Anti-Bush protest in Vienna: Since the run up to the Iraq War there has been tension in the trans-Atlantic relationship. And much of the war of words was waged in the media.Foto: DPA
A German journalist and his editor were doing the usual rounds in Washington in January 2003, meeting with a few neocons, a couple of think tanks and one or two Democrats. At the time you couldn't ignore the beat of the drums of war in the lead-up to the Iraq conflict, however for anyone not convinced by historical determinism there was still hope that war could be avoided. True, six months earlier, in the middle of a barn-storming election campaign by the Schröder government, Germany had committed itself not to approve any form of resolution by the United Nations Security Council. True, France was gearing up to become the moral opposition to America. But wasn't this what France always did, before caving at the last moment? At this point, Dominique de Villepin's memorable performance at the United Nations in New York still lay in the future.
Among the figures in Washington who received regular visits from the German journalist was William Kristol, publisher of the "Weekly Standard". Germans find Kristol very unusual, almost a phenomenon. They are used to hearing German conservatives apologizing for being reactionary, distancing themselves from Nazism past and present in an almost knee-jerk reaction. Germany's right feels guilty about its conservatism because it was the conservatives who helped Hitler climb the ladder of power. But here was William Kristol, a conservative to the core, seeing his politics as something to be taken for granted rather than apologized for, and robustly attacking left-wingers and nay-sayers of Europe in print. This was a media-savvy conservative who had been around the block a few times and who was fully convinced that history was on his side. His views were all the more valuable for the fact that he obviously had incredible connections within the White House at the time.
However, on that January afternoon, Kristol was in an uncharacteristically serious mood. There was not a hint of irony in his manner and no sign of his wit or robustly argumentative style. He had hardly shaken hands and was still ushering us into his office when he blurted out: "I believe that Europe and America are on the verge of the most crucial test in my political memory. There are signs of a rift that I never would have thought possible."
It wasn't long before he was proven right. The crucial test was indeed imminent and long-lasting. The rift went deep and its effects are still being felt. This was not a spat that could be patched up quickly. The question of what actually happened, who contributed and how still exercises the academic world, the intelligentsia and other observers of transatlantic affairs. Much of the war of words was waged in the media and even orchestrated by it. For this reason this article aims to examine the role of the media in the interaction between Europe and America.
1.) "Nous sommes tous Américains!" But for how long?
In retrospect, it is very difficult to identify the precise timing of the various stages of estrangement and tentative rapprochement between Europe and the US. The clock starts ticking on the days immediately following September 11 2001, the golden days of pro-Americanism, when "Le Monde" declared all non-Americans to be American in moral terms. It was hard to disagree with this in view of the shock felt at the murderous terrorist attacks. The close emotional ties that existed for a short time between America and Germany are best illustrated by the following episode: at this time naval maneuvers were in progress in British waters, involving German, British and American ships. Among the German contingent was the destroyer "Lütjens". Just before the Lütjens sailed for home, the officers and crew came up with a small symbol of solidarity. They made a banner for the American troops with the words "We stand by you". This was unfurled as the crew saluted. The gesture became a political issue when described by an American soldier in an e-mail home, spreading through the media like wildfire as the moving story of good Germans and their salute to America showing just how close Europe and America could be.
This was followed by other gestures of historical dimensions, also illustrated in the media. The solidarity shown by NATO was almost inevitable as a result of the united international front. A strike against the Taliban government for refusing to give up or expel the terrorists, seemed like an obvious move. The Europeans in NATO also disproved the provocative theory that Americans were from Mars, while Europeans were from Venus. Relations became strained, though, when President George W. Bush declared war on terror and the axis of evil in his State of the Nation speech in January 2002, bringing an end to the unity between America and the majority of the free world. It was sad to see something so beautiful destroyed so quickly.
However, there were two divergent attitudes to America's behavior at the time. There was still understanding for the country's get-tough stance and a reluctant admiration for President Bush in the fall of the year, but these feelings slowly turned to disenchantment. Europeans became familiar with the inner workings of the US government, the broad conflict between Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld, with Condoleezza Rice in the middle, Richard Cheney coolly stoking the flames and President George W. Bush tipping the scales one way or the other. It should be said that Europeans are relatively well versed in the workings of the American power game, simultaneously fascinated and puzzled by it.
