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Obama Elected, World Reacts

Aired November 8, 2008 - 20:30:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, HOST: Hello, I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, your weekly look at the news and how the media covers it.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT: Change has come to America.


SWEENEY: It's the story that's dominated headlines around the globe. Barack Obama wins the U.S. presidency. This week, we take a look at how journalists saw history unfold.

The new era begins, one that's seen Barack Obama elected as president of the United States. After almost two years of campaigning for the White House, U.S. voters chose the Democratic candidate over Republican rival John McCain. The campaign was full of drama right to its climax. People around the world were glued to coverage.

Politicians, celebrities, and journalists watched the results unfold at the CNN Election party in London. We went along for a couple of hours to get the view of reporters there. It was late into the night in London. The first polls were about to close. And the race was still too close to call.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A long emotional and historic presidential campaign nears its end at the ballot box. But for either Barack Obama or John McCain, this day marks a new beginning. Americans turning out in what may be record numbers.

SWEENEY: I'm joined by Catherine Mayer, who's the London bureau chief from "TIME" magazine at the CNN Election party here. I mean, there's been a huge build up to this day. It's almost hard to believe it's here itself.

CATHERINE MAYER, LONDON BUREAU CHIEF, TIME: I know. It's actually a relief, although everybody here is still very, very tense. You know, people are so happy that it's over. And they just can't wait for the results now.

SWEENEY: And in terms of the media coverage of this, it's very hard to generalize, but do you believe that in Europe, there's been a pro Obama coverage in general?

MAYER: Hugely. It's very easy to generalize. There is not just in Europe. I mean, I've been talking to my colleagues all over the globe. There isn't. Absolutely huge pro Obama majority. The only country that is still positively pro McCain is Israel.

SWEENEY: I'm with Andrew Marr now from the BBC. Andrew Marr, you've been a close follower of politics, not only in Britain, but also obviously in this election. Have the media called it right, do you think?

ANDREW MARR, BCC: This is a very interesting thing been bubbling along now for several weeks, which is that everybody in the British media thinks they know the result, thinks that Obama is going to win, not only win, but win big. But also knows this is a very dangerous thing to be thinking. And so, you can hear the sudden kind of change of tone in the voice as they say meanwhile, John McCain is fighting back very, very strongly and might at the last minute sees of course the viewer. He is sort of the original tone of voice, put it that way, and sees that expectation on people's faces.

Now it's impossible for someone in London to know what's going to happen. You know, we are only consumers at this stage. We're watching, we're listening, we're not there.

I think what's very, very interesting tonight is what - first thing we'll hear is the turnout. Is the turnout really huge? If the turnout is really huge, then that's the first indicator that something momentous may be happening.

SWEENEY: We're now just an hour before we start to get the first exit results. I'm joined by Marie Colvin from "The Sunday Times." As a war correspondent primarily, that's what you're known for, what does this election mean for you?

MARIE COLVIN, THE SUNDAY TIMES: Well, two things. A, I'm American. And I so care - it's historic for us as Americans. But in the Middle East, which is, you know, the place that I work most in, I think it's absolutely huge the difference it will make. We've had eight years of Bush. We've had eight years. And I've seen the increasing anti-Americanism in the world.

What I see now is a real feeling in the Middle East literally from a peasant farmer to - I was just in Iraq talking to Iraqi politicians, not so much supportive of all, but if Americans vote and elect somebody for change, somebody who's not from the old establishment, I'm sounding like an old hippie here, but not from that old Bush establishment and Clinton establishment, there's a kind of feeling we can deal with them. Not we want to Obama. He'll be on their side. It's wow, maybe we can believe in America again as a country of change, as a country of hope, as a country of possibilities.

BLITZER: You'll see the numbers coming in. As we get them, you will see them throughout the next several hours and in Kentucky and Indiana, where a lot of the polls are closed right now, you'll see those numbers coming in rather quickly over the next hour. All the polls in those two states will be closed at the top of the hour.

SWEENEY: Well, the excitement is building. The first polls are closed and the party atmosphere is certainly building.

I'm joined now by Thomas Huetlin, who is the correspondent for "Der Spiegel" in London. Thomas, which way is it going to go?

TOM HUETLIN, DER SPIEGEL: I think that Obama is going to win it. And looks like a landslide.

SWEENEY: How objective are journalists in Europe about this race?

HUETLIN: We're not very objective, but I think America needs a change. And this man is - Obama is the man to bring change to America hopefully.

SWEENEY: Well, the first polls are coming in now. And I'm joined by Faisal Islam, who is Channel 4 News economic correspondent. What do you think so far of the polls that we're seeing as they come in?

