John Walker's Electronic House

News Journalism

by on Sep.12, 2006, under Rants

Television news disgusts me. With the exception of a very occasional unmuzzling of Newsnight, or the enormously rare moments where Channel 4 News defies its ITV News roots and finds its balls, the UK has nothing but worthless parroting of speeches and press releases instead of news. There was a time when an “investigative journalist” was a part of news reporting, where demonstrable untruths were revealed with evidence, and facts were scrutinised before being reported. There was once the opportunity for comment, now replaced by a wantonly ignorant desperation to present a woeful misunderstanding of avoiding bias. Everything goes unchallenged, blindly repeated to the camera, because to question is to be biased, to enquire is to be partisan. Television news is the worthless funnelling of that day’s bullshit, presented in an easy to digest half-hour mouthful, unquestioning, unaccountable, and utterly undemanding.

But at least we can sneer at the Americans, eh? At least there’s Fox News to reassure us that at least we’re not as bad as them. Don’t kid yourself. Sky News is one rung away from its American sister station, ITV News is a pitiful laughing-stock with only months to live (the ghost of ITN unheard), and BBC News so more dangerous for its veneer of respectability, while almost entirely without merit.

And the sneering is even less valid, because there’s one news journalist left, and he’s in America. In fact, in the most peculiar twist, he’s on the wretched MSNBC. Keith Olbermann’s news programme, Countdown W/ Keith Olbermann, reports the reality of the day’s news, with a crew of investigative reporters given room to say what they saw and heard themselves, rather than repeat the released statements presented to them. And Olbermann, with his own set of biases and agenda, is given space to comment. Because that’s how it’s meant to be done.

Perhaps after watching the clips below, the easiest (laziest) response is to announce he is merely an anti-Bush equivalent of Fox News. I can only appeal that you seek out as many clips of Countdown (yes, how amusing that it has the same name as the Channel 4 quiz, well done) as you are able, and witness the same vehemence and passion put into revealing the lies and deceptions of the Left as well.

Yes, this is John going on about someone/thing no one else has ever heard of or cared about. But be sure that on this occasion at least, my passion is valid.

Olbermann, as I’ve said before, signs off saying, “Good night, and good luck” (and occasionally, “Keep your knees loose, America”), and I want to quote this moment specifically:

“Although I presumptuously use his sign-off each night, in feeble tribute, I have utterly no claim to the words of the exemplary journalist Edward R. Murrow.

But never in the trial of a thousand years of writing could I come close to matching how he phrased a warning to an earlier generation of us, at a time when other politicians thought they (and they alone) knew everything, and branded those who disagreed: “confused” or “immoral.”

Thus, forgive me, for reading Murrow, in full:

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty,” he said, in 1954. “We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.

“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.”

And so good night, and good luck.”

20 Comments for this entry

  • DuBBle

    I’m speechless, John. A plethora of profound statements to try and get my head around. What a shame enlightenment so often comes with depression in tow, realising so much is wrong with the world at large, and with so many people, their duty to digest and analyse; we manipulated souls are presented with so little of any worth. Thankyou for sharing that with us, I’ll be sure to share it with my friends.

  • km

    the strange part is, you’re the one who got US watching this show. but now we tivo it every night (tho catch it only occasionally). his 9/11 speech was awesome (the real definition, not like ‘way cool’). i’d vote for him. thanks.

  • admin

    Yes, much thanks to Kim for linking me to the 9/11 story.

  • bob arctor

    I like how he says “at worst, an idiot”, really well said, good emphasis etc.

    I’d say Channel 4 news is the best terrestrial news there is. Newsnight is pretty good, depends if you like its ironic humour stuff it does at the end I suppose.

    The news usually bores me though. Politicians fighting and doing underhand things, again, doesn’t interest me.

  • tedi worrier

    play them both at the same time … works for me

  • Pete F.

    Both as cutting as they are compelling. And, whilst Mr. Olbermann’s passion and resolution are seemingly indefatigable, these clips only serve to embitter me even more towards the retarded, impotent newscasting we have to endure on a daily basis.

    How has it come to this? Why is the general media so aggravatingly and deliberately stupid in the face of such tidal social change?

  • Steve W

    Regretfully, you’re right, of course. The remaining slivers of respect I have for the BBC almost compel me to defend them, to say how their news output is still far and away better than their rivals.

    That it may well be, yet when I think about it, it’s BBC News which I irritate my g/f with ranting about at teatime, rather than the more obviously downmarket ITV News and Sky. The blatant, Daily Mail-stylings for one: “A judge, the fucker, has today handed down a minimum five-year sentence to the rape abductor of ‘Little’ Molly… thoughhestillrecievedalifesentence. Mumble.”

    Ok, so that’s not the worst of it, nor is their increasing use of News 24 for little more than planting stories to advertise their flagship current-affairs shows (“here’s a prominent story on the evil internet, and how it can be used by your children to buy knives. Coincidentally, you can see a special report on this on Panorama tonight”), or their trumpeting of copyright, DRM or paid-for security software over the free stuff.

