Thursday, March 31, 2005

Invasion a bit bigger than expected

Turns out the National Enquirer crowd is going to have a bit of trans-Atlantic company in their new neighborhood.

The New York Daily News reports that the BBC is opening its first NYC bureau at 450 W. 33rd St., where it will sublease space from WNET (Channel 13). Auntie is building a TV studio and two radio studios as well as using pre-existing facilities. It will broadcast "World Business Report," and transmit portions of "BBC World News" from here starting in June.

The Daily News points out that WNET co-produces the documentary show, "Wide-Angle," already with the Beeb. (See more on the Poco news reader phenomen in earlier posts).

The 33rd St. space is also home to the Daily News as well as U.S. News & World Report and The Associated Press.

Interestingly, the announcement comes around the same time that the BBC is reported to be cutting one of five jobs, according to the British journalism site, Another 1,700 employees were already given the boot earlier this month. Journalism quoted the UK's National Union of Journalists accusing management of "ripping the heart out of the BBC."

So, Auntie is sacrificing the national product but not so the export version. The article notes that "global new services" won't be affected.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Brits land on East Side, Manhattanites scandalized

Not to blog a dead horse, but here we go again.

This time the New York Times (always late to the story) has discovered what it calls "the British Invasion" (may require registration) of what now appears to be seen as bastion of American journalistic virtue (?) the National Enquirer.

Reporter David Carr informs Manhattan's denizens of the East Side that "a gaggle of British interlopers had taken custody of the tabloid, a SWAT team of Fleet Street meat-eaters brought in to revive the storied but now flagging checkout magazine." Moving headquarters from Florida to New York, the 20+ immigrants will "deploy British-style tactics - like brandishing cash to land the big stories."

Paul Field, formerly of the UK's The Sun, has "hired a slew of British tabloid veterans, including Paul Henderson, the former Mail on Sunday investigations editor, and Steve Dennis, the ex-Daily Mirror reporter who broke the stories about Paul Burrell, former butler to Diana, Princess of Wales" as well "Debbie Frank, who once served as Princess Diana's seer, as the staff astrologist."

The Times attributes the rise of US tabloids to the British Fleet Streeters who 30 years ago published "a photograph of Elvis Presley in his coffin." That's just how those sleazy pasty-eaters conduct their journalism. In the Times version of reality, the Brits "do not share their American colleagues compunctions about how an article is obtained." I guess that means they won't be waiting for US government Video News Releases or taking money to run columns. Tis better to receive than give, at least in American newsrooms.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

American media, afraid to report their own polls

I'm not saying the British media are perfect, far from it, but in yet another example from this week, by simply exercising sensible reporting standards they make their American counterparts look just a bit like, um, say girlie-men. Tonight WNYC's "On the Media" radio show reported that while the US media have consistently ignored their own public opinion polls showing most Americans do not support Bush or the Republican-controlled Congress' actions on the Terri Schiavo case, the story is being told differently on the other side of the Atlantic.

It's a sad day when it's left to a notorious Bush cheerleader like USA Today to break the news that outside our borders, we're looking kinda looney these days. The nationalistic Neuharth paper reports:

“A cartoon in Tuesday's edition of The Times of London, captioned "Funny Old World," shows a caricature of President Bush signing a document titled "War on Iraq." The panel reads: "Bush signs bill to kill thousands."

"In the cartoon's second panel, the Bush character signs a document titled "Schiavo Case." The caption: "Bush signs bill to keep woman alive" . . .

"It takes a lot for President Bush to drag himself from a weekend on his Texan ranch," Oonagh Blackman wrote in the Daily Mirror in Britain. "When the first week of 'Shock and Awe' unfolded in Iraq in 2003 the U.S. commander in chief couldn't be budged. . . But two days ago Mr. Bush dashed from Texas to the White House over the fate of a brain-damaged woman. To many, it is another stark sign of a dangerous fusing of politics, morals and religion in the era of George W. Bush" . . .