America had once again become inward looking. It expected solidarity as it prepared to fight back, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq.
The American media reported in minute detail on the deliberations in the Pentagon, the rivalry between the State Department and Defense Department. One could see it as an absurd lopsidedness because, for example, that a single edition of the "New York Times" would run the same story from a number of different angles - the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department. Europeans are unfamiliar with this tradition in which journalists report hard facts but avoid stating an opinion. Even the analysis of these facts, sometimes by the same reporter who has penned an article, whether in the "New York Times", "Washington Post" or "Los Angeles Times", differs little from the other pieces. What distinguishes American journalism from its European counterpart is the absolute divide between such articles and editorials, opinion pieces or regular columns. It is obvious where this can lead: readers who want to believe that the affirmative, patriotic America was the real deal would pay attention to one half of the papers, while those who wanted to read about questioning, self-critical America would stick to the opinion pages and journalists like Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman or Thomas Friedman. That's how easy it can be to have your prejudices confirmed.
However, the role of the US media in these turbulent times had problems of its own. After the September 11 attacks, journalists also felt the need to express patriotism. It is well-known that patriotism and journalistic principles make strange bed-fellows. Leading conservative media such as "Fox News" or the "New York Post" transformed themselves into "war cheerleaders", leaving staff to smile weakly about the principle of objectivity, or, to put it more mildly, editorial distance. Even the more relaxed news media, though, plastered their front pages and TV screens with slogans such as "A Nation in Danger" or "A Nation under Attack", leaving little room for pondering or skepticism. The phenomenal ability of the Bush administration to declare its point of view to be the only possible opinion played a significant role here. The "New York Times" eventually found itself in the fairly unique position of having to print an apology to its readers for its reporting prior to the Iraq conflict because reporter Judith Miller had believed dubious sources about the existence of weapons of mass-destruction in Iraq, despite the fact that these sources were at the heart of the US administration.
But others should reflect on their performance, too: for example NBC News, which began the countdown on the "Road to War" early on. Major TV channels allowed air time primarily to experts who believed that diplomacy was the work of the devil and best left to the history books. CNN presented Donald Rumsfeld's press conferences like a daily live quote-fest without much probing behind the information on offer. Surveys show that around 80 percent of US citizens mainly source their news from the television, but this seemed to be letting them down with greater frequency. When US soldiers fired on a vehicle full of civilians at a checkpoint near the Iraqi town of Kerbela, killing seven women and children, their fellow-Americans had to rely almost entirely on up-to-date details from British broadcaster BBC World. For a long time the US channels hid the story away in a small sidebar. Although the then head of the BBC, Greg Dyke, was pleased with record viewing figures (foreign media in the USA had an audience up to 60 percent higher than usual at this time), he finally cracked. "Some American TV journalists seem to have wrapped themselves in the flag before the start of the Iraq War, making them unable to do the job the public expects from them," Dyke stormed soon after the invasion had started.
"Cheese-eating Surrender Monkeys." The Deep Trans-Atlantic Rift
The antagonism between the American government and old Europe took some time to get going. The European press greeted Bush with skeptical goodwill when he visited Paris and Berlin in early summer 2002. The summit with the German Chancellor was particularly revealing. Gerhard Schröder avoided direct questions about America's determination to go to war against Iraq. What did this mean at the time? It was in situations like this that Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the grand old man of German foreign policy, would say: "You should not interpret my silence as agreement." Thus, Schröder chose to understand that Bush would not make a decision about the war until after September 2002, when federal elections were due to take place. Two men intended to cover one another's backs.
However, events took over in summer 2002. The German Chancellor, staring defeat in the face, discovered a lifeline in anti-Americanism and set out the long-term foreign policy of his country to a crowd of shoppers in a market square in Hesse: there would be no support for a resolution by the UN Security Council favoring war against Iraq. Because a particular dynamic was often apparent in Europe in such situations, a familiar pattern began to emerge: France couldn't leave the moral high ground against America to the Germans. At the same time, the in-fighting within the Bush administration became plain for all to see, although it quickly became obvious that Colin Powell, the great hope of the Europeans, was a voice in the wilderness and that the double-act of Rumsfeld and Cheney had the President's ear. Speeches by the Vice President were reported at this time stating that America would go it alone in driving regime change in Baghdad.
