A group of European journalists, at a UC Berkeley forum last week, took their American counterparts to task for not being more skeptical of their government during wartime.
The discussion, entitled “Looking at America From Abroad: A European Media Perspective,” attracted a full crowd at the university’s Sibley Auditorium. On the panel were five journalists from France, Germany, Italy and England, as well as a British specialist on the European Union; attention quickly turned to how media outlets in various countries are portraying the war in Iraq.
“It’s a different war in France,” said Annette Levy-Willard, West Coast bureau chief of the French newspaper Libération. “They see blood, hospitals, victims, the results of the bombing. On American TV you don’t even see Iraqis.”
While most of the panelists were critical of American TV war coverage, several pointed out that major U.S. newspapers such as the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New York Times are providing detailed coverage and editorials that often criticize U.S. policy.
Still, several panelists found fault with U.S. media outlets for being too cozy with government sources.
“I recently attended a press conference with Bush and Blair. All the tough questions came from British reporters,” said Anthony Gooch, a former advisor to the European Commission. “It’s incredibly choreographed. It’s done with an iron fist. In terms of media management, it’s great, but in terms of getting a question from out of left field, it will never happen.”
Patrick Jarreau, Washington bureau chief of Le Monde, said the notion that journalists are independent of their country’s prejudices was noble but unrealistic.
“In my youth, I thought the workers had no ‘patri,’ no nationality,” he said. “I’d like to think that journalists don’t have ‘patri,’ but now I know that’s not the case.”
Most American journalists, including newspaper reporters, have been too timid to challenge the government line, said Frederico Rampini, an editor and correspondent for Italy’s La Republica.
“I am amazed at the way the Halliburton issue has been treated,” he said, referring to possible large-scale government contracts for the energy and construction company once run by Vice President Dick Cheney. “I can assure you in my country it would be front page news every day till the vice president was ousted.”
The comments by the Italian journalist drew loud cheers from the audience until moderator Orville Schell, dean of the journalism school, said, “I would ask you all to contain your rational exuberance.”
The discussion gravitated from European perceptions of America to Europe itself. Schell asked the panel about Europe’s role — or lack thereof — in resolving the conflicts of Rwanda, Kosovo and Serbia.
“The Balkan crisis was a terrible failure of Europe,” Rampini said. “We were unable to solve a crisis in our own backyard. We needed U.S. military intervention to prevent a genocide. The idea that Europe is good at soft power is not enough.”
The last question came from professor Mark Danner of the journalism school. “Why, 15 years after the end of the Cold War, couldn’t the EU, which is richer and more populous, stand in the way of the U.S?”
Rampini said the war has divided Europe and threatens the unification of the region, minimizing its global power.