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Is American media superior to Norwegian?

Ashok of Rethink sent me a link to this piece by Bruce Bawer, asking me if the picture Bawer draws of Norwegian media could possible be correct. I thought Bawer's analysis raised so many interesting questions I thought I'd leave the floor open, what say you?

I'd hasten to add that Norway is a country that lends itself well to caricature and satire, for anyone who wants a better grasp of the Norwegian mentality I strongly recommend this book (available in English, French and German). Bawer has many funny observations about Norway, but my all-time favourite portrayal of Norwegians is probably Paul Henley's "What's so special about the Norwegians " for BBC Radio4. You really need to listen to the programme to appreciate it properly, I couldn't find a place to do that online, but here's a few headlines. 'Eccentrics is too weak a word for Norwegians', said Henley, describing the country as 'filthy rich', whereas Bawer has contested the reality of Norway's wealthy self-image here (also worth a read). In either case, here's Bawer on Norwegian media:

I’d marveled at Norwegians’ newspaper consumption; but what did they actually read in those newspapers? That this was, in fact, a crucial question was brought home to me when a travel piece I wrote for the New York Times about a weekend in rural Telemark received front-page coverage in Aftenposten, Norway’s newspaper of record. Not that my article’s contents were remotely newsworthy; its sole news value lay in the fact that Norway had been mentioned in the New York Times...

... Yes, there’s much about the American news media that deserves criticism... But to suggest that American journalism, taken as a whole, offers a narrower range of information and debate than its foreign counterparts is absurd. America’s major political magazines range from National Review and The Weekly Standard on the right to The Nation and Mother Jones on the left... Scores of TV programs and radio call-in shows are devoted to fiery polemic by, or vigorous exchanges between, true believers at both ends of the political spectrum. Nothing remotely approaching this breadth of news and opinion is available in a country like Norway.

Purportedly to strengthen journalistic diversity (which, in the ludicrous words of a recent prime minister, “is too important to be left up to the marketplace”), Norway’s social-democratic government actually subsidizes several of the country’s major newspapers (in addition to running two of its three broadcast channels and most of its radio); yet the Norwegian media are (guess what?) almost uniformly social-democratic—a fact reflected not only in their explicit editorial positions but also in the slant and selectivity of their international coverage. Reading the opinion pieces in Norwegian newspapers, one has the distinct impression that the professors and bureaucrats who write most of them view it as their paramount function not to introduce or debate fresh ideas but to remind the masses what they’re supposed to think.

The same is true of most of the journalists, who routinely spin the news from the perspective of social-democratic orthodoxy, systematically omitting or misrepresenting any challenge to that orthodoxy—and almost invariably presenting the U.S. in a negative light. Most Norwegians are so accustomed to being presented with only one position on certain events and issues (such as the Iraq War) that they don’t even realize that there exists an intelligent alternative position.

Things are scarcely better in neighboring Sweden... In other European countries, to be sure, the media spectrum is broader than this; yet with the exception of Britain, no Western European nation even approaches America’s journalistic diversity.


A friend isn't thrilled with Bawer, arguing that Bawer tends to see things in black and white only - either something is Maoist or its not seems to be his tone. I tend to feel that Bawer might be the kind of person who would rip into me personally for not flying the flag all the time or something.

Brilliant. He's spot on with the love-hate relationship Norway has with the United States.

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