By Tim Montgomerie, Editor of BritainAndAmerica.com.
Paul Wolfowitz gave what I think was his first interview this morning since giving up his battle to stay World Bank President. He chose to give it to the BBC World Service. Mr Wolfowitz, like an increasing number of American politicians, understands the importance of the BBC within the global media marketplace. Far fewer understand the increasing importance of the British media to the USA's own domestic political debates.
In this morning's Guardian - arguably Britain's most influential newspaper because of its penetration of what Australians call The Opinionators - there is an important article exploring the growing US readership of London-sourced news. It highlights BBC news online (with five million Americans visiting every month), The Guardian (4.5 million) and The Times (3.3 million). The graphic on the right compares that data with October 2006 data for some major US media platforms (data originating from comScore).
The Guardian's Susan Hansen argues that Americans are partly turning to online British newspapers because of their more feisty scrutiny of politicians - particularly the much greater scepticism about Iraq that was evident from the BBC, Guardian and Independent during the run-up to the decision to go to war. She also notes the efforts of British newspapers to tailor more and more products to the US marketplace. "The Guardian," she writes, "has been beefing up its reporting staff in a bid to drive still more Americans to its site."
'The American rise' of the BBC, The Guardian and The Independent should worry US conservatives. Although the BBC is supposed to be impartial it leans towards a left-liberal worldview. It favours multilateral institutions like the United Nations, for example. It is consistently criticised for its tendency to favour anti-Israel viewpoints. A recent book by Robin Aitken - a BBC journalist for 25 years - documents the extent to which the BBC favours state intervention in the economy and is suspicious of Christian conservatism. Joseph Loconte's week with the BBC series on this site has also documented the Corporation's many biases. The Guardian and The Independent are not inhibited by any charter responsibilities to impartiality. Their bias is not just institutional but also overt.
There are some media platforms where there is less anti-Americanism and fairer coverage of Republicans. The Murdoch-owned Times, for example, and The Telegraph. The Economist (with its readership of 600,000) and the Financial Times are also more balanced but both endorsed John Kerry at the last presidential election.
In recent years Fox News, talk radio and the blogosphere have given US conservatives the tools to fight mainstream media bias. 'The British invasion' may be giving new power to the left although Gerard Baker, US Editor of The Times, told BritainAndAmerica that most American conservatives won't be fooled by the BBC:
"It seems to be popular with left-liberals who, one assumes, share its general worldview. I doubt its steady diet of anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-religion, anti-capitalism coverage goes down all that well in the heartland, however."
My guess is that the BBC will influence more moderate, independently-minded voters, however. The internet audience figures also understate the BBC's impact. There is BBC America television and the Corporation supplies a lot of foreign coverage to ABC News and general news to many local radio stations. The World Service also has a significant reach. Talking to BBC journalists on recent trips to Washington I found them disappointed at the lack of interaction they receive with the White House and the Republican Party. I have mentioned this repeatedly to White House staffers since 2002 but nothing seems to change. In a close election it could be British media coverage that wins the election for the Democrats.
As BritainAndAmerica goes forward one of our key themes will be monitoring BBC coverage of US politics.
Watch BritainAndAmerica.com's film: Can America Trust The BBC?