothing but TV news.
When the IDA’s Martin Shanhan was invited to appear on CNBC’s popular morning show, ‘Squawk Box’, he surely expected to be grilled about the supposed ‘Double Irish’ tax loophole for multi-national corporations that operate on our lovely, entirely sovereign soil.
What he didn’t expect, however, was to have to educate one of the hosts about geography that would be common knowledge for most.
After Shanahan dealt deftly with a few vaguely-worded curveballs about Ireland’s tax regime, the interview took a turn for the worse when one of the presenters by the name of Joe Kernan confidently asserted that ‘Ireland has pounds still.’
The IDA chief took this in his stride, kindly notifying the ill-informed host that Ireland does, in fact, use the euro. The host persisted, asking again: ‘Why do you have euros in Ireland?’ Shanahan’s patience was visibly wearing thin as he responded: ‘Why wouldn’t we?’
(Joe Kernan, CNBC and Martin Shanahan of IDA Ireland)
Undeterred, the host continued to dig a hole for himself. He wondered aloud why Scotland uses sterling while Ireland uses euro, stating that it was altogether ‘too confusing’ that Northern Ireland deals in pounds.
The host could not get over the fact that there may be other factors outside of mere geographical proximity that dictate which currency should be used in a country.
Alas, this was not the first time CNBC’s ‘Squawk Box’ presenters embarrassed themselves. In June of last year, comedian-turned-revolutionary Russell Brand appeared on the show. Whatever your opinion of his political aspirations may be, you have to say that Brand did a good job of dressing down the show’s presenters.
They focused on his clothing, namely his ‘kinky boots’. They stated that they could not understand a word he was saying due to his thick accent, continuously addressing him in the third person as if he wasn’t in the room. The hosts were condescending and unfocused (they didn’t ask him any meaningful questions about the show he was promoting) and Brand put them in their place for it.
But that’s enough about Brand. The show’s recent screw-up reinforced the negative stereotype that most Americans simply aren’t bothered about life outside of their own borders. The US is essentially a continent-sized country, so it’s kind of forgivable in a sense that they might be a bit weaker at world geography than other, smaller countries.
This is true when it comes to regular citizens, but not for well-paid, high-ranking morning news presenters who should at least care enough about their interviewee to google their country before asking them sensitive questions about it. According to www.glassdoor.com, the average anchor on CNBC earns over $600,000 dollars per year. People who are being paid that sort of money really should know that the UK and Ireland are not ‘sort of the same island.’
Maybe America does need to invest more in teaching geography. According to their National Centre for Education Statistics, the number of students attempting the ‘advanced’ geography assessment at 8th grade has been in freefall since the test began in 1994.
This is not to say that all Americans are ignorant of world geography. For all I know, this particular presenter is the exception rather than the rule. At the end of the day, however, a well-paid TV news broadcaster should know basic details about two of his country’s closest trading partners and allies.
A presenter in his position not knowing basic geography facts really reinforces the negative stereotype that Americans could be better when it comes to knowing the ins-and-outs of the world we live in. It really is the equivalent of an Irish anchor conducting an interview while drunk, clutching a pint of Guinness. Whether the stereotype is true or not, it just doesn’t look good.