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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired November 22, 2003 - 03:30:00   ET


ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Robin Oakley, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we bring together leading journalists to examine media coverage around the world.
The much awaited state visit of U.S. President George Bush to the United Kingdom has come and gone, but not before we witnessed some of the best and worst of the British media.

Shantelle Stein gives a roundup of all that was fit to print.


SHANTELLE STEIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The British news media are not beating around the bush when it comes to poking fun at the U.S. president during his official state visit to Britain, and they pulled out all the stops, with no end to the number of Texan-taunting puns, from howdy to the duty to the downright dirty.

Even those in the media who are staunch Bush reporters couldn't help themselves, portraying Mr. Bush as the cowboy caricature riding into town. But it's the cartoonists who are taking this to the extreme, making the most of their two favorite targets, President Bush and Britain's Queen Elizabeth.

But the press do tire of the story quite quickly and a certain American pop icon started pushing the American president down the pages.

While some may say the level of vitriol aimed at the American president in the British media was extreme, and perhaps even wrong, few can deny it's all been quite entertaining.

Shantelle Stein, CNN, London.


OAKLEY: While the press's jokes and jaunts were plentiful, did they go too far?

I'm joined now here in the studio by William Shawcross, veteran journalist. His upcoming book is called "Allies;" and Andrea Gerlin, London bureau chief for "The Philadelphia Inquirer;" and James Hardy, political editor at the "Mirror."

Let me ask you, William Shawcross, first of all, why has President Bush become such a hate figure for the British media? Is there something sort of patronizing about the way they treat a Texan, that they wouldn't treat an East Coaster the same way?

WILLIAM SHAWCROSS, AUTHOR: Well, I don't know whether it's a matter of geography, but I think to a certain extent you're right. He is portrayed in this sort of absurdly simplistic and patronizing way as this gun-happy Texan Christian, and the Christian bit is what sticks in a lot of people's craws most of all. You have to remember that Europe is becoming an increasingly secular society. America is not. Bush is a practicing Christian, and that's actually one of the things he has in common with Blair.

But, yes, you're right. Some of the British press on the left, and I would include our colleague, Mr. Hardy's, "Daily Mirror" in this. Some of them have been absolutely grotesque in their coverage of George Bush.

OAKLEY: James Hardy, what's your response to that?

JAMES HARDY, "DAILY MIRROR": I think he got off very lightly this week, all things considered.

Here we have a deeply unpopular American president that led this country into a war which a very large section of the population didn't want. Not only that, though, it's not simply to do with Iraq. It's also to do with a variety of other issues where he ha been completely unilateralist on the way he has acted. I'm thinking of the tariffs on European steel. I'm thinking of the absolute intransigence over climate change and the Kyoto Agreement, the continued holding against all international law of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

He's got plenty for people to dislike him for.

OAKLEY: Andrea Gerlin, that's quite a significant charge sheet, isn't it? Perhaps the International Criminal Court, America's refusal to go along with that. You can build up quite a dossier to suggest that President Bush is a unilateralist who brings some of this criticism on his own head.

ANDREA GERLIN, "PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER": Well, I do think that certainly some of the criticism is justified.

On the other hand, the British press does seem to create a bit of a caricature of Bush, and I recall a headline that the "Mirror" ran in November 2000, in which is advised American voters not to vote for George Bush. They said, "Don't Dump W On Us."

Since when does the "Daily Mirror" determine the outcome of the American presidential race?

SHAWCROSS: Similarly, the "Mirror" had a headline in the buildup for the war, "There's a Maniac with Weapons of Mass Destruction," and they didn't mean Saddam Hussein. It was Bush.

OAKLEY: It's a little bit unfair of us, perhaps, to pick on the "Daily Mirror," because there are plenty of other British newspapers who've been equally scathing about President Bush.

Andrea, do you think there is an element of snobbery somewhere in this?

GERLIN: Well, snobbery, yes. And I think when you referred to Bush being picked on because he was a Texan, certainly that's part of it. There's an assumption that anybody who comes from south of the Mason-Dixon line has got some ignorance about them, and I think again that's very simplistic. Things are a lot more complicated than that.

