Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Global Election

Has anyone been following the presidential election on foreign media outlets? I can tell you this will be a recurring theme of the course. In the meantime, I am digging up some interesting clips. But here's something to consider - what does foreign media coverage of the election say about how the rest of the world perceives the U.S. democratic process? Does the election function as good "public diplomacy?" Or, does it track U.S. style political coverage?


Yana said...

In both domestic and international news sources(I'm thinking of some Russian news sources, BBC, International Herald Tribune, and various other sources I saw when I studied abroad in Europe last semester), I feel the entire election process has been presented as celebrity gossip. Now, with all Paris/Britney references aside, it's pretty clear that the media, especially domestically, cares a lot about whatever political scandal is the juicy story of the week (Palin's daughter's pregnancy, Edwards' affair, Reverend Wright, the list is endless). I don't see foreign media giving as much attention to these kinds of stories, but I do still sense that air of gossip. When I was in Europe during the primary season, for instance, everywhere I went, from the Netherlands to Belgium to France to Ireland, everyone was always asking me what I thought about the election. People who I had just met, classroom lecturers, even strangers on the street or in restaurants, once they realized I was American, immediately would ask "Democrat or Republican?" followed by "Obama or Clinton?" Now, it's not that we were ever having an in-depth political discussion about the issues facing America or the war or the economy or anything like that, it was more like we were discussing the cool kids in school, and who we thought was cooler than the other. And while this got annoying, what I did like about it was that people seemed genuinely excited about what was going on, and were even more excited to hear what an actual American would think about this crazy election of ours.

In this sense, to answer your question, I do think that the election coverage has been an effective public diplomacy tool, because it seems people aren't just excited but hopeful that things are going to change for the better once all this is over, no matter who wins. And if it takes gossip to get people excited and hopeful, then so be it.

Jessica said...

I agree with Yana on this subject in several ways. When I was in North Africa this summer, the presidential election always had some sort of coverage in the daily press, whether it was a few lines on the nightly news or more in-depth coverage, such as Obama's visit to Europe and the Middle East (his speech in Berlin and trip to Iraq were the major highlights). There is no doubt in my mind that as it gets closer to election time, there will be increased coverage from the wires and other major global media outlets on the day-to-day developments in the campaigns.

I also agree with Yana about election coverage being presented in international news sources as "celebrity gossip" in a way. While these two candidates are trying to win American voters over with their solutions for very complex, difficult issues (both domestic and foreign), I really felt that to many non-Americans following the election process, it came down to this: Obama wants to end the war in Iraq; McCain wants to stay in Iraq. In that regard, I would say it does not follow American-style political coverage (or at least, foreign coverage of the campaigns is not nearly as bountiful and detailed). However, I do think the election process serves as good public diplomacy, because millions of people around the world are paying very close attention to our democratic election process and how we, the "melting pot" of backgrounds and cultures, choose to shape the future of our country. That's my two cents on that topic for now.

gayatri murthy said...

I recently read Farid Zakaria's book called, 'The Post American World' where he argues that increasingly, what the US does or thinks will become less important in a fast forming multi-polar world.

While I believe that trends as he describes are somewhat apparent, what the US does, thinks or believes is still very important in the global consciousness.

Obama's Europe trip some months ago almost seemed like a global awakening of sorts. The attention he received in global media and even from global leaders was phenomenal, almost as if the global population has already declared him triumphant in the upcoming elections.

If you refer to this link,

this is the most prolific and successful english language news channel in India, called NDTV. They have an entire subsection devoted to the US elections and the Obama factor. In fact recently, my mother who is senior working professional in Bombay (ie fairly self important in her own existence!) woke up early in the morning just to watch Obama's speech and the updates on Hurricane Gustav

I cannot speak for the rest of the world, or for all of India for that matter, but I can say this. The US elections, and especially this one occupy a decent space in the English-speaking urban Indian audience.

America still can be a beacon of hope for the world. Its almost as if the symbolism of the issue overtakes the issue. Though there are dangers to this, I think the true outcome of the effect of this election for US public diplomacy is too premature to analyze.

Yukiko said...

The answer would depend on how we define "good public diplomacy". But I think especially this 2008 U.S. Presidential Election definitely contributes in attracting world's attention to the US as well as showing the US is still considered to be a world leader.

As a part of my internship works, I have been covering all the Japanese newspapers this summer. And I was surprised that there is almost no day when I did not see any coverage on the US Presidential Election. Major newspapers created a special editorial section to explain the democratic process/system of the election and to follow it closely.

Why? Because Japanese public is interested in it. Many researchers argue that one of the weaknesses Japanese mainstream media system have is lack of attention to outside news (I mean, non-domestic issues). If it is true, the fact that Japanese newspapers mention the US election on a daily-basis is phenomenal.

I would argue that the fact that the world is covering the election demonstrates the US's power in the world, which will be a great political force in the next leadership. In that regard, I can say that the election functions as "good public diplomacy".

nkakovitch said...

Considering sentiments of anti-Americanism since the invasion of Iraq, global views of the United States have become increasingly negative and disillusioned. America's role as a world leader began to decrease. Even in westernized countries considered to be allies with the United States, an "Anti-Bush" sentiment has arisen. After 7 years of an unpopular administration, the international community sees the election as a catalyst for change, and therefore the election is successful in functioning as good public diplomacy.

While I was in Australia last year, Australia was going through an election of its own between 11 year incubment prime minister John Howard and Kevin Rudd. John Howard was known for his alignment with George Bush. Australia ended up voting for Kevin Rudd as their new Prime Minister as a way to differentiate from American policies.

At the same time as their own elections, media coverage of the race for American nominations was also prominent as far back as a year ago. One of the first things people would ask me is "Do you support Bush?" The anti-Bush sentiment was very high. Many people would ask "Do you think Obama or Hillary will be the next Democratic candidate?" In general I felt that most people held and idealistic view that a Democratic president, and more specifically Obama would solve all problems. Currently, the global section of the Sydney Morning Herald website is dominated by news of the American elections ( This kind of domination suggests that the outcome of the election will have a great effect on their own politics. Most Australians are looking to leave behind the legacy of the past 7 years and see this election as a pivotal moment in their own history.

Kristina said...

In a sense I would have to agree with Yana in her claim that some “election process has been presented as celebrity gossip” but I do not think that the “entire” process has been completely trivialized as such. Being in Europe this summer and traveling abroad quite frequently for my job, I have read extensive foreign press covering the 2008 presidential campaign. I believe that so much “celebrity-like” media attention has been given to the presidential campaign because as nkakovitch (above) has put it: “After 7 years of an unpopular administration, the international community sees the election as a catalyst for change”. At least in Europe, the sentiment towards this election is infused with hope that after 7 years of the Bush administration, whoever comes into office will be able to revive America’s image abroad as being the leader in the fight for democracy, freedom and international cooperation.