Alex Massie Alex Massie

All the News that’s Fun to Print

At the Washington Independent Dave Weigel – Delaware’s finest* – has an entertaining piece on some of the differences between the British and American attitudes to journalism. The occasion for this rumination is the departure from DC of Tim Shipman**, formerly the Sunday Telegraph’s man in Washington, who is returning to Blighty to be Deputy Political Editor at the dear old Daily Mail. Weigel’s piece is suitably entertaining, but perhaps my favourite bit was this:

That isn’t the view of Democrats who have been burned by the Telegraph’s stories. “They use anonymous sources to a degree that makes you wonder if they actually have them,” said Bob Shrum, the retired political consultant who managed the presidential campaigns of Al Gore and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). “I would have murdered someone from the Kerry campaign if they talked to the Daily Telegraph.”

What Shrum – 0 for 8 in Presidential campaigns and, tellingly, Friend of Gordon Brown – means of course is that he doesn’t like it when other people are the anonymous sources or when he can’t “shape” the “narrative” himself. In other words, it’s a question of control. and that, of course, is something the press is supposed to subvert.

The Washington press corps takes itself very seriously indeed and there are times when this helps produce journalism of a depth and quality that is beyond anything the British press aspires to. But it’s not all good news! There are times when this Seriousness of Purpose becomes an impediment to good journalism. If the old adage that news is something that someone doesn’t want you to know, then entire weeks can pass without the White House press corps revealing anything that might embarrass the administration. Heck, Dana Milbank’s snark-filled sketch for the Washington Post is too much entertainment for many of that paper’s readers to stomach.

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