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Too much too soon?

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 16:14 UK time, Monday, 14 January 2008

We have had our first complaint about our coverage of the US presidential election primaries - the gist is that we are already doing too much.

"Please, enough of the US 'primaries' and Hillary's tears. This pre-election election will go on for 11 months yet. Let the Americans steep themselves in this serial. Why must we?"

The World TonightThere seem to be some listeners who have a very low tolerance of coverage of American politics, but I have to say in this case I would disagree with them.

On last Friday's World Tonight (which you can listen to here )we discussed why the world outside the US is interested in the primaries. During the discussion, the London correspondent of Brazil's Globo News, Silio Boccanera, joked that the rest of the world should have a vote in the US elections too because of the impact the US has on all our lives.

His observation encapsulated the reason why I believe it's important we devote more coverage to the presidential election in the US than say Russia or France. Voters in the US have started the process that will lead to the selection of the next president of the world's only remaining super power. And as we have seen repeatedly over the past few years, who runs the US administration has a big impact on this country and the rest of the world - Iraq and Afghanistan are just the two most dramatic examples of this for Britain.

During the primaries, the candidates for the two main parties’ nomination get the chance to set out their stall and hone their ideas for what they would do if they get to the White House. American voters get to have a say on which of these visions they prefer and it gives the rest of us a chance to assess what the future may hold in terms of the health of the US economy and America's policy on climate change, as well as foreign policy issues like the US dispute with Iran and their growing rift with Russia.

There is also the inherent drama of the primaries as a story in themselves, and this year the elections are more dramatic than for many a year because they are wide open and quite unpredictable - as many media outlets found to their cost last week when Hillary Clinton confounded many predictions to win the New Hampshire Democratic contest.


  • 1.
  • At 04:37 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • DaveH wrote:

... and send out the message to women that if you have a blub, you will win. But then women know that anyway (viz.. Cherie and the dodgy property deals).

To think that wretched woman could be influencing all our lives should be enough to get us sending money to the other candidates, so I suppose we have to know to whom to send our UKP.

It is not so much "too much" US coverage - there is not so much news about at the moment - but too little European coverage at all. I bet most news watchers could name a few US candidates this week, but I bet fewer could even tell you who heads up the EU Comission at the moment and many will think that the German Chancellor is their finance minister - even they can remember her name!

It is nonsense to suggest that the US is all influencing and that no-one else matters, so it is about time that you reflected European politics as a whole, not just as leadership time or when Sarkozy is getting remarried.

  • 2.
  • At 04:42 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

Enough Already !!

I hear what you are saying, but with ten correspondents over there, maybe you are just trying to keep people occupied and fill some air time.

Yes, they are important. But spending huge amounts of air time speculating about Barack Obama winning, then having to rip up that script when Clinton wins, then going through the whole rigmarole on Super Tuesday.

Yes, we need to know that they are happening, and what the results are.
But there is simply no need for hours and hours of navel gazing speculation when a more circumspect approach would get the job done.

The world's only superpower ? I think China and India might have something to say about that..

  • 3.
  • At 04:56 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Martin wrote:

"There seem to be some listeners who have a very low tolerance of coverage of American politics,"

Or maybe we'd just like you to be even handed and not treat US politics to any more reportage than say French, Italian or German elections get.

Yes report it but within proportion to the rest of the world's events.

I wouldn't object to the excessive coverage if it was coverage of substance. The majority of the coverage at the moment does not talk about the political positions of the candidates which should be the point of the elections. Can we have more on policy and less on personality please?

  • 5.
  • At 05:32 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Nicholas A wrote:

Please continue to do what you are doing. The primary elections (and caucuses) are hugely significant and deserve the level of reporting and analysis that you are devoting to them.

  • 6.
  • At 05:50 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Baz wrote:

Anytime a particular story recieves a lot of coverage there will be 'complaints' that there is too much coverage.

In this case though I think a fair amount of it is 'anti-Americanism'.

  • 7.
  • At 05:59 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • An 800lb Gorilla In The Room wrote:

"Too much" is a loaded phrase. It is a lack of interest in politics that results in low voter turn out, apathy, and people who aren't particularly suited for office being elected.

At which point all those who said "Too much" then turn right around and complain about the people who were elected.

