Guy Adams' US Media Diary: The 'scoop' the US papers ignored

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The Independent Online

That old cliché about everything being bigger in America seems especially pertinent when attempting to describe the sheer scale of the crisis currently afflicting the US newspaper industry, which makes all Fleet Street's woes look like a summer picnic.

Last week, The Los Angeles Times decided to flog its historic downtown offices, on top of sacking 150 of its 870 journalists. So did The Chicago Tribune. Almost every title in the land is now shedding staff; a hundred New York Times hacks have been offered voluntary redundancy; Newsweek recently announced cuts. It's a bloodbath out there, as US media companies attempt to claw a pound of flesh from haemorrhaging readerships.

Consider, against this backdrop of falling circulation and a failing industry, the decision of every mainstream paper in America to ignore the juiciest political story of the month (and possibly the year): the discovery by National Enquirer hacks of John Edwards, in the corridors of a Beverly Hills hotel, where his alleged mistress and alleged love child were also staying, at half past two on the morning of Tuesday, 22 July.

Since Edwards was, until recently, hoping to be president and will almost certainly have a prominent role in any Barack Obama administration, his marital integrity is a matter of public interest. It could yet become an election issue. Yet neither the highfalutin NYT, nor the Tribune, nor even the LA Times, on whose patch the whole sordid business occurred, have yet stepped up to the plate to report it. Their old-fashioned reticence seems quaint, in this day of kiss'n'tell and chequebook journalism. But it's also depressing: one of the reasons America's newspapers are dying is their perceived pomposity. Readers say they are too timid to rock the boat; right-wingers complain (with some justification) that they conspire to suppress damaging stories about Democrats. The general public thinks they have simply become boring.

The Edwards story could be selling truckloads of newsprint. It is attracting enormous traffic online, and has been devoured by viewers of Fox, the only TV network to report it. In ignoring the affair, newspapers are sacrificing potential readers and repeating the mistakes of the 1990s, where they loftily decided against reporting Bill Clinton's many bedroom misdeeds, allowing internet sites to claim the Monica Lewinsky "scoop."

One of the top LA Times execs, Tony Pierce, has higher concerns, though. He recently sent staff an edict. "There has been a little buzz surrounding John Edwards and his alleged affair," it read. "Because the only source has been the National Enquirer we have decided not to cover the rumours or salacious speculations."

I can't pretend to know what Mr Pierce does with his 870 journalists. But if he'd asked just one of them to check out these "salacious rumours" regarding John Edwards the LA Times might have a few more readers, and fewer of the 870 staffers might have to be cut from its bloated payroll.

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Speaking of bloated payrolls, it was instructive to read the LA Times on Wednesday, 24 hours after an earthquake hit the city, causing exactly zero injuries, and (much to the disappointment of TV's rolling news channels) failing to seriously damage one building.

Photos on the front page (headline: "Why we rolled with the punch") revealed that some shampoo bottles had been knocked off the shelf of a K-Mart, and a window was smashed at a building in Pomona. But the real fun was to be had underneath the inside page report. There, an extended joint by-line listed all the reporters who had been dispatched to cover the tremor. It carried a total of 39 names, neatly demonstrating that everything really is bigger in the US – even the number of men it takes to skin a cat.

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Cheerier news pervades the TV industry thanks to a series of runaway hits, including a soon-to-be-released season two of Gossip Girl, and the new, somewhat darker second series of Mad Men, which launched to approving reviews on Sunday. It is no longer news that most of the finest talents in UK telly are now heading across the pond to cash in. Almost every hit programme now boasts some form of British talent, either behind or in front of camera. One moment you'll see Cat Deeley on So You Think You Can Dance?, the next, Hugh Laurie in Heroes. I even spotted June Sarpong on the LA party circuit the other night.

Inevitably, Ant'n'Dec have joined in, making their US TV debut last month, fronting an ABC game-show called Wanna Bet? It's safe to describe their reception as mixed. The New York Times called the duo "British comedians" (possibly a compliment) but Kevin McDonough, influential syndicated TV reviewer for (among others) The Chattanooga Times has just dubbed them "pathetic," "boring" and "unoriginal."

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Nothing quite so thrills as an actor getting all political. Jon Voight, whose by-line declares him "well-known for his humanitarian work," pops up in The Washington Times with a thoughtful essay headlined "my concerns for America". Space does not permit an extended analysis of his rhetoric, but the gist of the op-ed piece can be summed up in two words: "vote McCain".

"The Democratic party in its quest for power, has managed a propaganda campaign with subliminal messages, creating a God-like figure in a man who falls short in every way," reads one passage. "It seems to me that if Mr Obama wins the presidential election, then Messrs Farrakhan, Wright, Ayers and Pfleger will gain power for their need to demoralise this country and help create a socialist America."

How human evolution took us from Voight to his daughter Angelina Jolie, in a single generation, I will never know.

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The lovely but bonkers Ms Jolie has agreed to donate the estimated $10m (£5m) proceeds from selling pictures of her and Brad Pitt's newborns to charity. They were bought by People magazine in the US (and Hello! in the rest of the civilised world) following an intense bidding war. She grows ever higher in our estimation.

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