How The British Story Of Ireland Is The Norm For The American Press

One of the more interesting aspects of writing An Sionnach Fionn is my occasional brushes with the mainstream media (however that is defined in these post-web 2.0 days). Principally it is representatives of the press in Ireland, or their UK equivalents, including what used to be known as “wire services”, seeking information or access to what they presume to be Irish “republican” or “left-wing” thinking. Sometimes the focus of the contact is some historical matter or viewpoint that I have raised on ASF which I duly see featured in a news article or opinion piece published several days later (sans attribution). However every now and again I am contacted by a journalist from the United States, usually from one of the East Coast newspapers or their online rivals, doing some research into Irish current affairs (the recent general election saw a small flurry of such email enquiries). What has struck me about these communications, among other things, is the nationality of the men and women employed by the American media. Of the last ten contacts six were British, and two were living in Britain itself. Of the six UK subjects, all were between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five, from obvious middle-class backgrounds (no surprise there), and were living in London, New York and Washington. Five of the six, it might be noted, were male.

Of course all journalists “freelance” to some degree and it is very rare for a reporter to work solely for one publication. That said, the British journalists listed the US corporations as their primary employers in their social media profiles and personal websites. I have touched upon this issue a few times and was pleased to see my own experiences echoed in those of some ASF readers. As Colm J points out:

“…the American media and entertainment industry is heavily dominated by British ex-pats. Nearly 20 years ago a college lecturer who had worked for Condé Nast in New York, told me that everyone in American magazine publishing was British. The same applies, to a large extent, to Hollywood and U.S. television. This dominance not only helps explain the rather obsessive promotion of British culture in the American media (the constant focus on the not very interesting or charismatic British royals for example), but also the anti-Irish outlook of so much media and showbiz output there.”

While one can certainly exaggerate such problems, I think the above Comment does go to the heart of the matter. Indeed a recent email exchange, stemming from this article on Andrew O’Hehir’s examination of the 1916 Easter Rising for Salon, took place with a journalist who has worked for three of the biggest news websites in the United States. In it she argued that their “European reporting” was, in her words, “distorted by a reliance on British authors” (the quotes are used with permission). She gave as examples the EU and the euro, the 2014 independence referendum in Scotland, and Islamist terrorism on the Continent where she believed that for much of the US press it was a case of “London calling”. Of note was her highlighting of the now almost universal reliance by the American press on journalists from the UK for its reporting on Europe as a whole, with the era of the US-born “foreign correspondent” almost entirely gone (though she agreed with some of that system’s previously discussed flaws).

Of course the media in the United States has recognised the “British takeover” for some time, though usually in a laudatory way. Paul Farhi wrote about this in the Washington Post way back in 2013:

“The British are coming — actually, they’re already here. And they’re running some of America’s top media and entertainment companies and successfully peddling their shows, newspapers and magazines to the former colonies.

There are so many Brits at the highest echelons of the American news and cultural establishment these days that it’s enough to make a bloke wonder: What’s all this about then?

The latest member of the British invasion: Deborah Turness, who was named president of NBC News last week. Turness, the head of Britain’s ITV News, will be the first woman and the second Brit (after CBS’s Howard Stringer in the late 1980s) to oversee the news division of a major American network.

Last year, the New York Times Co. named Mark Thompson, the former director general of the BBC, Britain’s media crown jewel, as its chief executive. His countryman, Gerard Baker — ex-BBC, ex-Financial Times, ex-Times of London — became the top editor at the Wall Street Journal in December.

The equally British Joanna Coles last year became editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, the preeminent guide to all the Things that Will Drive Him Wild in Bed. Then there’s Piers Morgan, the former British tabloid journalist who anchors CNN’s signature interview program. And ex-BBC-er Martin Bashir, who hosts an interview show on MSNBC. And Colin Myler, another former British tabloid journalist who is the editor of the New York Daily News.

ABC Entertainment Group President Paul Lee, also formerly with the BBC, has been responsible for selecting the prime-time programming at his network (that would be the American Broadcasting Co.) for the past three years. Yet another Beeb vet, Jon Williams, was hired by ABC News in March to run its international news operations.

Meanwhile, much of America’s reality TV comes from British producers: Mark Burnett (“Survivor,” “The Apprentice,” ‘The Voice”); Nigel Lythgoe and Simon Fuller (“American Idol,” “So You Think You Can Dance”); and Simon Cowell (“American Idol,” “X Factor”).

Of course, the very British Anna Wintour has long edited Vogue magazine and expat Tina Brown edits the Daily Beast and Newsweek (and before that Talk, the New Yorker and Vanity Fair). Brown’s British husband, Harold Evans, once edited Esquire. Another Brit, the Internet entrepreneur Nick Denton, is the force behind such popular Web sites as Gawker and Gizmodo.

…increasingly, some of the queen’s subjects have been making decisions about what Americans read, see and hear.”

Most Americans couldn’t find Ireland on a map of the world, and quite frankly, why should they? This island nation and its affairs are minuscule concerns on the global stage, of little interest to anyone but those who live here and some of those who inhabit its diaspora. However when the issue of Ireland does become a newsworthy event one might hope for some fair and informed treatment. Is that really possible when so much of the US news media relies on individuals from a country whose history with Ireland is almost entirely based on strife? If the United States was to rely on Russian journalists in Moscow or in the news rooms of New York and Washington for its reportage of events in Ukraine it would be treated with derision. Likewise if it were to take its Israeli reporting from the newswires of Tehran there would be outrage. Yet that is the prevailing system for Irish-related journalism in the US, as filtered through British eyes, and has been for decades. Though, arguably, it is worse now than it ever has been.

 

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3 comments

  1. The only time I’ve ever felt called upon to write a letter to Vogue was ..gosh, before the turn of the century, when Anna made some snide, nasty remarks in her “Editors Letter” about Sinn Fein’s policy of abstention, which they were still using.
    I wrote her such a letter. Wish I still had it. They actually printed it in the Letters to the Editor a few issues later.

  2. It’s their MO, they train for the media, the arts, education and finance. They get top jobs in T.V., newspapers, universities, theatres, museums, banks etc, etc. Many of them retained their positions in these jobs when this country became independent, indeed their presence in these positions prevented true independence and the situation has only gotten worse over time.

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