Friday, February 06, 2004

Back in London -- and reflecting on 3 weeks as a consumer of American news, what has struck me most is the homogeneity of the coverage on offer there.

Journalists in every country I’ve ever worked in hunt in packs, chasing the same stories and pursuing the same angles. But the US media seems almost unique in the narrowness of its focus.

The daily news cycle is totally predictable. The president will make a comment some time in the late morning which will be instantly seized upon, dissected and analysed. White House spokesman Scott McClellan will try to talk up or shut down stories in his lunchtime briefing. During the course of the day Rumsfeld, Powell or another administration bigwig may throw the hacks a morsel to chew on by stepping up to the cameras and saying something mildly interesting. And so it goes on, round and round, day after day.

Insignificant events (such as Janet Jackson’s bare breast at the Superbowl or Martha Stewart’s stock portfolio) become major stories simply by their relentless amplification by the news media. Politics is covered as if it were a sporting contest or a fashion parade – Who’s in? Who’s out? Who’s up? Who’s down? Every news network is looking over their shoulder at their competitors, fearful of missing a trick. The result of this introspective media circle jerk is that there’s little to differentiate any of the major networks. (The notable exceptions are NPR and PBS, the twin oases in the news desert.)

When foreign affairs figure in the bulletins, they’re filtered through an all-American prism – Iraq, for example, pops up regularly -- but usually only when US troops are involved.

After 3 weeks away I feel like someone who’s eaten too many cheeseburgers at McDonalds – full, but not satisfied.


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