July 28, 2003

JIM BENNETT RESPONDS TO ANNE APPLEBAUM on the differences between American and British media:

Applebaum is a keenly observant commentator who has lived in both nations and is well connected with a wide range of intellects on both sides of the pond. I respect her work. However, I would at least qualify her opinion in this matter by saying that, though as a snapshot of here and now I can’t disagree with her, I think she is missing the bigger story.

Separate as the British and American information universes have been until now, a process of convergence has begun that will continue until there is only a single Anglosphere information universe. In this, the differences between right and left (for example) become more important than the distinctions of national origin. This process is already foreshadowed in the leading edge of the information universe, which at this point in time is the blogosphere — the world of the Web logs, or blogs. . . .

They will likely set the tone more and more for the coming generation. Furthermore, the rise of the blogosphere will likely affect Britain disproportionately to America.

This is because Britain has had a particularly small and closed intellectual class compared to America, a result not only of the island’s smaller size and population, but because of its comparatively small and closed university system. If you went to Oxford or Cambridge, you really did get to meet the majority of the people that would constitute the political nation for your generation. In America, in contrast, a Harvard or Yale degree obviously helped, but you knew that for the rest of your career you would also be dealing with many people from Michigan or Oklahoma, or maybe West Texas State Teacher’s College, or even no university at all, and that such people could very well be more important than you. . . .

Combined with the Internet revolution, the democratization of Britain is leading to an expanded worldview, one that is already seeing both its right and left aligning much more closely with their American counterparts than ever before. Even British anti-Americanism, once the prerogative of the patrician Tory sneer, has succumbed to Anglosphere convergence, and must import Michael Moore as cheerleader.

Interesting.

UPDATE: John Leo, in a piece on journalistic quote-altering, notes:

The BBC, probably the most relentlessly anti-American organization in Britain, recently altered a transcript of one of its own stories, thus misquoting itself. The story dealt with Park Jong-lin, a 70-year-old veteran of the Korean War who “served in the North Korean army fighting against the imperialist American aggressors and their South Korean accomplices.” In the altered version quote marks now surround “imperialist American aggressors” and the BBC’s reference to “accomplices” was changed to “allies.”

Prediction: Because Internet bloggers now watch the wayward BBC carefully, more touched-up transcripts will come to light. The BBC, by the way, falsely reported the Jessica Lynch rescue as a made-for-TV special faked with U.S. soldiers firing blanks for the cameras. (Change that transcript!)

I think it’s a safe prediction.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Bob Bartley describes the problem well, whether at the BBC, Reuters, or The New York Times:

The opinion of the press corps tends toward consensus because of an astonishing uniformity of viewpoint. Certain types of people want to become journalists, and they carry certain political and cultural opinions. This self-selection is hardened by peer group pressure. No conspiracy is necessary; journalists quite spontaneously think alike. The problem comes because this group-think is by now divorced from the thoughts and attitudes of readers.

Yes, and it’s sufficiently insular that it won’t be revisited without considerable pressure. Blogs are providing some of that, but I think the market will provide more.