‘Capitol Man’ could only be broadcast on Irish TV

Donny O’Sullivan: Capitol Man (RTÉ One, Tuesday) breaks the basic rule of reporting: that a journalist shouldn’t be the center of attention. The function was to be invisible and interchangeable, so as not to distract from the story. Under this rule, the last place a reporter wants to be is trending topics on Twitter.

But for many in today’s media landscape, that rule no longer applies — certainly not for Kerry-bred CNN reporter Donnie O’Sullivan, who is now a glamorous presence in our circulating news feeds.

O’Sullivan brings to his work the rigor of American journalism without the attendant rigor and self-importance. And while he’s clearly grateful for the job well done, he doesn’t seem hungry for fame. His response to the strange celebrity he had given him back in Ireland was an elaborate mixture of humility and bewilderment.

Capitol Man is two movies put together, one more exciting than the other. O’Sullivan, 30, is a talented reporter whose shared touch has facilitated personal and personal exchanges with Trump supporters. He also offers insight into the American culture wars as he reflects on the January 6, 2020 attack on the Capitol, where he was one of the first journalists on the ground.

Sadly, Capitol Man loses a bit of thread when it turns into something like an episode of RTÉ’s Nationwide. O’Sullivan’s family and friends at Cahersiveen are adorable, and their joy at his success is infectious.

But perhaps as a nation we should be past the point where someone who does well for themselves in the United States becomes the headlines. Was the BBC going to broadcast a documentary about a small English-town journalist who got a job on NBC?

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Ironically, for a documentary about a news reporter, Capitol Man may also have benefited from more journalistic rigor. O’Sullivan talks poignantly about his panic attacks that nearly derailed his career, but it was helpful to learn more about what drove them. Was it work pressure? Personal Issues? As displayed on screen, O’Sullivan woke up one morning struggling to breathe. Meaning is an incompletely told story.

It was also useful to question the role that CNN played in turning news in the United States into glorified entertainment. The news circulating in the US has become a Punch and Judy show where people watch the channel which closely reflects their political loyalties.

Nobody claims CNN is as guilty of this as the right-wing propaganda machine Fox News. Nevertheless, it was certainly worth making the argument to O’Sullivan that all news networks played a role in America’s decline into political silos.

None of this detracts from O’Sullivan’s heart-wrenching story. There are interviews with his old age parents, and with CNN notables like John King – but not with Anderson Cooper or Wolf Blitzer, the network’s leaders.

We hear from other Irish hits who have made it into the US: Samantha Barry, who worked with O’Sullivan at CNN before becoming editor for Glamor magazine; and Mark Little, the former RTÉ Washington reporter who gave O’Sullivan a big break when he was hired at his former social media verification company, Storyful.

This is in many ways a documentary that could only have been broadcast on Irish TV – one that blends New York’s media glamor in succession with the city’s narrow-mindedness. Whatever he says about us, O’Sullivan seems likable and only the voice of a deceiver would envy him for his success.

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