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Covering the U.S. Presidential Election; Post-Election Zimbabwe; Photographing Celebrities

Aired April 25, 2008 - 20:30:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories.
This week, the gloves come off. Hillary Clinton answers back in Pennsylvania. We assess the media's treatment of the U.S. presidential campaign. Four weeks after the vote, reporters show their thoughts on what the future might hold in Zimbabwe. And spitting images, why sometimes seeing is deceiving.

Up first this week, the race to the White House and new momentum for Hillary Clinton's campaign after the crucial Pennsylvania primary. The former First Lady beat her Democratic opponent Barack Obama by 10 percent in Tuesday's poll. Clinton says the win makes her the better candidate to go up against Republican John McCain in November's vote. A loss in Pennsylvania could have spelled an end to Hillary Clinton's campaign. Now with so much at stake, the candidates appear more determined than ever.

For more on the campaign and the media's coverage of it, I'm joined from Washington by Jordan Lieberman, publisher of "Campaigns and Elections Politics" magazine. And here in the studio, Chris Lockwood, U.S. editor with "The Economist."

I mean, it really doesn't get much better than this, does it, Chris?

CHRIS LOCKWOOD, U.S. EDITOR, THE ECONOMIST: It's certainly a rollercoaster ride for reporters, editors and everybody else that's interested in following this race, yes. Obama was way out ahead. Hillary's now mounting, I would say, a pretty determined comeback. She is casting doubt into the minds of the super delegates, who clearly now hold the balance of power in this choice. And she is making it clear that she, rather than Obama, is the person that is most likely to be able to carry the crucial swing states - Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Michigan. She's won them all.

SWEENEY: Jordan Lieberman, the relationship between the candidates and the media, how would you assess, first of all, Hillary Clinton and her campaign team's relationship with the press?

JORDAN LIEBERMAN, PUBLISHER, CAMPAIGNS & ELECTIONS POLITICS MAGAZINE: The Hillary Clinton campaign has done a horrible job relating to the media across the country. And as a result, they haven't gotten the coverage they deserve. The campaign team from Mark Penn and Howard Wilson, that level, the senior strategist spokesman level, really have had a hard time being able to be in the sympathy - the empathies of the media establishment. And as a result, you see so many more positive stories towards Barack Obama. And he's becoming kind of the Cinderella candidate.

And on the other hand, Hillary Clinton is just kind of the, you know, dead man walking.

SWEENEY: She's not - she doesn't come across in this media age as being particularly charming compared to Barack Obama, but is that necessarily fair? Is it - if you don't look good on camera necessarily, or you're not charming, should that disqualify you? Should that be held against you as a candidate?

LIEBERMAN: Well, it shouldn't, but it does. I mean, every since we had TV cameras, ever since we've watched Richard Nixon debate John F. Kennedy, you know, it's just visual appearance makes a difference these days.

SWEENEY: Chris Lockwood, the spin that the candidates come out with every day when they talk to the media, how much of it can you detect as being spin? And how much of it can you separate and just make distinctive as a real story for you?

LOCKWOOD: Well, the first thing you have to understand is whenever you hear anything from the candidates camp, they are putting the best possible gloss on it. And they are quite often even telling lies, you know. They will say things that when you examine them closely aren't quite true. They'll never tell an outright lie, but they'll tell something which is pretty far away from the truth if you look at it carefully.

So you do have to be very careful of anything you hear from any source that is in any way connected.

SWEENEY: Well, obviously, they're not objective, but is the media rather subjective, too? I mean, we're all individuals here. We all have opinions about it. Is that reflected in our coverage?

LOCKWOOD: I have long felt that the media has been uniquely hostile to Hillary Clinton and uniquely soft on Barack Obama. Every now and again, they have a bit of a go at Barack Obama, but the (INAUDIBLE) business a little bit over the Jeremiah Wright.

But they don't keep it up for long. They love the guy. Part of it is that they do know the Clintons. The trouble is, you know, Hillary Clinton was in the White House for eight years. And the press found dealing with the Clintons sometimes to be quite frustrating. And to a certain extent, they are now taking out on Hillary when she's back up again in the frame. There is not a warm relationship there.