Another reason why the rift William Kristol had foreseen was so wide is because America dug deep to find a cause for this war: it equated Europe's behavior towards Saddam Hussein with England and France's behavior towards Hitler in 1938. To put it another way: just as it had liberated Germany and Japan in 1945, America would now liberate the Middle East and place it on the path to democracy. It seems that modern democracies simply cannot get by without highly moral explanations and historical analogies. The media comment pages in particular portray Europe as a disaster swinging back and forth between appeasement and Auschwitz. Is this simply the mobilization of popular opinion among an easily persuaded public? Are the spin-doctors in deadly earnest, or is it all an act?
The spokesmen and spin-doctors of the Iraq conflict probably really did operate in their own little world. At any rate, the burgeoning "anti-Americanism" of the Europeans was certainly matched by "anti-Europeanism" in America. Normally, anti-Europeanism actually only represents a tiny school of thought. If you google the phrase "anti-Europeanism" you will get about 26,000 hits (the corresponding number when you google "anti-Americanism" is over 1.2 million). Americans don't think about Europe often enough to develop strong feelings of antipathy. When they do think about Europe, it is as a destination for a "spring break" or honeymoon, rather than a military, economic or political competitor - a prospect Europe would actually aim for, in economic terms at least.
In quieter times the American media contribute surprisingly little to anti-Europeanism: since the end of the Vietnam War, members of the American media obviously assumed that their audience had lost interest in Europe. This trend grew rapidly in the 1980's and 1990's. What was left were clichés and the past. In order for Germany to make it into the US headlines prior to September 11, German neo-Nazis needed to do something really outrageous. When Richard Lambert counted the number of references to European politicians in the American media in 2003 for an article in "Foreign Affairs", he found that de Gaulle and Hitler ranked higher than Chirac and Schröder. George W. Bush's visit to Germany in 2002 was itself almost completely overshadowed in the major US newspapers by the "breaking news" that the dead body had been found of a Congressional intern rumored to have been involved in an affair with a Congressman.
This made the sudden political broadsides from the media against European critics all the more surprising. Stanley Hoffmann, professor of history in Harvard, had been observing the ebb and flow of prejudices against countries like France and the USA for many years. He was shocked by the new tone he heard. According to Hoffmann, in the feverish months leading up to the invasion of Iraq the European countries were no longer treated like allies, which would at least have given them the right to put forward their own arguments. This enabled the "Washington Times" to spread rumors about "anonymous intelligence sources" indicating that France had supplied Saddam's military heavyweights with passports, a story that did the rounds of conservative newspapers and talk shows for months, despite official denials by the Bush administration. In US News & World Report, Mortimer Zuckerman made no distinction between the Iraqi dictator and the French President: What Saddams thugs are doing on the field of battle, wrote Zuckerman, is what France, under the leadership of Chirac, did on the field of diplomacy. The words I am not convinced, which Joschka Fischer directed to Donald Rumsfeld at the security conference in Munich in February 2003, were placed on a par by some US media with Chamberlain's "Peace for our time" appeasement formula. On his controversial TV show, presenter Bill OReilly told the German ambassador he should show more gratitude: "We saved your butts in World War Two and protected you from the Russians during the Cold War, and you people simply say "No"?"
Oxford historian Timothy Garton Ash has made a list of the resentment-laden stereotypes in the US media, starting with the metaphor "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" for the French (originating with the "Simpsons" TV show and astonishingly penetrating even the most hallowed halls of the US administration). Garton Ash revealed a sexually charged template: according to this division, the typical American is a virile heterosexual male, while the European is effeminate, impotent or castrated. Unsurprisingly, the relevant echelons of the US press were happy to change the word "eunuch" into "EU-nuch".
