Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Even in Faux News, the British Have Taken over U.S. Journalism

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Even in Faux News, the British Have Taken over U.S. Journalism

Article excerpt

The British comedian John Oliver is filling in for Jon Stewart as "The Daily Show" host, and he isn't an exception. Everywhere we look in the U.S. media landscape, we find people from Britain.

On Thursday night, the host of "The Daily Show" riffed on Paula Deen's liberal use of both butter and racial slurs, chatted about journalism with Tom Brokaw and parodied the gangster code of honor that has been in the news in the Whitey Bulger trial. Along the way, he did a honey-dripped Southern accent and dropped into a Cagney- esque wiseguy voice.

None of that is totally surprising for a talented entertainer raised in Birmingham, except the town that John Oliver grew up in is in England, not Alabama, and he is a big fan of Liverpool Football Club, not the Crimson Tide.

Mr. Oliver is filling in for Jon Stewart, who is directing a film this summer. We could dwell on the oddity of a British comedian's replacing the host of a deeply American show, except that everywhere you look in the U.S. media landscape, you find people from that small island.

Piers Morgan came from Britain to take over for Larry King, The Wall Street Journal is edited by Gerard Baker, a British newspaper veteran, and the chief executive of The New York Times is Mark Thompson, who spent his career at the BBC. Anna Wintour has edited Vogue for more than two decades and more recently, Joanna Coles took over Cosmopolitan, which defines a certain version of American womanhood.

NBC News recently looked to the mother country for leadership and found Deborah Turness, the former editor of Britain's ITV News. ABC's entertainment group is headed by Paul Lee, also formerly of the BBC, and Colin Myler, a Fleet Street alumnus, edits The New York Daily News.The list goes on, but the point is made: when it comes to choosing someone to steer prominent American media properties, the answer is often delivered in a proper British accent.

The observation about the thicket of British talent has been made elsewhere and is hardly a brand new phenomena -- it's Tina Brown's and Nick Denton's world, we just surf it. But something is at work here, beyond the joke about a British accent adding 10 I.Q. points.

The easy answer is the triumph of British charm and politeness set against American brashness and confrontation. I actually think it is exactly the opposite. As Geoff Dyer wrote in The Times in 2009, Americans strive, underneath the loutishness, to be liked, while the British care more about being right.

If that's so, then the renewed British invasion on our shores makes sense because media are becoming more competitive and less mannered with each passing day. Apart from the fact that Mr. Oliver is a very funny man, "The Daily Show" continues to storm along partly because, like Mr. Stewart, Mr. Oliver suspects everyone and everything and says so aloud.

It's a very British way of thinking. The one question all young reporters on Fleet Street are taught to keep foremost in their minds when interviewing public figures can be best paraphrased as, "Why is this jerk lying to me?"

The news that flows from that mind-set is often far more interesting than American media, which frequently bow to power even as they seek to hold it accountable. (Mr. Stewart, so rapacious when annotating video clips, often goes soft when confronted by an actual interview. …

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