SWEENEY: And Jordan Lieberman, that raises the question are the media necessarily in touch with the people? Because I'm referring to like New Hampshire, for example, when she had been written off. And then does it really all come down to the numbers? Only the poll numbers can be trusted.

LIEBERMAN: Well, even the poll numbers can't be trusted. But I would argue that the media had - is really not in touch with reality in many cases. The media are portraying this as a horse race, a dead heat. Hillary Clinton is coming back. And she won Pennsylvania by 10 points. And if she wins Indiana, she's going to go on to the nomination.

That is not true. Numerically speaking, it is literally impossible for her to win the nomination without super delegates, overturning the wishes of voters across the country and taking away the nomination from an African-American candidate for president. Not going to happen.

LOCKWOOD: I couldn't disagree with that more. The wishes of the people, what are they? She - he has got quite a lot more elected delegates, but where does it say that only elected delegates count? Why do you have super delegates? Super delegates are serious people, whose job it is to determine who is the most electable candidate.

If all that matters were elected delegates, you wouldn't need them at all. The fact is in the popular vote, it's really quite close. He is slightly ahead, but it's not over yet. You do have a problem, what to do about Florida and Michigan. If I were a super delegate, I would want to take some account of what feeling is in those two crucial states.

SWEENEY: OK, so let me jump in if I may. Jordan Lieberman believes that it's mathematically impossible for Hillary Clinton to win. You say otherwise. Aren't we each - you portraying your own individual, kind of points of view on this?

LOCKWOOD: Well, you said it mathematically impossible for her to win the pledge delegates. And that's true. To win without super delegates, it's true. But super delegates are not sort of automatic people who have to do what they're programmed to do. They are independent people. They're former governors, former presidents, actual governors, actual congressman. They're serious, weighty people.

SWEENEY: Just one.


SWEENEY: Go ahead, Jordan.

LIEBERMAN: Well, I'll just that they're - that these are individuals that are strong minded individuals, but the - most of them are not willing to overturn and take away the nomination from the first African-American presidential candidate that could win the nomination. It's just not going to happen.

SWEENEY: You think.

LIEBERMAN: It would be absolutely devastating from a historical perspective to the party.

SWEENEY: Well, there's another question here in terms of the media's relationship with this race for the Democratic nomination, because you know, a year ago, it was Hillary Clinton had it sewn up. She had money in the bank. Then in January, it was Barack Obama, just the longer he stayed in the race, he had a better chance of securing the nomination. And now the spin is he can't close the deal. How do we really know what's going to happen until it plays out?

LOCKWOOD: I am inclined to agree with Jordan to the extent that it will be a very hard thing for them to overturn this. Personally, I think they probably should overturn it, because I think that Hillary is actually - will have a better chance against John McCain than Barack Obama would. But you know, that's a very untestable view. And I might be wrong about it.

SWEENEY: But we spoke - when we spoke before, Chris, on - about this race, I remember at the end of it with Michelle Henry from "The Times," who's also in the studio, both of you saying after the interview finished, Barack Obama has better chances of beating McCain. And here you are saying now it's Hillary Clinton.

LOCKWOOD: Well, soon to be spoke. Some problems for Barack Obama emerged. There was the Jeremiah Wright affair, where the pastor that he chose to baptize his children to marry him to his wife turned out to be a man who says things like "God damn America." These are very problematic issues.

He made this very disparaging remark in California about people who cling to religion because of their economic troubles. Well, that's quite offensive to God fearing Americans who are definitely not pulling the believing in God because of their economic woes. So you know, he has revealed himself to be a little bit more out of touch than I thought.

SWEENEY: So - and I guess all our views are changing as this race goes on. So the candidates feel Hillary Clinton, she has nothing to lose, Jordan Lieberman.

LIEBERMAN: Well, on the Democratic side, you know, neither one of these candidates are the strongest candidate really. The country has an 81 percent disapproval rating or 81 percent people - 81 percent of the people think the country has gone the wrong direction. And still, John McCain is basically in a dead heat. So what does that tell you about the strength of these candidates?

SWEENEY: Just a final thought about, if I may, about how you feel in general, the media has been treating Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? With kid gloves with Barack Obama?

LIEBERMAN: I think it's pretty clear that unofficially, I would - you know, the great majority of the media are, you know, quietly at home or, you know, behind closed doors rooting for Barack Obama. No question about it.