“Some British commentators accused Bush and congressional leaders of using the case to appeal to Christian conservatives ahead of 2006 midterm elections. Others criticized the president for saying he acted to save a life even though he supports the death penalty. . .

"The Terri Schiavo case shows just how emphatically the U.S. and Europe are moving on different paths on the 'right-to-life' - or in this case, the right to die," starts one opinion piece in The Times. Later in the article: "The U.S., so impassioned about the right to life in the case of abortion and euthanasia, appears wedded to the right of the state to execute criminals."

LA-based Independent correspondent Andrew Gumbel points all of this out for American audiences in his on-going column, American Babylon, in the alternative paper, Los Angeles City Beat.

From Slough to Scranton: "The Office" takes a dive

It’s taken me a day or three to get around to writing this up, but I shalln’t put it off any longer. On Thursday evening I managed to watch the first episode of the U.S. version of the BBC’s Golden Globe-winning comedy, "The Office". Straight to the point: It really was a clone of the Brit version - right down to about 90% of the gags, and my wife and I were playing "spot the American version of Tim, Gareth, Dawn, etc." to stay amused. (To be fair, the first episode is intended to be a close remake of the original; after that, the U.S. show’s writers are supposed to create original American material for the new show.) Still, even with Ricky Gervais, the show's original UK creator, helping with this version, I don't think that’s going to save it. The odds are that it will follow the calamitous U.S. version of "Coupling" – another failed NBC attempt to import a UK comedy idea - down the tubes.

Inevitably, it seems, the critics in the States quickly panned the show. (See this example from a Slate critic, titled "What have you done with my office?: NBC body-snatches the BBC series"; it's pretty typical.) It seems that American TV critics love most things British - after all, British telly is supposed to be the best in the world (though some HBO execs might take issue with that.) I should point out here that, even though as a general principle I dislike U.S. remakes of successful comedies, I was not completely opposed to this particular example (maybe just 80% opposed). After all, it stars the often-hilarious "Daily Show with Jon Stewart" alum Steve Carell as the Ricky Gervais/David Brent clone. And the show is set in Scranton, PA, a Godawful town that draws a guffaw right from the start. Nevertheless, the show still starts out with two strikes against. Why is this? Dana Stevens of Slate rejects the notion of simple Anglophilic snobbery. Instead, for those loyal fans of the UK original on BBC America:

    It's love. The Office's fans love their show with a fierce conviction, and I doubt most of them will take kindly to the idea of simply transplanting the alienated crew of Wernham Hogg paper company to new digs in Scranton, Pa. For those still in mourning for the BBC series (which wrapped up earlier this year with a two-hour special), seeing the roles already recast with American actors is like waking up to find your beloved has been abducted, Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style, and replaced by a random stranger.

But of course there's more to it than that - and yes, snobbery is part of it as well. If Slate is one bastion of Anglophile critics in the States, NPR is surely another. I heard reviews on NPR's Morning edition (click here for the web feed) and later Thursday on Fresh Air. Both reviewers made a similar point that old clones - such as "All in the Family" and "Sanford and Son" - worked in the U.S. because almost nobody over here had seen or even heard of the originals, so no-one had a chance to compare the original with the clone. Now the critics can compare much more easily - unlike most of America, they tend to be avid viewers of BBC America, for example - and the U.S. versions always seem to suffer in comparison. This seems to be at least a contributing factor in why more recent sitcom and drama remakes (including "Coupling", "Cracker" and apparently even a US "Fawlty Towers", which I didn't know about) bomb almost every time. Finally, add in the fact that there's just some je ne sais quoi about Brit comedy that usually doesn't survive the translation, and the "bombs" just get bigger and bigger ...

