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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired October 23, 2004 - 21:00:00   ET


WALTER RODGERS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Walter Rodgers, in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we exam how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
It was a daring exercise. A British newspaper takes its message across the Atlantic, urging U.S. voters to listen to the voices from afar.

The target: a key county in the swing state of Ohio. The method: the all-but-forgotten art of letter writing. By pairing up readers of the "Guardian" newspaper to registered voters in Clark County, Ohio, Britain's left-leaning newspaper caused quite a stir, some Americans saying the paper had no right to meddle.

So has that newspaper overstepped the mark and waded into territory it should not? To tell us more, the executive editor of the "Guardian," Albert Scardino, joins me now.

Albert, what right does a British newspaper have to try to manipulate a presidential election in the United States, and how is it different from the Russian President Vladimir Putin saying he's for Bush? I mean, it's still meddling.

ALBERT SCARDINO, "GUARDIAN" NEWSPAPER EDITOR: Well, let's back up just a second. The "Guardian" didn't meddle in the United States election. The "Guardian" encouraged people who had been devoid of a voice in the discussion about America to write. We facilitated the opportunity for people to write to American voters, one to one.

It was not an editorial position of the newspaper that we invited anyone to take. It was an opportunity to facilitate discussion in a free market place of ideas, which, sadly, is missing in a large part of the American presidential discussion.

RODGERS: The British don't pay taxes. They're not American citizens. They don't have standing. They're not registered to vote. What business is it of theirs?

SCARDINO: 60 percent of the people who come to see the Crown Jewels and the Tower of London are American citizens. This is a country with a very, very intimate, integrated relationship that goes back a long way and the opportunity for both Americans to comment on life in Britain and Britain to comment on life in America is well-established.

Their certainly doesn't need to be any apologies to anybody for encouraging people to have a voice.

RODGERS: Now, if the Americans, an American newspaper, tried to manipulate voters in a British election, we would hear screaming in parliament like what was heard on the eve of the war of Captain Jenkins' Ear.'

SCARDINO: Well, I think you had better explain that metaphor. I'm not sure that an awful lot of your listeners can remember Captain Jenkins or his ear, but I think if an American newspaper -- first of all, it would be a rare exception for an American newspaper to have an interest in things outside of the borders of the United States. If they did, if they were one of the half-dozen American newspapers who happen to have a correspondent in Britain and they sent their correspondent off to try to convince members of the public to vote one way or another in an election, you're absolutely right. That would be outrageous.

On the other hand, if an American newspaper encouraged Americans to write handwritten letters, which don't happen very much in this society anymore, to express their views about the future of the world, I would think that in this country, which is open to very rambunctious debate, would welcome it.

RODGER: Wait a second. Ohio is a very close state. It's a swing state. Isn't it possible this little prank, if you will, will backfire, actually help George Bush, in which case, given the editorial slant of your paper, was a dumb thing to do, like kicking a dead skunk?

SCARDINO: I think you and I both know that it's very, very difficult to predict what effect news is going to have on any particular set of events.

In this particular case, the notion that a newspaper should or shouldn't engage in the news process, in the discussion of ideas, in the exchange in the free market place of ideas, is an outrageous attack on freedom of expression, and I would suggest that anybody who was concerned about whether this should have an effect or what effect or whether a newspaper should or shouldn't do something, because of the effect it might have on the political process, doesn't really know very much about news.

RODGERS: Out of curiosity, what does this have to do with the admittedly sagging circulation of your newspaper? And is it true, did you get more hits on your Web site for the Guardian in the States that in the United Kingdom?

SCARDINO: That's true, and in fact the "Guardian" has about 2.5 million Web site users in the United Kingdom and about 5.5 million in the United States and Canada.

RODGERS: So you're not meddling, you're just sort of addressing your readership concerns.

SCARDINO: That is our readership. And the fact that the "Guardian's" Web site readership has been growing by about 10,000 a month in the United States is very encouraging, but thanks to this it looks as if it might grow by a million this month, so we're very, very pleased at the fact that our circulation is soaring.

RODGERS: Judging by the hate mail you get, you must have second thoughts about putting your oar into the colonies' water. I mean, the hate mail has been bad, hasn't it?

SCARDINO: The hate mail is for us a reinforcement of the importance of doing the story.

