I was up early yesterday morning, early enough to catch the half-hour live broadcast of the BBC News that airs on my local PBS channel every morning. After it ended, I switched over to CNN and watched it until I couldn’t stand the babbling anymore. Which wasn’t very long. It turns out I wasn’t the only one who noticed a difference. This analysis by critic David Zurawik appeared in this morning’s Baltimore Sun:
While the American news channels and commercial networks that aired in Britain yesterday were filled with images of carnage and talk of confusion in the wake of bombings in London, the government-supported BBC, the most-watched news outlet in the United Kingdom in times of crisis, offered viewers an oasis of relative calm. Interviews with correspondents and government officials interspersed with videotaped images of emergency workers restoring order provided a sense of stability even as the death toll climbed.
Zurawik provided examples of CNN’s hysteria and fear-mongering and contrasted them with the calm, stoic, fact-based approach of the BBC.
The marked contrast in coverage offers clues to differences in national history and character. It also stems from a philosophy at the BBC that is decidedly at odds with that of the ratings-driven networks and all-news cable channels of the U.S.
“The tonality, rhythm and psychology of BBC coverage of the bombings – very low-key, very measured, with no calls for revenge or emotional response – is not an accident,” said Greg Nielsen, director of the BBC World Archive at Concordia University in Montreal.
“It goes back to the days of the Second World War when the BBC World Radio reports were such a key source of information for the Allied forces and the world. There’s a certain attitude and quite different history from commercial broadcasters both in America and Britain that results in higher standards – a keen sense of duty in time of crisis.”
What does that mean for Americans?
Michael Brody, a Washington psychiatrist, said he applauded the BBC coverage yesterday.
“I’ve been monitoring CNN and the BBC all day, and there’s no doubt about it,” said Brody, who heads the Television & Media Committee of the American Academy of Childhood and Adolescent Psychiatry.
“American TV – particularly the all-news cable guys – is constantly hyping things up with talk of the potential for further attacks, while the BBC was trying to calm things down and reassure viewers that things were under control. As a psychiatrist, I have no doubt about the harmful effects of the former vs. the helpful effects of what I saw happening on the BBC.”
Please note that the BBC passed along all the facts. I didn’t feel that they were holding back anything or that CNN was engaging in more aggressive or knowledgeable reporting. The professionals at the BBC were just using fewer inflammatory adjectives and adverbs, and they weren’t indulging in random speculation.
And don’t get me started on Fox News, where anchor Brit Hume said his “first thought” after hearing about the attacks was that it would be an excellent time to put a few more dollars in the stock market:
I mean, my first thought when I heard — just on a personal basis, when I heard there had been this attack and I saw the futures this morning, which were really in the tank, I thought, “Hmmm, time to buy.”
That’s on the heels of the disgusting remarks by anchor John Gibson (just hours before the bombings) who says he wished the Olympic committee had awarded the 2012 Olympics to France:
It would have been a three-week period where we wouldn’t have had to worry about terrorism.
First, the French think they are so good at dealing with the Arab world that they would have gone out and paid every terrorist off. And things would have been calm.
Or another way to look at it is the French are already up to their eyeballs in terrorists. The French hide them in miserable slums, out of sight of the rich people in Paris.
So it would have been a treat, actually, to watch the French dealing with the problem of their own homegrown Islamist terrorists living in France already.
It would have been a delight to have Parisians worried about security instead of New Yorkers. It would have been exquisite to watch.
Does Gibson get a free pass because he said that before the attacks? Nope. After the bombings, he wrote:
This is why I thought the Brits should let the French have the Olympics (search) — let somebody else be worried about guys with backpack bombs for a while.
In a sane world, both those guys would be working for the minimum wage instead of being paid huge salaries to whip their audiences into a jingoistic frenzy.
We really deserve a better media in this country.
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