Snobbery in terms of latent anti-Americanism? Sure. I'll bet that that's there, and this kind of climate and the kind of hectoring coverage that some of the tabloids give to this issue brings it out even more.

OAKLEY: Does the president perhaps bring a bit of this also on himself, though, with his rather folksy style. The interview he did with Sir David Frost before coming to London, talking about coming to London to see the musical "Cats" and going out to pubs and that kind of thing. Does that perhaps lessen respect for a president, when he portrays himself in that particular style?

GERLIN: Well, I think he must be portraying himself in a style that he thinks works for him at home. I'm not sure that he's necessarily attempting to appeal to the British electorate, much like the government here doesn't really attempt to appeal to the American electorate.

HARDY: That's right. He's more interested in addressing Lubbock, Texas than (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in London, or even Greenwich Village.

OAKLEY: James Hardy, George Bush is after all the elected leader, give or take a few hanging chads, of a democratic country, so why is there so much bile directed against him compared with, say, President Assad of Syria, who was on a state visit last year, or President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who was having a state visit in June. We didn't see crowds out on the street demonstrating against his policy in Chechnya, for example.

HARDY: No, I agree with you. Neither of those leaders are particularly attractive in themselves.

If I may just say so, I didn't get a chance to answer back all these charges your other guests are making against the "Daily Mirror." I think that we -- I'm flattered and I'm sure my editor will be flattered to know that Andrea thinks we have some impact on the outcome of the American election, because I can't imagine that many of the voters over there would have been reading what the "Daily Mirror" had to say.

SHAWCROSS: I think she was complaining about the hectoring nature of the "Daily Mirror," telling American voters how to vote.

HARDY: So what? Why shouldn't we be hectoring?

SHAWCROSS: Well, indeed, that's your style. That's entirely your style. Why not?


GERLIN: One of the reasons you shouldn't be hectoring, as an American who has lived here in this country for over five years, I know very well that if we were to go around and tell you how to run your country or to tell your voters or leaders how to do things, we get a very derisive and scornful response to it.


HARDY: This isn't anti-Americanism. This is.

GERLIN: Well, then if you're saying the United States is dictating policy to Britain, then you don't have a democracy run by your own country and your own leaders.

HARDY: A fair point. But this president is not.


SHAWCROSS: It's an absurd point, as you know perfectly well.


HARDY: I hope you'll allow me to have a say back at all of this instead of shouting at me.

This is not anti-Americanism, but it is anti-Bush. We make no bones about that at all. I think he's a very dangerous man to have in charge of the world's biggest democracy, and I think he's already started to prove that.

I am very much signed up to the concept of a war against terrorism. The events in Istanbul underline the need for that. But what I think has happened, certainly with Iraq, is he's acted as a recruiting sergeant for some of these terrorists, and that's a very, very dangerous situation to get into.

OAKLEY: Do you think, James, that there is a tendency on the part of those who join in demonstrations and in the media criticism of George Bush to assume that blood is only blood when it is spilled by America? Because there was a lot of talk of blood on his hands among the demonstrators, but it isn't only America which is involved in action which leads to the deaths of innocent people.

HARDY: Of course not, no. The terrorists are just as guilty of that.


SHAWCROSS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they're much more guilty. It's absolutely outrageous in the marches here in London that there were all these signs saying, "Bush, the World's No. 1 Terrorist." There were no signs or no pictures of al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden.


SHAWCROSS: Why was no statue of Osama bin Laden being pulled down then?

HARDY: Because he wasn't on a state visit to London.

SHAWCROSS: Yes, but that doesn't matter. He's still the world's No. 1 terrorist. It's grotesque, I think, idiotic myopia and moral dysfunction to claim that Bush is a greater terrorist than bin Laden.

GERLIN: Hello? I would ask the question also, if a figure like Robert Mugabe would have come to Britain, would he receive 100,000 demonstrators in Trafalgar Square?

HARDY: He would certainly get some demonstrators, yes.

SHAWCROSS: Very few.

GERLIN: 100,000?

OAKLEY: Couldn't it be argued though that the Iraq war was simply a matter of finding somebody to hit after 9-11? Why should the rest of the world have had to go along with the U.S. timetable for action against Saddam Hussein? Isn't that why a lot of the world's media remains suspicious of George Bush and his policies -- William Shawcross.

