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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Aired July 4, 2003 - 19:30:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Sheila MacVicar, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we bring together leading journalists to examine media coverage around the world.
U.S. President George W. Bush declared all major combat operations in Iraq over on May 1. Since then, attacks on occupying forces have claimed the lives of at least 20 Americans and at least 6 British soldiers.

As the number of dead and wounded U.S. servicemen rises in Iraq, public opinion in America is falling. A "CNN/USA TODAY" poll out this week shows that 42 percent of Americans now think things are going badly in Iraq. That's up from just 13 percent in early May. Only 56 percent now believe it was worth going to war, down from 73 percent in April.

To discuss this further, I'm joined now in Baghdad by Colin Soloway, correspondent with "Newsweek," and in Washington, D.C., Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor for "National Review."

Colin, let me begin with you. What do you think is producing this change in American minds? Are you reporting things that are different now?

COLIN SOLOWAY, "NEWSWEEK": I don't think that particularly the print press any way is reporting anything that's, let's say, necessarily different. We're reporting what's going on out here in Iraq, and what is going on is an increase over the past month or so in attacks on American forces.

When you have Americans being killed every day, that's going to get in the news, and that's obviously going to take some of the focus of the news. If Americans weren't getting killed, we'd be spending more time writing about economic reconstruction, the problems or successes there.

But at the moment -- at the moment the continued, say, insurgency or guerilla war against the Americans here is taking the top page. I mean, before a couple of months ago, when there wasn't as much resistance to the Americans, there was a lot more focus on reconstruction efforts, on what was going on with the coalition provisional authority, good and bad, and Iraqi opinion.

But now, obviously, from the standpoint of American media, the casualties that the Americans are suffering, you know, are going to be news.

MACVICAR: Ramesh, is that your view, that it is in fact this deteriorating security situation, these attacks on Americans, which are changing American public opinion?

RAMESH PONNURU, "NATIONAL REVIEW": well, I think that there are a number of things going on. Just to start out with, I think it was reasonable to expect that support for the war would be highest in its immediate aftermath and would, you know, after that sort of very emotional moment nationally would tend to decline with time.

Then, too, you've got just the fact that this situation, you know, for the average consumer of the news in America, you just, you know, you flip on the TV or you read the newspapers, and it seems to be sort of, you know, no signs of measurable progress that at least are coming through to you.

So, I mean, I think that there is possibly because of the sped-up news cycles, there's a certain impatience. And for a while that was masked, because people were debating the whole weapons of mass destruction, where are they question, and now I think the focus is really shifting more towards the casualties and the seeming inability to impose or establish order, and that, I think, is going to have more of an effect on public opinion.

MACVICAR: I mean, Colin, Ramesh has just raised a really good point. It's those weapons of mass destruction, that whole question of where are they. I mean, this is something which still bedevils the British government to this day. It seems to be something which the Bush administration has sort of skated on past.

But is that something your editors still want you and your colleagues out there to go and find out about? Or are they prepared to say, "Listen, we put our hands in the air. They're not there."

SOLOWAY: Well, I think like everything, these stories sort of have a lifespan -- have a sort of a natural lifespan. And at the moment, it looks as though, given the information that we have, or rather the information we don't have, that for the moment I think everybody's written or at least reported everything that they can on that issue.

As more information comes out, either through Senate hearings, through things that we find out on the ground, through other stuff, you know, that story will, I'm sure, come back again. But it certainly seems to me also as a news consumer myself, looking at newspapers and TV, that that story seems to have sort of died out at the moment, replaced by largely this issue of what's going on in terms of the security situation for American troops here.

And I would agree with Ramesh that actually I think the 24-hour news cycle does tend to gravitate towards the more sensational stories, like Americans getting shot. And that tends to take up the space of other issues. And in many cases, positive stories which are going on as well.