FAISAL ISLAM, ECONOMICS CORRESPONDENT, CHANNEL 4 NEWS: It's very difficult to say anything really from the polls. And naturally, I'm an economist and I'm very cautious about anything. Everybody's making a big play of the fact that they were very long queues, talking about the turnout. I remember four years ago exactly the same points were made. Turnouts massive. Kerry supporters who've come out en masse to kick Bush out of office that turned out to be, in British terms, complete tripe.

SWEENEY: Well, the results are beginning to come in thick and fast, but it might still be too early to judge who's going to win. Andrew Porter here is joining me. He's political editor with "The Daily Telegraph."

Have you been following this evening very closely?

ANDREW PORTER, POLITICAL EDITOR, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH: Absolutely. Everybody in British (INAUDIBLE) can't get even of this. It's like the only story in town.

SWEENEY: Do you have a projection and can you separate your own personal preferences from how you think it's going to pan out? PORTER: Yes, we can. Everyone is predicting Obama's going to win. And everyone's presuming Obama's going to win big.

BLITZER: And CNN can now project that Barack Obama, 47 years old, will become the president elect of the United States.


SWEENEY: A selection of views from journalists here in London watching CNN's U.S. election night coverage.

Well, some view the campaign as a turning point for the Internet as an effective news gathering tool. We look at it thrown in the election and how it all played out in the press when we return.



OBAMA: Is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our sight, who still questions the power of our democracy. Tonight is your answer.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We fought as hard as we could. And though we fell short, the failure is mine, not yours.


SWEENEY: Barack Obama had the clear advantage in media exposure leading up to Tuesday's vote. The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that in the week of October 27th to November 2nd, Barack Obama appeared as a significant or dominant factor in 70% of campaign stories in the U.S. John McCain in 52%.

Amongst the vice presidential candidates, Republican Sarah Palin registered in 10% of the coverage, compared with only 1% for her Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Well, let's take a step back and look at overall media coverage in the campaign and the road ahead for Barack Obama. For that, we turn to Howard Kurtz, media correspondent with "The Washington Post" and host of "Reliable Sources" on our sister network, CNN USA. Also joining us from Washington, CNN deputy political editor Paul Steinhauser.

Howard Kurtz, let me first of all turn to you. I mean, we say here we're looking at the road ahead for Barack Obama, but what's the road ahead like for the White House media corps, do you think?

HOWARD KURTZ: Well, you know, we're now in an age where we not only report the news, but we're blogging about the news all the time. And so, we are trying to find our way in this new media era.

But really, the content question here after a campaign in which a lot of people thought the media were really easy, President-elect Obama is whether or not he's going to be held to the same standards as we hold every other president given this great love affair that went on, because we frankly have gotten swept up by the historic nature of his election.

SWEENEY: And do you think then that he will have a shorter or longer honeymoon period than one might expect?

KURTZ: I'm not sure about that. It depends on whether he stumbles coming out of the gate. It used to be that presidents got a honeymoon of maybe two or three months from the media while they found their footing, but everything moves so much faster these days. And even if the big news organizations decide to go a little easy on President Obama at the outset, you've got all these other voices, bloggers, columnists, talk radio host who may not be so inclined to give him a pass.

SWEENEY: Paul Steinhauser, CNN's political director, I mean, I'm reading a quote here from Joe Trippi, who was the manager of Howard Dean's campaign in 2004. And he said compared to Obama's campaign, "they were Apollo 11 and we were the Wright Brothers." How much has the nature of how this campaign was run by Obama's team change the course of how we will cover elections in the future?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR: They really did change the way, the face of campaigning in some ways. The Internet has been around for a while. John McCain actually in the 2000 campaign was one of the first candidates to use the Internet for fundraising. You just quoted Joe Trippi. And Howard Dean was instrumental in 2003 and early 2004 in really using the Internet to reach out to new voters.

Well, the baton was passed to the Barack Obama campaign. And they really ran with it. They used the Internet not only for fundraising, and they broke all fundraising records whatsoever, but also to reach out to new voters, people who normally were in part of the political process. And they brought them into the Obama camp. That is one of the main reasons why Barack Obama was so successful not only in the primaries, but in the general election.

SWEENEY: Howard Kurtz, given that there are sort of relative newcomers like the Huffington Post,, how will that affect the work of the mainstream press like "The Washington Post," for example?

KURTZ: Well, I don't think there's any question that our collective influence has been diminished somewhat. Not only by these new kids on the digital block, the Huffington Post, for example, broke a couple of big stories about the campaign this year using what they call citizen journalists.

But the advent of things like Youtube and the campaign's use of technology, which I'm sure will continue in the Obama White House, means that they can go around us, through us, over us much more efficiently and much more instantaneously than has ever been the case before.

