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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired January 22, 2005 - 21:00:00   ET


JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Jonathan Mann. Welcome to a special edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, from Washington, D.C., where leading members of the media gathered this week to witness history: the inauguration for a second time of George W. Bush.
Love him or hate him, he's here for four more years, a phrase that's been repeated with some resignation at times in the media since Mr. Bush's reelection last November.

Since then, he's made clear that he has big plans for his second term. He said "I earned capital in the political campaign, and now I intend to spend it."

Thursday at his inauguration, he laid out plans to spend it around the world.

"It is the policy of the United States," he said, "to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal," he said, "of ending tyranny in our world."

After two wars and a larger offensive against terrorists worldwide, how will that inaugural vow affect the president's image in the press?

Joining us now to talk about it is Carole Coleman of the Irish television network RTE, whose interview with the president caused some controversy in political and media circles; John Harwood, political editor of the "Wall Street Journal"; and James Harding, Washington bureau chief of Britain's "Financial Times."

Thanks to all of you for being with us.

Why don't we begin, John Harwood, with you. Big story all over the world. Front page news in the United States. Your newspaper thought it was both big and worthy, as speeches go. Was that the consensus in this country? Did everyone agree?

JOHN HARWOOD, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": I think by and large that was the consensus, but, you know, this is a speech that you could interpret very differently. Parts of the speech, the president said that what the United States intends to do is to clarify the difference between those regimes that are moving toward democracy and those that are not. That suggests it could be a rhetorical emphasis.

But the guidance that I've gotten from senior White House officials is he was serious about it and it should be interpreted more broadly than that.

MANN: Carole Coleman, when the president of the United States makes that kind of speech, what kind of questions should journalists be asking?

CAROLE COLEMAN, RTE: I suppose they should be asking now whether this spreading of freedom is going to be selective or whether it's going to concentrate in all countries.

The buzzword now is the war on tyranny, which has moved on from the war on terror, which I think is very interesting, and the media really does seem to have picked up on that. So now we're talking about any country that's led by a dictator, the United States is saying that, unlike in the past, where they were perceived to have supported corrupt regimes, that in the future they are going to support the people who are fighting against these regimes.

So I suppose as journalists we have to ask does that include Saudi Arabia? Does it include China, for instance? Russia? Or is it going to be selective in terms of just relating to those countries where America has interests that it wants to look after itself.

MANN: James Harding, do you think it's a prelude to more war? And does the press have to take that kind of filter after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Does it have to be asking that question now about everything the president does over the next four years?

JAMES HARDING, "FINANCIAL TIMES": Well, I think Carole is right. What we have to do is to take those ideals and say how does that measure up against reality.

I thought what was quite interesting this week was that you had the president's speech in such lofty language, and at the same time you had Condoleezza Rice's confirmation hearings. And at those confirmation hearings, she was much more specific. She said there are six, quote/unquote "outposts of tyranny" and she ran through those.

And I suppose what you have to say, if the president is intent on ending tyranny and if you're one of those six countries -- North Korea, Belarus, Cuba, Burma, Iran, Zimbabwe -- then you have to think we're (UNINTELLIGIBLE) right now. And the president was clear that arms are not necessarily to be used in spreading tyranny, but he didn't rule out the use of force.

HARWOOD: Jonathan, the other thing I think we have to keep in mind, the one thing almost everyone can agree on, is that when this president said, as you quoted earlier in the broadcast, that he has political capital and he intends to spend it, he wasn't kidding. And he doesn't kid about a lot of the objectives that he is pursuing. He's very serious about it. That's the hallmark of his leadership. And it's pretty consequential for the United States.

HARDING: The one question I have is, I think there are going to be some people, particularly in the Republican Party, who are going to be very disturbed by this speech, both by its abandonment of realism, the idea that it's such an idealistic foreign policy, and its commitment to international engagement.

And I don't know, but I would say if you're one of the candidates who is looking either towards reelection in 2006 or, more importantly, towards the presidential election in 2008, you would be very fearful of another war. And so I think the room for maneuver, even within the idealistic thrust of this speech, is actually quite limited.

MANN: Do you think, though, Carole Coleman, that the press should be a little bit, if not cynical, hard on the president at a time like this? If you're writing headlines for the newspapers back home, do you put an exclamation mark next to this one?