One of the terrible things that's been going on in the process of American public discussion is that there has been an intimidation of other voices so that -- not voices of dissent but just any voice whatsoever, so that there's an effort to remove the process of discussion from the American political process.

The fact that we have in this exercise generated the kind of flame- thrower hate mail that has been so common in the American process lately, intimidating people from having a voice, not from having a different opinion but from having any opinion.

RODGERS: Tell me what they said. What were some of the most offensive things you were told by these Republicans in Ohio, or anywhere in the States?

SCARDINO: I think some of your editors may pull the plug on the conversation if I were to quote it.

RODGERS: Well, clean it up.

SCARDINO: There seemed to be a particular fascination with the state of hygiene and British dentistry and British teeth. There was a lot of criticism of the crooked teeth and the yellow teeth and how long it would take us to get an appointment in the nationalized National Health Service and that we ought to come to America and become American citizens if we wanted to have better teeth.

There was an awful lot of -- just outrageous language about -- a lot of threats about how good is the security in your building. Are you sure your security is adequate. We know where you live, we know where you work. 26 separate members of the staff received at least 700 pieces of spam hate mail in an attempt to shutdown their internal communication systems.

It's that sort of intimidation of the process which is reminiscent of earlier periods in Europe, in the early 1930s, when there was an attempt to stifle dissent and stifle -- not stifle dissent so much as to stifle discussion, so that there is only one voice. And that kind of right wing hysterical response is exactly the reason why we need to do just this kind of exercise.

RODGERS: Shades of McCarthyism.

Albert, thanks very much.

Still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, how much pull has religion got in the United States election and why are the media so wary of this subject?

Stay with us.



Religion in the United States has always been something private and deeply personal, especially in politics. But in this U.S. election, some argue the most public apostle of religion in politics is in fact the most public figure, the president of the United States, George W. Bush.

Mr. Bush invokes God in ways that make Europeans and even some Americans feel uneasy. The theme of Bush and religion is one that is recurrent in the media these days, and joining us to discuss it further, in New York, managing editor of "Newsweek," John Meacham. His new book is called "Franklin and Winston." And in Austin, Texas, John Fund, editorial writer for the "Wall Street Journal." His news book is called "Stealing Elections."

John Fund, do you see an element of secular bigotry in some of the criticism of religion and Bush in this election?

JOHN FUND, AUTHOR: I would probably call it secular ignorance, actually. The problem here is we have two worlds, just like we have red and blue states. We've got people who don't go to church and people who do go to church.

95 percent of elite journalists don't go to church on a regular basis, if ever. As a result, they don't quite understand that what Bush is talking about is not channeling God's voice through him into public policy. It's about seeking God's wisdom and guidance in order to make decisions based on Biblical principles, based on principles of charity and compassion and other things.

RODGERS: John Meacham, you have tackled this issue in your periodical. Respond.

JOHN MEACHAM, AUTHOR: Well, I think it's really an extraordinary moment because people who act as though George Bush has somehow or another invented faith in the Oval Office haven't read the founding documents of the country, which says that our creator gave us the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness and life, and also all presidents, really beginning with Washington, who threw in, by the way, the phrase "so help me God" at the end of the presidential oath -- that's not in the Constitution but George Washington added it in 1789 -- are really wrong.

I mean, this has been -- faith has been a consistent theme throughout many, many presidencies and I think the reason that it is a lightening rod now is for people who disagree with Bush on other things but are using this as a way into attacking him.

RODGERS: Mr. Meacham, you're saying in effect nothing is new in this election.

MEACHAM: As the author of the book of Ecclesiastics said, there is no thing new under the sun.

RODGERS: So you're not one of those 95 percent elite who doesn't go to church.

John Fund, let me ask you, is it -- do you see anything new in Mr. Bush's religiosity?

FUND: Well, it certainly is more pronounced in some ways than, let's say, Bill Clinton, although Bill Clinton often would refer to God and, of course, Jimmy Carter was perhaps our most devoutly religious president.

I think that Mr. Bush is basically appealing very much, though, to evangelical voters. Evangelical voters in the last few years have moved to the right politically and become more engaged politically. As a result, secular liberals view this as a threat not only politically but religiously, and there's often this fear always in the back of peoples' minds on the left that somehow there's going to be the wall of separation of church and state is going to collapse, and Mr. Bush talking about faith- based initiatives often raises those concerns, although I'd point out Al Gore also supported faith-based initiatives in 2000 and he didn't get any of that kind of criticism simply because his style was completely different.