I still think media are important at framing debates. And they still need us. I don't think you know journalists are irrelevant, but certainly we've got plenty of competition out there.

SWEENEY: Paul Steinhauser, in terms of the election coverage on CNN of this campaign, how much did you feel that things had speeded up or increasing was the challenge for you compared to 2004?

STEINHAUSER: It was a whole different world this time around than four years ago. And as Howard mentioned, Youtube. Well, CNN and Youtube teamed up for two debates. One with the Democratic candidates, one with the Republican candidates back in the primaries. That was something we could not have done four years ago. There was no Youtube four years ago.

The process has speeded up. 24 hour news cycle was always fast paced. Now it's - it was every hour, maybe every minute. Now it's almost every second.

SWEENEY: If we may look ahead to 2012, if either of you can bring yourselves to do that after such a hectic campaign, Paul Steinhauser, where do you see the technology driving the coverage then?

STEINHAUSER: I see average people having even more of a role in the process than they did even this time around. Because of Youtube, because of the blogs, average people now have a chance to impact the election, the campaign like they never had before. Their voice can now be heard.

For better or for worse, often it's for better because more people into a democracy is a good thing. That will only continually be more outlets. And that'll make our jobs in the mainstream media even more challenging, because there will be so much more data out there, so many more stories to cover. And to make sure that they're actually legitimate as well.

SWEENEY: Howard?

KURTZ: And just so it doesn't sound like we're whining, I think this is a great thing for the country and for the world because you know, instead of just relying on let's say a two minute report on the broadcast network news, or even a five minute report on CNN, people can now go online, see the raw video themselves. They can check their position papers.

In other words, if you're interested in politics or just about anything, you now have the ability to bypass us as the filter, the correspondents, the anchors, the reporters and see for yourself. And that can only be a good thing, although it does make our life a little more complicated.

SWEENEY: I mean, a final quick brief question. I mean, Paul Steinhauser, how do you think the Obama White House is going to relate to the traditional media press corps?

STEINHAUSER: Well, during the campaign, the Obama team in Chicago at the headquarters and the Obama team on the campaign trail was quite tough often, laying down some laws to us that we didn't really like about what could be - what video we could shoot of the candidate, of his kids. They were very difficult at times to deal with. Sometimes they weren't.

Now it'll be interesting to see if they try to do that in the White House and whether the main - whether the media here in D.C., the various networks, are going to allow that.

SWEENEY: And very briefly, Howard Kurtz, I guess you're going to be in a job for quite some time, given this new administration?

KURTZ: Yes, absolutely. And to me the key question is as a candidate, Obama kept the press somewhat in arm's length. He didn't spend a lot of time schmoozing with reporters. He wasn't all that accessible. I wonder how President Obama will be. Will he hold regular news conferences more than George W. Bush, for example? And it'll be an early test for me about how he plans to deal with the - with press corps.

SWEENEY: All right, we'll leave it there. Howard Kurtz with "The Washington Post," Paul Steinhauser, than you very much indeed.

It's the vote that's been watched like no other around the globe as U.S. voters elect Barack Obama as their 44th president. We look at how the world's media has reacted to Obama's win and assessed the challenges that lie ahead from an international perspective.


SWEENEY: From 1980, CNN has been at the forefront of politics and election coverage in the United States. Here's a selection of images of how the people, the hairstyles, and the production techniques have evolved over the years. From the introduction of what now look like quite simple graphics, the infamous news wall to the flashy students and interactive features that have been used in this latest election campaign.

The U.S. president election has captivated the world and the international press no less. News of Barack Obama's victory was splashed on the front pages of newspapers around the globe on Wednesday. Television coverage was equally as (INAUDIBLE) as news organizations pondered the prospects of a new administration.


OBAMA: To all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared. A new dawn of American leadership is at hand.


SWEENEY: Well, let's discuss the international challenges ahead for Barack Obama. I'm joined by Christopher Lockwood, the U.S. editor with "The Economist" magazine and Nazenin Ansari, the diplomatic editor with Kayhan on London, a weekly Persian language publication.

Chris Lockwood, I mean, we've spoken many times about this U.S. election. Now that it's over, have your views changed or been confounded in any way?

CHRISTOPHER LOCKWOOD, U.S. EDITOR, THE ECONOMIST: Now. It was very clear for a long time that the result was going to be this. Ever since the financial crisis took hold in the middle of September, McCain's numbers fell. Obama's numbers soared. And there was never really any prospect that he was going to get them back, because people wanted change. People blamed the Republicans for the mess that they're in. So I'm not surprised there.

