Each week, CBS’ Public Eye invites an outsider to comment on CBS news and the media at large. Last week, Bob Giles, veteran journalist and curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, had what can only be described as scathing criticism for U.S. journalists as compared to their British counterparts, and many bloggers wholeheartedly agreed.
Said Giles: “BBC reporters routinely have opportunities to sit down with the prime minister for a face-to-face interview. These interviews represent a striking contrast with the U.S. television, where there is an absence of spirited inquiry.”
A Public Eye reader named Deggans expressed something resembling empathy for American reporters — particularly the broadcast folks. “I think journalists in the U.S. fear losing access,” wrote Deggans, concluding that “TV guys who consistently ask tough questions are often stuck with footage that makes them look aggressive.”
While the fear of losing access is undoubtedly real, many in the blogosphere felt it was not a compelling enough argument to go soft on politicians. Bob King of graphictruth questioned the very necessity of the Washington press corps, opining: “Journos seem terrified that they will be denied access to the President’s incoherent ramblings and Tony Snow’s nonsense. I figured out years ago that all I need to know about either is that their lips are moving. Why in heavens name would you waste a perfectly good reporter on such a meaningless job?” King continued, criticising American journalists’ “unwillingness to ask awkward questions” as well as their “unwillingness to deal with complicated issues.”
Some bloggers also applauded British journalists’ comparative unwillingness to yield when politicians offer soft answers (or non-answers) to hard questions. “I remember seeing a clip of Rumsfeld being hammered by a British reporter a few years back,” recalled Deacon Blues on Fark.com. “He was asked a question and gave a complete BS non-answer, but the journalist had none of it. He repeated the question 5 or 6 times, and Rummy was completely shocked that his BS wasn’t simply accepted in the style to which he had become accustomed.”
Action Replay Nick echoed the praise for British journalists. “I watched the ‘town hall’ appearances with Tony Blair during the last PM elections and seriously teared up,” wrote Nick wrote on Fark.com. “We have a serious leg up on the UK when it comes to how utterly, pathetically, and completely shielded our politicians are.”
To accurately, or at the very least fairly, compare British and American journalists and their medium additional factors must be considered. The BBC, of course, is state-funded, and not having to worry about ratings in the same manner CBS or NBC does undoubtedly changes how producers and reporters go about their business. And, according to Memekiller (in his response to Public Eye’s interview with Bob Giles), “Britain is the reverse of the US, where print journalism still does some serious reporting, and TV news, especially cable news, is more tabloid… In Britain, print is sensationalistic and less substantive, but TV programs have actual illuminating discussions about things that matter.”
But, this being the blogosphere, not everyone is lining up to praise BBC-style reporting. Says Bloginspanken on Fark.com: “I listen to the BBC news all the time. A whole bunch of fake ‘hard hitting’ fluff. Don’t mistake aggressive style for real reporting. If you really want some real stuff, you have to turn off the TV and read. And not goofy blogs.”