International Press Closely Watching RNC
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
I'm Deborah Amos, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Michel Martin is at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. A little later in the program, we'll have another conversation in our series about race and the first African-American nominated to run for president of the United States on a major party ticket. But first, it's time for our international briefing. We were interested in how American politics is covered abroad. So we've called on three reporters. We're going to ask them about the headlines in their countries. Here with us are Luis Clemens, a freelance reporter based in Mexico, Rami Khouri editor-at-large for the Daily Star in Beirut, and Masha Lipman, political analyst at the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow Center in Russia. Welcome to all of you.
Ms. MASHA LIPMAN (Political Analyst): Thank you.
Mr. RAMI KHOURI (Editor-at-Large, Daily Star): Thanks.
AMOS: First, I want to ask each one of you. Does the Republican Convention matter where you are? Has it been in the headlines? Let's start with you, Luis.
Mr. LUIS CLEMENS (Freelance Reporter): Sure, it's definitely the head of the international section in the major papers. It's covered in the evening newscast. But it is eclipsed by national news - security and the war in drugs here in Mexico is a front page news and that Republican Convention is not going to pump it off there.
AMOS: And Rami, in Beirut, is this a big deal, the Republicans? Or are there other things that are taking precedent?
Mr. KHOURI: It's a middle deal. It's not a big deal, for several reasons. But it's eclipsed not only by domestic and regional news like the French president and the Turkish prime minister in Syria but also, what's going on in Georgia is far more important to people around here and Iran and things of that nature. So it is overwhelmed by regional and other international news. It's still covered, it's sometimes on the front pages, sometimes inside. But it's covered in a very cold way. There's no people that don't relate to the story. The news about the Republican Convention is like the news about Hurricane Gustav. It's something you cover but you don't really warm up to it. It's not something you can relate to.
AMOS: And let's ask Masha in Moscow. I'm sure you have the same ideas as Rami that Georgia is your big news, right?
Ms. LIPMAN: Yes, indeed. And the overall tone of the coverage of the American campaign, I would say, is distanced, sometimes condescending and the coverage often in the compilation of foreign sources. Also, this campaign happens at a time of the military conflict in Georgia and anti-American sentiments run very high in a country. Actually, Prime Minister Putin himself offered an analysis of this campaign, and he suggested that someone in the United States provoked the conflict - he meant the conflict in Georgia - to help one of the candidates in the American presidential race.
AMOS: Luis, I want to ask you, in Mexico, there's more specific concerns and there might be in the Middle East or in Russia and that's about immigration and border security. It's a theme that came up during the Democratic National Convention. But the Republicans haven't been exactly clear about McCain's policies. So, are Mexicans following that part of the convention closely?
Mr. CLEMENS: Well, what I found very interesting was in all the speeches last night by Huckabee, by Romney, by Palin and the night before by Fred Thompson, there was no mention of immigration. It's in the Republican Party platform and certainly, as you mentioned, in Mexico, there's a great deal of interest in what the candidate's stance is on immigration and I think it's fair to say that that is the leading angle of interest in the Mexican media.
AMOS: And in the Middle East, my guess is, Rami, that the leading issue there is security and America's war on terror. It was something that President Bush touched on on Wednesday night when he spoke. Let's take a listen to what he had to say.
President GEORGE W. BUSH (United States of America): We live in a dangerous world, and we need a president who understands the lessons of September the 11th, 2001. That to protect America, we must stay on the offense, stop attacks before they happen and not wait to be hit again. The man we need is John McCain.
AMOS: Rami, for Americans, that all is about John McCain is the man who will keep us safe. How does that resonate in the Middle East?
Mr. KHOURI: Quite poorly, actually. Most people in the Middle East, I would say, with a few exceptions, most people feel the United States has misdiagnosed the whole background of the 9/11 and who these people, these terrorists were and why they did the criminal act they did. And by misdiagnosing it, the U.S. came up with a policy that was flawed and is probably counter-productive. Terrorism is a bigger problem in this part of the world now than it was eight years ago. Maybe there's been no attack in the U.S. but there's been an awful lot of bombings and there is everyday bombings in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, all over the region. So the sense is that this is a deeply flawed American policy which plays well to hockey moms but it doesn't play well to the vast majority of normal people, a couple of billion people in the Asian Middle Eastern region. So there is deep criticism of this kind of approach.
And the other point I'd make quickly is that it's fascinating that there is so much skepticism in the Middle East about what the U.S. might do. I mean, a new president might change things. There's just quite skepticism. People don't expect anything to happen. Based on experience many times before working with presidential transitions, the irony is that this is going on while the U.S. has 180,000 soldiers between southern Asia and the Middle East and many bases increasing involvements. So, it's ironic that the more the U.S. gets militarily involved here, the less respect and fear it generates in the region and it's being more diplomatically marginalized as well. So I think these are all consequences of the war on terror that hopefully the next administration will reevaluate.
AMOS: Masha, we do share one thing with you and that is the Russian-Georgian conflict has really dominated the news. As you know, President Bush has pledged an unprecedented aid package to Georgia. McCain talks a lot about it. His wife went out there. I'm going to play you what former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani had to say about Georgia at the convention last night.
Mr. RUDY GIULIANI (Former Mayor, New York City): When Russia rolled over Georgia, John McCain immediately established a very strong and firm position that let the world know how he'll respond as president at exactly the right time. Remember his words, remember what John McCain said. We are all Georgians.