The victory was slightly less extravagant than some people might have hoped for. He doesn't have the 60 seats in the Senate that would enable him to block things. So he does face some tough challenges ahead.

SWEENEY: But to what do you attribute the huge outpouring in the international press, if not as well governments around the world?

LOCKWOOD: Well, two things. Firstly, of course, the Bush government has been so incredibly unpopular, that any government that replaces it would be welcomed, even I would say John McCain's.

But you know, can't take away from the fact that it is an amazing moment that a black American has become leader of the free world, has become president of America. And that's something that (INAUDIBLE) people all over the world, a descendant of not indeed of slaves, but of the black family, and so many of whom have suffered so terribly in America for so long.

When he was born, his parents couldn't legally be married in most states in America.

SWEENEY: That's right. Nazenin Ansari, I'm wondering, given the history that Chris Lockwood has just outlined about Barack Obama, how much impact did that have, if any, in the media in Iran?

NAZENIN ANSARI, DIPLOMATIC EDITOR, KAYHAN (LONDON): The impact of the Obama victory in Iran has not been that much because of the internal problems that Iran is facing at the moment, specifically to do with the impeachment of and the sacking of the interior minister.

In the beginning, Mr. Obama, when he entered the race, it was always about Mr. Obama. Even his policies towards Iran would be different than what it has become right now.

He wanted to sit across the table from the Iranian leaders and have a dialogue without any preconditions. And the Iranian leadership was actually looking forward to it. But we see that since his policies have developed, the Iranian leadership has been taken by surprise in the sense that Mr. Obama has been enunciating more policies about sanctions.

SWEENEY: Madeleine Albright in a recent vote wrote that no president, when campaigning, can stick to all their campaign promises once they get into the Oval Office, not because they don't want to necessarily, because practicalities mean they can't.

The singular issue of Iran, Chris Lockwood, I mean, how do you see President-elect Obama's relationship with Iran developing, given that the country's still a fairly center right government, and people are worried about how he is going to handle these big security issues.

LOCKWOOD: Barack Obama essentially made two different campaign promises with regard to Iran. Originally, he said he would sit down and talk to Iran's leadership without preconditions. And that ran into an awful lot of oppositions. So it then came yes, well, we have to have to preparations.

So it's very clear he will not be in a hurry to initiate summit talks, talks between him and the president.

But there will be contacts. And indeed, there are already contacts with the Bush administration. So you know, Iran kind of is likely more cooperative American government, but you should not expect to see Barack Obama radically changing American policy. He's certainly not going to renounce the possibility of using force against Iran if there's no other way to prevent Iran getting a nuclear weapon. He's made that very clear. That's not off the table.

And of course, now as his first appointment, it looks as though he's appointed as chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who is a pretty Zionist.

SWEENEY: And that's bound to go down well in the streets of Tehran. Nazenin Ansari, I'm wondering do the media in Iran sense any opportunity for a change in direction in tone, if not in substance?

ANSARI: Well, they hope that there will be a change in direction, but the leadership at the moment has been caught by surprise. Up to now, they have been able to use the international anger at Mr. Bush's policies to their advantage. And whenever there has been talk about -of human rights, the human rights abuses in Iran, they have always been able to point out the United States and his treatment of its black citizens. No longer can they use that as an excuse.

At the same time, let's not forget Iran is caught in a big financial crisis. Sanctions `til now have started having an effect on the Iranian street. There's mass unemployment, increasing inflation. And that is what most Iranians are worried about.

Mr. Obama's policies, if he has - that he has enunciated for an increasing sanctions, unless Iran halts its nuclear enrichment, can only make the situation worse for the leaders in Iran.

SWEENEY: I mean, Chris Lockwood, this is a man who said some time ago that he was like a blank screen on which millions of people have projected their hopes and their optimism. You obviously can't fulfill everybody's expectations. Is he going to be - want to be seen to be harder than President Bush on some issues, tough on security than perhaps people might have expected him to be?

LOCKWOOD: The great weakness of the Democrats have always had in the mind of American voters is that they are soft on security. So I would imagine he will want to show very early on that that's not going to be the case. He will not see any sort of huge veering off towards any form of appeasement or any form of sort of gentleness towards regimes that America is suspicious of. You'll be very cautious, I think, about doing that, and very worried that his presidency could be characterized very early on as a sort of remake of the Carter presidency.

So I think he won't (INAUDIBLE) at all.

SWEENEY: All right, Chris Lockwood of "The Economist" and Nazenin Ansari, thank you both very much indeed for joining us.

Well, don't forget to stop by our website. Log on to to see the show again, view our archive, take part in the quick vote, and read the blog. That address again

Well, that's 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.