There is no doubt that anti-Americanism in Europe was equally partisan and slogan-based. It can be surprising to see how a thoughtful, intelligent person capable of focusing fully on the complexity of social or international relations can easily fall prey to an unfettered, biased attitude. Siegfried Weischenberg, a media studies professor, wrote about the "American sickness" he identified in the transformation of politics into "depoliticized entertainment". While there are many accusations you can throw at the Bush administration, and the US TV channels and major papers, depoliticization in the wake of September 11 is certainly not one of them. Take television for example. Anyone who has ever fallen victim to Bill OReilly will be only too aware that Rupert Murdoch's "Fox News" can be a political channel, although the noise generated here is usually that of tub-thumping patriotism. After September 11 there probably wasn't a nation on the planet more politicized than the Americans.
Naturally, Europe is also extremely politicized in such historical contexts, although it generally watches America to see what the consequences will be. Clearly distinct attitudes were expressed in the broadsheets, for example in Germany: the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" and "Die Zeit" are the spiritual home of what you could call Germany's Helmut Schmidts. The former chancellor was and remains an Atlanticist by conviction, a master of launching critical thunderbolts from a lofty, unassailable height. Today's would-be Schmidts are also Atlanticists, partly by conviction and partly out of pragmatism, and, like their archetype, they love to imagine themselves sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office. In earlier times in particular, "Die Zeit" specialized in leading articles telling the current American President what could be achieved if only he would listen to the advice of its expert leader writers.
Politician Erhard Eppler is one of Germany's sharpest political analysts and has maintained extreme skepticism concerning America throughout his life. Germany's wannabe Epplers write for the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung". They write from a distanced perspective because, in the final analysis, they find all major powers irritating by definition since they can abandon their responsibilities whenever they like, leading to political uncertainty. The Epplers of this world constantly remind us of the unpopularity of the Roman Empire at its zenith.
Then there are also the German Michael Moores, although, of course, this group is not confined to Germany. On the eve of the November 2004 election, "The Guardian" stated bluntly: "On 2 November the whole world will be praying for Bush to lose. Murphy's Law will ensure he wins, proving once and for all that God does not exist. The world will have to put up with four more years of idiocy, arrogance and unnecessary bloodbaths without a merciful God to watch over us and protect us. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley jr. where are you when we need you? The irony used here does not make the references to the killers of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan any funnier. The cracks had started to grow deeper and it was hardly surprising that the "Daily Mirror" led on the day after Bush's re-election with the headline: How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?
Schmidt, Eppler and Moore all represent extremes. Some newspapers or magazines are like chameleons in their changes of attitude. Goodwill and distrust often alternate, sometimes rubbing shoulders within the pages of the same issue. Occasionally a particular attitude also depends on who has the final say on what is printed, the correspondent in Washington or the editor-in-chief. It is not difficult to spot the change in perspective in the pages of "Die Zeit" and "DER SPIEGEL" during the months of estrangement between Europe and America. The function of the journalists is to explain the decisions made in the White House; in essence they interpret processes and events. They tend more towards narrative analysis, sometimes producing profiles of the key figures to help their readers understand what's going on.
On the other hand, the nerve centers of these titles have a national, more inward-looking perspective. In addition, magazines like "DER SPIEGEL" use their covers to encapsulate current affairs in a nut-shell which sometimes leads to misunderstandings. Among the classic covers from this time was an image showing Bush, Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld as cowboys and Rambo-type figures. Condoleezza Rice enjoyed telling people that she hung this cover on the wall in her office.
"Schadenfreude" and Stereotypes. Frames in the Current Media Coverage
Naturally, transatlantic ties were too close to allow the indiscriminate "bashing" on either side of the Atlantic to go on too long. Besides, the sudden "anti-Europeanism" in the USA was more like a convenient political tool. The most fervent critics of Europe were often neocons, who reserved the same vocabulary for Chirac, de Villepin or Schröder that they used at home to pillory their "liberal" political opponents on the left. Even Bill Clinton was criticized by many Republicans for being too "European". During the 2004 election, the front-runner to succeed him, John Kerry, was continuously forced to fight off accusations that he seemed "French". The erosion of neoconservative and republican power in Washington inevitably led to a toning-down of anti-European aggression in the media.
This was helped by the changes at the top in several European administrations, in particular Gerhard Schröder's replacement by Angela Merkel in Germany. Dan Fried, responsible for Europe in the US State Department, made this clear in his analysis of the German election campaign in 2006: "Unlike in 2002, the US was not seen as a threat or a problem." Chancellor Merkel quickly "broke the ice" as the "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" reported. Merkel, who impressed George W. Bush with her talk of freedom drawn from her own personal background, is now seen by the "New York Times" as the "go to-person in Europe for Washington".