COLEMAN: I think the press has done a pretty good job around this inauguration of examining where the next four years goes. After the election, President Bush was seen by some in the media as a lame duck. Well, he doesn't need to be reelected. Whereas in the last couple of weeks you see that this man does have more ambitions and that he is serious about carrying them out.

I think the press has to ask how much can you do realistically in four years? Can you do any of this? And then the question that follows on from that is this whole issue of dynasty. Are they lining up somebody who is going to have the same ideological ideas as President Bush, perhaps even Jeb Bush, who knows. But we've heard a lot about the Bush dynasty in recent days and weeks.

HARWOOD: Look at what we've gotten wrong in the last few weeks about George W. Bush, and I count myself in this category. It is the belief that his second term was largely going to be about the domestic agenda, which is also ambitious, also controversial, within the Republican Party, as well as among Democrats.

We at the "Wall Street Journal" had an interview with the president in the Oval Office a little over a week ago, and the president talked about spreading freedom and liberty but the assumption was he was really going to spend his capital mostly on trying to change the Social Security, the American retirement system, change the tax system.

It's pretty clear now that his most costly and consequential emphasis is going to be overseas.

MANN: You're talking about things that the media got wrong. The president's supporters organized a fireworks display earlier this week, and one of the things they did was sent fireworks up to spell a big W in the sky, a golden W. Should the media be putting MD next to the W every time it reports on George Bush? You're talking about things that the media got wrong -- WMD is the biggest thing that this administration got wrong. It's the biggest thing that a lot of the American media got wrong. Should everything the president says be filtered through the experience of the last four years and the fact that the United States went to war for something that was a mistake? Does the media have to be doing more, saying more about that?

HARDING: Well, in one simple sense, yes, in that the president gave a 21 minute speech on Thursday and he didn't use the word Iraq once, and clearly our job is to say look at the extraordinary idealism of this speech, but then let's compare it to the fact that day after day this week, the day before the inauguration, the president was on the phone again to the Iraqi leadership, 26 people had died in car bombs that day; another day 16 people died.

So to compare that idealism to the very difficult time this administration is having and the coalition is having in Iraq is absolutely essential to what we do.

COLEMAN: I think that's one of the geniuses of President Bush, that he is able to make what is a bad situation look good, and that was very obvious in the speech, the way he is able to gloss over what is happening in Iraq and produce this amazingly positive message of spreading freedom around the world and defeating tyranny, and it seems that he has managed to convince a large number of the American people that this is a worthy ideal and that perhaps it is the job of the media to keep reminding them of the situation in Iraq and how difficult that is. And it is on our screens daily, so that's one of the disconnects that I find hard to understand, why American people will still accept what he is saying and not look at the situation.

HARWOOD: And not only that. In our "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll this past week, a majority of the American people still believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

MANN: John Harwood, let me ask you about that. Have the media been reluctant to draw big conclusions about Iraq? There is a sense in this country that it is a half-empty glass/half-full glass, that it depends how you look at it, and the media has been reporting very fully on things going well in Iraq and things going badly, but it seems the big media institutions in this country don't want to draw a conclusion about whether this is overall the mess that some people say it is or the opportunity for real progress, that the administration says it is.

HARWOOD: I think, Jonathan, that's because we don't know the answer.

It is certainly conceivable that Iraq is going to turn out to be a disaster, but we don't really know. I think the frame of reference for judging this enterprise is considerable and over a number of years, not just in the moment right now.

HARDING: One thing, John, that I think is really difficult, is -- I'm sure this happens at the "Journal," I'm sure it happens in editorial rooms elsewhere (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We were sitting around this week saying how do we describe the fact that this country doesn't feel like it's a country at war? It's very curious that the situation is clearly deteriorating in Iraq, and yet there seems if anything greater detachment in the United States from what is happening there. So how you report a dog that is not barking is very difficult.

MANN: Intriguing point, let me come back to something else, though. This is a nation at war. Some people say that the press has been unfair about the war, in fact, and that we haven't been reporting the fact that Iraq is a country that has moved from dictatorship to first steps of democracy, that even the U.S. media has been very slow to look at the incremental changes that represent progress.

Now, you two don't work for American media, so let me ask you: do you think the American media have done in sum a fair job over the first four years of the Bush administration?

COLEMAN: I think they did at the beginning. I think as we began to realize how serious the situation was in Iraq, I think the media then woke up and started reporting more of the negative than the positive. I think that's the way they're going forward from here. I think the media gave President Bush a very easy ride for the first two to three years of his first term and I think thee was a shift.