On a related note, Fox has just started a sketch comedy series called "Kelsey Grammer Presents: The Sketch Show", 9:30 p.m. EST Sunday. It's based on a popular British show of the same name (without the "Kelsey Grammer presents" bit). And it even includes one of the stars of the British show - a bit like having Simon Callow on "American Idol" or Anne Robinson on "The Weakest Link". This one seems to have flown under the radar - maybe it'll work. And it's true that U.S. clones seem to work better with reality TV and (maybe) sketch comedy, but not with sitcoms. Now why is that? hmmmm....

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Brits on Diane Rehm

I noticed an interesting development on the Diane Rehm show this week. Every Friday morning the ever-excellent Rehm (broadcasting from Washington, DC's WAMU public radio station) has a weekly news roundup, where she invites three prominent political journalists to discuss the major issues of the week. Usually these journalists are fairly well balanced politically, with everyone from left-leaning journos such as James Fallows and The Nation's David Corn right across the spectrum to conservative ideologues such as William Kristoll and the occasionally foaming-at-the-mouth Tony Blankley. But (as far as I know) most of the guests have been American. Well, not so much any more. Recently I've noticed an increasing number of English accents on the show - including the BBC's Katy Kay and UPI's Martin Walker, who's become a regular.

Then on this week's program, perhaps for the first time, two out of the three guests were British: Martin Walker (again) and John Parker, Washington bureau chief for The Economist (perhaps he was there to fill the conservative slot normally occupied by Blankley, even though The Economist's brand of economic conservatism is a good ball park away from the Washington Times's more rabid orientation). It was particularly noteworthy this week since the news of the week had been dominated not by a major international story such as Iraq or the Middle East, but by the peculiarly American circumstances surrounding the Terri Schiavo saga. Is this, then, another example of the Brits being given increasing license to interpret current events to a (fairly elite) inside-the-Beltway and national American audience, on even the touchiest American matters? Could you imagine two French or German or Chinese journalists being on the Friday roundup at the same time (unless it was a special "global perspectives" or "foreign viewpoints" type of show, which this week's wasn't)? How long before it's three out of three Brits on Diane Rehm? Meanwhile, this is all a long, long way from local TV news - where most Americans get their news - where it's still rare to hear an accent that's not solidly fake-mid-Western.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Scandal Mongers to the Rescue!

New York Metro brings us more this week on the British tabs’ influence on the US with a brief Q & A with Paul Field, the new editor of the National Enquirer (why are American publications so obsessed with the shakeup at a declining gossip rag?)

Anyway, Field argues that in the UK “tabloids are respectable. I mean in the U.K., they’re taken just as seriously as the broadsheets. The Sun breaks more big stories than the [London] Times or the Independent.

More excerpts:

Q: You’ve hired a bunch of British journalists. Are they better at this than Americans?

In the U.K., everybody reads the newspaper every day. Most people read two or three. The competition just makes journalists very aggressive. But for every Brit, there will be an American.

Q: Do you get frustrated with U.S. papers?

A lot of British reporters come here and think, Why doesn’t the New York Post get it? Why is the news full of drunk drivers in Queens? My view, now that I’ve lived here, is that those journalists don’t get it. ‘Cause if you live in New York, you want a local paper. British journalists don’t understand that there isn’t the same national newspaper.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Oil execs plan Iraq war, American media: ho-hum

You might think that a new expose on the Bush admin’s neo-cons meeting with oil company consultants to plan on dividing up Iraq’s industry prior to Sept. 11 would generate a few headlines. Gee, sounds like a pretty big deal to me. Of course, if the expose appears on a BBC show, I guess that means it’s not important enough for mainstream American news outlets which were busy covering more meaty stories like where Martha Stewart got her prison-stitched poncho.

Greg Palast (one of the American reporters mentioned below who long ago realized that if he wanted to break critical stories he’d have to cross the Atlantic) reported last week on BBC’s Newsnight the existence of a 300-some page US State Dept. report, Options for Developing a Long Term Iraq Oil Industry. Palast reported among other things: “An Iraqi-born oil industry consultant, Falah Aljibury, says he took part in the secret meetings in California, Washington and the Middle East. He described a State Department plan for a forced coup d’etat.

