British press brandish patriotism

Objectivity apparently took the Chunnel to Paris

LONDON — Just married to a lovely Scottish lass and finishing up graduate school at Northwestern, I sent resumes to 20 British newspapers hoping one soft-hearted sports editor might employ me so my new wife could stay on that side of the Atlantic.

It impressed me how many papers sent rejection letters via air mail. Every one carried a sting.

But all these years later, what I remember most about that futile effort was one gentlemanly editor warning me over the phone about the perils of working in the British media for somebody who didn't grow up there. It would be "a shock to anyone's system,'' he kindly told me.

I always remembered that conversation during regular visits to my in-laws while reading mainstream papers that devoted so much space to silliness. I thought of those words again Sunday at Wimbledon during the news conference for Andy Murray when the first question a so-called journalist asked Murray was to describe the kiss he gave his girlfriend after the match.

The first question? This was perhaps the signature Olympic moment for Britain, one of its own winning tennis gold at one of the host country's most sacred sporting venues. Describe the kiss?

Harmless, yes. But it summed up how the British media's sensibilities have become swept away in the success of its athletes. Objectivity took the Chunnel to Paris. When Britain's Mo Farah won the 10,000-meter gold Saturday — one of Britain's three gold medals in track and field that night — a BBC analyst actually slapped his head out of joy. Pre- and post-event TV shows include commentators regularly saying "we'' or "us'' on the air. They describe rowers as royals, cyclists as those called Sir.

Describing enthusiasm as a journalist is different from expressing it. There are media homers in every market in America. Never have I seen such unapologetic, unabashed support of the home team than at the London Olympics. Patriotism or unprofessionalism?

British papers are more subtle but no less supportive — and at least some have criticized their TV colleagues. The papers remain fun to read from a detached perspective. On a two-hour train ride Monday, I enjoyed The Guardian's typically outrageous headlines such as "If thieves strike, don't be alarmed, just buy a llama'' and "Police parade naked adulterers in street.'' I find the salacious tone of many stories more amusing than annoying.

In retrospect, I'm just grateful I never was hired to write them.