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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

New Environmental Warnings; The Press and the US Elections; Reporting on the Iraq War

Aired November 4, 2006 - 09:30:00   ET

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


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fionnuala Sweeney at the Frontline Club in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the week.
First up are the U.S. midterm elections and the explosive role of the press. Plus, the psychological toll of war reporting. We speak to the author of pioneering research. And new environmental warnings. Should the press care? We debate the issue.

And we begin with the critical U.S. midterm elections taking place this Tuesday. With control of Congress up for grabs, the campaigning has becoming increasingly bitter. And much of the battle is being played out on the television screens.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I met Harold at the Playboy party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So he took money from porn movie producers, I mean, who hasn't?

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ron Kind pays for sex, but not for soldiers. If Ron Kind had better priorities, we wouldn't be having to hear this. Ron Kind is out of touch. And soon, he'll be out of Congress.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Meet Congressman Sherrod Brown, who didn't pay his unemployment taxes.

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SWEENEY: The media is also weighing in on key election issues and stirring controversy. Right wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh was forced to apologize after accusing actor Michael J. Fox of exaggerating the symptoms of Parkinsons Disease during a Democrat advert urging stem cell research.

And conservative blogs have created a storm over comments by Senator John Kerry that uneducated people would end up in Iraq. Kerry claimed the comments were a botched joke and railed against "Republican hacks and right wing nut jobs."

All this is giving rise to traditional charges of press bias on both sides. While liberal commentators criticize channels such as FOX, a new study found the big three domestic networks, NBC, ABC, and CBS, may only broadcast negative stories about the Republican party.

Well, joining us now to discuss the midterm elections and the surrounding coverage is first of all, Stryker McGuire of "Newsweek" magazine; Martha Kearney, who's BBC news political editor; and Sir Robert Worcester, the founder of the polling group MORI.

Sir Robert, first of all, the Bob - Kerry scandal, is that likely to have any impact on opinion polls?

ROBERT WORCESTER, MORI GROUP MEDIA: On the election?

SWEENEY: Well, on the opinion polls. Are voters likely to take it seriously and.

WORCESTER: No, I don't think they are. I think if the Republicans had been more in sorrow than in anger, it probably would have made a point or two's difference.

But because they overreacted to it, I think the swing's going to be both ways. And it's going to balance each other out.

SWEENEY: Being founder of the MORI Group, you work obviously very closely with the media. How can you explain the relationship between polling groups coming up posters and polls coming up to (INAUDIBLE) elections and the media's thirst for them?

WORCESTER: Well, it's a symbiotic relationship. And we try and get along, even if there are strains, because the pollsters want to get it absolutely right. And the media tend to want it as short as possible.

And so, there's this conflict between explaining what the polls mean, and the media's interest in just the horse race. You know, tell me who's ahead, who's behind, and by what percentage point lead. And that's a real problem for the relationship between pollsters and their clients.

SWEENEY: How much do you think, Stryker McGuire, is the public's willingness or eagerness to know about the opinion polls playing into this as well? They just want to know who's ahead, who's behind, and how seriously does "Newsweek" take opinion polls when it's writing its reports?

STRYKER MCGUIRE, NEWSWEEK INTERNATIONAL: Well, you know, we always - when going into any election, we always have these meetings. And I'm sure Martha has them as well, where we all sit around and we talk about let's not cover this as a horse race. Let's get into issues. Let's - this is not about personality. It's not about polls. This is - and of course.

MARTHA KEARNEY, BBC NEWSNIGHT: Let's get out of London or Washington, get help there.

MCGUIRE: Once we have the meeting, then of course, we all go back to what are the polls saying. And I think one of the dangers now is that everything has to come out so fast. And being first and fast is so important these days, that a lot of stuff gets out there, that may be 10 or 15 years ago wouldn't have gotten out there now. And it may happen to be wrong, as it was, you know, at the last presidential election.

KEARNEY: And also, you get the hypocrisy from politicians, which is very frustrating, where they always say, oh we're never behind. Oh, I wouldn't believe the opinion.

MCGUIRE: Right.

KEARNEY: What do the opinion polls tell you. I wouldn't believe it, you know, if I were you. When they're spending a fortune themselves on private polling.

MCGUIRE: Oh, yes.

KEARNEY: And so, that they do rely on the opinion polls. And they're just doing that as a defense mechanism, because there's nothing they can say usually they know when they're going to lose an election, because their private polling is telling them that.

WORCESTER: The midterm elections are typically not of that much interest to the British audiences and the British media. But this is different. This is another 1994, when Clinton got a bloody nose with the Congress, switching from Democrat to Republican. And it did make a difference to the rest of his period of the presidency.

I believe the same thing is going to happen to George Bush.