The full story comes out in April's Harper's magazine and is playing now at any number of blogs near you.

Palast has repeatedly said that he cannot get his work aired or published in any major media outlet in the US, which is why he turned to the British. You can listen to Palast discuss the "Apartheid Ballot Counting System in America" with Democracy Now's Amy Goodman from December 2004, read Q&As with him on BuzzFlash from 2002 or Los Angeles City Beat from January of this year.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

What will America make of Chuck & Camilla's Big Day?

The Guardian reports that the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles will be televised on April 8 ... or not quite. Apparently the civil part of the ceremony, held in Windsor town hall, will be strictly private, but there will also be a "religious service of prayer and dedication afterwards in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle," and this "will be broadcast to the nation and around the world." It will be interesting to see what U.S. audiences make of this wedding - if they pay any attention at all. This is certainly a million miles from Charles' first Big Day - when he married Diana Spencer in 1981. That occasion was an excuse for some serious fairytale-like awe generated by Americans for their quaint and wonderful British "cousins." Since then the whole issue of Charles' dalliances has become more than a little sordid. Will the U.S. media frame this Big Day as a tacky affair or will they fall into line with the whole royal pomp and circumstance/Ye Olde Englishe fairytale thing? And to what extent, if any, will the U.S. media take their cue from their "cousins" in the UK?

BBC fans, not just news consumers

HDougie posts earlier about the attraction of British media such as the Independent for American audiences, but it may be that more than the average newspaper reader is paying attention. At the Investigative Reporters Conference in Hollywood this weekend, a technology manager for the St. Petersburg Times, a well regarded newspaper in Florida, noted that an internal survey asked the paper's reporters which was their favorite international news site. The overwhelming favorite: BBC. She even encouraged the room full of reporters to take the BBC tour whilst in London. Would be interesting to see if this was the case for other US publications.

At one session, the legal counsel for the IRE chaired a panel outlining various evasive manuevers for journalists to protect their sources and their data from US government officials, which ranged from employing dead drops for information pick-up to encrypting data to turning off your cellphone, as the mic has been known to be remotely activated to pick up computer key strokes. More evidence that the Bush administration is seeking to eviscerate any critical US reporting and why journalism from other English-speaking countries such as Britain is likely to become even more important to US audiences -- and journalists.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Mainstream in UK = Alternative in US

A quick follow-up on Andrew Gumbel and Project Censored. A check of the 2005 awards (for articles virtually ignored by the mainstream US media) found that of the top 25, 5 were from UK publications including one by the afore-mentioned Greg Palast on Gov. Arnold meeting with Bush’s former buddy, Kenny-Boy Lay, just before the California Re-call election. Other stories included: Wealth inequality: "Every third person will be slum dweller in 30 years" by John Vidal; Media and government ignoring dwindling oil supply: "Bottom of the barrel" by George Monibot; and Global warming: "Extreme weather prompts unprecedented global warming alert" Author not listed. (I guess since global warming doesn't exist in the US, it wasn't worth noting.) Another two UK-reported stories were runners up: sugar industry expose and the initial fake news reports from the Bush admin.

Project Censored for 2004 also featured two UK-based reports, one was on the US backing the failed coup in Venezuela that aimed to depose their democratically elected leader, Hugo Chavez. This one was by Duncan Campbell, formerly of the LA bureau of the Guardian, it was also reported by Greg Palast. The other story was on the Pentagon’s private contractors such as Halliburton making out like bandits on the invasion of Iraq.

The point in a nutshell: Most of the stories that are selected by Project Censored come from alternative media such as The Nation or In These Times or even websites such as Corporate Watch. So why are articles suitable for mainstream UK newspapers considered “alternative” fare here? And no, you can't say because the stories are about Britain. Why does Andrew Gumbel’s work get published in an alternative publication in Los Angeles (and not even the largest and most influential alternative weekly, that being LA Weekly)?