MANN: James Harding, we'll give you the last word.

HARDING: I don't think so. I think we haven't done a good enough job. I think that the war in Iraq is a much more serious and deadly war than it was two years ago, and in March 2003, the networks, the newspapers, committed far more resources to the coverage of this war. And now, actually, we need to be committing exactly the same amount of resources to understanding what's going on there.

COLEMAN: But now it's too dangerous to go there and most of the journalists who were sent are holed up in their hotels.

HARDING: Absolutely. That's absolutely right.

MANN: On that note, James Harding, of the "Financial Times," Carole Coleman, of RTE, and John Harwood, of the "Wall Street Journal," thank you all for being with us.

HARWOOD: Pleasure.

COLEMAN: Thank you.

HARDING: Thank you.

MANN: Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, fair or foul? What sort of deal does the U.S. president get in the foreign media?

Stay with us.


MANN: Welcome back.

The U.S. president's first term was momentous. The attacks of September 11 at home, two wars abroad. Whatever George Bush does, however he responds, it's all done in the full glare of the world's media, and it seems everyone has an opinion.

Some U.S. newspapers have admitted that they could have been tougher on the president over Iraq. We were just talking about that. Does he then get a fairer deal in the foreign press?

Joining us now to talk about that is Hafez Al Marazi, Washington bureau chief for the Arabic satellite network Al Jazeera, and Philippe Gelie, who writes for the French daily "Le Figaro."

Thanks so much, both of you, for being with us.

Mr. Al Marazi, let me start with you. You read the American newspapers, you see American television and you report on television to an audience that is far outside the United States. Is George Bush, as he is portrayed in the U.S. media and George Bush as he is portrayed in the world's media two different men?

HAFEZ AL MARAZI, AL JAZEERA: Well, not necessarily when it comes to what we heard from him during the second inauguration.

The focus is very clear for both that George Bush would like to focus on his second term, or at least would like to be remembered in his legacy as the one who tried to end tyranny all over the world. And in the Arab media in particular, people take note of that as considering that the Middle East is targeted rather than any other region in the world when he was talking about tyranny and dictatorship and intervening.

However, of course, more talk about the absence of Iraq or Afghanistan in the Arab media, analysis of the speech, why we don't see that much in the American media.

MANN: Well, let me ask you to continue this on. Do you think there is a distinction, though, between, even looking at that one speech, a statement that is regarded as idealistic inside the United States and maybe imperialistic where you report to.

AL MARAZI: That's exactly the right words for the perception on both sides, although idealistic sometimes is used in the American media from even an academic point of view comparing him to Woodrow Wilson or the tradition of people who wanted to change the world for the better.

Yet, because of the model of Iraq that is very clear and still current in front of people and the justification for the invasion of Iraq, at least that sustained, any talk about WMDs, were merely the same rhetoric that we heard yesterday about spreading freedom and ending tyranny.

So that's why it immediately is linked to not just idealistic but also adventurist and unrealistic.

MANN: Philippe, let me ask you, in general sense, does George Bush present an easy target to the world's media? Does he deserve more credibility overseas than he tends to get?

PHILIPPE GELIE, "LE FIGARO": An easy target, yes, probably he has become an easy target since the Iraq affair. And the credibility is lost there in the eyes of most of Europe and people and even European sympathizers (ph) is very hard to come over.

I don't think the treatment he gets in the European media or in the French media is by itself unfair, but when you write your stories, even when you print the words that this president says, like he did yesterday during the inauguration speech, you know that the perception of them will be distinctively different from its perception here.

I mean, this idealism, you can only agree with this big speech on liberty and its power and its all for the good, but I think the reaction in Europe would be to wonder what kind of consequences do you draw from that, what kind of policy will it create. There are a lot of question marks, I think, in the European opinion on this speech.

MANN: So I guess the bottom line is it's less what you do as a journalist than the way your audience is going to read what you're writing.

GELIE: Absolutely. I think sometimes you just know when you write a story and you try to be fair, but you know that this will be perceived negatively, because simply President Bush has lost a lot of credibility in Europe.

MANN: Mr. Al Marazi?

AL MARAZI: Yes, I think also I'd like to add to that the variations among the media outlets according to the audience or the ownership.

