US news: utter utter rubbish

I am working from home today which has given me the rare and entirely unsatisfactory opportunity to watch the lunchtime TV news in the United States of America.

People often say that the news in the US is terrible – and it is, it is appalling. But it hit home this lunchtime when I flipped between different news channels while eating lunch. CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and god knows how many other channels. And all of it absolutely dreadful. I know for example from listening to the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme first thing this morning that one of the world’s most wanted war criminals Radovan Karadzic was arrested late last night. I also know that a possible huge breakthrough has been made with prostate cancer.

What else do I know from this morning? Well, that India’s government may have survived a vote of no confidence; that Mugabe is talking with the Zimbabwe opposition about possible power-sharing. I know there has been some kind of attack in Israel.

Having watched an hour of lunchtime TV news in the US I know that: there are two US presidential candidates and one of them is abroad at the moment; that people have made video parodies of the two candidates and posted them on the Internet; that a TV news host appeared on a TV chatshow last night; and that someone made a stupid comment about autism on some other TV show.

Gossip and impersonation

It’s not even the absolute dearth of real news. What is all the more disturbing is that the news that is presented isn’t news but mindless, misleading gossip. The clearest example of this is that nearly everyone that appears on TV provides “analysis” of short clips that comprises of them talking with the assumed voice of the person in the clip. So, for example, Barak Obama gave a press conference having met General Petraeus in Iraq yesterday. A tiny clip of what he said is shown and then the TV studio people take over.

“So what he’s saying is ‘Hey, I’m the guy in charge here – I’m the person who decides what to do, not you.’ Is that right [name of so-called expert]?”
“I think what he was saying was: ‘If I become president, then I’ll be the person that calls the shots.'”

This goes on and on with people making up dialogue and pretending to be Barak Obama (or General Petraeus, or whoever they decide to impersonate) rather than actually playing what was actually said.

It gets worse:

  • The analysis of what someone says is clearly bent by the reporters themselves along political party lines
  • The media reports constantly on itself – constantly
  • The focus is entirely on the back story, and the actual story itself is given lip-service
  • There is never a neutral statement – it is always an extreme perspective provided in a third-party voice with a question-mark stuck on the end to suggest impartiality
  • There is absolutely no effort to provide historical context
  • The coverage is deeply cynical in the sense that people are assumed to have a hidden and planned agenda even when the connection drawn would have been impossible to predict as it doesn’t follow logical reasoning
  • There is no effort to reach a greater understanding, instead the sole intent is to provoke disagreement and partisan perspective – with the anchor used solely to egg on disagreement

It is, in short, unwatchable. I can pick up more real information in five minutes online than in an hour watching television. I am seriously thinking of cancelling my cable subscription. What’s the point?

  1. Long time no post, Kieren!
    Have you read “Flat Earth News” by Nick Davies yet? It’ll soon shatter your respect for the UK media, too. Although having said that, the Today programme is still required listening – but I now shout at it “Reworded PR company press release!” with increasing frequency as a result…

  2. I am seriously thinking of cancelling my cable subscription. What’s the point?

    The footy starts again soon 🙂

  3. Our cable gets BBC News 24 which is a class above the rest. Still don’t watch it as I favor the BBC news website and the paper version of the NY Times for my news sources instead.

  4. Good analysis, Kieren. It’s a long time since I was in the US, but that’s pretty much how I remember it.

    I think this also ought to remind us how lucky we are to have decent quality reporting in this country, particularly on Radio 4. I sometimes complain about Today but it’s a million times better than what you get in the US. And PM is usually excellent.

  5. Hey Neil – yes I know re: posting. I have decided I need to post more – keep myself sane. I’m not sure I said I had much respect for the UK media either ;-). But it’s weird how even bad reporting is preferable to no reporting.

    It is difficult to fully comprehend the almost entire lack of journalism that exists in the news over here.


  6. Actually, there is a not-bad channel here – PSC, i think – that does footy from across the world. It’s quite funny to hear Americans trying desperately hard not to leap into the super-language that is so common in US sports.

    There is usually some Scottish bloke talking in a dour voice and you can just tell the two American hosts can’t fathom how he can be there when he’s just so… dull. You have to YELL and get REALLY EXCITED every two minutes if you’re a US commentator or you’re out.


  7. The barracking of Humphries et al occasionally annoyed me – but at least there is a questioning and reasoning behind it. The anchors here just shout biased statements at the guests and force them to respond.

    I listen to the Today programme using the BBC’s Listen Again just to keep myself sane.


  8. I’ve just double-checked – nope can’t get BBC News 24. I can get BBC America – which I don’t like at all. But I have just found that PBS has BBC World News – so I have set that to record next time it is on and I’ll see if it’s any good.