SHAWCROSS: Well, I think there are reasons for suspicion, always, and the job of the media is to be suspicious of governments wherever they are. That's perfectly clear.

I don't think it's quite George Bush's timetable. For 12 whole years, Saddam Hussein had been defying not the United States, not Britain but the United Nations. There were 17 resolutions saying that he must disarm and be seen to disarm, and back in November every single member of the Security Council voted that he was still in defiance and was still a threat to the peace and security of the region.

OAKLEY: James Hardy, you were saying that this isn't anti- Americanism, what we've seen on the streets of London while President Bush has been here. That it is anti-Bushism. Do you think there is some element, though, of anti-Americanism still in British society? Maybe that has lingered since the second World War, when Americans were criticized for being over-sexed, over-paid and over here, and that the Bush argument is used as a cover for that.

One good American friend of mine, who has lived here for many years, says he still feels a latent anti-Americanism in our society.

HARDY: I think there probably is. I don't think that's the motivating factor behind getting 110,000, 150,000 people out on the street, though. I mean, I'm sure there's anti-Americanism in a lot of European countries. That doesn't necessarily mean that people shouldn't complain, though, about the current president.

OAKLEY: And, Andrea, when the president arrived here, we have this huge fuss about how much of London should be shutdown. There were apparently demands from American security for tubes to be shutdown underneath the streets where the president might travel and so on.

Doesn't some resentment get caused by the Americans treating their president and his security with just too much sense of self-importance, because we don't have to have this kind of shutdown when the Queen or Tony Blair travel about London, and they're equally terrorist targets, surely.

GERLIN: Well, I do think that they have to take into account the threat that does exist when he travels to a foreign capital in this kind of climate. And so some of that is necessary.

As for exactly what happened, what negotiations, what went on, a lot of it was heresy, and a lot of it was stirred up by the newspapers in this country that decided to hyperventilate over the issue in the run up to Bush's visit.

OAKLEY: Well, the president came here. The crowds turned out in the streets. He also made a fairly effective public speech. Well, not a public speech, but he made a speech on "International Affairs," which went down rather better with some of his critics than many had expected.

At the end of the day, let me ask the three of you, did the president's visit here do him any good? Is he held in any better standing by the British public now than he was when he arrived? Short answers from each of you, please. James Hardy?

HARDY: I'd be surprised if he is held in any better standard. Apart from anything else, he didn't really get the chance to meet any of the British people which I think, frankly, because of the security bubble in which he has to operate, is rather a shame. Whatever I think about President Bush, and as you can tell, I don't think a lot, it is a shame that he's come to this country and he actually isn't able to be seen by the people here and have a chance to make a face to face impact.

OAKLEY: William Shawcross?

SHAWCROSS: Well, I quite agree. It's tragic, the nature of our lives and our society and the world now, is that he can't have face to face contact with people. It's an appalling reflection of our times. I think the speech that he made that you referred to, he did extremely well. He was self-deprecating, funny and serious, and he spoke fluently and he spoke well, and I think anybody who watched even the sound bytes would have been impressed.

OAKLEY: Andrea Gerlin?

GERLIN: Well, I would agree with what you had to say on the security issues and, secondly, as far as Bush's speech, I think in a sense he extended a bit of an olive branch, and did indicate that they don't want to take a wholly unilateralist approach. Perhaps that's a step in the right direction towards more multilateralism.

OAKLEY: Andrea Gerlin, William Shawcross and James Hardy, thank you all very much.

Forty years on, and the images of JFK's assassination remain as vivid as ever. We talk to a journalist who covered his life and his death.

Don't go away.


OAKLEY: 40 years ago this weekend marks an event that the world would never forget. John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was assassinated as his motorcade wound through the streets of Dallas, Texas.

The images of this fateful day would be transmitted instantly through the now-universal medium of television, holding the country mesmerized for days.

We're joined now by a journalist who covered his life and his death. In Dallas, Hugh Sidey, well-known "Time" magazine correspondent who traveled with Kennedy and his entourage at the time of his assassination. He's just contributed to a new book, "Remembering Jack: Intimate and Unseen Photographs of the Kennedy's."