I was talking with an official from the Coalition Provisional Authority today who was saying, you know, they find it sort of frustrating in that they have, you know, hundreds of people out here, engineers, military people, who are really working very, very hard, and successfully, with the Iraqis. Those stories aren't getting told at the moment, primarily because given the space that TV and television have -- in particular TV, but also print media have -- the focus is going to be on the sort of immediate, more of let's say crucial issue, which is Americans are dying at a rate of almost one a day.

MACVICAR: Ramesh, do you think that the Bush administration is doing the American people and ultimately perhaps itself any favors by describing those attackers as coming from remnants of the Saddam regime, saying that they are pro-Saddam forces, as opposed to dealing with an issue which they, it seems to me, are not yet really confronting, which is the question of occupation and the occupier and that the United States is now an occupying force, and there will be people there who will see it as their duty to resist that.

PONNURU: I do think it is a mistake for instance for Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld to deny that this is accurately characterized as guerilla fighting. I mean, this does appear to be, you know, I think you certainly lose some credibility when you say things like that.

MACVICAR: And -- but the question following on from that is, how do you think this effects the credibility of the administration? And how do you think it further effects Americans public opinion? And where do those two things intersect? We are going into an election year.

PONNURU: Right. Well, I think that -- I think that the public is, you know, willing to give the administration more time. But I suspect that if, when the summer's over, you know, after Labor Day, if there doesn't appear to be progress in Iraq, if there is no further development on the WMD story, I do think that there's the potential for support for the administration to begin to decline.

MACVICAR: Thank you both very much. We will look with interest to see what happens. Thank you, Colin. Thank you, Ramesh.

It's a spat that's causing sparks to fly across Europe. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's comments to a German lawmaker, suggesting he should play the role of a Nazi concentration camp commander, have enraged the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

The European press have jumped on the story. They were already enjoying dishing out the dirt on diatribes of the controversial Italian leader as he took over the EU presidency this week.

Joining me now here in the studio, Michael Sontheimer, a correspondent for German's "Der Spiegel," and William Ward, correspondent for the weekly news magazine "Panorama," which is part of the Berlusconi media empire.

Let me ask you first, Michael, even before this began, "Spiegel's" cover this week was Berlusconi, and the headline was.

MICHAEL SONTHEIMER, "DER SPIEGEL": "The Godfather."

MACVICAR: Why?

SONTHEIMER: I mean, maybe you remember that two years ago, before Berlusconi got elected, "The Economist" made this famous cover, why this man that is unfit to govern Italy, and I think there's a lot of skepticism not only in Germany about the media power of Berlusconi and about his numerous court trials and about his way out, he tried to get away from these.

MACVICAR: By changing the law.

SONTHEIMER: And so there was a lot of -- a big skepticism before he took over the presidency of Italy, took it over. It was only two days and he blundered in a way that the skepticism got vindicated.

MACVICAR: How do you think that this gets played out, certainly through the eyes of Berlusconi's own media empire? This is something which is incontrovertible. It happened. It happened on television, in front of the entire parliament of the European Union.

How will -- how will he want his own press to deal with this?

WILLIAM WARD, "PANORAMA": I don't' think there -- I mean, there is a certain amount of self-censorship in Italy by the national press. "Panorama" certainly will not give it more attention than it in a sense deserves, or rather they will put it into the context, that this was one, if you like, rather cruel and gratuitous racial stereotype, offending not just a single politician but a nation, following another.

I mean, the cover of Michael's paper, "Der Spiegel," offended not only Berlusconi with what was a gratuitous and I think unfounded insult, but profoundly offended a nation of 60 million Italians, particularly Italians from the south of the country, who do not like the idea of other countries playing up tired old racial stereotypes about the mafia.

MACVICAR: Well, surely, though.

SONTHEIMER: I don't think it's stereotype. I mean, I think all these trials against Berlusconi, bribery, corruption trials -- are these stereotypes or are they really.

WARD: No, that's not -- we were talking about calling him the "Godfather," which has a direct reference to a mafia image, and that is the -- it wasn't the -- the cover of "Der Spiegel" wasn't about his particular trials. It was using a word which is deliberately employed to rip up a feeling of racial dislike, which is immediately, because we know that the word "padrino" or "Godfather" refers to an Italian.