There has always been a latent tendency towards "Europe bashing" in the American media. The "European model's" reputation for being slow and suspicious of change runs extremely deep. This explains why the reports on the riots in the Paris suburbs, for example in "Newsweek", quickly descended into generalizations about the control-freak nature of European states, the high levels of unemployment, the inflexible labor market and social stagnation. "The riots in France tell us less about a clash of civilizations than about Europes economies, still stuck firmly in neutral." Such views mix happily with reports on the general reluctance among Europeans to modernize. In the "International Herald Tribune" in November 2005, Roger Cohen dissected the title page of a German trade union newsletter, which carried a picture of a businessman with a long-nose and gold fillings and an American flag under the caption "The Bloodsucker". Cohen saw this not only as latent anti-Semitism (a regular accusation in the preceding years, particularly in the conservative US press), but also as an expression of a "catchall anti-Americanism" that worked as follows: "If you dont like the market, blame America. If you dont like modernity, blame America. If you fear open borders, blame America.
The inability of an angst-ridden Europe to decide on a set of values for itself (or to defend these values) is a common theme in the US media. Take for example the European response to the furor over caricatures of the prophet Mohammed in Danish newspapers: at the time "The Wall Street Journal" reported that the European Union convened special sessions to discuss the most trivial problems, from sales tax to agricultural subsidies. But when one of its smallest member states came under fire for defending values that the EU expressly embraces, the silence from Europe's capitals was deafening.
However, such criticism has been toned down recently. In the European debate surrounding a US rocket defense system, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed understanding for Russia's misgivings, which "The Washington Times" summed up in characteristically sardonic fashion: "So, its open season for opportunism. But nowadays, most politicians and members of the media are more restrained. John Vinocour commented in the "International Herald Tribune" that the sympathies that brought Germans like Steinmeier closer to the Russians than the Americans would until recently have drawn warnings from Washington. However, because of the fiasco in Iraq, the Americans are not in a position to shout as loudly. When a memo was recently leaked advising Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to curry favor with his home crowd by attacking France, "The Boston Globe" commented ironically: "That worked really well when "french fries" were renamed "freedom fries" (In the interim, Bob Ney, the Congressman who promoted the "freedom fries" initiative, has been forced out of Congress on charges of corruption and alcoholism). If Romney was considering such clumsy propaganda, continued the "Globe", then he must believe the electorate's heads are made of cheese.
Admittedly some features of US reporting on Europe remain constant in the cut and thrust of transatlantic relations, for example the lack of interest among the American media in the European Union. This structure is still seen by most American journalists and politicians as a "baroque collection of institutions, regulations, and formalism" (Washington Post). Anyone browsing through the EU comment pages of the "New York Times" since the year 2000 will be particularly surprised by the limited number of issues covered. The articles almost always touch on world trade, trade disputes or the possible accession of Turkey, something the US strongly favors. There is very little analysis of the composition or goals of the EU nor reflections on major European projects such as the Euro, Schengen or the Lisbon agenda. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome a few weeks back the "New York Times" praised the union of states as a revolution with a happy outcome, but just a few days later, in a commentary relating to the planned US rocket defense system, it fell back on the familiar condescending tone: "As always, Europe has muddied the waters by failing to agree on a united position or to speak with one voice."
But perhaps this skepticism towards Brussels should simply be seen as one of those stereotypes that just won't go away. Every new American correspondent in a European capital will entertain readers with stories about the Mafia in southern Italy, the Pope in Rome, Prince Harry's binge drinking or the Muslims in London, neo-Nazis and neo-Jews in Berlin. What better than to confirm existing prejudices? What could be more important than fulfilling your readers' expectations? "Business as usual". These are all too human failings. This phenomenon also includes an element of schadenfreude, for example in long articles on the (not unjustified) question of why French intellectuals, who pointed to Hurricane Katrina as a symbol of America's racism, had so little to say about the riots in the suburbs of their own capital city. Such articles rarely fail to mention that the French allowed their elderly people to die in the hot summer of 2003 because they didn't want to disrupt the summer vacation.
