Saturday, January 13, 2007

Broadcast Softies...

A column on the CBS news Public Eye site:

Bob Giles suggests that US broadcasters don't ask the hard questions, which does a disservice to the audience. He also explains how the British style of reporting is much more confrontational and aggressive than the American style, which tends to be more respectful, especially of politicians.

Giles cites a Washington Post White House Briefing column: “In contrast to the small-bore questions that American reporters posed to President Bush yesterday about his Iraq policy, two British journalists cut right to the central issue of the president’s credibility.”

Giles concedes that TV news plays the important role of letting the source tell his or her own story and "bringing the audience along for the interview." By watching an official speak on camera, the audience can absorb the information more directly than when the information is first ingested and then described by a print journalist.

Giles writes, "In an era when elected officials try to manipulate the news and spin it to their advantage, when they are able to speak anonymously or have hired spokespersons speak for them, this special role of television reporting as visual surrogate for the public is critical."

That said, it is still the job of the reporter - any reporter - to ask hard questions and seek answers. I think there are some American broadcast reporters that probe and ask tough questions. However, I think Americans are always aware not to offend their subjects too much or they won't return to the show.

The Brits have a cultural style that is embedded in the relationship between politicians and journalists. Tony Blair expects to get battered and bruised in an interview. President Bush does not, because a different relationship has been established. I'm sure US journalists are concerned that if they antagonize too much, prominent officials will refuse to go on their show - which would in time translate to low ratings, pulled advertising... and cancellation. The BBC doesn't have this problem. This of course also brings us back to the corporate control vs. public funding debate.



At Saturday, January 13, 2007, Blogger Medill Media Watch said...

I think you bring up an interesting point-- the parallel relationship between cultural values and media values. I have always tended to categorize the media into a lump, though I know values differ from country to country. It's a wake-up call to American journalists who don't ask the tough questions. What's the point of American news media if reporters can't ask them? We don't learn anything new.

At the same time, you also note the constraints that U.S. journalists face BECAUSE the news media is a business, which forces reporters to weigh the importance of getting to the heart of the news versus having to deal with the wrath of your superiors when politicians and business partners ("supporting the news organization") get into trouble.

It's a difficult choice to make.


At Saturday, January 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Bob Giles. I just read an article online about why American journalists in general, not just broadcasters, don't ask the tough questions. When journalists have the opportunity, why don't they probe supporters of the war why they still support it? What do they foresee for the future? Or, more basically, what happened with the faulty intelligence that took us there in the first place?

CY is probably correct when they said the BUSINESS of journalism is the main contraint on American journalists. If you offend the parent company of your news organization, you could be out of a job. Afterall, it's better to be a journalist than out of a job.


At Saturday, January 13, 2007, Anonymous JK said...

I believe journalists don't ask enough hard questions to those on the left side of politics.

Matt Lauer: "From your point of view, if you were to run for President you could take this issue [global warming] to the next level, even during just a campaign. And if you were fortunate enough to win the presidency, you’d sit in the most powerful office in the free world with a real chance to make — you could be in a position to save the planet, without putting too much emphasis on it. Wouldn’t that be enough of a reason to run for President for you?"

"I want to get to ‘Hillary ’08,’ but I want to start with It Takes a Village ’07. Because this book came out ten years ago and a lot has happened in the past ten years that makes it, I think, even more imperative, that we will need a village to raise healthy, secure children. We’ve had the war in Iraq, 9/11, the impact of the Internet. What is the most important thing we can do, as a nation, to guarantee that our children are safe and secure?"
— Meredith Vieira’s first question to Senator Hillary Clinton on NBC’s Today, December 18.

But Wolf Blitzer doesn't hesitate to ask Lynne Cheney (on the show to talk about her book) about allegations of torture her husband might condone, as well as possible sexual content in her book that might be considered salacious.

Have you ever seen Condoleezza Rice on Meet the Press? She looks like she's sweating!

But maybe those in power will always be asked harder questions than those who aren't.

Also I've worked for three different media companies and never in my experience did corporate sponsors ever interfere with programming. Programming directors are compeletely protective of their brand, and audience, and wouldn't do anything to compromise the integrity of the station.

I think the theory that corporations interfere with journalism is a fairy tale made up by those who'd rather see our media run by the government. Sorry, if I wanted to live in Russia, I'd move there.


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