SONTHEIMER: But I think "Der Spiegel" is not so important. I mean, it's more important what happens over the EU during Italy's presidency.

It was a terrible start. I mean, you must admit it couldn't get worse.

WARD: Well, in fact, it may well get better and hopefully it won't be very much to Silvio Berlusconi's benefit if he is seen to be picking up forum what was a very poor start.

I think it should also be pointed out that, it's an interesting thing, when we're talking about Berlusconi's influence on the media, and he certainly has an influence on the Italian media, but on the international media, there's been some very interesting, I wouldn't call it censorship, but there's been some very interesting and significant selective quotation here, because what has disappeared from all the press, both television and printed press, both in Britain, Italy -- not in Italy, but in Germany -- is the actual words that Michael Schultz, the German MEP used, which actually got up Mr. Berlusconi's nose so much.

MACVICAR: Well, Mr. Berlusconi is the president have recourse to the speaker? The speaker, can have.

WARD: He was very foolish to have lost his rag in that way, I agree.

SONTHEIMER: It wasn't the first time. Remember when Berlusconi was talking about Muslims being inferior to Christians.

(CROSSTALK)

SONTHEIMER: He tends to make these blunders, and I think he has been in business for most of his life, he's just not a good politician. He let's (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WARD: Yes, but Michael, Germans, of which you are a German voter, elect German politicians. The Italian electorate are voted by Italian voters, and they have voted him. I think this is rather.

(CROSSTALK)

MACVICAR: But at this point, where you have the European Union, because he has been voted by the Italian voters, he is now the -- has the presidency of the European Union at a time when the European Union needs to do a lot of work. It has constitutional work to do, but more importantly, perhaps, it has real political healing work that it has to do, and his presidency comes at a time who already look at him and say, how can this man be fit to lead (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WARD: Yes, and a most important fact, a political healing at the moment, which needs to be done, is to heal the rift that has opened up across the Atlantic, and I think it's very fortunate that, at least in that respect, that we have Silvio Berlusconi representing Europe, who will be able to heal the immense damage that has been done by the extremely foolish and incautious and short-sighted political strategy followed by the French and indeed the Germans. That would.

SONTHEIMER: See, they are blaming - they blame Blair and Bush in this case, but let's done talk about that now. I think what's new now, that citizens, politicians in any of the European countries, have the right to criticize the president of the European Union.

It might be difficult, and I think that the debate is n both sides. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)'s got a good example, but we have to get used to them.

(CROSSTALK)

SONTHEIMER: I mean, the Germans have an opinion on the Italian prime minister and the British have an opinion on the German prime minister, and we have an open debate.

WARD: I quite agree, but it can't be one law for the Germans and one law for the Italians. It can't be OK for the German press, a most distinguished organ of the German press, and an important key German MEP, to insult the Italian prime minister with very crude racial stereotypes and then for him not to do it.

MACVICAR: But you have to acknowledge that there's a difference between a German -- what a German newspaper, a German news magazine says, in reaches of freedom of the press, and what a Germany lawmaker says or said to a German lawmaker.

SONTHEIMER: I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) complain about our magazine using racial stereotype. I mean, a stereotype, to put it Germany as a concentration camp guard is the most stupid and limited.

WARD: No one is denying that.

(CROSSTALK)

WARD: I'm not defending him for doing that. It was a very foolish thing for him to have done, but if there's not -- I don't think we can take this out of context, and it's very significant that all the world's press, European press, have immediately gone straight into this very concentrated close-up on Berlusconi. Is he going to apologize. What about Martin Schultz apologizing.

MACVICAR: Gentlemen, I'm afraid we'll have to leave it. It is clear, I think, as long as Mr. Berlusconi has the presidency of the European Union, we will have much more to talk about.

William Ward, thank you, correspondent for the weekly news magazine, "Panorama." Michael Sontheimer, a correspondent for the German news "Der Spiegel." Thank you both very much for being with me.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, the world and the world media at his feet. We talk the phenomenon that has followed David Beckham, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MACVICAR: You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.