And what about the Europeans? Open hostility has also become less frequent on their side. A certain attitude of cultural superiority is the norm. Every new correspondent for a German newspaper in America will dedicate several column inches to the race issue, the death penalty and religious fundamentalism, reassuring his readers of the cultural differences between America and Europe. Along these lines, when a young student killed more than 30 people in a shooting frenzy on the Virginia tech campus, some European media were quick to draw very broad conclusions on the heart of the American society. The "Stuttgarter Zeitung" opined that the killer lived in "a society in which weapons are idolized as emblems of freedom and manliness....". And French "Libération" was even shriller in tone: "In the land of John Wayne, Charlton Heston and George Bush, every anger, every heartache, every fight between neighbors or dealers and every depression ends with a shootout". When correspondents from the German and American media met in Harvard for a panel discussion at the height of the transatlantic dispute, the editor of a major German weekly magazine described the situation as follows: "There are five subjects that always go down well: the stupidity of the American President, human rights violations by the Americans, the dysfunctional nature of American democracy, the crass materialism of the Americans and the failure of the enforced conformist American media."
The fact that, in the US, electricity is carried on overhead lines not just in the poorer districts, but even in the best residential areas of America's cities, so that power regularly fails even when a tree blows down, contributes to the Europeans' feelings of superiority, as did the complete blackout experienced in New York, not to mention the flooding in New Orleans. This is known as compensation. Compensation for the small and medium-sized powers that place more value on infrastructure than America. Compensation for the inferiority complex created by the fact that America is inconceivably superior in terms of military, cultural and economic might, although Europe aimed to remedy this situation by introducing the Euro.
"What We Need Is More People in our South Jersey Office." Hyper-Localism as the Future Model?
The prospects for greater understanding and analysis of the actual cultural differences between Europe and America are as good or as bad as they always were, depending on your point of view. However, the crisis in the conventional print media is much more apparent in the US than in Europe. Although most of the major newspapers and magazines remain highly profitable, lukewarm advertising forecasts and competition from new media are forcing owners to make changes. The cuts often first affect the foreign news desks. Following this trend, the venerable "Boston Globe" recently closed its last three foreign desks. The "Shorenstein Center" in Harvard calculated that the number of foreign correspondents working for US newspapers fell from 188 to 141 between 2002 and 2006. Many of these papers are now controlled by financial magnates whose primary interest is a return on investment - something that can best be achieved with "local news".
Investor Brian Tierney, who last year became owner of the venerable "Philadelphia Inquirer", offered an insight into his strategy in an interview: "We don't need an office in Jerusalem. What we need is more people in our South Jersey office." The "Los Angeles Times", long famous for its reporting of international affairs, was recently advised by its key investors to become a quality local paper and to concentrate on topics that interested people in Los Angeles style, Hollywood, entertainment and local politics. This development is known as "hyper-localism" and is already long established among television studios.
In the 1980's, each of the big three American TV channels had around 15 foreign desks. Now this number is six or fewer. In its glory years, news magazine "TIME" employed 40 writers and over 100 foreign correspondents. Now the issues for a whole month contain fewer foreign stories than a single issue from 1968, according to the calculations by professor of journalism James Baughman of the University of Wisconsin.There is almost nothing left of the new mood following September 11 when leadings journalists like the now deceased editor-in-chief of the "Atlantic Monthly" Michael Kelly forecast a rapid growth in stories about other countries.
Europe has always had a tradition of interest in the world, which also entails interest in the world powers on whose development Europe depends. French intellectual Bernad-Henry Lévy recently spent a year traveling around the US in the footsteps of Tocqueville. The book describing his experiences was less captivating and enlightening than had been hoped, but still attracted a lot of attention. This was for two reasons: the author and his topic.
Television audiences in England, France or Germany have an excellent source of information in the public channels. Major newspapers maintain one or more correspondents in America. For example, on September 11 2001, DER SPIEGEL had three correspondents in New York, a correspondent in Washington, a correspondent in San Francisco and a correspondent in Los Angeles. The book written by DER SPIEGEL reporters about the events in New York was also very well received in America.
The Road Ahead. What Can Be Done?
