Larry King on British Broadcasting

And A Retraction On Photographers

(I wrote to Larry King, a financial journalist I know who lives in London:

You can get by with free, if you're the kind of person who listens to public radio in the US without becoming a member. I know, in Britain becoming a member of public TV and radio is mandatory by law--is there an exclusion for foreign citizens? Or do you pay your annual license fee along with everyone else?)

I never joined public radio or television, largely because I usually found the news so precious and politically correct I listened to it with my teeth gritted. I thought it was the other side of the coin from the knuckledraggers like Rush Limbaugh.

Some kind of pinnacle, or nadir, was reached during its coverage of the opening hours of the Gulf War, when they devoted more time to the little pockets of 60s-wannabes trying to gin up a peace movement than to what might actually be happening in the Gulf. Something snapped inside me when they devoted quite a long time to an interview with a sailor who'd gone AWOL rather than sail for the Gulf. The sailor explained he'd joined the Navy to get computer training, and he never, like, KNEW they might want him to, you know, like shoot at people and get shot at and stuff. The interviewer murmured along sympathetically, instead of asking one of the many, many obvious questions available to him, such as, what did you think all the big guns were for, you idiot?

Then I moved to the U.K. and found out what really precious, politically correct news could sound like. And they charge me for not only that but for every other moment of the idiotic programming that dominates television here. Americans remember Masterpiece Theater and a few jewels like that and think everything on Brit television glitters. Expatriates here laugh hollowly when American visitors gush about it.

Remember, Britain is the land that gave you `Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' and `The Weakest Link' and `Survivor' and `Big Brother' and all that sort of thing. What you probably don't realize is, those really are the highpoints of the average viewing evening. The low points are things like the gardening shows and wildlife documentaries and the endless, endless, endless rehashes of World War II, all of which give the impression the Brits won the Big One singlehandedly, aside from the occasional diversionary maneuver by the Soviet Union and some logistical help from the U.S.

Larry King on Photographers Redux

You run off at the mouth long enough, it's going to catch up with you. I'm not sure under what circumstances I wrote that ill-humored paragraph about art directors, photo editors, and photographers, and I'm not sure I want to re-think my position on art directors or photo editors. But I would like to retract anything grumpy I had to say about photographers.

Not only is David Tenenbaum right -- photographers are journalists, too -- but in my view photographers are generally more useful in getting across to people who weren't there what it was like for people who were there, which is a fairly good working definition of what journalism ought to do.

To any writing hack inclined to argue, I'd say, how many people remember anything written from the Pacific front during World War II? Now, how many people remember Joe Rosenthal's photo of the six marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima?

Or, to take an example closer to hand, who remembers a word written about the 1980 hockey match between the U.S. and the Soviet Union? How many remember Tenenbaum's photo?

Okay, I'm overstating the case. The written word can do a lot a photograph can't -- let's just not get into television, all right? -- and a misleading photograph can arguably be more inaccurate than a sloppily reported, badly written, ineptly edited (that last one may be redundant) story. But all things considered, I think the best photos are in several respects slightly

There are more Larry King Letters available.