For example, I took notice of the fact that most Arab government controlled or owned newspapers, in their headlines they made an emphasis on the fact that with ending tyranny George Bush pledged not to impose the U.S. style of government on others. And you would feel that very clear in most Arab newspapers that would care about this message, because their government -- this is an assurance for the government that this is rhetoric.

Indeed we could always say change from within, you are not going to impose that on us. Also words like it's going to take generations. This one also has more emphasis on the Arab media, controlled by governments, because they like that. It's music for them that you could hear a lot, that four years is not going to change anything.

MANN: Hafez Al Marazi, do the Arab media in a situation like this tend to be tougher on a man like George Bush then they are on, say, Bashir Al Assad?

AL MARAZI: Yes, well, that could be. That would depend on, of course, which media and in what country that media is launched.

But you have to remember here, Mr. Mann, that Bashir Al Assad or Hosni Mobarek or (UNINTELLIGIBLE), they don't give speeches to say how are we going to change the world or how are we going to change the government of the United States or how the Europeans are ruling themselves, and this is the difference here. And that's why people would care to comment and would care to scrutinize what the president is saying or the human rights report coming from the State Department is saying, because it really, in a way, it's intervening, as they see it, in their own affairs.

MANN: I guess we'll give the last word to you, Philippe Gelie. Does President Bush have to work harder at changing perceptions of himself in the world media? The United States has made a big push at public diplomacy. Is it succeeding? Does it have to do something different?

GELIE: Well, you cannot change the man you are, and there will always be, I think, some aspects in the George Bush personality that will not go along very well in Europe.

I think this president -- I mean, when Bill Clinton used to speak to foreign audiences, you had this impression that he knew who he was talking to and that it was tailored for the right audience. You don't have this feeling really with George Bush even when he travels abroad, and it's very striking to see that.

It's almost always the same speech. There are not so many nuances in it. And even such a speech like yesterday, which is I think a good speech -- inspiring and bold and idealistic -- even that, I don't think is very well perceived in Europe because the man has lost a lot of credibility and because you still wonder what it means in concrete policy terms.

Does it mean that the new American policy is to seek regime change? Where? In Iran? Syria? China? Why not? What does it mean.

MANN: We'll be watching for four years.

Philippe Gelie, of "Le Figaro," and Hafez Al Marazi, of Al Jazeera, thanks so much to both of you for being with us.

GELIE: Thank you.

AL MARAZI: Thank you.

MANN: Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, poking fun at the president. How one artist's unabashed Bush bashing keeps him in work.

Stay with us.



The commander-in-chief, the world's most powerful man, the world's most dangerous menace. George Bush has many titles and has been called many names, but words are secondary to political cartoonists. To them, George W. Bush is just fabulous fodder.

CNN's Jim Bitterman talks to one artist who is looking forward to the next four years.


JIM BITTERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some Europeans may be dismayed at the prospect of four more years of George Bush, but Patrick Chapaxte (ph) is not one of them.

Chapaxte (ph) is the editorial page cartoonist for the "International Herald Tribune," and President Bush, he says, has been good for cartoonists.

PATRICK CHAPAXTE (ph), CARTOONIST: Among his core supporters, you have the religious right in the United States. You also have the editorial cartoonists of the world. That is true.

He is a character, really.

BITTERMAN (on camera): At what point did you draw that one?

CHAPAXTE (ph): That's funny, because it's one of the first cartoons I did on Bush, when he became president. And, you know, I played on the dad- son relationship and I made Bush like a teenager saying, you know, "Now, Dad, I will do what I want."

What is funny is how this cartoon turned out to be true.

You have to admit, we all underestimated him at the beginning, and it's true that before September 11, his foreign policy was not that clear. But since then, the war on terror kind of simplified everything. You had the good guys on one side and you have the terrorist on the other side. Let's not forget Bush's space program, though. His Mars program.

BITTERMAN: He wanted to go to Mars.

CHAPAXTE (ph): He wants to bring us to Mars, and I think that's a prospect that we all look forward too, except maybe the people from Mars.

BITTERMAN: Do you think anything will change the next four years?

CHAPAXTE (ph): I don't think -- I'm afraid I don't think anything will change, and I think -- Bush has never disappointed me so far and I don't think he will disappoint me in the future.

BITTERMAN (voice-over): With the editorial cartoonist for the "International Herald Tribune," this is Jim Bitterman, CNN, in Paris.


MANN: And 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 Jonathan Mann. Thanks for joining us.



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