    Thank god for the Internet, that’s what I say.


  9. I was just wondering what you think of a journalism concept that features live news from around the country and world all one one web site. Our plan is to create a sort of global journalism site so viewers from around the world can easily be informed.

    It’s called and it runs 24 hours a day. Viewers get to see the action as it unfolds thanks to the many live helicopter feeds from different stations on the site and the more than 200 feeds on the site. They also interact with each other thanks to the chat room. If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, you can reach me at


    Rebecca Sanchez

  10. “It gets worse…solely to egg on disagreement”

    The sad thing is that you’re sitting watching the future of media. With one exception, the bit about egging on disagreement, you’ve described the big political blogs, such as the HuffPo (“The Internet’s newspaper”). The difference is that the participants egg on each other to eject anyone who disagrees with the majority viewpoint. Other than that, US TV news and the big blogs have become mirrors of each other.

  11. And we can all see the kind of voter, thinker, statesman/woman, visionary this crap produces….

  12. We have five channels here in Aus. The ABC is like the BBC but without any budget, SBS is like Ch4 but aimed more at ethnic minorities (and used to have live Premiership footy until Murdoch spirited it away to PoxTel and a subscription) and the other three are fully commercial and stuffed with endless CSI This and CSI That. Some nights are just cop dramas back-to-back for three hours. And lastly there’s ABC2 which has endless repeats of top notch BBC and Ch4 comedies; it’s the one channel that keeps me sane.

  13. Kieren, take the advice of someone who has felt your pain.

    If you want to find out the news from US cable TV, your best bet is to watch the History Channel and just extrapolate.

  14. Hey Kev,

    I’m trying NPR – National Public Radio. It’s not bad – at least it provides the actual news in a professional format. But it is very, well, twee.

    You can just imagine the presenters wearing nice warm jumpers and tutting at little things that irritate them. It’s real news but in a tea cosy.

    Still 1,000 times better than the “trapped in a lift with a bellowing idiot” experience that most TV news over here represents.


  15. Love it. See my email.

    Personally NPR drives me up the wall because of the pseudo-ads and the “fundraising drives” so I gave it up. The BBC World half-hour news show is awful – done on the cheap, it’s terrible, cardboard sets and third rate presenters.

    BBC America is just Antiques Roadshow repeats and Dr Who.

    Strangely enough, you can oftentimes pick up France 24 or whatever it’s called on cable – the French CNN – and that’s pretty good, for straight news. It’s usually channel 73682 or something.

    Why not just listen to Today show podcasts?

  16. Yes, there are two NPRs – one where it is in fundraising mode – which is unbearable – and one where it isn’t – where it is twee.

    The BBC World thing is not bad but I think the problem is that it’s such a cheap version of the real thing that it makes it quite hard to watch.

    I am getting into the BBC news website’s one-minute news update.

    Re: Today. I find the podcasts a bit frustrating in the same way I find Jonathan Ross’ podcast annoying – it’s edited chunks. However, the Today programme now does its own terrific Listen Again page where it breaks up the show into playable parts with an explanation.

    I’ve started using that in the morning as my main news source. I’ll try to put together my new wireless network tonight (adding draft-N and file storage) so I’ll sticlk my other laptop in the bedroom and hey presto! Today programme playing in bed – just like back in Blighty.


  17. get free publicity…

    But there is a flip side. We\’re currently working with a couple of great interns from the PR degree at Leeds Metropolitan University. Try a quick Google search on Matt Peden and the second site you\’ll find will be one of Matt\’s contributions t…

  18. Why? You ask is the US Media so rotten?

    Only 3 men, zionist, own every single major media outlet in America, (that includes all News, Papers, Book Publishing, and music)

    And all their executives belong to a propaganda club called the CFR

    The Council on Foreign Relations was specifically formed to persuade American opinion

    Coupled with the fact that Rockefeller and Dewey employed the philosophies of Wundt & Hagel into the American education system many years ago

    I will remind you that Wundt & Hagel’s philosophies were used by Marx and Trotsky to forge the mechanics of Communism

    Thus, Americans are, in Rockefellers own words, “passive cogs in the wheel of society”

    Now you know why the news in the USA sucks; and why the American sheeple haven’t realized that there nation is entirely bankrupt!

    Oct 1st US Military troops are training to fight American citizens

    US owes 96 trillion it has plundered & pledged to SS & Medicare

    US plundered another 53 trillion from other trusts

    US owes 10 trillion interest to a bunch of private bankers it allows to print money out of thin air

    US owes on 12 trillion Freddie & Fannie; US owes untold to Bernanke’s buddies on Wall Street

    US is over and done with!

    Thank god for my second citizenship!

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