Bush's Texas style and his religiosity rub a lot of people the wrong way.

RODGERS: Explain to Europeans in a European audience or a more global audience why they don't need to be afraid of George Bush's religiosity, especially when he tends to see things in terms of absolute black, absolute white, no grays and an almost religious conviction that he's been called and knows what is right.

FUND: Well, I grew up much of my childhood in Europe, so I certainly appreciate European sensibilities and certainly far fewer people in Europe now go to church. America, though, has very, very strong institutions and also a separation of powers.

The president may speak for the country, but he certainly doesn't move public policy unless he can convince Congress and usually the courts to go along with him. In Mr. Bush's case, yes, he sees things in black and white terms, but so have other presidents. Bill Clinton railed against racism and he said Affirmative Action, for example, was a black and white issue. We had to help people who had been discriminated against.

So it depends on what issues a president chooses to call black and white. In the case of Mr. Bush, it's the war on terror. And frankly, that's a hard to say isn't a black and white issue. If you're a terrorist, you're probably trying to blow up innocent people, so that's something that a lot of Americans can agree with. They may disagree about the tactics of fighting the war on terror, but as for whether or not it is a black and white issue -- I was at the World Trade Center on September 11. I frankly view it as a black and white issue.

RODGERS: John Meacham, quickly, does it bother you that Mr. Bush's record as the governor of Texas involved the execution of more criminals, more death row criminals, than any other governor in the history of the United States? And what kind of Christianity and what kind of prayer is involved in that sort of almost capital punishment by rote?

MEACHAM: Well, that's a matter, as we say in the United States, for the people of Texas.

If people of a given state want to do away with the death penalty, then they have that right, and that's part of our federal system, which several European countries have as well.

I think that it is an idea of an eye for an eye. Now, you can argue that that's an old testament view and that the new testament view is to turn the other cheek, but that's one of the wonderful things about both religion and politics in America, is we have very healthy debates, very lively debates on both sides of these questions, and if I were a European looking at this race and looking at President Bush, I would just -- there may be many, many things to worry about, but the religiosity is something I really wouldn't, and that's because whether it's Woodrow Wilson or Franklin Roosevelt, you know, the only thing Franklin Roosevelt said in public on D- Day in 1944 was to read a prayer of his own composition. And we all sort of want to go back to that.

So it's an important part of the American experience, party because we were born out of the reformation. We came here to escape the established churches of Europe and we've always avoided an established church, and I think that on the American side, the less harsh we are about the religiosity and the faith, the more widely accepted it will be, so that's the burden on us. But I think there are many, many things to worry about. I don't think Bush and God is one of them.

RODGERS: John Meacham, John Fund, thank you very much for your special insights.

Still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, what was originally just an American sport made headlines around the world. We talk to two journalists who covered the historic baseball clash.


RODGERS: Welcome back.

It's been 86 years since the Boston Red Sox have won a World Series. Now they may just pull it off.

In a historic victory against the undefeatable and infallible New York Yankees, the Red Sox have turned the sports world on its ear. This was not just an American sports story, but a global one.

So what was it like for sports journalists to chronicle this? I'm joined now in New York by sportswriter for the "New York Daily News" Anthony McCarron and in Boston by Rob Bradford, reporter for the "Lowell Sun" and author of the book "Chasing Steinbrenner."

Gentlemen, this was truly a cosmic sports story. Here in London this morning one of my colleagues said to me, I don't know anything about baseball, but I love the Red Sox story.

Rob, why don't you begin by telling us why this is cosmic.

ROB BRADFORD, AUTHOR: Well, I think you start with the 86 years. I mean, 86 years that the Red Sox haven't won a world championship, and the fact that the Yankees, the greatest team in baseball for so many years, have been the ones standing in their way so many times, and to be ale to come back from what a lot of people are saying is the latest come back in sports history, where they're down three games to none and basically three outs away from elimination with the best closer relief pitcher on the mound. I mean, it all sets up for something extraordinary, which obviously would be a world championship, the first one in 86 years.

RODGERS: Anthony?

ANTHONY MCCARRON, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Well, yes, that is a good summary of it.

