Saturday, 27 December 2008

US TV News

I first realised that there might be something up with the quality of US media in 1996 where I was in Houston for some training. I was due to be at work for 8.00 am. so decided to catch the news for fifteen minutes prior to departure. CNN was located on the television. Not my favourite broadcaster, but I knew it from the international coverage so, it was reasonable enough. Or so I thought it would be. The 07:15 story was the Santa Claus’ of Time Square. Okay, I settled down to wait for this soft item to finish. 07:20 and it was still on. By that time even the commentators had given up; just images of guys in wigs and red suits were being broadcast. 07:25. They’re taking the piss aren’t they? 07:30 came and it was time to leave for work. What the hell is going on?

This couldn’t possibly be representative of the internal US media could it? So after that I made a point of tuning in on a daily basis. While the items were not so dire (how could they be?), the coverage was limited to solely US domestic news. If there was the rarest of mentions of anything international, it was always in relation to either a visit by a senior government member or news from abroad that had direct implications for the USA. I was told there was one regular international news programme, that going out at the less-than-peak-time of 4.00 pm. In the domestic news there was always, and I mean always, a news item about the President, even if he was doing bugger all that day.

As I said, that was twelve years ago. This morning I found the CBS Early program. Okay, I thought. Let’s see what is on?

  • Main news item on the hour: consumer spending. Message: “do the patriotic thing,” go out and “if you have money, spend it.”

  • The holiday period with the Obama family.

  • Lance Armstrong is a father again. Does drug taking reduce an athlete’s sperm count?

  • Schumacher Chevrolet. A small business bucking the trend. “What would you do if you got a call from the White House, asking you to step in and run America’s motor industy?”

  • Military families at Christmas

  • Eartha Kitt. Died on Christmas Day, aged 81.

Alright, it is the holiday period. But if this is representative of the news in America, no wonder the general public is ignorant of world affairs. I love the American people, they are warm and generous and it is a fantastic place to visit. But it is almost distressing the lack of general knowledge that most people have about the outside world. There has been plenty of jokes made about it already. I too have my funny stories. But this isn’t the time to tell them here. I’m trying to make a serious point. The citizens of the USA deserve better than they are getting. When I was a child, I learned things off the news. The British media is by no means perfect but it is often informative and does cover at least the major world events even in its’ most popularist news programs. There is even a special news program for children on the BBC to introduce them to the concepts of news and information.

Bigger names and smarter guys than me have commented on the state of the US media and whom they serve. Noam Chomsky has written extensively on it. It was also highlighted by Michael Moore in his film “Bowling for Columbine.” The problem is though is that a lot of the serious criticism of the media has been coming from the left of the political spectrum, while the right has been critical of the media for being too liberal. As a foreigner, I don’t understand the terms of such debate. It seems to me that the root question the American people has to ask is “Do we want to be informed and educated by our television news media or not?”

Because at the moment, that question is being answered for you with a resounding “No!"

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