AMOS: Masha, how has the Russian media reported on this? And do you know what the reactions are in the street?
Ms. LIPMAN: Well, the Russian media, of course, are very angry at the United States just like the Russian government is and I'm sure the vast majority of the nation shares the same attitude. Actually, talking about President Bush and his appearance not in person during the campaign was only covered by our most mass audience television channel, which reaches out to over 90 percent of the Russian population. The way they picked it up was Bush didn't attend formally because of the hurricane, but in fact, there are indications that the Republicans distanced themselves from their unpopular president. Talking about Georgia and the American campaign, the visit of Vice President Cheney to the Caucuses and to Ukraine, I think, was given the more attention in the Russia media than the way Georgia emerged during the campaign. And just today in the media, our high official was quoted as saying that Cheney's visit to Georgia and Ukraine was motivated by the U.S. desire to establish full control over these ex-Soviet states.
AMOS: Just - I want to remind our listeners, I'm Deborah Amos and you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. We're talking with international reporters Luis Clemens, Rami Khouri and Masha Lipman about how the Republican National Convention is being covered in the foreign press. I want to ask all of you, it is a very big deal here for us that we have a woman running for vice president and I wondered if that makes a difference in coverage where you are. Let's start with Luis.
Mr. CLEMENS: Oh, yes, I definitely think so. It would certainly be a novelty if there were a major party candidate in Mexico that was a woman. And I think it's part of the thing that drives the coverage of the convention to the top of the international section.
AMOS: And Masha?
Ms. LIPMAN: Well, I would say again, the mass audience media controlled by the Kremlin do not focus on issues, even issues as important as the first African-American candidate and the woman. Actually, I think that part of the campaign, especially Sarah Palin and her shocking appearance, it is invariably described here as shocking.
AMOS: Why shocking, Masha?
Ms. LIPMAN: Shocking because it's so unexpected because she's from Alaska or because nobody knew her, all this list of factors about her exists as well. But I think this is largely covered as a piece of entertainment and the main focus is not on that Sarah Palin is a woman, but her daughter's pregnancy and how this is a scandal and how American conservatives who care about family values should be - should resent this fact and how this is a big blow. And again, one of our most mass audience television channels said that an inexperienced female politician with such background will hardly help McCain.
AMOS: And Rami, does it play in the Middle East that a woman is running? Is that a big deal in the Middle East?
Mr. KHOURI: Only among a small minority of - sort of elitist professional people who are very western oriented. They do understand the importance - the historic nature of it and they do actually respect it. I think the majority of people in this region have - are kind of awed by the process in the United States. This whole primary season, a year and a half, whatever it is. And then Obama and a woman and then Hillary Clinton and this extraordinary Democratic process where the, you know, the consent of the government really counts. And people, I think, are impressed by that. The problem, though, is that the consequences of that process always lead to incumbent administrations that end up attacking people in the Middle East and double standards on Iran's nuclear weapons, supporting Israel rather than being impartial.
The consequences of impressive Democratic process are always an unimpressive, bias, rather militaristic and one sided aggressive American policy in the eyes of most people in this region. So the people being impressed by the process is negated by people being unimpressed by what this process leads to. And this is a real dilemma because it hurts the people who are trying to push for democracy in this part of the world. So, it's good news and bad news at the same time.
AMOS: Let me follow up with this, Rami. You know, we had a - here, we had 48 - 38 million people watched Barack Obama. Now, tonight, we have John McCain. In your part of the world, do people see a big difference between these two candidates?
Mr. KHOURI: Again, I think for the average person, no. But for the small, elite, professionals, western-educated people who follow global events, business people, et cetera, they do see a little bit of difference and it's mostly in style. They don't see much difference in terms of the actual policies, whether it's Iraq or Israel, Palestine or Lebanon or whatever it may be. But style, yes, there's a big difference. Every single person I've talked to in last year in this part of the world, without exception, has been for Obama. They like Obama's style. They like the way he talks to people. He's not as militaristic and threatening. But nobody expect, if he wins there, to be having a significant difference in his policies in the end, because policies are made by a wider collection of interest in groups and the congressmen - others in the United States. So yes, the people do notice some difference. But again, it is negated by what happens afterwards, which is policies tend to be more or less the same whoever is president.
AMOS: In our - this is our wrap up question. Luis, you're closer. Do Mexicans see a difference between the two?
Mr. CLEMENS: Very much so. In fact, I mean, as you point out, we are closer. There is - the United States is a looming presence. There are constant movement of people back and forth, trade back and forth. And the overwhelming majority of people that I've spoken to since the process has begun or at the very least, since Obama has become nominee, favor Obama over McCain. They really do see - anecdotally, this is not based on formal survey. But my question...
AMOS: I'd like to thank - I'm sorry, but we are going to wrap this up. I'd like to thank all three of you. Luis Clemens is a freelance journalist based in Mexico. He joined us from Mexico City. Rami Khouri is the editor at large for the Daily Star. He joined us from his home in Beirut. And Masha Lipman is a political analyst with the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow Center in Russia. She joined us from the NPR studios in Moscow. Thank you again.
Ms. LIPMAN: Thank you.
Mr. CLEMENS: Thank you very much.
AMOS: And we end our international briefing today with the news that Tell Me More is more international. Our program is now broadcast on NPR Worldwide, Armed Forces Radio, FM Berlin 104.1 and USEN Japan.