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Sunday, 9 March 2008

America's pompous journalists

One of the big stories in the US election campaign this week was the resignation of Obama aide Samantha Power after she called Hillary Clinton a "monster" in an interview with The Scotsman. She was expressing what's been reported in the US as 'background', that this sort of frustration in the Obama camp exists, only here it was being named in print.

What's interesting is the near-universal reaction in America that, somehow, The Scotsman's inclusion of that quote was a typical example of British journalism's 'low ethical standards'. This was exemplified in an interview which MSNBC's Tucker Carlson did with the Scotsman journalist, Gerri Peev.

But what the episode actually highlights is American journalisms willingness to cow-tow to politicians. MSNBC's reporter seems to think it's 'low' to refuse a request from a political aide to take-back something she just said.

American newspapers have a readership far lower than the UK's. The best selling newspaper, USA Today, sells about as much as The Mirror. I find most of them dry and uninteresting with a one-style fits-all approach like they all learned one way to write 'as a professional' and continue to employ it.

There's a 'worthiness' which is boring and maybe this is why their readerships are so low. They don't call the New York Times 'the gray lady' for nothing. It wasn't always so and papers like The New York Post - a Murdoch paper which has regularly had British staff - are good counter-examples.

You can take this too far the other way - most Brits now seem to think all politicians are corrupt, which is rubbish, for example. But US journalism has consistently failed precisely because it cow-tows. In the current campaign they are only now lobbing hard questions at Obama and MSNBC itself has often chauvinistically covered Hillary. The hysteria/uniform approach of the News Channels like MSNBC is a great source of material for the comedic likes of Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

Iain Martin in The Telegraph:
British newspaper journalism, generally, would not be described as a profession: it is a trade, and there is a crucial difference. It means that the Brits as a breed have tended to be more rumbustious, cheekier, a little more inquisitive and wary of the powerful. There are excesses, but overall the sense is of British journalism being noisier and more vibrant. Competition is fierce, which until the age of the internet it was not in the US. And that might be the problem.

As British media groups, such as the Telegraph and the Guardian, expand on-line into North America and develop large audiences there, tensions have surfaced. US print journalists see the limeys muscling in and think their tactics vulgar. Perhaps they fear competition: after all, it took a British journalist to get behind the PR and spin that Samantha Power has been pushing.
British newspapers were setting American agendas before Peev. Lots of links from Drudge are to British papers and most British papers have an online American readership which exceeds their UK print readership by large margins.

It was noted back in the lead up to the War in Iraq that Americans were turning to British news sources, especially the BBC, because American papers were slavishly following the White House line.

As former BBC Head Greg Dyke said at the Emmy Awards:
For any news organization to act as a cheerleader for government is to undermine your credibility. They should be balancing their coverage, not banging the drum for one side or the other. It may not be comfortable to challenge governments or even popular opinion, but it is what we are here to do.
The Guardian acknowledged the ongoing phenomenon when they set up Guardian America last year. What's driving this is Americans seeking a range of opinions and reacting against their own media. What's clear is that many Americans don't like this phenomenon one bit.

It's truly a clash of values, as Tucker Carlson has amply demonstrated.

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