The Big Book of British Smiles.
Laura Rozen calls attention to a curious aspect about the widely-noticed article about Samantha Power (which led to her resignation as an advisor to Barack Obama) that ran in The Scotsman. The article has this quote:
“She is a monster, too — that is off the record — she is stooping to anything,” Ms Power said, hastily trying to withdraw her remark.
Laura comments: “How can a journalist quote someone in an off the record comment — and then print that the person said it was off the record? Is this a British press thing?”
The answer is yes, it’s a British press thing. There are a few excellent British publications, preeminently The Guardian. But the vast majority of British papers have a much lower standard of ethics, objectivity, and honesty than their North American counterparts. In Britain, with a handful of exceptions, the gutter press is a redundancy and journalistic ethics an oxymoron.
The best example of this is the Daily Telegraph, which employs Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, a reporter who argued that Vince Foster was murdered at the orders of Hillary Clinton and that the Oklahoma City bombing was an FBI sting operation that went awry. (It’s sad to reflect that this sleazy character is the son of a truly great man, the late anthropologist E.E. Evans-Pritchard).
The roots of this lack of honesty and ethics are complicated: partially it has to do with class (in Britain journalists are still slightly declasse and disreputable; in America solidly middle class professionals), partly with canons of objectivity (partisanship is permissible in British papers; in America the ideal of objectivity holds sway, often leading to bloodless prose), partially with the fact that the British market, where all the major papers are national, is much more competitive, leading journalists to become fiercer (and sometimes less honest) in pursuit of scoops.
When they migrate to the new world, British journalists often maintain their ingrained habit of attention-grabbing dissembling: consider the careers of Christopher Hitchens or Andrew Sullivan (especially during his disastrous editorship of the New Republic).