    No, it’s what they don’t say which really gets my goat. Since Hutton (and possibly before), they’ve singularly failed to challenge accepted opinion on almost any subject, to go against the Government, corporate or party line in any but the most trivial of matters (the Labour leadership soap opera, yawn). Today and PM on Radio 4 used to be marginally better, but they’re just as bad, especially when the headline-chasing, soundbite-obssessed, toothless Carolyn Quinn is in the interviewer’s chair.

    I’m sure it’s still better than the majority of the reporting in the US, but that’s the direction they’re all heading in. I for one don’t know what anyone can do about it.

    Great post, John.

  • Steven Hutton

    “Television news disgusts me.” I think this begs the question: What, then, do you think of print news media? Ignoring The Sun etc – for obvious reasons.

  • JoeVOD

    Interesting clips; and a very good point made about our own televised news. It is all too easy to cling to the idea that the BBC is intelligent and truthful, while at the same time ignoring that the format of our News broadcasts drifts ever closer to a (stereotypical) vacuous American format with equally vacuous reporters and anchors (does Natasha Kaplinski look like she even cares about anything other than her own appearance?). America has an editorial tradition in broadcast news that includes Edward Murrow, Walter Cronkite and now Keith Olbermann. Who do we have at the BBC? Perhaps if Jeremy Paxman were to focus more on the editorial and less on the routine savaging of whichever politician is thrown his way in an interview, we may have a counterpart to Mr Olberman that we could be proud of. Until then, I guess we’ll just have to get our kicks observing the cracks in Ms Kaplinski’s foundation.

  • admin

    Steven, I don’t really consider print newspapers to be “news”. They are now entirely “comment”, making no effort to report facts or occurrences. It’s reasonably recent in its completion, but it is now complete. As you say, we can instantly dismiss the tabloids, but look at the role the serious papers have taken. The Independent uses its front page to scream aimlessly about whatever it thinks is disgusting this morning, (far too often that screaming being the vile anti-Semetic horror of Robert Fisk), the Guardian opines about how the middle-middle-middle-left are hard done by, and obviously the Telegraph and Times pander to the extreme-right position of their respective tax-dodging owners.

    I think, in terms of providing a place for people to make comment on events, they serve a purpose. But I can’t see how they are helpful beyond entertaining yourself by finding the columnist with which you agree the most, and then nodding in agreement some more. They certainly provide no place to challenge authorities, rather muttering and tsking after the event.

  • DuBBle

    That last post, though amusing, was more than a little off the mark. I read The Independent most days, and to say that “They are now… making no effort to report facts or occurences” is not true. There is a great deal of straight, matter-of-fact ‘reporting’ that goes on in the majority of the paper, (National and International news) before the editorial and opinion pages, which have only four pages each day dedicated to them.
    It’s beside the point, but I heartily welcome opinion and comment within its own domain. How else am I to actively agree or disagree, learn of other perspectives, and prepare myself for similar situations in the real world?

  • Tedi Worrier

    On the whole, newspapers have the edge, for example, the Times sudoku is even better than the Telegraph and it just wouldn’t work at all on televison.
    Why else do people buy newspapers, anyway?

  • admin

    DuBBle, there was no intention to be amusing.

    Writing “opinion” above an article is not how one can tell. Any of Fisk’s repulsive reports from the Middle East, that so frequently dominate the front pages, are defiantly opinion. Do not be fooled. Don’t forget that this is the newspaper that decorated its second section with a front page image of a Nazi image for a Fisk article – the US flag with Stars of David.

    THAT is why newspapers are problematic. The insidious opinion that does not label itself.

  • Tim R

    I’m roughly in agreement with both Walkers. Am i grossly in error for buying the Saturday Times because they have killer sudoku, and because they gave away belleville rendezvous last week?

  • Mad Mel's Liquid Finale >> A Worthless Funnelling

    […] Television news disgusts John. I have little to add to his great post, save for some extra musings on the state of the BBC in particular. […]

  • Mr Chris

    “(far too often that screaming being the vile anti-Semetic horror of Robert Fisk),”

    Er… I must be reading a different Robert Fisk then. He’s certainly anti-israel (well, they’re bombing his home, so who wouldn’t be), and a little boring about it on occasion,but I can’t remember one single time when he has strayed over the line into anti-semitism – and he does, to be fair, slag off the other middle eastern governments just as much.

  • Mr Chris

    I’m happy to be corrected with examples, of course – I haven’t read everything he’s ever written, so I’m open to being set right here.

  • Mr Chris

    Oh, in case those links you posted (at 8.01 15/09/06) anwer all of that stuff in relation to Fisk rather neatly, I can’t access them from work, so don’t be too hard on me.

    Anyway yes, newspapers seem to be nothing but opinion these days, from the rabidly right wing neo-con (like Mel Phillips) to the nutjob left (like Johan Hari). The whole “comment is free” thing on the Guardian is even worse, as now you can’t read anything without the trail of ill-informed nonsense posted at the bottom attracting your attention like a particularly horrific yet compulsive-to-look at car crash.

  • Steve W

    “…now you can’t read anything without the trail of ill-informed nonsense posted at the bottom attracting your attention like a particularly horrific yet compulsive-to-look at car crash.”


  • Mr Chris

    Yeah, ironic, isn’t it. Cos I posted at the bottom…

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks for this entry