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A grubby ploy to make crime pay

By Eoin Donnelly

Amid all the furore this week surrounding RTE's timely interview of newly released drug smuggler Michaella McCollum, one cannot help but think that old habits die hard. Contrary to the portrayal of purity and expressions of remorseful reflection in Michaella's taciturn delivery, the programme served only to confirm everything I have already thought about this case for the past three years.

There's nothing overly distinctive, or interesting, about this story. Michaella, like many others both before and after her, ventured down the well-trodden path of criminality in order to satisfy her greedy ambitions.

It was a moment of opportunism, rather than a "moment of madness".

The display of faux concern for the consequences of her actions does not obscure the pertinent fact that she is just another person who tried to take a shortcut to making a quick buck. Once it backfired dramatically, the procession of lies began and, even in the wake of her release, she continues to play the victim card.

I have an awful lot of sympathy for people who end up in the unforgiving world of crime in particular circumstances. However, in her case there is not a single discernible personal, social, economic, or any other factor that makes her fall from grace any more worthy of pity than the average Jill.

RTE's colossal failure to put Michaella under the microscope was unsettling to watch.

From the languid questioning style, right down to the tasteful aesthetic of the gorgeous white blazer, this was window-dressing at its most conspicuous.

The interviewer was so blinded by the radiant glow of her fame-tailored makeover and so overawed by being in the presence of such notoriety, that he forgot to do his job.

Throughout, he hung on her every word and his failure to obliterate the abundant gaping holes in her incoherent story was yet another timely reminder of mainstream media's enduring prioritisation of sensationalism.

Rather than being scrutinised and probed as the inscrutable criminal she is, Michaella was the cunning auteur of her very own "interrogation".

Bizarrely, she was treated like a returning national icon, finally free to become the media darling she was destined to become since the summer of 2013.

And why, I can't understand.

Facile observations on her attractive presentation by both the interviewer and the general public are absurd and fail to take account of the very real and very harrowing consequences of drug trafficking.

The fact that the extent of her rehabilitation is seemingly being gauged by how nice she looked is by far the most puzzling and troubling analysis to arise so far.

So widespread is this alarming trend, that even the priest who has provided her with shelter and employment commented: "The Lord has blessed her with good looks."

Is a woman's self-worth - even with a criminal past and an obvious need to rehabilitate - purely determined by her position on the attractiveness scale? In this day and age, surely this kind of thinking must be consigned to history.

While I recognise the irony in speaking so profusely about somebody that I believe does not deserve such publicity, or at least of the favourable kind she is currently receiving, I tuned in simply to see if she had anything of substance to say about her motivations for the crime, or the lessons she has learned during her spell in jail.

I was willing to be proven wrong. I believe that people who make profound errors of judgment of this nature can certainly offer valuable insights and lessons to others who may be tempted by this way of life.

But that simply isn't what happened here. Michaella's responses were littered with truisms and cliches that lacked any level of substance, or insight, as well as being questionable in authenticity. Her crass disavowal of any prior awareness of wrongdoing denoted a lack of genuine contrition and rumination undergone in prison.

In my book, Michaella is an archetypal compulsive liar.

Beneath the preening front lies a self-interested agenda, an unsophisticated and materialistic worldview that places her own distorted perspective on success and obtaining riches above all, acceptable standards of morality.

Her supposed epiphany in Lima airport, where she was unceremoniously apprehended, did not stop her from continuing with her "moment of madness" and it will not stop her from further capitalising on her crime to generate even more wealth than her gross irresponsibility initially promised (a mere 1.25% cut of a £1.5m deal).

Morality is a sliding scale. It depends on personal experience, context and many other complex social factors (most pertinently gender, in this scenario).

It remains to be seen whether the incessant speculation of fame and fortune will even come to fruition.

What cannot be disputed, however, is that with the seminal utterance of the words "This is Big Brother, can michaella please come to the Diary Room?" will also arrive the conclusive evidence that this entire interview was a stage-managed grandstanding, a pathetically transparent ploy designed to permeate the public consciousness with feelings of sympathy for an international criminal.

Buying this woman's book - I have no doubt there will be one - lends legitimacy to the notion that you can make a lucrative career from criminality, and it shouldn't be tolerated. Crime does pay - but only if we let it.

Eoin Donnelly is a freelance journalist based in Dublin

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