Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Nick Robinson and the US elections

Earlier this week I took BBC political editor Nick Robinson to task on this blog for focusing on the frankly irrelevant question of whether Gordon Brown is "enjoying" being Prime Minister. The debate on this continues in the comments to the original post.

Today, Nick was back with a post listing eight reasons why Hillary Clinton's victory in the New Hampshire primaries will reverberate through British politics over the coming weeks. And as the excellent Hopi Sen has already pointed out elsewhere, most of them are complete piffle.

I don't want to appear as if I'm running a campaign against Nick. I actually like the guy and remember him from my time in Westminster as one the few senior political journalists who actually spoke to members of the regional lobby. On one occasion he even agreed, at my wife's request, to take a mobile phone photograph of her and me outside No 10 which she still shows off to her mates occasionally.

Nevertheless I am beginning to wonder whether he is falling into the trap - an occupational hazard for all very influential journalists - of seeking to shape the political agenda rather than interpreting it for the benefit of his audience.

The last paragraph of today's post says it all:

"Those who insist that there cannot be any read across from the votes of small American states to British politics will be ignored because they simply don't get it. The political classes are gripped by this campaign. It will continue to feed into commentary, oratory and prediction all year - sometimes absurdly, occasionally aptly. The battle between Clinton and Obama, McCain, Romney and Huckabee is, like it or not, a part of Britain's electoral struggle."

Roughly translated, this means:

"Because, in the absense of a UK general election, I and my senior colleagues in the world of political journalism are gripped by this campaign to the point of obsession, the poor bloody viewer, listener and reader will continue to be forced to listen to us all trying to draw spurious analogies between it and the UK political scene whether or not this is actually justified."

The job of BBC political editor has always involved striking a delicate balance between reporting and punditry. For all his all-round excellence, Robinson's predecessor Andrew Marr occasionally fell off that tightrope, for instance when he publicly commiserated with Alastair Campbell over the death of Dr Kelly.

Far be it from me to teach the man at the top of my former profession how to suck eggs...but Robinson would be better-off in my view following the example of John Cole, who never forgot that the reporting role came first.

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skipper said...

Not sure I agree with this Paul. US politics are important to us over here:
a) we define our interests on roughly the same basis as the US: defence of our democratic way of life, freedom of trade and movement of labour and capital etc.
b) what happens over there has a habit of crossing the Atlantic and infiltrating into our politics: Clinton foreshadowed and hugely influenced the genesis of New Labour; political techniques like the ticketed rally, also come over here as have micro-managing voters via new technology.
c) Styles of politics in the US contribute greatly to the political zeitgeist over here e.g. the cult of youth which Kennedy inaugurated in the sixties.
You could argue we really are'joined at the hip' as Malloch-Brown said Brown no longer wished to be. Collaboration in two world wars, Marshall Aid choregraphed by Ernie Bevin, common cause in the Cold War etc, etc. It follows that their elections really are important to us and it's not just because they are so rivetingly exciting that the likes of Robinson, Marr etc want to dip into them.

MorrisOx said...

The point about the role of a pol ed on the Beeb is a fair one in general, Paul, but I'm not sure it applies in this context.

If we're talking about the same piece then I thought Robbo was only semi-serious in tone. That or suffering from a prolonged bout of 'Phil Space in the New Year' whimsy.

Martin Kettle wandered into similar territory today with a piece on Comment is Free about the euphoric tendency in US election coverage that says Obama=future, Clinton=past, Republicans=second in the running order.

This has been particularly pronounced on TV, and it was interesting to hear the Beeb's Justin Webb publicly back-tracking on last night's Obama's-going-to-stuff-Clinton-bigtime line.

There is way too much assumption masquerading as authority these days, and one can't help but feel that the feed-me-now demands of 24 hour online news are partly to blame.

Anonymous said...

Let's be fair, the American elections are a hell of a lot more interesting than listening to Gordon Brown drone on about "change", "raising aspirations" and his "vision".