Robert Kagan's theory of Mars and Venus has attracted a lot of attention. The play on the subtitle of John Gray's book about men and women made by Kagan's book is often ignored. It sounds very constructive: "A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships" Can the media help in any way? And should they expect any support from politics in the process?
For Americans, the time has come to return to the good old days of cultural diplomacy as successfully practiced in the Cold War era. This also involved fostering exchanges, travel and training as well as briefing sessions for journalists. This would constitute "public diplomacy" in the best sense. Sometimes "soft power" can provide the most convincing arguments. The American model is still the one that enjoys the greatest influence in economic, political and cultural terms. While various administrations in Washington may feel more or less inclined towards political isolationism, as a society, America is as open as ever, at least as far as Europeans are concerned.
The Europeans could also make greater efforts to wave the flag for their continent's successes, something the Americans refer to as "storytelling". The European Union is not just a breeding ground for bureaucrats, but also a modern project with numerous historical successes. There has possibly never been a better time to get those Americans who fear that their own model has lost its moral and diplomatic attraction to sit up and take notice.
Every accession of a new member state to the EU leads to massive change in the relevant country, comparable with an invasion. If this fact could be communicated convincingly, then there might be a better understanding of the delays that can characterize the European decision-making process. Andrew Moravcsik, Professor of European Studies in Princeton, offers the following analogy for US politicians and journalists who complain that Europe is too slow: "I say to them: imagine if the President of Mexico were to propose extending the jurisdiction of US Department of Trade officials, the Department of Agriculture, the Supreme Court, the Federal Reserve and a dozen other central state institutions to include Mexico. I then ask: how long would the negotiations take?" Moravcsik says that the most exciting thing is to see how people respond. They usually look at him in surprise and ask: "Is that what the Europeans do?"
When it comes to day-to-day reporting, it may sometimes be best simply to "agree to disagree". Well-known economist (and "New York Times" columnist) Paul Krugmann explains the transatlantic dichotomy as follows: "We have different views because we see different news." But the reverse is also true: Europeans and Americans live in a different world, see the world differently and therefore also register news differently. Examples of this are how they view risks and threats, as well as the death penalty or ethical questions such as abortion. In cultural terms they are more different than they might like to admit and these days cultural issues are just as important as economic ones. This is an insight propagated by the Neconservatives. When they get it right, they really get it right.
The media did not invent this difference, but simply reflect it. British historian Tony Judt has rightly pointed out that Europe and America only became a unit known as the West through the coincidence that was the Second World War. The differences and forces of attraction and repulsion go back much further. On top of this, there are differences in how the watershed that was September 11 is perceived. This day has been scorched onto the collective consciousness of Americans as the greatest terrorist act of all time. Surveys show that one third of New Yorkers think about the attacks on a daily basis. Two thirds of them are firmly convinced that another attack is on the cards. The doyen of political thinkers in Washington, Zbigniew Brzezsinski, writes that the culture of fear is widespread in America because the Bush administration believes this to be politically expedient.
A lot could be achieved if Americans and Europeans, whether from the world of the media or politics, would remember one simple, yet extremely important fact relating to the difference between major and medium-sized powers and their particular bodies of experience.
Major powers often underestimate the significance of historical experiences not their own. Medium-sized powers are aware of the dangers of over-estimating their own importance and correctly assess the significance of institutions within the global community. Major powers occasionally fall prey to the delusion that they can bend the world to their will in certain selected regions. In the past, Europe's medium-sized powers followed the same policies and now know that overweening ambition and large empires can be short-lived. Major powers like America repeatedly underestimate the overwhelming force of the strong emotions they unleash against themselves. Smaller powers have already experienced the historical consequences of such actions, so that experiences that are quite new for superpowers will often seem like déjà vu to them.
The cultural differences between major powers and smaller powers can feed a perception of "foreignness" that can lead to increasing political polarization when power starts to decline. The result is a deep rift like the one foreseen by William Kristol. However, he would be the first to admit that things don't have to stay that way. Experience shows that matters can change, sometimes for the better.
Gerhard Spörl is senior editor of DER SPIEGEL. Gregor Peter Schmitz is the director of the Brussels Office of Bertelsmann Stifung.