At last someone says it: US media have lost the will to think for themselves
I’n no great fan of the British media — especially the UK tabloids. It seems to me that they have a relentless dumbing-down effect on political debate and public argument. And I was taken in for years by the conventional wisdom that US journalism had higher standards of objectivity and editorial quality. But since 9/11 I’ve been rethinking that position. Firstly I see precious little real diversity in the mainstream US media: the only newspaper which still seems capable of publishing stuff which is seriously critical of the ‘war’ on terror and the upcoming campaign against Iraq is the venerable old NYT. Secondly, a lot of mainstream US journalism is, well, boring and uninspired. Last time I was in Washington, for example, the Post used to send me to sleep.
How nice to see, then, that an English hack resident in the US, Matthew Engel, has finally penned a piece which is highly critical of US journalism. “The worldwide turmoil caused by President Bush’s policies”, he writes, “goes not exactly unreported, but entirely de-emphasised. Guardian writers are inundated by emails from Americans asking plaintively why their own papers never print what is in these columns (in my experience, these go hand-in-hand with an equal number insulting us for the same reason). In the American press, day after day, the White House controls the agenda. The supposedly liberal American press has become a dog that never bites, hardly barks but really loves rolling over and having its tummy tickled. “
Good stuff. And there’s lots more in the same vein. The bottom line is this: a working democracy requires vigorous, independent and critical media that reach the majority of citizens. The US doesn’t have those at present. The Fourth Estate has emasculated itself: an important check on political and corporate power has evaporated. And it’s not just in relation to political power that this matters: look at how the corrupt hyping of dot-com companies went unremarked; and where were the watchdogs of US financial journalism when Enron’s swindling was at its height? And as for the Savings and Loan scandal of the Reagan years, well… words fail one.