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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired July 31, 2004 - 21:00:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Becky Anderson, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories.
And the big story all this week has been the Democratic Convention in Boston. In some ways, the coverage may be generating more interest overseas than it is in the United States.

U.S. political conventions have all the choreography of a Broadway musical with none of the plot or suspense. Delegates around the United States gather to affirm what we knew weeks ago, that John Kerry is their party's presidential candidate in November. Still, the networks from outside the United States are paying more attention to the race than ever before.

A little later we'll take a look at how convention coverage is giving viewers in the Arab world a primer in American politics. And we'll also talk with CNN's Richard Quest. He spent the week enjoying the Florida sunshine, but it hasn't been all play. I'll have his impressions from the state that kept the United States waiting for an outcome in the last election.

First, we begin with the European perspective on the convention and the election as a whole. From Washington, I'm joined by Rudy Lentz, who has covered the convention for Germany's "Deutsche Welle". He says. This election is being more closely followed in Germany than any other. And from Boston, our own senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

Let's start with you, Bill. Just give us some sense of how the week has been for you as a correspondent in Boston covering convention?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, 15,000 reporters and no news can be very scary, because this is a room full of media who don't know what to do with themselves, so we end up interviewing each other about the story.

It is a show that was unlike any other convention, and between us I've covered 15 of these things. This is one of the few where there really has not been any news. You don't have any disgruntled losers, no Jesse Jackson or Jerry Brown or Ted Kennedy who has to be placated. The only thing was the lead up to Kerry's speech. Would it be a great speech? Would it be a homerun? Would he hit it out of the park?

Well, that was the story. He did a very good job but, you know, one of the problems of this convention was making it interesting and exciting for American viewers who, frankly, weren't all that tuned in to the convention because they said, well, is there a news story? We know Kerry and Edwards are the ticket.

ANDERSON: Sure. Let's talk about the U.S. viewers shortly. Let me get to Rudy. If indeed there was no news out of convention but a surge in interest in convention by German and other international viewers, what did they get, effectively?

RUDY LENTZ, "DEUTSCHE WELLE": I think they got the assurance that their candidate, which is certainly Kerry, is the right man to deliver, because, I mean, we have for the past three years of the Bush presidency the extraordinary situation that the Europeans already have decided that this is the wrong president for them and they would love to have another one, whoever it might be, and now it turns out it is Kerry.

He promises to deliver, to reestablish the good relations with Europe, especially with NATO and especially France and Germany. So that is good news for the Europeans, but the open question is how will he do it. How will he deliver? Will he establish the ties by asking them to send troops to Iraq, because that is the big issue behind, and so far he hasn't been specific and he has been very vague about how he is going to do it.

ANDERSON: Rudy, forgive me for suggesting this, but more than a hint of bias in what you're suggesting. Effectively, you're saying the international European media have already decided who they're backing. Is that right?

LENTZ: I wouldn't say that the media have already decided and the media is biased, but certainly the public is biased. If that election would be held in Europe, especially in Germany or France, I think Kerry would win with 90 percent against 10 percent for Bush, or maybe even less.

There is an irrational hate affair between the Bush administration and especially Bush and the Europeans going on since he took office, and this has its reason. The Kyoto Protocol, the International Criminal Court, and other obstacles which hindered to have normal relations between the sitting government and administration and the European public.

And so far, the press and the media, the European press and media, reflect sort of the sentiment of the European public.

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, Rudy, that's interesting, because that bias, which is real, as you report, is an issue in American politics on both sides. Because at one point John Kerry made I think a mistake by saying that foreign leaders would prefer that he be the president of the United States.

And the Bush administration demanded to know what foreign leaders, where did you speak to them, and he said, well, I've seen them around, in restaurants, and the Bush campaign has been making fun of Kerry, saying he's the favorite candidate of the European elite and the diplomats, not the American people.

Well, in the Democratic Party, what they're saying and what they said in this convention is the United States is more isolated in the world than it's been in 50 years. John Kerry will end that isolation. That too is a sentiment American voters are very sensitive to.

ANDERSON: Interesting, but let's get back to the discussion that we were having at the beginning of this. You suggested there was effectively no news out of the convention this time and very little interest by the American public in what was going on in Boston. A bit under some 18 million people watching out of a population of some 300 million. That's like 5 percent.

So were the United States networks, the big three networks, then right to cut back their coverage in prime time of convention as much as they did this time?

SCHNEIDER: No. I think that both sides got it right. I think the large mass audience was interested in seeing John Kerry. Look, there is a lot of curiosity about him. A lot of people have doubts about Bush. They're looking for an alternative. They want to see John Kerry. They don't know much about him. All they needed was to watch the speech. They wanted to give it about an hour, which they got to do on Thursday night.

For those of us who are devoted to politics, for partisan Democrats and may I add from what Rudy just told us for Europeans, they wanted to see more. They were looking for some red meat. They were looking for some partisan rhetoric. They could do that because there are a lot of alternative media. It is now no longer -- American media are no longer the exclusive monopoly of three broadcast networks.

