Dear Big Daddy,
What do you think of the scandals in England? Wish you were there?
–Obsessed in Oxnard
There’s nothing like a good political debate – remember when I took on David Roberti in the Rules Committee over the unicameral Legislature? – and when it’s tinged with scandal and lawbreaking and tragedy, it gets even better. Oh, boy.
That’s why I’m obsessed with the unfolding drama in the United Kingdom, where a scandal potentially much larger than our Watergate is unfolding. News coverage is at the heart of the dispute.
I’m also obsessed with reporting, and that’s why I find interesting comparison between coverage in the U.S. and coverage across the pond.
A journalist friend of mine once told me that his editors here never liked a story unless it had the words “indictment” or “sex” in the lead. Those editors – and they weren’t alone – would have loved the British newspapers, and I’m starting to like them, too.
The reason is that there are no holds barred. Unlike the prissy and disengaged mainstream American media obsessed with ersatz objectivity, the Brits make no pretense of where they stand and where they’re going.
I hate prissy coverage and with a few exceptions that’s what I got in Sacramento. Naturally, I didn’t complain.
The spreading scandal of Rupert Murdoch’s U.K. media empire – the hacking of telephone messages, the hiring of private detectives to ferret out personal info from high-profile celebrities, the cozy-up relationship between editors and politicos, etc. – highlight the deep flaws in British journalism.
But those same newspapers, mostly tabloids that make the National Enquirer look like the Economist, are covering the scandal with ferocity. Okay, so they still run stories on diets, marital dysfunction, starlets, footballers’ wives, TV soap stars, health anomalies, horrific traffic crashes, kinky murders and the like. But they also cover politics with verve and abandon, and the best of the U.K. papers, The Guardian, is the reason why we’re hearing about this scandal now – its reporter broke the story.
In the U.S., of our three national papers – the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today – one (the Times) is good, a second (the Journal) is okay and the third is ho-hum at best.
In Britain, none is on a par with the Times, but several national papers are good reads. And British politicians don’t stew over the reporters’ political convictions – reporters’ politics don’t matter anyway and the papers’ politics are well known, so if a Labour leader is being interviewed by the Daily Mail, he knows what kind of story to expect, he knows what to expect.
Nobody seems to make a pretense of objectivity, as even the most biased of American reporters do, and great stories still get broken, like The Guardian’s Nick Davies on the phone-hacking scandal or the Daily Telegraph’s exposure of the parliamentary expense account, abuses which forced major changes.
So I like the fierce news coverage. And wading through photos of bikini-clad starlets to get to it makes it even better.