More than 500 journalists clamored to see just one man, the international face of football, David Beckham.

The 28-year-old soccer star officially taking his position with Real Madrid on Wednesday, but what is it about David Beckham makes him a celebrity the likes of which we've never seen before?

Joining me now, Ellis Cashmore, professor of culture, media and sports at Stafford University in England. He has just published in the last year the book "Beckham."

People paying money to see a medical examination broadcast live in Madrid?

ELLIS CASHMORE, AUTHOR: An awful lot of them, as well. In Japan, apparently, they were glued to their screens to watch this guy. He magnetizes the world.

I mean, there's no getting away from it. There has never been such an extraordinary character as David Beckham.

MACVICAR: Oh, surely you jest.

CASHMORE: I do not at all. I've compared this guy to Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, maybe, in terms of athlete celebrities.

But, of course, the thing is about Jordan and Woods, they were at the top of their games. They redefined their sports.

Beckham, even the most generous critic of Beckham wouldn't put him in the top 100 soccer players in the world.

MACVICAR: Not in the top 100?

CASHMORE: I don't think so. I mean he's.

MACVICAR: You may get lynched for that.

CASHMORE: Well, I'm safe. He's now gone to Spain, so I think many of his fans will follow him over there.

But remember, he's now playing in a star-studded team. I mean, Real Madrid have probably four of the top six players in the world.

MACVICAR: So what's the constellation that not only drives football - - as you say, he's not one of the world's best -- that drives football writers crazy, drives teams crazy, that they want to spend millions for him, and then at the same time, drives this whole celebrity-fashionista- gossip -- what is that about?

CASHMORE: I think we really have to say that soccer followers have been privy to a drama, a saga, you might say, that's been unfolding over the past five years.

This goes back to his initial meeting with Posh Spice, AKA Victoria Adams, now his wife, who was then at the height of her powers with the Spice Girls, known globally, really on the A-list. He was just an aspiring soccer player that really nobody knew too much about outside Manchester.

She introduced him to a new world, and I think the media got scent of a new hybrid character, neither entertainer nor pure athlete, someone who mixed and melded in both worlds, and they followed him.

Now, after he was sent off in a game against Argentina in 1998, he went into hiding. The paparazzi, I think, became intrigued, and almost in an I dare say Garbo-like way, he said nothing, did nothing; "We don't want to be disturbed."

And of course, this really created a kind of a Beckham mystique. People got more and more fascinated by this guys who did nothing and, you know, said nothing.

MACVICAR: So what is it about the nature of this kind of celebrity? We're talking about a guy who very adequately plays football, who is married to a woman who is a very adequate singer, but we're not talking about a woman who has had a stellar solo career.

CASHMORE: We're not talking about Mariah Carey even, we know.

MACVICAR: Yes. So what is it about the constellation of the two of them? What is it that they bring? Is it there publicist? Is there some Svengali up there who is manipulating the strings and manipulating us?

CASHMORE: I think -- I don't think there is one Svengali. I think she certainly exercised a great deal of control over his career. I think she saw in him the raw material for a new project.

Her career was in the descent. His on the other hand was in the ascent, and I think she molded, manufactured him. I think she gave -- let's put it this way. All the time she was in the Spice Girls, who were a manufactured band, of course, I think she was taking careful notes. I think she applied those notes to her husband.

In other words, the principles that worked to create the Spice Girls, she applied them to Beckham and created out of an athlete a phenomenal, globally popular celebrity par excellence.

MACVICAR: So this is the summer of Beckham, and we have many more front pages to look forward to?

CASHMORE: Well, I think the danger is that we may be reaching the state of Beckham fatigue. We've had so much of him in Europe, remember, so I think people are getting slightly exhausted by the whole phenomenon. I am, and I'm a writer.

MACVICAR: Real Madrid hopes not, they just paid way too much money.

CASHMORE: It's a gamble.

MACVICAR: Thank you very much, Ellis Cashmore.

That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I'm Sheila MacVicar. Thanks for joining me.

END

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