LENTZ: I just would like to add on what Bill said. I mean, what the interesting thing was what he didn't deliver, what he didn't talk about, was how he wanted to solve the quagmire of Iraq and how he's going to bring the allies and NATO into the boat, because that is the same thing which Bush already is requesting from them, and he doesn't have the answer. Now I think Kerry will also have some difficulties in convincing the Europeans in taking a more active part in burden-sharing in Iraq.

So this was the vague part, and I think insofar he didn't be too specific in how he is going to outline his new foreign policy.

ANDERSON: Do you expect, Rudy, that there will be as much if not more international audience and international appetite for U.S. politics going forward as we approach November 2, or is the appetite effectively over- whetted at this point?

LENTZ: That very much depends what is happening in the next couple of weeks and months ahead. I think this is an event-driven election anyway and insofar especially the Europeans are focused on the developments in Iraq, on the developments in the greater Middle East, and they are influencing American elections and vice versa. The outcome of those developments are influencing the public opinion in Europe.


SCHNEIDER: The president of the United States is effectively the president of the world. His policies set an agenda for the entire world. But I should tell our viewers around the world, they may not want to watch President Bush and the Republican convention, but that could actually have some real news. 500,000 protestors are expected to show up in New York City and some of them have expressed the intention not just to protest the Republican Convention but of shutting it down. There could be some violence. There could be some ugly confrontations.

People have been asking me, as someone who follows public opinion, would not that reelect President Bush, and my answer is I'm not sure, because if people see huge confrontations at a convention, they may look at President Bush -- Americans might -- and they might say, you know, if we reelect President Bush we're asking for four more years of trouble.

ANDERSON: Bill, Rudy, we thank you.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, a crash course in American electoral politics. Why the Arabic language network Al-Arabiya is devoting so much attention to the convention, how the spectacle is playing out in the Arab world.

Stay with us.



JOHN KERRY, U.S. DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq doesn't make it so. Saying we can fight a war on the cheap doesn't make it so. And proclaiming mission accomplished certainly doesn't make it so.


ANDERSON: John Kerry tells the Democratic convention he'll push for more international involvement in Iraq while lessening American dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

Welcome back.

It's not just European viewers who are getting their fill of the election drama played out in the convention. Arabic language networks like Al-A are devoting as much coverage, if not more, than their American counterparts, and joining me now is Talal Al-Haj. He's United States bureau chief for the Arabic language network Al-Arabiya.

Sir, thank you for joining us.

Give us some sense of how you perceived interest in the run up to the U.S. elections in your region.

TALAL AL-HAJ, AL-ARABIYA: Well, the viewers in the Middle East are very interested in the American elections. The United States is the superpower of the world. Whoever lives in the White House come November will affect not only the fortunes and the future of the people in this country but it will affect the other countries, especially in the Middle East, where we have many problems.

We have the Middle East problems, we have Iraq still a hot issue. So people are watching with a lot of interest.

I must hasten to add that they are a little bit indifferent in a way because who comes to the White House -- we had problems in the Middle East for many years, especially the peace process in Palestinian, and come presidents and go presidents and still that issue is alive and the problem is still continuing.

ANDERSON: OK. We talked earlier to Bill Schneider and Rudy Lentz about the fact that there was effectively, according to most people there and most of the media, and I share this view, very little news coming out of this convention. Did that matter to you?

AL-HAJ: We expected that. I mean, the whole convention was choreographed up to the slightest and smallest detail. We knew that in advance, yet it is a very important event. The acceptance speech by the Democratic candidate for the presidency, it's democracy at work. It's democracy being seen on TV screens.

And as you said, this is important for the Middle East as a window to the Democratic process, but we didn't expect much news. We wanted to know what Mr. John Kerry thinks about policies that matter to our viewers in the Middle East.

I myself as a Middle Eastern of Arab origin, I was disappointed he didn't deal with the major problem in the Middle East, the peace process in Palestinian. He didn't handle it. He didn't tackle it. He is really interested in a domestic audience, and I can understand he wants the votes and what matters for him is to emphasize his security credentials and his military background, which he did.

The whole thing, the whole speech, he set the tone by saying, "I am John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty."


AL-HAJ: We expected that. He is great for domestic audiences in the first place.

ANDERSON: I want to get a sense from you, then, of how the Arab media in Boston were dealt with by other media, particularly the media who are U.S. based. What was your reception effectively?

AL-HAJ: Well, what I understand from our reporters, people are cordial. They are interested, they're curious.

As you know, Al-Arabiya -- this is the first time Al-Arabiya covers any convention, a presidential convention. Al-Arabiya came to birth around February of 2003 and this is the first convention we ever covered.

ANDERSON: The convention was all about making sure that all media were able to get their hands on the right guests at the right time, and pretty much that meant getting the all star lineup at some point or other, the big guys, the big hitters.

Were they made available to you guys?

AL-HAJ: I am disappointed that they were not made available.

