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Tripe + Drisheen meets Dr Harold News
Nothing succeeds like satire and fake news. But how do you make a successful parody account without sounding jaded and cynical? Cork's Dr Harold News might be the answer.
Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but the surest form of getting likes and shares on social media, is something Oscar Wilde did not say. (Oh, what would Oscar have made of Twitter, Instagram and TikTok and our constant need to be liked/shared/noticed?) But you can’t run a satirical social media account without wheelbarrow loads of sarcasm and salt, right?
Well, say hello to Dr Harold News, the “always entertaining and never nasty”satirical fake news account from Cork. In exactly one year - Dr Harold News turns one this Sunday, November 21 - the fake news account has worked its way into the fabric of Irish political parody. And Lord knows our politicians keep on giving.
Along the way, Dr Harold News has picked up quite the following and been fact-checked twice, once by Reuters, and also by The Journal. That fact says a lot about how media is shared and leaps across boundaries, sometimes from fake news to what is subsequently read as “real” news.
While Tripe + Drisheen is firmly in the business of real news, we wanted to talk with another news start-up from Cork and so the good doctor (OK, he’s not really a doctor) kindly agreed to an email Q+A with Tripe + Drisheen about his motivation for setting up a fake news account, who he’s taking aim at, how he treads the funny but not nasty line, what the chances are of a local Cork city or county councillor turning up on his account, and what’s on his reading list.
T+D: Let’s start simple. Your name is Dr Harold News. But you’re not really a doctor. Correct?
Dr Harold News: Hmmm...very much depends on your definition of doctor, but I do have a licence to prescribe laughter.
As there are many people, way more people in fact, who are not on social media and might not have the first clue who Dr Harold News is - what are you and what do you?
I find it hard to believe there are people not on social media who wouldn’t have heard of Dr Harold News, however, as you asked the question, I run a largely Irish political satire account called Dr Harold News on Twitter and Facebook. Politicians, particularly those on the political right are big fans of my page – they check it regularly, I understand.
How did you come up with the title Dr Harold News, is there any indication in there of who you might be?
Well, Harold is the longer form of Harry, which rhymes with my real name (hint!) As for the Dr, Fine Gael awarded me an Honorary Doctorate as a thank you for the services I have provided to their party.
You’ve been parodying the news for close to a year now, why did you start?
Well, in reality I’m heavily involved in the trade union movement and the Government voted down a Trade Union Representation bill (which would have forced employers to recognise trade unions) in mid-October 2020, which really annoyed me! I decided that the Government must be immediately lampooned relentlessly and I was the man to take on that job.
Anyone who follows your feed would quickly learn that it’s all politics - there’s not much room in there for sports or the massively entertaining world of Irish entertainment and celebrity. Safe to say then you’re a political animal - would that be correct?
Yes, no denying it’s currently heavily political. I have always loved politics, mainly Irish, UK and US politics, so I’m more comfortable satirising that subject. Unfortunately, my knowledge of sports and entertainment is rather limited, however I may expand into those areas a bit more eventually.
Have you have a background in writing, or being funny, or being a doctor?
I’ll let others decide if I’m funny but the vast bulk of writing I have done in the past would be drafting Trade Union communications/policies etc. Quite serious stuff! Beyond that, I have, like many people, sporadically written funny stuff for friends and family on Facebook etc, but nothing really too public
We’re pretty well served by fake news accounts and parody accounts in Ireland (Mallow News, Waterford Whispers News, Not The RTE News) and all roads, at least online, lead back to The Onion, the American granddaddy of satire and fake news. What made you want to get in on the act?
Honestly, I just enjoy writing satire in an effort to make people laugh. If I was to pick out another satire site that inspired me, it would certainly be Waterford Whispers, who are, in my view, the best satire site in the world alongside The Onion. They have set an incredibly high bar for satire in Ireland.
It’s been pointed out that you go easy on Sinn Féin, is that because of your own politics?
Yes, people regularly point that out, however, they fail to mention that I also go easy on all the other left-wing parties! I have never posted a tweet satirising the Social Democrats, for instance! Personally I have no connection with any party, however I am a life-long left-wing voter. For instance, should Sinn Féin or another left-wing party vote down trade union rights at some time in the future, I won’t be found wanting in satirising them also! For me it’s about left-wing issues, not the political parties.
Earlier this year there was some speculation that the journalist Roman Shortall was behind Dr Harold News, but you refuted this. You also said that you would in due course reveal who you are. Is that still your intention? Would you like to reveal yourself here?
Yes, I certainly intend to reveal my identity, mainly because I hope to make videos or podcasts down the line, however I’m not ready yet. I have no connection with Roman Shortall, nor have I ever even communicated with him, in fact. I opened Dr Harold News on November 21, 2020, about three or four weeks before he closed his Twitter account. A significant number of people on Twitter already know my real identity, including Fine Gael, who figured it out in the early days. I’m not that worried about my identity being revealed, however the evolution of Dr Harold News has been somewhat of a whirlwind and I just want it to be a bit more established before I reveal my identity publicly.
(T+D has confirmed the identity of Dr Harold News. He lives among us in Cork and is 100% not Roman Shortall).
My father was a long-time trade union activist with SIPTU; he was a bus driver with Bus Éireann. From what I remember, it was a lot of stress, for him and probably management too, but he believed in the power of the union and holding management accountable, and fighting for workers’ rights. What’s your role in the trade union?