America's watchdog is British?

Speaking of the Independent's influence in the US, their Los Angeles-based correspondent, Andrew Gumbel, has consistently pursued a key story for American readers that our own media has often underplayed or outright ignored: the voting scandals first identified in Florida's 2000 presidential election. His work has been picked up and distributed by alternative media around the US, showing there is an audience for this important story but that they've had to look to British reporters to dig out the truth.

Gumbel is currently writing a column, American Babylon, for Los Angeles City Beat, an alternative newspaper, where his articles have revealed that touchscreen voting machines were a disaster in California’s recent elections. He has held accountable government officials such as Riverside County’s outspoken registrar whom he described as a national poster child for touchscreen voting.

His work has been recognized by Project Censored 2005, which rated his reporting in an Independent article, “All The President's Votes?” from October, 13, 2003, among the 25 most important stories ignored by US mainstream media in 2003-2004.

Gumbel has a book about US voter frauds through the years and other related issues called Steal the Vote, set to be published by Nation Books in July of this year. And you can bet his audience is not based in Manchester.

Interestingly, the American reporter most associated with the story, investigative journalist Greg Palast, had to turn to the British media to break the story of the 2000 presidential elections. US outlets saw no need to pursue the systematic disenfranchisement of African American voters. (BTW, Gumbel disagrees with Palast's more recent analysis of voter fraud in Ohio.)

Monday, March 14, 2005

British film - doing rather well?

Since I'd mentioned "Bride and Prejudice" in my previous post, I thought I'd bring up something I'd noted in mediaville: that British film is doing rather well at the UK box office - 45% better, according to The Guardian, which reports: "Box-office takings for the top 20 British films totalled £176m [$320 million] in 2004, compared with £121m in 2003. And the number of UK films taking more than £3m at the box office jumped to 16 in 2004, from eight in 2003."

The success was largely due to "big-budget co-productions such as "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban", as well as the popularity of smaller films such as "Shaun of the Dead", "Bride and Prejudice" and "Layer Cake". Among the other strong Brit performers was "King Arthur" (£7m), "Thunderbirds" (£5m), and "Alfie" (almost £5m). Many of these films have also done well internationally (though "Thunderbirds" and "Alfie" kind of bombed in the States). Also, on closer inspection, most of these films - including "Prisoner of Azkaban" and "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" - were really co-productions (mostly with the U.S.), so I wonder just how "British" this British resurgence really is. On the other hand, British film has often been criticized for being too insular and too small-minded. This was expecially so in the 1950s.

I guess my thoughts on this are this: If there is to be any sustained resurgence of the British film industry, it has to be on global - and by global I mean American - terms. The American connection - and American financing - is what gave British film international exposure in the late '50s & '60s, post-"Bridge on the River Kwai," and that's what can do it again. That's not to say that British films can ignore the rest of the world - they can't and shouldn't. But, at least for most of the time, they do have to recognize Hollywood as the prime locus of power through which postcolonial British cultural values (as seen in their movies) need to be refracted before widespread reception by the rest of the world. In other words, for "British" films to really be seen as successful internationally, they have to pass muster with the Americans first. I think "Bride and Prejudice," "Bridget Jones" and last year's "Love, Actually" are good examples of that. Still, as long as there's some room left for "small" British films, and wonderful "insular" films such as "Vera Drake", I can live with that.

