Last night I saw something that frightened me, a BBC News program hosted by a woman wearing pancake makeup and tight-fitting clothes emphasizing (gulp) ample cleavage. After doing a double take, I started to worry, wondering if she represented a kind of turning point, the BBC’s concession to the ever-lowering bar of mass media standards where image has long since triumphed over content.
I didn’t lose my faith in US news programs overnight. It was more a gradual slide into disappointment that started in the nineties, when if you watched any national US news program (except maybe the MacNeil / Lehrer NewsHour on PBS), you might not have seen any coverage of mass atrocities and genocide in Eastern Europe and Africa. Newscasts were dominated by, or more precisely obsessed with, an intern and her relationship to a politician and his cigar collection.
Time passed and I noticed other changes. 60 Minutes seemed to throw in the towel at some point, pivoting more to celebrity profiles and less to investigative journalism. And then Frontline started using slow camera pushes on teary-eyed victims, ominous music scores, and every Hollywood trick short of a Hitchcock zoom to maximize the dramatic punch of their programming.
So I turned to the BBC. There was a content-over-style approach to the news I found refreshing. And I loved the journalists’ intolerance for PR-crafted talking points and dogmatic answers, the way they tenaciously pushed for the truth behind the bullshit. And there was a delightful absence of tabloid fodder. No Paris Hilton, no Kardashians.
But then last night I saw this woman, her chest nearly bursting from the top of her blouse, telling me something about some place (for whatever reason I can’t remember). And I began to worry. I don’t want a BBC News program without frumpy journalists, their unfortunate hair, wrinkled shirts, and bad tie choices.
Please don’t follow us to the bottom, BBC News. It’s cold and dark down here. Sure, everyone looks great, but we don’t know who’s lying to us. And worse, a lot of us don’t seem to care anymore.