Hugh Sidey, you were there on the day when President Kennedy was killed. How deeply are those events ingrained in your memory? What was it like, to be part of that momentous story?

HUGH SIDEY, JOURNALIST: Well, it certainly was the biggest thing in my life, and actually the biggest thing in many people's lives. All over the world on that day, it was so far from what seemed reasonable or what seemed might have happened.

We expected, perhaps, some demonstrators that would chant "Jack go home," or something like that, or perhaps some people with placards, but the idea of this young, vibrant, really quite popular president, that he would be murdered on the streets of Dallas, was so far from anything that we conceived, I'm not sure I have my mind around it to this day.

OAKLEY: What was really so special about him that 40 years on we still talk about President Kennedy so much and make so much of this particular anniversary?

SIDEY: Well, I think there were many things. Number one, I think you have to take the background music here. The world was quite different back then. The people who had led us through World War II were leaving the stage. Eisenhower, his people. A younger generation, very idealistic, who had fought the war, were coming on, like John Kennedy, and they were highly educated, through the GI Bill. It was an unusual time.

And there was great danger in the world. The Cold War was at its peak. So that there were many factors.

And then you get to this remarkable couple, Jack and Jackie Kennedy, and you almost have to see this book, this new book called "Remembering Jack," which gives a better story, a better feel, than anything I've seen over these years. They were so visual. You could sense it. You could see in their eyes and their persons, you could see the grace. You could see the good looks. I mean, he had it, John Kennedy, everything. The hair, the teeth, the profile.

And then I say there was just an approach to life, with humor, with great intelligence. All of that can be perceived from looking at these pictures.

And then Jackie, of course, was an act in her own right, perhaps one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, woman to be first lady. And so young.

All of that came to bear, and they came on the stage at that particular time, and it was hard not to be fascinated with them and to be really aware of them, and I think the death, of course, just sealed that.

You mentioned earlier that there were days of television, four days of continuous television. That had never happened before, and people stopped everything and watched that great drama, and that simply etched itself in our national life.

OAKLEY: Was he perhaps the first television age president? And was that event the coming of age of television, the moment at which television perhaps took over from the written word in many people's eyes as the way of corroborating and embellishing a story?

SIDEY: I think you're right, but I don't like -- you'll forgive me for protesting just a little. The printed word is still pretty strong, and we weren't taken over entirely. But you're right, basically. The influential news media became television.

Truman had used it a little bit, but very little. Ike was uncomfortable with it. It was John Kennedy who was comfortable with the prying eye of television and with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) cameras. Nobody else had really experimented like this, and the Kennedy's were so photogenic. He was so aware, he was so intelligent, he was so informed, that he could talk about anything. He was unafraid of these new instruments of communication. And it was, no question about it, it was the coming of age.

I felt it in the three years of his presidency. We still had access. We were still friends. We wrote a lot. Kennedy loved the written word. He had one time wanted to be a journalist, and that was still intact, but he was a realist, and he realized that most of America got its concepts of him and his government from television, and so it became more pervasive with each day.

OAKLEY: How much has changed since you were interviewing John Kennedy in the relationship between journalists and presidents and the style of conducting that relationship?

SIDEY: Well, there isn't any question that the relationship is more distant now. Kennedy had a group of people that had kind of grown up with him in politics, myself and Ben Bradley, who was a social friend, at "The Washington Post," Bob Healey (ph) of "The Boston Globe," some others, and we could pretty much get to see Kennedy when we wanted, and we would talk old times as well as new times, and it was an easy relationship, even within the White House.

But then little by little it began to break down. One of the big things was simply the size and the intensity of the media. The 24-hour news cycle. The press for a story every night on the nightly news. And it was dangerous for any political man with ambition, because you never knew what would come. And so they began to withdraw. They had to guard what they said. They couldn't talk to everybody.

So you have today pretty much an isolated president who, as you know, tries to manage the news, puts the spin on it, and of course then the media that try to break through that. So it's a different world.

OAKLEY: Not so easy to become a hero, with today's style of political coverage.

Hugh Sidey, in Dallas, thank you very much.

That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. I'm Robin Oakley, in London. Thanks for joining us. The news continues on CNN.



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