Poco globalization - Brit style

Great posting by Doctor Media about Daljit Dhaliwal and other UK-Indian presenters. Britain's been trying to push this postcolonial globalization thing for some years, with varying degrees of success - and not just with BBC/ITV News' rainbow spectrum of presenters. What about Prime Minister Tony Blair's continuing outreach efforts to Africa and Palestine? Then we have London being pushed hard as the primus inter pares of global cities (clearly seen in London's current Olympic bid for 2012); there was British Airways' controversial new paint schemes, that had their tail fins looking like a Putamaya CD cover (though that didn't go down so well). And even British movies are becoming less insular and more cross-cultural - think Gurinder Chadha's latest work, "Bride & Prejudice" (she'd previously directed the international hit, "Bend it Like Beckham"). Of course Britain - and especially London - is still very much a global entity, thanks to the powerful trading and communication links inherited from the days of empire. What the Brits have been trying hard to do is to downplay the imperial connotations of "Britishness" of their institutions of communication (from British Airways to Reuters to the BBC) while still trying to retain the positive attributes these institutions connote globally by being associated with that small island off the Northwest coast of Europe. One question for the U.S. is this: How much of UK media's appeal to Americans is due to admiration of purely British values, and how much is it due to the UK's apparent ability to hook into some global values more effortlessly than is the case with Bush's America?

Friday, March 11, 2005

It's all in how you say it

Sir Howard Stringer's popularity with Americans reminds me of the adoration bestowed on television reader Daljit Dhaliwal, who initially had the PBS crowd gaga when she anchored ITN's World News for Public Television. Named one of People Magazine's Most Beautiful People and feted by David Letterman, she left London for CNN International and a gig with the PBS show, Wide Angle, in 2002. Of course, the CNN show meant she was not going to be seen by a US audience.

Interestingly, The Observer's Rachel Cooke found her cold and unresponsive in an interview that was topped with the headline: "British newscaster Daljit Dhaliwal is CNN's new face of global television news. The US is charmed by her, net nerds are in awe of her - so how come she went almost unnoticed over here?"

Maybe because she wasn't much of a journalist?

Anyway, she's been replaced at Wide Angle by another Anglo-Indian, Mishal Husain, who also anchors BBC World shown in the US. Like Dhaliwal, Husain is also British born. Whereas Dhaliwal married a Bloomberg reporter (American Lee Sullivan), Husain's first TV works was at Bloomberg Television in London, then she moved to BBC. Dhaliwal first worked at BBC before moving to ITN.

After all, it isn't serious news unless it's read with a British accent.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Who you gonna call?

The National Enquirer’s new editor Paul Field is appealing to other Brits to cross the Atlantic and help revive the fortunes of the fading rag. The New York Post reports at least 25 Brits have signed up to help re-direct the publication toward to more crime and “investigations.” The really good news is they've hired Princess Diana’s official astrologer to help boost sales.

Turning to Fleet Street for dirt digging and sensationalism expertise is nothing new. Remember “A Current Affair”? Begun in 1988, the sleazy “investigative” show initiated a wave of tabloid news shows that heralded the Murdochization of American news. Employing Brits and their Australian protégés, the tabs conditioned US audiences to expect their smary fare. And, yes, that's exactly where "journalist" Bill O'Reilly got his start (Inside Edition).

In a research paper about the rise of the tabs, Catherine L. Finn
reported that Fox started the shows with very little money and quickly began setting the US news media’s agenda with coverage of scandals such as Bill Clinton’s affair with Gennifer Flowers.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Sir Howard Stringer, an American Brit, at Sony

The New York Times reports on the unexpected ascent of Sir Howard Stringer to the top job of chairman/chief executive of the Japanese Sony Corporation, one of the globe's largest media companies. In a special "Man in the News" piece in today's paper, Bill Carter of the Times provides an admiring overview of this Welsh-born, Oxford-educated Brit who left Britain for America as a young man, found himself drafted during the Vietnam War, then returned to begin a shining career in the U.S. media, first at CBS and later with Sony's U.S. operations. Along the way he got a knighthood from the queen, and he still splits his time between New York and England.

Carter's piece notes how Stringer's very British persona may well have helped him considerably as he made his way through the U.S. corporate world. Even during his most controversial corporate action, the evisceration of CBS's news division in the late 1980s,
    Sir Howard was never widely blamed for all that bloodletting .... The main explanation for that accomplishment, cited by associates of Sir Howard, then and now, is his most outstanding management skill: his personal charm. Certainly few network newspeople had ever been told they were losing their jobs with so much sensitivity - and in such an elegant British accent.