MCGUIRE: But there's an additional factor here, and that is that there are so many people outside of the United States who want George Bush to take - to get a real bloody nose.

WORCESTER: Yes.

MCGUIRE: I mean, there's such hatred for Bush, that that adds, I think, interest to this, even though he, of course, himself, is not up for election or reelection.

SWEENEY: And the United States is famous for allowing negative ads, which isn't allowed in some other countries, including Britain. What impact do you think it has, Sir Robert, on the public and opinion poll makers? Does it work?

WORCESTER: It turns people off big time, but it seems to work, particularly in the United States. I explain that because they react with hostility to it, when they see it and when they're asked about it. But it seems to have an impact in their psyche, in the depth of their memory when they go to the polls.

Not a big deal, but one or two percent would have made all the difference of Senator Kerry and George W. Bush. And one or two will make all the difference, one or two percent in this election on who controls the Senate, because it's a knife edge as of today.

KEARNEY: Yes, and although we don't have attack ads, television ads here, we do have political advertising. And they're often extremely modeled on campaigns from the United States. People bring out - I mean, we had very controversial posters during our general election campaign, which had Michael Howard, the leader of the opposition as Fagan. There was an ad that was regarded at anti Semitic. Labor have made an image of David Cameron, the new conservative leader, as Dave the Chameleon.

The conservatives painted David - Tony Blair as demonized, a negative ad which backfired. Actually, the idea was that he was really supposed to be very, very left wing. You know, how wrong could that have been?

But they looked at these American campaigning techniques and they're extremely influential.

MCGUIRE: You know, there's something I noticed this time, and maybe this has happened before, but politicians, candidates always used to distance themselves from these negative ads. There would always be something at the end set at a very high rate of speed. Like this campaign is produced by blah, blah, but is, you know, not approved by blah, blah, blah.

Now at the end, the candidate comes forth and said, "I fully endorse this advertisement." And that to me says they work.

SWEENEY: As we wrap up this conversation, I'd like to ask you as we look at the midterm elections, just a matter of days away now, are there any lessons that you think you might be learning?

MCGUIRE: Well, just because you feel you have a political mandate to do something at a certain time, like go to war in 2001, 2002, doesn't mean that at some point it's not all going to pear shaped and end up, basically, undoing your entire administration and your legacy.

SWEENEY: Martha, a final word to you. As we look at these midterm elections, of course here in Britain, the relationship between Tony Blair and George W. Bush has been very, very close. Is that going to be reflected, the results, the outcome of these elections going to be reflected in the media here in any way as a kind of personal referendum on Tony Blair?

KEARNEY: Well, I think there certainly people will be looking at it for those kind of implications. Now we already know that Tony Blair's going to go. So I don't think it's going to do anything in terms of hastening his departure.

But his critics in his own party on the Iraq War hope that if the Democrats take over Congress, they'll be a change in policy over Iraq, and perhaps more change in policy over climate change.

I'm not sure that that's likely. People on Downing Street are saying that though - of the U.S. presidential campaign will begin the day after the midterms. And they think it's only when they'll be a new American president they're likely to see any change on climate change.

And I think in terms of if Iraq, that may well be wishful thinking in terms of the critics of the war.

WORCESTER: Or on Donald Rumsfeld. He announced yesterday that Don Rumsfeld will be there as long as he's in office, 2009.

SWEENEY: That's indeed a very fitting point in which to leave this discussion. Thank you all very much.

Coming up next on INTERATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, the daily horrors of war, traumatic for everything involved. So why is the shock experienced by war correspondents only just beginning to be recognized? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Welcome back. War journalism often involves huge physical risks, but can also leave lasting psychological scars. With large numbers of reporters covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the issue of post traumatic stress disorder has come sharply into focus.

The search in the field has increased. And recent findings reveal around 20 percent of long serving war correspondents suffer from PTSD.

The term "shell shocked" became well known during the Vietnam War. With large numbers of soldiers left traumatized, the conflict was the first to be broadcast into American livingrooms every evening.

However, the psychological impact on journalists was left largely ignored.

For more, I'm joined by Dr. Anthony Feinstein, professor of psychiatry at Toronto University. Dr. Feinstein has pioneered research into how journalists cope with war, and is the author of the book "Journalists Under Fire." Christina Lamb, also veteran war correspondent who has covered the conflict in Afghanistan extensively.

First of all, Dr. Feinstein, how would you define post traumatic stress?

ANTHONY FEINSTEIN, PROFESSOR, UNIV. OF TORONTO: It's a series of symptoms that you develop in response to a severe stress, a life threatening stress. And it's divided up into three broad categories.

One is you're reexperiencing the traumatic event through dreams, flashbacks, recollections that are unwanted, quite intrusive. So that's one group of symptoms.

