If anyone wants a good illustration of the utter self-obsession of the modern TV journalist, they need look no further than the sad spectacle of Adam Boulton rebutting a JP blog from outside the White House. I mean, with all due respect to JP, whom I love dearly, did the Sky reporter not have better things to do when two of the (current) most powerful leaders in the world were in the building behind him? You know, people to see, calls to make, ideas to pursue, old-fashioned journalism?
The answer is probably not, at least not in his eyes, not at that time. For in the mind of the modern TV political editor they, rather than the people they cover, are the centre of the universe. JP sent me the Boulton vlog because he thought I would find it as funny as he did.
In fact, I found it rather tragic. There is a new President. The UK Prime Minister is visiting. But seemingly top of Boulton’s mind is the need to talk about himself, how many Presidents he has covered (I doubt any of them remember Adam), how Sky ‘broke the story’ of JP’s punch in 2001 (kind of difficult to miss that one) and to justify the Sky ad in which he ends an interview with Gordon by telling him the BBC will see you now, Prime Minister. (‘Pathetic’ – JP.)
JP also sent it to me because I was enjoined by Boulton as a Go Fourth co-collaborator (I’d prefer colleague) and as a fellow bully of journalists. He talks a lot about being bullied, though I’ve never been clear what form my bullying of him took. Apparently he has tried to explain in a book, which he mentioned on his vlog, but somehow all those novels I didn’t read at university seem a better use of my time.
His vlog rebuttal was sparked by JP cutting through the media ruminations about the fact that the White House did not organise a full press conference for President Obama and GB. He said what the two men discussed and decided was far more important than whether Boulton and the Tory press could ask their smart alec questions designed to embarrass the Prime Minister in front of the President. Hardly a big blow.
As it turned out, both Boulton and the BBC equivalent Nick Robinson managed to get their smart alec questions in at the pool spray (great phrase in the lexicon of spin doctors) in the Oval Office on Tuesday. Needless to say these questions figured prominently in the Sky and BBC bulletins respectively. Indeed, the purpose of the questions these days is simply to ensure the reporter is on screen, rather than to elicit interesting answers, which are incidental.
One of the side effects of the media age has been the TV reporter seeking to become player rather than spectator. When I blogged yesterday, I urged people to try to see GB’s speech in full. Last night’s 10 o’clock news on the BBC confirmed such a need for anyone really to understand what had been said or how it had gone down. Once you’d got through the intro and cleared away the journalist-as-spin-doctor commentary, you had four GB clips, one a few words long, followed by a sit down interview with Robinson asking pretty much the same question as the day before. (Memo to aforementioned spin doctors, don’t do interviews with self-obsessed TV reporters when you want coverage for the speech).
To be fair, in the modern age, three and a bit clips is a lot. But neither they nor the report in general conveyed anything like the richness or the depth of Gordon’s speech. Space given to the reporter would have been better filled by letting people hear what the PM had said.
But this is considered terribly old-fashioned these days. The general media wisdom is that viewers and listeners have no attention span, and cannot absorb words directly from people in the news without people of the news interpreting and giving their own opinions. Whether Boulton and Robinson in politics, Robert Peston and Jeff Randall in business, the aim now is to make the reporter as much a part of the story as the people and issues they are covering. They think it is the way to build respect and reputation, and maintain viewers. I wonder if it is not one of the reasons why they’re losing them.
I somehow can’t imagine John Cole standing outside the White House rebutting a moderately robust but not terribly contentious statement by a former minister back home.