Monday, April 24, 2006

What do they know of America?

In The Sunday Times this week I wrote a piece pointing out the blindingly obvious - that the best of American television news is far better than anything the British can manage. Read it here. This generated a wave of emails, all of them passionate and about half supporting me and half against. One point struck me about the antis. They tended to be obsessed - and intensely irritated - by the way presenters and anchors on US TV news sounded and looked. They hated their clothes, their hair and their voices. This is, of course, nothing to do with the quality of the shows. But my correspondents seemed to think it was. I tried gently to point out to them that merely because they found such things irritating didn't mean the Americans - the target audience, after all - did. In fact, it meant that is exactly what Americans like. I doubt that the angry mailers would have trashed TV news in, say, India or Africa because they didn't like the voices, the hair and the clothes of the presenters. They would have just accepted that these were different cultures. In making his argument, I suddenly realised this fundamental problem the British have with America. They can't accept that it is a different country so they get angry when it does not display our standards of taste, judgment, whatever. America is one of the most alien and exotic places in the world. If you don't know that, you don't know America.


  1. I was mightily relieved that someone had actually said what I had been thinking for a good while now. That the BBC News content has little content, and consistently ignores the good sense that when you have nothing to say, say nothing. Having seemingly moved into Grumpy Old Men territory on numerous occasions I often now find myself shouting at the TV "That's not news, it's just opinion" and regrettably it's often ill-thought out personal opinion at that.

    One can only hope that at some point the BBC may reverse it's tabloid news strategy and actually present some joined-up analysis. Thank you Bryan.

  2. And thank you, Paul. Judging by the large response I have had to this piece, our view is the majority one.

  3. Bravo!!!! Thanks so much for your article. For four years now I've
    watched the news and thought, "Are we really that bad???" (We meaning
    Americans). I have watched with horror as one "news" program said that
    all Americans wanted to buy Hummer 4X4's because they all wanted to kill
    people. Women especially! I did scream at the TV, much to my husbands
    horror. But my Brother-in-law worked on that line and their sales were
    in fact dropping at the time of the program. Who ever wanted the
    vehicle had already bought it (because it had been so expensive to buy).
    Ever since I've watched with trepidation when ever they show anything
    about the States. People believe these stories and I hear all the time
    how much safer I must feel here etc.....WRONG! If we are so bad, why do
    so many Brits want to visit and live in the US?

    Thanks again for making me feel better!

  4. A jealous AmericanApril 26, 2006 4:42 am

    Americans who actually spend a lot of time watching cable news programs LOVE BBC news (or at least BBC world) and almost always find it superior to CNN, etc. The same goes for BBC radio, which many Americans prefer to NPR. One reason is that BBC covers a much broader range of international news than CNN. You can watch CNN for a week and never see a segment on Africa. And this isn't about politics. The centrist publications The Economist and the Financial Times also cover international affairs far better than their American counterparts.

  5. i'm also appaled at the lowering of the "assumed iq of the viewer" by most bbc news correspondents. Whilst Mark Euston only seems to excist to plug narratives from No 10 on "tough new crackdowns" which never involve parliamentory statements, papers or new money.

  6. Regarding BBC vs NPR, I find that on the whole I like the BBC programming (radio4) quite a bit more than NPR's, but I have always found the BBC news rather bland, and usually not as in-depth as NPR's news programs. If the two could just be combined . . .

  7. Regarding BBC World vs CNN. I use to like watching BBC world on my PBS station when I was still living in the States. The problem is it ISN'T the same as what you watch here on BBC1 on a daily basis. Totally different! I was really surprised. My sis-in-law who is a Brit but lives in the US goes on about how much better the BBC World news is, not realizing that she isn't watching what we watch here. So why do they produce two different news programs? I think they are over stretching themselves and should try and make one format. Of course I notice this morning they have changed the Breakfast format to be more formal. Could they be listening????

  8. Dawn,
    Judging by some of the internal feedback I have been getting, I think they are, in fact, listening.

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