The second group is you want to avoid recollections of the drama. So you want to try and stay away from reminders of it. Or your emotions might shut down. They might become numbed in response to the trauma. So that's a second group.

And the third group is of arousal, a physiological arousal. So you may have difficulty sleeping. You feel irritable. You have a startled response to a noise. You're hyper vigilant when you're back in a safe environment. You think that, you know, there's going to be fresh threats. So you really have to have symptoms from all three groups to sustain the diagnosis.

SWEENEY: Christina Lamb of "The Sunday Times," you've been most recently in Afghanistan, and there have been quite a few scrapes. Do you recognize any of the symptoms that Dr. Feinstein's described?

CHRISTINA LAMB, CORRESPONDENT, THE SUNDAY TIMES: I think it would be foolish to think that you could go in and out of these kind of life threatening situations and not feel anything afterwards, not be affected.

But I think, in my case, I've been doing it for a long time, 20 years. I started when I was very young. And so, I think I'm very used to dealing with it. And also, I'm lucky that I have quite a strong home life. I'm married and I have a child. And so, when I come back from being a war correspondent, I come straight back and have to do the school run, and have to get - pick up my son and take him to activities and talk to him. So there's no time to sort of come back and dwell on what I've seen.

And in fact, in July in Helmond, when I was in an ambush by the Taliban and really very lucky to survive, I literally came back. And the same day that I came back was my son's seventh birthday party. So I had to spend the morning making ham sandwiches.

SWEENEY: How much do you think the individual's personality contributes to whether or not there might be a diagnosis of PST? And also, not so much the personality as much as also their background?

FEINSTEIN: It's a real conundrum to predict who's going to develop the syndrome and who doesn't. I mean, there's been a challenge for military psychiatrists dealing with soldiers. And I think it's the same kind of challenge that someone like myself has now in relation to journalists.

But to put it into context, the majority of journalists who do dangerous things do not have post traumatic stress disorder, that don't develop, you know, disabling depression.

But there is a minority, quite a significant minority, who do develop the symptoms. And it's very hard to predict in advance who those individuals are going to be.

SWEENEY: In terms of the resources available, if you felt that you might be suffering, or you weren't yourself coming from any particular situation, do you feel that you'd have the support? Do you feel you'd be able to bring it to the attention of your colleagues?

LAMB: I think in England, there's still a very macho culture about this, that it's somehow weak to admit that you're affected by what you see. Certainly in newspapers. So I don't think that there is really enough realization of what people go through. Certainly - I mean, if I felt anything, it would really be up to me to try and bring that to people's attention. Nobody's asking me how do you feel.

SWEENEY: Dr. Feinstein, is there a difference now, as people become - and management's become more aware of post traumatic stress disorder that people are less afraid now to bring it up, or raise that as an issue when they come back from a war zone?

FEINSTEIN: Yes. I think the climate is changing, but I'm really interested to hear what you've just said, that there's not going to be an easy mechanism within your organization to access something like this.

But I think, you know, it's great that you're doing well. And you've, you know, come back from difficult situations. And you're managing.

But for an individual who doesn't do well, I'm wondering how they're going to find the necessary help. And I think the whole question of stigma still is quite strong, that there are going to be journalists who are going to be reluctant to reach out for assistance for this very reason. And in the process, I think suffer needlessly.

SWEENEY: Dr. Feinstein, Christina Lamb, thank you both very much indeed.

Coming up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, a stern report about the impact of global warming on the environment released in Britain this week. But why is it a story that is not particularly attractive to newspapers and television networks alike? We'll investigate after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Welcome back. It's a subject which arouses passion and boredom in equal measures. The environment and global warming in particular was back on the agenda this week with a new report putting a figure on the cost of inaction.

The story ran high in many newscasts and papers, overcoming what some say is media apathy towards an important issue.

Well, to discuss this further, I'm joined by ITN's science editor Lawrence McGinty. He covered more than 70,000 miles in a three journey around the world, charting the effects of global warming, reporting from China, Brazil, Chad, the Maldives, and Greenland. And Friends of the Earth Campaign coordinator Roger Higman, spokesman for his organization include Radio Head singer Tom York.

Roger Higman, how easy or difficult is it to get media interest in the events you're trying to get covered?

ROGER HIGMAN, FRIENDS OF THE EARTH: Well, it depends. And the moment is exceptionally easy. I think there's a lot of media interest in climate change. I think that's because so much of the politics that politicians are talking about is talking about climate change. The fact that we've got David Cameron on the one hand and Tony Blair arguing about it actually helps our cause, because it makes the issue seem that much more relevant to people, and that much more relevant to the journalists who want to cover the stories.

SWEENEY: So is it easier now than it might have been a number of years ago?