Hmmm. Far be it for me, an overweight primate on your couch, to offer the idea that there's a small amount of cause and effect in that concept.

The US Elections do affect the UK, very deeply. There's that whole "special relationship" thing (read, UK politicians sucking up to US politicians because they make more money and are far more practiced at BSing the populace) to consider - the people in the UK deserve the opportunity to know who their government is likely to get into bed with next.

But at the end of the day, if it's too much - there's this wonderful device fitted to almost all electrical appliances, even those sold in the UK. It's called the "Off" button. If you don't want to hear it, then DON'T WATCH IT.

That would be another piece of cause and effect. No charge.

  • 8.
  • At 06:52 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Hazel Johnson wrote:

As someone said above, we need more European coverage. THe EU affects all our lives, and this was an area that whateveritwas report identified as a weakness, and your response to that was simply to send some reporter there who blogs about tomatoes and cultural differences. I want to know who the commissioners are, who the alliances / parties in the European parliament are, and what is going on there, because I get to vote in European elections, and I might get to vote in a referendum.

The US elections are important - in 11 months time, when the candidates are chosen, and even then all we're really interested in is THE RESULT

  • 9.
  • At 08:01 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Jan Guthrie wrote:

Browsing your site looking for info on Telford bridges I've run across bit on US primaries. If you think you're sick of them, just imagine what I have to endure! I'm coming to your country in Sept in part to get away from this circus. High praise for series last fall How Britian was built - fantastic. Wish I could see it again.

  • 10.
  • At 09:01 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Heather wrote:

I agree with those correspondents who say we should get more even-handed reporting on Europe.

  • 11.
  • At 11:36 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • J wrote:

Why does the BBC continue to reveal its bias by referring to Hillary Clinton as the "frontrunner" among the Democratic candidates (as do your journalists covering the campaign from the US), when there are at least two top Democratic candidates and national polls showing that Barak Obama would win over all leading Republican candidates. Try a little objectivity!

  • 12.
  • At 01:05 AM on 15 Jan 2008,
  • Andrew Rowntree wrote:

If only you devoted this much attention to British Politics! Very few people care about the primaries outside of the Media Centre, yes it gets you all excited but to the average joe all that matters is who wins the final race and becomes President. Now can we move on and hear more about, oh I don't know, all the murders, wars, famine and untold evils happening all over the world right now and forget about a middle aged woman having a cry to try and win a vote.

The whole thing is a circus.

All floss an' gloss and no real substance.

And why is the media (including BBC) so silent regarding Ron Paul?

Is he that much of a threat?

  • 14.
  • At 02:12 AM on 15 Jan 2008,
  • Mark wrote:

Why don't you tell your audience the real reason there are so many BBC correspondents in the US now (and lately as WHYS or someone always has a crew here in the last year or so.) Folks, they're getting ready to abandon ship. The pound is strong, the dollar is weak, there are tons of good paying jobs in the media here and the market is flooded with fine houses at bargain basement prices. It won't be like this forever and they know it. They are scoping out their next moves, a job and a home in the US they couldn't ever possibly hope to remotely match in the UK on their salaries. And I'll bet the first thing they buy when the live his is a great big gas guzzling SUV :-) And lots and lots of steak, roast beef, and spare ribs.

Could the BBC do what Alistair Campbell said and stop narrating so much over news stories and let us hear more what the politician says themselves.
You show them talking but tell us what they said.
Other then that bbc is the best in the world.

  • 16.
  • At 03:36 AM on 15 Jan 2008,
  • Dileepa wrote:

People outside the US would like to get a fairer view of what's actually going on there. For that, we (at least in India) don't turn to CNN International.

Carry on as you are, it's pure theatre! Or maybe get rid of Eastenders and have a half hour of the far better soap opera that's going on over there.

No way do you do too much! It's really important for Brits to know about the next U.S. president - not only will they be the most powerful person in the world, but they will also play a significant role in Britain's relationship with the U.S.

It shows the ultimate example of democracy in action, and is far more interesting than more cash for honors... Gordon Brown... boring...