LOCKWOOD: At least in the Democratic race. I mean, they do like McCain as well. So if it comes to an Obama-McCain contest, that will be very interesting. I don't know how they'll do.

SWEENEY: Well, I expect we'll be back here to discuss this. Thank you very much indeed. We have to leave it there. Jordan Lieberman in Washington, D.C. and Chris Lockwood here in the studio.

Now the crisis in Zimbabwe. As international concern grows, we get a first hand account of what it's like reporting on the ground. That's next.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. Now reporting Zimbabwe, a country that's dominated international news headlines since the disputed March 29th election. Four weeks after the vote, there's still no clear indication on what the future might hold. Covering the story has been difficult, especially for news outlets banned from reporting inside the country.

Well, for their thoughts on the election from a media point of view, I'm joined in the studio by Laura Lynch, correspondent with CBC News Radio, one of the few international reporters accredited to cover the election. And Patrick Smith, editor of "Africa Confidential."

Laura, accredited to cover the election, but still you and your colleagues were picked up a number of times?

LAURA LYNCH, CORRESPONDENT, CBC NEWS RADIO: You know, just because we had a badge on our belt didn't mean that we were going to get away with it. We had a few clashes with people on the street, who didn't believe that we had a right to be there and a right to report. And we were picked up. And my colleagues were taken into the police station months. And we had to bring our ambassador down to help us get out of jail.

There was another occasion where some Benno Pias (ph) supporters were very upset with us because they believe we were white farmers coming to take back the land. That actually got a little bit touchy, but we were - we actually had a ministry of information official come and - come to our rescue essentially and get us out of that situation.

And another situation again where one of my colleagues was picked up by a member of the riot police, because he didn't like the fact she was filming, taken down to the police station. The police said what did you do? Why did you arrest her? She's allowed to be here.

So by and large, we could do our jobs, but it didn't mean that it was easy to do it. And the other problem that we had there, even though we were there legally, was trying to get any information out of the government side of things was very, very difficult..

SWEENEY: Even though you're accredited?

LYNCH: Yes, it was just difficult to get anyone to actually speak to us. We did speak to government officials once or twice on camera. But another interesting thing is that one of the conditions on getting our accreditation in the first place, it was explicitly stated that we were not to request an interview with Robert Mugabe.

SWEENEY: Interesting. It raises the question of whether or not it is actually more advantageous to be accredited or whether it's better to cover this story, given the risks under cover, so to speak, that if you're not able to get information from government ministers, what's the point in being accredited some would argue?

PATRICK SMITH, EDITOR, AFRICA CONFIDENTIAL: Well, certainly the facts of this election were by far the bulk of news reporters in Zimbabwe, foreign news reporters in Zimbabwe, didn't have accreditation. Inside the big press conferences during the time, just immediately after the elections, 70 percent of the people who attended those didn't have accreditation. They moved around.

It's also a question of, you know, what your agenda is. If you want to get out and get to speak to Zimbabweans and get the story, it's probably good to be a bit discreet because people will be more willing to tell you what's going on if they think that you're not going to be surveyed by, you know, government minder or something like that.

SWEENEY: You know, when we at CNN talk about Zimbabwe and how we're going to do it, there was - there will be some debate and some people say oh, it's such a British story. It's not an international story. What is your view on Zimbabwe as a story internationally?

SMITH: Well, I think it's a major African story. It's a major story for continent of Africa. And I think it is all - a major global story in a way, because you've got the Chinese involvement. You've got the British and American and European involvement. You've got conflicting views of what these countries have done in the past, and what they can do in the future.

And of course, it's become a kind of domestic story in Britain. I mean, that's the problem. You've got British political parties competing with each other to demonize Mugabe the more. The same in South Africa has become a kind of domestic story there. It's a test of the ANC's nerve in South Africa.

So that's distorted reporting. I suppose - I think what's missing is it hasn't really become a Zimbabwean story with all this sort of international elevation. We haven't got down to the real dynamics in Zimbabwe, who is Morgan Sheingray (ph), who is the opposition, what do they really stand for, you know, people decide they don't like Mugabe, but they haven't decided what the opposition are about.