HIGMAN: Undeniably been easier over the last couple of years. In the past, I think there was a real sense that this was a long term issue. Whereas now what we're seeing is that big decisions alike to be made on it. Those big decisions are likely to have an impact on ordinary people. And therefore, there's a tremendous enthusiasm for journalists to actually cover the stories.

SWEENEY: Lawrence McGinty, you've of course been around the world recently looking at the effects of global warming. Was this a story that you had to sell hard to management?

LAWRENCE MCGINTY, SCIENCE EDITOR, ITN: Not at all. It was the most bizarre assignment I've ever been sent on, because they told me to do it. I didn't have to sell it at all. I mean, I've been following global warming probably since 1992 since the Rio Earth Summit. And every year or so, I try and sell a story, saying please send me somewhere so that I can tell people what's happening in the world with global warming.

And I get it turned down. But suddenly, this year, they say we want you to go to six locations around the world and tell people what's happening.

And I think there's two reasons for that. Politically, it's a much more live issue as Roger says. And secondly, the evidence is much more dramatic. You can actually go to places, see it, film it, and point it out.

SWEENEY: Well, with that service, could you bring up with you? I mean, it's a very good TV story. You can actually point now to the effects of global warming.

How much difference does that make then to it being a much better TV story than it might be a print story, do you think?

MCGINTY: A lot. I mean, for instance, I went to the Maldives. We dived on reefs that have been damaged in the late `90s, when there was a spike year, when sea temperatures were very, very high. Some of those reefs haven't recovered at all. Some are in the process of curing themselves.

But if there's another spike year coming along, and it coincides with el Nino, so there will be, who knows how many will be destroyed then?

Now you can see that. I can put my hand on dead coral and rub it and it looks horrible. And contrast that with a location 20 miles away, where the coral is fantastic.

SWEENEY: So Roger Higman, we're saying essentially here in Britain there seems to be much more interest - media interest in covering global warming, etcetera and the environment. Do you think that's reflected around the world?

HIGMAN: Not as much from what we hear. I mean, but we're beginning to see it. And I think Al Gore's film has helped enormously. And the fact that it is suddenly a political issue.

And if you look at the United States with Arnold Schwarzenegger warring with George Bush, look at Australia where all of a sudden the opposition now is taking up the issue and Howard's government's coming under attack, the more the evidence builds up that it's a global problem that has to be dealt with quickly, the more politicians get involved, I think the media coverage is going to pick up as well.

SWEENEY: There are those -- for example a manager of a radio station in the United States recently said in reaction to Al Gore's film, I don't want to hear about global warming on this radio network until Belle Harbor is under water.

Again, I suppose it's up to the individual perceptions of managers and their various editorial roles around the world?

HIGMAN: Well, I think we've always seen the odd individual who's going to make a maverick decision. Ultimately, the listeners, the viewers, they're the ones that are going to pressing for it. And if all the other stations are covering it, if we can continue to create the stories, the examples, continue to create the controversy in the political arena, ultimately, even that journalist is going to have change his mind.

SWEENEY: What about what we're seeing take place in other organizations such as you and HCR, where Angelina Jolie, of course, has raised the awareness there of that situation hugely in the last couple of years. Are the environmentalists missing out on the spokesperson that the "sexy" aspect to the story that draws attention to it?

HIGMAN: I'm not really going to make comments about sexiness, but I think.

SWEENEY: Well, in terms of making it a sexy story.

HIGMAN: In terms of getting celebrities involved, getting prominent spokespeople, we are beginning to see that happen. We've been tremendously fortunate in having Tom York join our campaign and give us benefit gigs, and actually speak to a whole range of people that maybe I would have had difficulty speaking to.

But we've also seen spokespeople in a variety of different areas. I mean, we've got scientists coming forward. And they speak to different people.

So as the issue gets more prominent because it's more relevant, the opportunities for journalists to cover the issue get that much greater. And that's also good for us, because it means we can get the message across and actually get some change happening.

SWEENEY: Lawrence, celebrities (INAUDIBLE)?

MCGINTY: I think it makes it easier to sell a story. And it makes it more accessible to the viewer. That's why it's easier to sell if there's a familiar face that's talking to people. But I think it's a power of the story, the sense that things are developing very rapidly. And really, there's an urgent need for action, which wasn't present 10 years ago, a story that's breaking at the end of this week, a group of Marine biologists looking at the productivity of the oceans, saying that by the middle of the 20th century, there will be no commercially exploitable fish stocks left. They'll all have disappeared.

Now 10 years ago, I couldn't have got that story on. Now I can because of the whole framework has shifted around.

SWEENEY: All right, we'll have to leave that. Lawrence McGinty, Roger Higman, thank you very much.

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 Fionnuala Sweeney. Thanks for joining us.

END

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