  • 19.
  • At 02:25 PM on 15 Jan 2008,
  • Ed wrote:

I agree with the problem being one of coverage out of proportion, rather than the Primaries being a non-story.
The key to me is in your last paragraph. To you there is "inherent drama". Make that "manufactured drama", good for politicos because it keeps them on the screen, good for journalists because who's in, who's out, who's up, who's down is easy pickings.
Easier anyway than telling us what the policies are. We hear very little about policies - maybe there aren't any. Now THAT'S a story.

  • 20.
  • At 02:38 PM on 15 Jan 2008,
  • Jonathan wrote:

Can I add my voice to those who think there is too much coverage of the US elections? Or rather there is too much inconsequential and frivilous coverage and not enough evaluation of actual policies.

I follow politics reasonably closely and I have no idea why people would vote for Obama, other than he's young and black, or for Clinton, other than she's a woman and occasionally cries. As for any of the Republican polices....?

Surely the actual policies are important since as you say the US vision has a large effect on the rest of the world.

Secondly, while the US has an influence on the world, there is not much we can do about the election, especially since we don't even know who the two candidates will be for the president and at this early stage in the Primaries there is no clear front runner. Why not devote your attention to issues that the Government in the UK is actually responsible for. Is everything so wonderful and rosey here that we can ignore it?

  • 21.
  • At 10:14 AM on 16 Jan 2008,
  • Paul wrote:

BBC - why are you so silent on Ron Paul? He's an absolutely fascinating candidate - yet you don't have a candidate profile for him, nor do you mention him at all apart from in result tables. Fox News have interviewed him, and even admitted begrudging surprise at how he's come in from leftfield. He beat Giuliani in Michigan - a candidate that was tipped for the top. The lack of media coverage is making people suspicious.

  • 22.
  • At 11:13 AM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • davidc wrote:

its all a jolly for 10 or is it 12 or 20 (?) reporters plus support staff etc and all on the licence payer too !!

The US elections are extremely important. I think some of my fellow British commenters who haven't grasped this are in denial about the relative unimportance of our own country and jealous of America's pre-eminence.

  • 24.
  • At 12:28 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • evangeline wollmar wrote:

I am a US citizen and our mainstream media has blatantly blocked Ron Paul from any coverage because he wants small government, a non-interventionist policy with foreign nations (He would IMMEDIATELY WITHDRAW FROM IRAQ) and he wants to abolish the IRS, income tax, and Department of Homeland Security. All the "big" guys would lose money...including mainstream media, and George Bush and Dick Cheney. Dr.Paul's views are not in their best interest so the mass media is not covering him. (They are barely metioning his name)

Dr. Paul's message is getting out though. Our youth is energized, people my age (50's) are losing their apathy for elections and candidates. We want a change. Ron Paul's change would restore the USA to the Constitution which we have lost sight of. There is a "revolution" brewing and it is actually a HUGE news the BBC should cover if they want the USA to stop policing the world.

Has Rupert Murdoch put his strong hold on your media and TV also? If so, then Ron Paul wont be covered. Apparantly, the USA is no longer fair and equal. They are TELLING us who is a viable candidate before we have a chance to make up our own minds. That's why Ron Paul is so PHENOMENAL...he is showing us that we do still have a choice and that choice can be FREEDOM!!!

  • 25.
  • At 12:28 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Nick wrote:

I am one of those who think you have the balance right. Although living in the UK I am a political junkie, particularly when it comes to US politics. I can get a lot of the detailed information I want off the internet - but appreciate that many in the UK wouldn't want this level

One small suggestion though. The Primaries on "Super Tuesday" February 5th could - but only could -decide who gets the nomination for both parties. For those of us who want an American 'take' on the events how about using the BBC Parliament channel to broadcast CSPAN's coverage of the results on the night?

If you were to do this I bet the viewing figures on BBC Parliament at 3am on February 6th would be far higher than normal!

  • 26.
  • At 01:27 PM on 17 Jan 2008,
  • Richard wrote:

Sorry, but when I hear one BBC correspondent being interviewed by another BBC reporter from a primary in the USA, it makes me realise that cutting the licence fee settlement can only be a good thing. This ludicrous waste of our money needs to be cut back on quickly.

For example, why can't Justin Webb prepare 'composite' reports for Radio & TV and save the BBC a fortune? Too many noses getting in the trough, methinks.

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