Stringer epitomizes a key point that characterizes not only external British media operations (such as the BBC) that operate within the United States, but also British individuals who operate within the U.S. media system: their ability to ingratiate themselves with and be accepted by their American hosts while still maintaining a veneer of "classy" foreign cultural independence that sets them apart from other, "more" foreign countries and people. Like a good drama or sit-com, Brits in America are familiar enough to be comfortable with, but just different enough to seem exciting, distinctive, and (usually) classy. Bill Carter notes that at 63, "Sir Howard has built his long record of success on shrewd adaptation to circumstances." You could say something similar about British media's infiltration of the United States.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Independent's impact in the U.S.

The left-of-center UK newspaper Independent on Sunday (the Sunday sister paper of The Independent) reports new evidence that British Prime Minister Tony Blair committed his country to supporting a Bush invasion of Iraq "as early as April 2002, when the Prime Minister met President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas" - and almost a year before the attack actually started.

The Independent is one of the many UK media outlets that has substantially increased its U.S. presence in recent years – and especially since the runup to the Iraq war. Its message has been spread primarily via the media channel of the World Wide Web – both directly, through its own web site, and indirectly, through numerous U.S.-based blogs and independent news sites such as common dreams and truthout (which is where the Blair-Bush story mentioned above was republished).

It’s clear to me that the post-9/11 era has spurred an unprecedented desire in Americans for international news. However, the events following 9/11 – and in particular the buildup to the Iraq war and the war itself – have also seriously polarized U.S. public opinion. And with that polarization came a drift away from mainstream media (at least among left-leaning, technology-savvy groups in society). In contrast, the right-wing seemed well relatively served during the Iraq War – after all the mainstream media had effectively been neutered (thanks to the loss of a liberal opposition in Congress with which the media could index its coverage – something I’ll come back to later). Those on the left or of an anti-war persuasion – concentrated in the big cities of the Northeast and the West Coast – felt that they had "nowhere left to go" in the U.S. media system, i.e., no mainstream outlets expressing their point of view (and of course, the left has no partisan media system equivalent to Fox and talk radio – Air America only went on air in early 2004, in six US markets, and its future still remains uncertain.)

What I think Americans wanted – and still want – is a source of news that they can trust but which will also give them news that is less filtered than what they get at home. And many of these Americans look at the British press (as well as the BBC) and see how these media consistently challenge not only President Bush but also their own prime minister and government. This only enhances the credibility of these media in comparison with their more anodyne U.S. counterparts

I'm reminded of an interview published last year in the Columbia Journalism Review ("Brits vs. Yanks"), comparing British and American styles of journalism, Leonard Doyle, the foreign editor at The Independent, was harshly critical of the U.S. elite press’s performance over Iraq. Doyle notes the debilitating effect of so-called "objectivity" on the American mainstream press. He makes the point that "What we consistently find is that the loudest demands for objectivity are made by groups or lobbies who want to ensure they get equal time in any story".

Doyle, who looks like quite a mild-mannered Brit in his CJR photograph, nevertheless slams U.S. media coverage – pointing out how it failed to challenge a neoconservative elite that drove the US into an "illegal" war, how the media ignored Scott Ritter, the weapons inspector who "got it right," yet gave voice to "dubious experts with no inherent knowledge of WMD". He continues:

    And blaming the media’s failures on the Bush administration just confirms what I have felt all along – that the mainstream American press is often spineless in the face of government bullying, terrified of getting on the wrong side of public opinion, and thus was cheerleading from the sidelines as the nation charged into war."

Doyle blames "the structure of U.S. print journalism, where big media organizations like the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post are lumbering beasts with no real competition breathing down their necks. The result is an overcautious press that has fantastic resources at its disposal, but frankly disappoints when it comes to exposing the administration to rigorous scrutiny".