by Mary Dejevsky
Monday, 31
August 2020

There’s more to foreign news than US politics

Something the UK media seems to forget...
by Mary Dejevsky
Donald Trump stages a rally in Ohio, USA

Recent days have given a foretaste of what is to come between now and the first week of November: the all-consuming British media obsession with US politics. Yes, the United States is the richest and most powerful country in the world. Yes, it matters — of course it does — who is, or becomes, the US President. And, yes, the United States is an important ally — probably, post-Brexit, the most important ally — of the UK.

But their election is not our election. Their news is not our news. Their domestic social problems are not ours — and they should not be reported as if they were. Yet coverage of the ‘virtual’ party conventions, the protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the Martin Luther King memorial march in Washington together occupied the top half, sometimes more, of news programmes on the BBC and other mainstream UK media last week, with some of the reports sounding almost like part of the internal US debate.

With nine weeks to go until the main event, US politics is already smothering a host of foreign news stories closer to home, which are picked up and summarily dropped. Nor is it just the volume or prominence of the reporting. It is the way in which US politics is treated as though it is familiar territory.

For the next two months, UK viewers and listeners will have to get used all over again to the US terminology bandied about, without explanation or context, by legions of permanent and special correspondents fanning out all over the great US of A. They will ride this or that special plane or battlebus, they will report breathlessly on this or that rally; the TV debates; the latest polls. They will reel off the names of “swing” states as though they were marginal constituencies in England’s north-west.

It remains to be seen how far the campaign or the UK’s media coverage will be constrained by the pandemic; how much will be virtual and how much real. But if the hours devoted by the UK media to US politics in recent weeks are an indicator, the answer — in terms of coverage — is: not much.

Don’t get me wrong. I love US politics as much as anyone. I spent five years reporting from Washington DC, which included one of the most absorbing election aftermaths in any democracy ever: the tied election of 2000 that was eventually decided by the Supreme Court. Still, it seems to me that, especially since satellite TV has enabled real-time reporting, the UK media has been seduced into a style and volume of US election coverage that is way out of proportion to the task in hand and borderline incomprehensible to all but the most wonkish of wonks.

How has this happened? Partly, I submit, because the status and fun of a US election so far outweigh the graft and the exhaustion — for a UK reporter. You get to travel all over, the figures come pre-digested by media-friendly pollsters, and your average American is a dream for a quote-hungry reporter. You don’t have to speak another language — well, you do, but few recognise that. Which is where, perhaps, change might begin. Even for a UK audience, a US presidential election needs translation; and the coverage needs an awareness, at very least, that the United States is “abroad”.

Join the discussion

  • I especially noticed this during coronavirus when troops of the world’s two most populous nations were fighting each other on top of the world. That sounds like it’d be a great news story, no? Chinese and Indian troops fought in the Himalayas over their contested border there. Yet it took weeks for the BBC even to bother mentioning it at all. Even these two great powers are not as interesting as the USA and the Dominions.

    This is one of the curious aspects of the woke: they preach the need to respect all cultures, but are solipsistically obsessed with traditionally white cultures. It is parallelled in their obsession that only white cultures are high-minded enough to cope with diversity. Compare and contrast with their belief that the cause of conflicts in the Middle East and Africa is because different ethnic groups were forced together by imperialist “lines on a map”. They think that different ethnic groups living in the same country spontaneously causes violence when those groups are all non-white, even if those groups have lived near each other for millennia. But they think that whites are civilised enough to not have any trouble living with ethnic groups that have been disruptively mass-imported into their countries at short notice. The truth is, as so often, somewhere in between: different ethnic groups being forced to live cheek by jowl will always cause tension and conflict, but it is not the only cause.

  • I agree with your point overall, but this is my regular reminder to everyone that George Floyd was not killed “by a cop”. He died of a drug overdose that video footage shows was already shutting down his respiratory system before the police laid a finger on him.

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