Sunday, June 15, 2008
First impressions of individuals are often right; first impressions of countries are always wrong. Over the years I have steadily corrected my own first impressions of America - primarily by spending less time in New York and Los Angeles, both cities that reflect themselves rather than the nation. One particularly stubborn first impression was that American journalism was terrible. I thought their newspapers were flabby and their TV journalism with its pompous, square-jawed, neurotically barbered anchors was ridiculous. I also regarded Americans' sentimental idealisation of their journalists as laughable. I remember years ago watching, bewildered, a long TV obit of some hack who seemed to have done less than I had in my first week at the Wimbledon News, yet whose passing was being mourned as if he had been a combination of Jefferson, Lincoln and Oprah. Perhaps I was jealous. There was truth in all these observations, but I now see that they were trivial. The reality is that, as a whole, American journalism is much better than British. I say 'as a whole' because their newspapers were, indeed, flabby, complacent through lack of direct competition, now they are underfunded and in serious decline. But, when it comes to TV news, we are simply not in their class. Having spent seven weeks utterly absorbed by their coverage of the primaries, I have been quite unable to watch the political coverage on British television. It is, with a few exceptions. idle, inept and uninvolved. Worst of all, it is cheap. Any fool can sneer at politicians, any fool can ask difficult questions. That doesn't serve the story, it serves the hack's self-image. The true art is to do it so politely and with such charm, authority and deference that the politician has no choice but to answer. One man did this better than any other - NBC's Tim Russert. He was a joy to watch and now he's dead.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 5:06 am