It’s been a tumultuous few days for American news. Even by the industry's big, bold and often brash standards it has been rough and in the cutthroat 24-hour news business, networks and individuals are sniffing blood.
The first big event was the much-publicised scandal over NBC Nightly News’s Brian Williams, once one of America’s highest-paid news anchors, now suspended without his salary for six months. The accusation? That he embellished a war story from Iraq. Events have spiralled since then as the US media continues to pore over every inch of his career and more allegations surface about lying.
It feels as though channels such as CNN are almost revelling in the moment. It’s a chance to get one up on a rival in an industry where advertising money, reputation and ratings are forever intertwined. This has all the hallmarks of a feeding frenzy.
With American journalism bludgeoned and bruised from this debacle, it seemed like a cruel twist of fate that two of its leading lights should unexpectedly lose their lives that same week.
The New York Times writer David Carr died on Thursday evening after collapsing in the paper’s newsroom. A few days earlier he had written these pertinent words about the US’s curious take on its news-reporting superstars: “We want our anchors to be everywhere, to be impossibly famous, globe-trotting, hilarious, down-to-earth and above all, trustworthy. It’s a job description that no one can match.”
A day earlier, Bob Simon – a reporter with CBS News’s 60 Minutes – also died in very different circumstances, the result of a horrific car crash in New York.
There was one more loss last week, and although it didn’t involve a death, many are mourning Jon Stewart’s announcement that he will step down from presenting The Daily Show. The weekday show was steered in a much more political direction since Stewart took over in 1999 and, despite its often light-hearted segments, proved to be one of only a few programmes on US television capable of taking the country’s politicians to task.
Those who don’t rate US news accuse it of fluffiness and an increasing refusal to scrape below the surface of a story. Jon Stewart was prepared to do just that, even if it meant being non-PC and constantly controversial. Let’s hope the anchor who replaces him is able to fill his rather large shoes.
American media, embattled and licking its wounds, will of course recover; it has before. But without Carr and Simon – and Williams and Stewart, in their current guises anyway – it will never be quite the same again.
Ed Stocker is New York bureau chief for Monocle.