As I said, the Kerry campaign was really concentrating on the networks, the American networks, the domestic audience. They don't see votes in the Middle East for Mr. Kerry and it's understandable, yet it's regrettable that we didn't have big hitters made available to us to be interviewed for our station or because the domestic audience comes first, and I requested -- it's not like we didn't try -- I requested, I spoke to officials, and I was told point blank they would like to concentrate on the networks and the American audiences.

ANDERSON: Interesting. And we leave it there. We thank you very much indeed for joining us, Talal Al-Haj. He's the U.S. bureau chief for the Arabic language network Al-Arabiya. We thank you, sir.

And up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, forget what they say about not talking politics with someone you've just met. Richard Quest has spent a week in Florida doing just that. We catch up with him to hear what people in this battleground state are saying.

Stay with us.


ANDERSON: Welcome back.

For the past week, we've been treated to an American quest. Our own Richard Quest has been taking the pulse of Florida, the state that in the last election kept the United States hanging like a poorly-punched chad on a disqualified ballot.

He joins us now to talk about his travels through the state and preview where his journey will take him next.

Richard, what have you seen and heard over the past week?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Becky, what we have seen in Florida, and the reason why we came here and why it has been such a good vantage point, is not only do we get the Floridians, the narrow views here in Florida that could make all the difference in these 27 electoral votes in the presidential election, but also the many millions of tourists that come to Florida for their winter sun and now their summer suntans. They also have given us a good perspective on what people are thinking.

And what is clear as we've heard so many times is that the United States, the electorate is split. It is not so much it is split about whether or not George Bush should be given this extra, this next four year term, and that's why Florida has been such a good place to come.

ANDERSON: I'm wondering how your experience covering this convention and this year's election differs from those U.S. elections that you've covered in the past. For example, Richard, how much are people watching convention? And are they prepared to talk about their political views?

QUEST: One of the fascinating parts about covering a U.S. election, much more so than, say, a British election, is people do not feel the same inhibitions from telling you either their independent, their Democrat or Republican. It is not considered to be a rude question to ask someone how you're going to vote.

You know that old joke about if you're at a dinner party you never talk about sex, religion and politics. Well, in the United States you can actually say to people, "How are you voting? Who are you leaning towards?" and they don't look upon you as if you've just said something offensive.

The difference here is -- and this is about my fourth or fifth U.S. election -- here there is a visceral dislike by Democrats of the Republican George W. Bush and the Republicans feel very strongly that Bush did win the election last time and the Democrats are just sore losers.

So, Becky, if you take that mixture, what you're finding is it's not hard to find the George Bush supporters. It's not hard to find the Democrats. It's when you get to those people in the middle who are saying actually I don't know which way, I could go this way, but I'm not overwhelmingly in love with John Kerry.

ANDERSON: Is it going to have anything to do with John Kerry's policies as to which way voters swing eventually? Or does this simply come down to character still, Richard?

QUEST: I think character for the Republicans is crucial. They say George W. has shown character, strength, determination and conviction in the war on terror, in the war on Iraq, and in his various policies, for example on same-sex marriage, even though it didn't get through the Congress. They say Bush has put out his stall (ph). We know where he stands.

The conviction, the values question for Kerry, and this is what has been interesting covering it and the significance of not so much coverage of the convention is, Kerry has to get his message out there. Kerry has to say to those undecideds, this is who I am and you will find me acceptable. You may not love me, you may not want to go to battle with me, but you will find me an acceptable alternative.

Now, interesting, let's back up a bit, Becky, because if, as you just said, people aren't watching the convention, they're just getting snippets on the news, how far can the coverage they give Kerry that goal?

ANDERSON: Interesting, because we've been talking all week, of course, about the fact that Americans perhaps aren't watching convention like they did in the past. But will they be watching going forward, when the Republicans meet, of course, and will they be watching the political coverage in this period as we draw towards the elections on November 2?

Do you get a sense -- I think my question is this -- that people watching and listening will be ramped up the closer we get to election?

QUEST: Absolutely. That more than anything else, Becky, is the key point going forward, without question.

The conventions are firing of the starting gun, f you like, and what will happen -- yes, they may not watch the convention gavel to gavel. They will be reading it in the paper, a lot of people will be looking at it online at various Internet Web sites, and this next few months is when they will start to make up their minds.

Again, we're not talking about the diehard Republicans and the diehard Democrats. We know where they are going. But it is up to that small group to say whether they find Kerry acceptable and whether or not they feel comfortable changing presidential horses in midstream, to completely mix my metaphors, if you'll forgive me.

It's a very rare thing. They did it with George Bush No. 1, but frankly they don't do it very often because the incumbency, the sheer power of the White House, is so strong, and that is what Kerry is fighting against.

Now, I'll be honest with you, Becky. From what I've heard so far, traveling through this swing state, I am not convinced that Kerry as yet has done sufficient. I do not feel that ground swell of support moving in his direction. But it's early days.

ANDERSON: Interesting. Richard, we thank you. Our Richard heads next to the American West, including a stop in glitzy Las Vegas, and he'll be in another key state, Ohio, during the Republican National Convention, and that begins on August 30. And you can follow his travels on a special section of our Web site. The address is

And that is 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 Becky Anderson. Thank you for joining us.



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