how the world sees america

Why Rupert Murdoch Polarizes U.S., Not UK

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I can't escape Paris. She's everywhere here, baring her American all. But strangely, I never see Victoria Beckham, (a.k.a. Posh Spice) on the front page of The Post back home. Puzzled by this, I decided it was time to better understand UK media, and so I turned to an expert to help me figure it out.

In the cavern beneath the Royal Society of Arts, Bill Emmott -- who grew The Economist circulation six fold in his thirteen years at the helm -- talked to me about media, contrasting the UK and U.S. scenes.

1) On Rupert Murdoch’s News: Fox News in the U.S. and Sky News in the UK are both owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch so why is the former so “politically polarizing” and the latter “quite centrist”? Does the divide tell us there’s “a divided America,” an ideological Rupert Murdoch, or just different business incentives across the Atlantic? Basically, Emmott says, America has a bigger news market so you can segment it more by ideology and still get millions of viewers. Watch the video to see more.

2) On Print Media: Basically, London media is more sensationalist, but also manages to be a bit more creative in its editorial stance.

One of the most curious things of my time at The Economist is how more and more distanced we became from the UK media. The London media…is different [from the U.S. media] in two ways: one, its much less professional, much more sensationalist, even in the so-called quality broadsheets like The Times, The Telegraph, The Independent and The Guardian. [They’re] much less scrupulous about sources….The second thing about the British media is that it is more opinionated and therefore…more creative in the editorial positions [than the mainstream American media] and indeed in the way in which news and comment are blurred…

3) On Public Broadcasting: And finally he touched on public broadcasting, explaining what PBS could learn from BBC:

The BBC…tends to have to be mass market in order to preserve support for the funding, but then that increasingly erodes the idea that it has a special public purpose…The key asset for PBS is the concentration on the public purpose. But maybe the lesson from the BBC is you can interpret that public purpose a bit more widely than PBS has been able to and still get public support for your unique characteristic.
Paris is all over the UK's top rag.
Americans might not know who Victoria Beckham is, but Britons sure know Paris Hilton. I’m struck by the number of publications like The Sun and The Mirror, tabloid-news venues that choose to blow up their covers with Paris’s enigmatic smile. I asked a newspaper vendor today what the most respectable paper in the country was, and he said The Mirror. The headline: "Paris Sprung." That’s not science, but I can’t imagine anyone in the U.S. calling The Star our best publication.

Anyway, onwards to Soho, UK tonight. Would love to hear your thoughts on these media distinctions in the meanwhile.

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Comments (15)


There is no one in the country that "The Sun" or "The Mirror" could be described as respectable. They're nothing more than absolute crap with many far right ideas within those pages. The last time I read "The Mirror" they were calling for us to "Blitz Iran" - because Iraq went so well....

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Rupert Murdoch may not polarizes in UK but thats not to say his press does n't weld undue influence on British politcs particalurly the tabloids and espeically during its election cycle. There is a reason he has been kept out of Germany and France.

As for the Economist I dont how how many times its smug editorials have been plainly wrong as it pushes the opinions of a tin slice of the financial services elite Oxbridge elite.

Amar C. Bakshi:

Hey Waste NJ -- btw, what's up with the name -- down on the state? I've got lots of cousins over there. Definitely an interesting media scene over here. The London tubes are flooded with free press all about Posh. Just heard some interesting discussion about media in India (I'm heading there in a few days so am reading up and lining up some stuff to do) and it has an incredible number of 24 hour television news channels, four of them in English. The question is even with so much press, how much of them cover new stuff, how intntl is it, how good is it, etc. Anyway, will be checking that out in a bit. But it's an interesting contrast just in the large number of 24 hr news services in India. Not sure if this comment says anything at all -- bit tired -- but will follow up manana.

Waste NJ:

I have to say, that Daily Mirror cover looks like the cover of a comic book. I kind of half expected to see the words "blam" or "Boom" in dramatic letters next to the "150 dead" story, but we do have our rags here as well.

Us media is a continuing source of frustration here, as the so-called "news" channels (CNN, MSNBC, and especially Fox news) give new meaning to the term "idiot box". US news is partially responsible for the wholesale brainwashing of America, and for those of you who are outside the US, yes this is part of the reason Americans seem so ignorant to the world. The average American is not going news hunting, they are going to sit on the couch and turn on the TV.

There are some standout exceptions though, PBS's excellent Frontline series, Discovery/Times channel and the History channel. These are not daily news sources but documentary news outfits. And BBC isn't half bad in comparison.

Google news to the rescue!


Hi Amar! Back from a very refreshing European vacation, I am glad to see you are still strong at it...

This piece of yours I find particularly well documented (references, links, audio-visual material and all). You have been so thorough that even someone who does not know much about British media can get a feel for what you are talking about and learn quite a bit in the process.

On polarization, my feeling is that there is basically less of it in England than in the US to start with, and beginning with politics. That being the case, it is a matter of credibility for English media to appear, at least, less polarized. Yet I believe the difference in polarization between the two countries is ultimately more a matter of style than one of attitude.

I would say that in the US, I find polarization elementary, crude, very self-centered, narcissistic even, with a tendency to argue using psychological projections a lot, in fact abusively; while in England, polarization is often so much more subtle, more insidious, and at times extremely sophisticated. I would agree that the English are much more creative, when it comes to "the way in which news and comment are blurred…" With them, there is no limit to how amazingly involved, devious and original those ways may be. I could see a detailed comparison between CNN and BBC World being in order, at this point...

I can already remember hearing some "upper crust" British fellow say: "Well, that comes with civilization, sir! See, Americans believe they are the best. We simply know we are." Such an attitude cannot but affect polarization, in any given community...

I hope I am not hurting your feelings the moment I am back. As a matter of fact, all this should be taken quite lightly, I believe, as it is undoubtedly amusing, if not a prime source of hilarity. There is, after all, as much rubbish on one side of the wall, as there is junk on the other...

Happy to be back, still all eyes and ears... Wishing you well, always.


brian mcc, the arctic:

What level of life do you want to examine and print? Some of it is worth reading, but most of it gets flushed with the toilet. When the toilet backs up and the mess is on the floor, the world sees the ugly american. She is rich, bleach blond, carries a bible, and knows when to cry. Give her another 20 years, and she might be running for president. The example is already in the white house.

Amar C. Bakshi:

Hey thanks Alex for the comment. But....we're not a periodical!


As an American living in London, I have found that the British press (aside from the FT or Economist) really only write two kinds of stories: puff pieces or complete take-downs. This seems to be due to th need to make everything into a gripping drama, since this country is fairly inundated with press it is tough to attract readers. Overall I prefer the style of American newspapers, as I think they reward the careful reader in their subtleties.

Having said this, The Economist is unquestionably the best periodical in the world (no offense intended Washington Post).

Amar C. Bakshi:

Hi Chris,

That definitely seems so in radio and TV. Personalities on these media take pride in pushing hardest on the politicos...I wonder if there's less of a need to cozy up because of less competition for interviews? No idea, but will look into it. I'm going to try to get in touch with some of the big radio personalities here.


One of the things that always impresses me about British Journalists is that they come straight to the point when asking questions. It seems like they care less about making their sources look good than asking good questions. The politicians there seem better about answering questions as well--although since debate in parliament seems to be a bit less genteel than the Senate they may be more used to tough questions.

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