SWEENEY: What do you think of the role of the British media here, Laura, being Canadian, and how they've covered the Zimbabwean story?

LYNCH: Well, obviously, there is a lot more attention on it on the part of the British press because it is considered to be the former colony of the United Kingdom. Of course, they're going to pay more attention to it in that way.

But they had - they're - they're inhibited from being able to report fully as you were saying, because they cannot draw a beat on the opposition. They've actually had to draw it down in terms of good and bad within the country itself. So you don't get that kind of examination of Morgan Sheingray (ph) that you should have had.

One of the advantages of being accredited is that we were able to talk to the opposition a great deal. We did an interview with Morgan Sheingray (ph) I think it was just about one of the only on camera interviews he did just before he left the country. And we did challenge him on his qualities as a leader. We did talk about the weakness of the leadership inside Zimbabwe.

And so, he was held to task, but only in a minimal way. He isn't getting that kind of examination from the international press. He's not getting it from the domestic press, which is obviously hand strung as well.

SWEENEY: What do you think Robert Mugabe thinks of the international press, but also specifically the British press? Because obviously, his love affair with Britain, so to speak, is (INAUDIBLE).

SMITH: Well, I think it's very complex relationship he has with Britain. I remember him getting extremely worried about the - you know, the performance of the British cricket team and how, you know, how they got - were going to the dogs. So he's had a complex relationship with Britain.

I'd say that British press, since 2000 and the troubles really started with Zimbabwe, have fed Mugabe his best lines. I mean, if you talk to senior people in the Zanu (ph) party, they will say basically why is Britain so upset? Why are you journalists so upset with Mugabe in Zimbabwe? It must be you want something here. And he's said that back to his people and said look, you know, if I'm annoying the British, I must be doing something right. If I'm continuing to sort of stoke up the old colonial power, I must be heading, you know, in an independent direction. And I think that's got him a lot of support within Africa.

SWEENEY: That was 2000. In 2008, have things changed?

SMITH: I think the tide is turning now. I think you're seeing with this SADC, that's the Southern African Development Community edict that the ship, Chinese ship bearing arms shouldn't be unloaded in Southern African ports with Zimbabwe, you know, now getting public statements, condemning what's going on, the violence in Zimbabwe from senior members of the African National Congress Party in South Africa.

I think things are finally changing. But it's been a very long time. And I think some people can argue that the way the - what appears from the eyes of some Zimbabweans, the lack of probing in - on the Zimbabwe story and the rather one dimensional way in which it's been covered have actually given sort of Zanu (ph) and Mugabe kind of political roof cover for a while.

Well, look, if you know, journalists are constantly bashing us. The Western journalists are constantly bashing us. We must be doing something right. So not enough probing on what's really going on in the country.

LYNCH: But don't you get the impression that that kind of anti- British rhetoric and anti-media rhetoric is not having any more impact certainly on the population? He's preaching to the converted.


LYNCH: The people who believe what he's saying have believed it for a long time.


LYNCH: They're not going to change their minds. What seems to be shifting now, and what I saw when I was inside, is that a lot more people aren't paying attention to that anymore. They're paying attention to the fact that they don't have enough food to eat. They don't have a job. Things just seem to be getting worse. Their inflation - is out of control. So Robert Mugabe raising his fist against the great old colonial power, the enemy of Britain fist doesn't have as much impact.

SWEENEY: All right, I'm afraid we're out of time. But Laura Lynch, Patrick Smith, thank you both very much.

Now it said a picture tells 1,000 words, but should we believe everything we see? Photographer Allison Jackson tells us why the camera can sometimes lie. That's next.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. The paparazzi would do just about anything to take them, shots of celebrities or public figures in less than flattering or candid positions.

Take these, for example. This one appears to show U.S. President George W. Bush in the Oval Office toying with a Rubiks Cube. And this depicts Britain's Queen Elizabeth walking dogs past a betting shop. No, they're not real. They're in fact lookalikes. The images are taken by photographer Allison Jackson, who's out to prove that in our celebrity obsessed culture, the camera does lie.

Well, earlier, I spoke to Allison Jackson about her work. And I put it to her that while the camera might lie, it does essentially tell us what we want to see.