You know, the Yankees have been pounding on the Red Sox for years. I mean, we talk about this as a fantastic rivalry, but it's been lopsided for a long time. The Yankees have won a lot of the big games against the Red Sox over the years and when it counts, and now the Red Sox may have turned the whole Curse of the Bambino on its ear. So that's why it's such a gigantic story.

RODGERS: Rob, Boston must have gone wild when this game ended. I remember my grandfather, my Yankee grandfather, that is New England grandfather, went to his grave ruing the fact that he never saw the Red Sox go to a World Series. Boston went wild.

BRADFORD: Yes, no, absolutely. Unfortunately, there was already one tragic death in the celebration and they're already making plans for if there is a world championship, because it's going to be twofold as far as the celebration goes.

But that aside, it is unbelievable. I mean, what they say is that the obituaries will be full if they win the world championship, just because so many people won't have anything to live for anymore, because they've been waiting and hanging on for this world championship.

So a lot of people are in the same boat where they say, "I only want to see -- the one last thing I have to see as a Red Sox fan is a world championship."

RODGERS: Anthony, I'm going to put on my Boston Red Sox cap to ask you this question. Are New Yorkers suffering? We hope so.

MCCARRON: Yes. I can safely report that they are because, you know, this is a monumental collapse by the Yankees. They were ahead 3-0 in the series and they had to win one more game. They were three outs from doing it. No team has ever even forced a seventh game in a series like that after trailing 3-0. The Red Sox did it, and then they did it again by winning the series and, so, you know, the Yankees not only have the worst collapse in history, but they've also got it to their big rival and the team that they've manhandled for all these years. So it is very painful for fans right now and the stadium, until Pedro Martinez came in the other night, the stadium was a pretty silent place when the Red Sox got out to a big lead in game seven.

RODGERS: Anthony, let me ask you this. Years ago there was a wonderful Broadway musical called "Damned Yankees," about the man who sold his soul if only the devils would allow someone else -- the Washington Senators in those days -- to win the American League Championship. Why would a man sell his soul to see the Yankees lose?

MCCARRON: That's a great question, but I think there were plenty of people in Boston who would have done it and, for all we know, may have. Because, you know, they've won for years now, and, you know, they had a little drought in the 80s and early 90s, but since 1996 every year they have been a gigantic contender and they've been to the World Series six times since then and they've won four of them and, you know, they seem like they're going back every year, and every year they, you know, they get a lot of great players in the off-season, free agency, trades, whatever.

You know, so, they're basically, you know, this sort of, you know, monolith, every year, this Goliath, and I think the people after a while are just like, oh, the Yankees, the Yankees, and, you know, they'd like to see somebody else, and particularly if you're from Boston.

RODGERS: Rob, are you a journalist or are you an advocate? I ask that because, you know, you write for the hometown team, in your case the Boston Red Sox. Do you make any pretense any being objective?

BRADFORD: Oh, yeah, well, I think that after you cover it a certain amount of time, you start to become more and more objective, but I think one of the things about what's going on now is that I kind of even regret being so objective, because I mean, I remember in high school and college being an avid Red Sox fan, having grown up in the area. I remember coming home in third grade, in 1978, to see the Bucky Dent homerun and the Red Sox season; I remember sleeping out for tickets on the sidewalk outside Fenway Park.

So I kind of miss those days, actually, but, you know, unfortunately, or fortunately, I have to kind of be objective as we go through the final days here.

RODGERS: Anthony, last question to you. As I read the papers every day, it seems like the best writing in the paper, finest quality writing, is on the sports pages. Why is that so?

MCCARRON: Well, I think that people are attracted to sports, and that's why so many people live and die over these games and pay so much attention and come out and everything, so I think it draws a lot of people, you know, to the profession as well, and there is a lot of drama here, human drama, every day. You know, we come to put these people on pedestals as heroes and we want to know about their personal lives and what's going on with them.

You know, there's all these highs and lows in sports. There's these wild swings. The Series is a perfect example of it. And you know, I think that lends itself to great writing. I mean, people who want to write and write about incredible things are drawn to sports in many cases because there is so much stuff going on. There are so many stories, human and on the field, great feats. You know, I think that that's really why we've seen so much great writing in sports.

RODGERS: Anthony McCarron, Rob Bradford, thanks so much for joining us. Good luck in the World Series.

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 Walter Rodgers, in London, thanks for joining us.



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