I’m an active trade union organiser in a large Cork workplace and, like your Dad, I too have a life-long passion for improving workers’ rights.
Around a quarter of all workers in Ireland are in a union (via OECD), and it’s a figure that’s been trending downwards. Would you agree with the assessment that third-way politics have diluted a lot of union power? What role do you see for unions, especially in the gig economy?
Yes, unfortunately the membership of unions in Ireland has been trending downwards, however, I remain optimistic that will change as unions continue to adapt. In my own workplace, union membership has grown significantly over the last 10 years, as our union locally has developed more and more ways to help and engage with members.
Are you a city or country boy?
Cork City all my life! I’m living out near Douglas.
Growing up, and growing old, did people ever say you should be a bit more serious? Or are you actually a very serious person in real life, and Dr Harold is where you go to get light relief?
In real life, I’m serious when I need to be serious, but I also try to bring some light relief or a different perspective to most situations where it would be appropriate. Nobody has ever suggested that I should be more serious so I’m hoping that’s an indication that I have the balance right.
You wrote: “Eamon Ryan has called on Irish radio stations to avoid playing 'Driving Home For Christmas' this festive period, claiming the song 'glamorises and promotes' car use.”
That snippet of fake news took on a life of its own, as Reuters fact-checked it and contacted you. I contacted the head of the Reuters fact-checking team to ask why, when it was clear that you were blackguarding, but, as she explained, your post had subsequently been removed from its satirical framing. On a Facebook page the Eamon Ryan joke was being treated as real news, and causing outrage, admittedly to people who wanted to be outraged, or perhaps didn’t do due diligence. Does that give you pause for thought with your account, or is there no accounting for stupidity, or perhaps it’s not that simple?
Absolutely, it certainly gives me pause for thought. I have no wish whatsoever to fool anyone or generate unjustified anger. So, firstly, I ensure my tweets are pretty harmless just in case anyone takes them seriously. I tend to largely avoid serious topics for that very reason. Secondly though, I put SATIRE, FAKE, and MADE-UP all in caps in my profile. My main aim is to make people laugh while occasionally highlighting left-wing issues. I stay far away from nastiness, negativity, or toxicity.
Have you considered turning your lens on local politicians in Cork city and county? Some of our elected representatives sometimes/often put their feet in their mouth too.
I’ll happily turn my lens on anyone; however, I tend to focus for the most part on politicians or issues that are trending nationally. For satire to work, I need people to be aware of the situation I’m trying to satirise in advance. The issue needs to have made the national headlines, or at least is being discussed widely on Twitter
Do you have a schedule of how many posts you’ll publish a day, do you test them on anyone?
No, I don’t have a schedule and I don’t test them on anyone, generally. How many times I post in a day depends largely on the news that’s breaking. On a slow news day, I might post nothing. On a day where there have been a lot of developments, I could tweet up to 10 times. My only rule really is that I only post stuff that I think people will find funny.
Are there any comedians or writers you particularly enjoy?
Absolutely. My comedy heroes are George Carlin (RIP), Frankie Boyle, Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Carr, Stewart Lee, Doug Stanhope, Russell Brand, Michael McIntyre, Billy Connolly, and Amy Schumer – in no particular order, although my favourite is undoubtedly George Carlin, who I had the privilege to see live in Vegas three months before his passing in 2008.
One of your followers wrote: “I have followed you since the start, always entertaining but never nasty.” Is it hard staying the not nasty path and would you consider that a fair epitaph?
Not being nasty is the most important thing by far to me. I would close Dr Harold News in an instant if I felt it had turned nasty or toxic. I have no wish to hurt anyone personally. I’m just trying to make people laugh while poking fun at politicians mainly on the right of the political divide.
In a parallel universe did you want to be a reporter? Clearly you’ve got the knack, for reporting fake news at least?
Ha! No. In a parallel universe, I’d be a politician, I think, given my love for politics, however I have no interest in ever going down that line in real life. The commitment required is just too huge.
Will we be seeing Dr Harold News merch anytime soon? A podcast? A book of best-ofs?
Possibly, but I have no immediate plans. As I mentioned previously, the growth and popularity of Dr Harold News has taken me by surprise. Gaining over 10.5k followers in less than a year has exceeded my wildest expectations, to be honest! Right now, I’m happy continuing to do what I’ve been doing in the short term anyway.
Could you still do Dr Harold News if you revealed who you were? Would you?
Yes, and absolutely. As mentioned earlier, I have every intention of revealing who I am in due course.
Where do you go to get your kicks in Cork?
I’m boring enough really! Like going out for meals, theatre, reading, and I also try to get some running into my day. Spending quality time with family and friends is my priority in my personal life.
What’s your relationship with social media like?
Reasonably good, I think. I don’t let it take over my life, but I do enjoy scrolling Twitter and Facebook, particularly for an hour or two in the evenings.
What books are on your bed stand or have you enjoyed, or not enjoyed this year?
I read a lot, or, more precisely, listen to a lot of books. Currently listening to Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, Windswept and Interesting by Billy Connolly, and The Universe by Andrew Cohen. I have just finished Richard Chambers’ A State of Emergency which was excellent. Also recently read A Funny Life by Michael McIntyre and Before and Laughter by Jimmy Carr, both of which I found very good.
What are you looking forward to in 2022?
Continuing to live my best life!