ALLISON JACKSON, PHOTOGRAPHER: Well, I depict the images that exist in the public mind, the fancies that we have lurking around in our imaginations, really. So you think that the Queen loves racing and betting. And here she is outside or going into William Hill.

So it's really just depicting what already exists in our minds.

SWEENEY: In a way, it's almost anti-celebrity what you're doing?

JACKSON: Well, you know, some people call the photographs subversive. But it's really about us and how we think we know celebrities intimately, but very few of us have ever had the opportunity of meeting them for real. And yet, we think we know everything about them.

SWEENEY: And celebrity is something that has really grown in the public persona globally over the last 10 years. I mean, can you attribute one single reason for that?

JACKSON: Well, I think it's the growth of celebrity imagery through magazines. I mean, "Heat" existed for eight years, I think, or six years. Celebrity didn't really exist in this country pre-Diana. And she was the first kind of mediaized person. And ever since then, it's sort of gone, you know, berserk.

SWEENEY: And you have said since that whenever you - the photos that you've taken, that might include Diana or one of the Queen in the betting shop isn't really a dig at the royal family?

JACKSON: No, it's got nothing to do with the real celebrity or the royal family. It's got to do really with us and how we're obsessed with celebrity. And celebrity's built on imagery.

SWEENEY: I mean, let's have a look at one of the photos here you have of what it looks to be like David Beckham not in a football strip, as we would say in England, soccer, but in an American football strip. What were you trying to depict there?

JACKSON: Well, the Beckhams, including Posh really, have become, you know, American. They've been to L.A. They've been their lives there. They've become best friends with the Cruises. Beckham himself is, you know, he's admiring himself in that picture and looks gorgeous. You know, he's more of a celebrity than a footballer.

SWEENEY: And when we look at the photo of Brad and Angelina with children at a kitchen table, it does remind one of a shoot I think they did when maybe they went officially together in terms of it being out in the public domain. But there was a similar shoot, a family oriented shoot back in maybe in 2007.

JACKSON: That's right. They did a family scene. So this is really looking behind the public lives of Angelina and Brad and seeing how Brad may cope with his family at breakfast time.

And of course, the children are going berserk and they're throwing things. And he can't really cope.

SWEENEY: The idea of Madonna ironing?

JACKSON: Well, I mean, it really is more of you - of Madonna in a way, she's sort of gone quieter. And so it was a boring image really about, you know, has Madonna got boring?

SWEENEY: I suppose it could be argued that you yourself are - you use the term subversive. But I suppose you're thriving on celebrity? At least, you're making a living at it?

JACKSON: I'm trying to comment on, you know, our total obsession with celebrity, and how celebrity's become our new kind of folk religion. When in fact, we don't know the real people at all. It's - their construct of photography, a construct of the media, and indeed, themselves.

SWEENEY: Do you have any sense when you look back over the last 10 years and the explosion of the celebrity culture, at least in the West, I mean, particularly in Britain and America and Europe, where do you think it's heading in the next 10 years?

JACKSON: Well, I think it's getting worse. I think what's sort of proving that for me is I can't find a Gordon Brown lookalike. And that's because Gordon Brown.

SWEENEY: Not good news for you, is it?

JACKSON: It really isn't. And the thing is I think it's because Gordon Brown is not a celebrity and refuses to become a celebrity and use celebrity tactics in order to, you know, complete his politics.

SWEENEY: And then, how do you believe that that translates in how he's portrayed in the media in general that he isn't as - perhaps as natural for want of a better word in front of the cameras as his predecessor?

JACKSON: Well, I don't know what to say because I don't think he should try to be, you know, do the Tony Blair thing. He came, you know, as prime minister saying I'm not Tony Blair. And you don't want him sort of trying to be Tony Blair. And the sort of delayed smile 10 seconds after, he should have smiled in heartfelt way is just the wrong thing to do.

SWEENEY: And a final question. You seem to be master of what you do. And yet, you hate photography by all accounts?

JACKSON: Absolutely. That's why I designed the concept in the first place, because I felt cheated by photography that I felt that I was being seduced into believing something that wasn't real. So I thought well, I'll line myself. But through photography, tell it one huge great big - prove the camera lies really.


SWEENEY: Photographer Allison Jackson speaking to me there.

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That is all for this edition of the program. 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.