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In Europe, Obama Dominates Intense Coverage of U.S. Election

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By Cristina Fernandez-Pereda
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, August 22, 2008; 2:01 PM

Western European news organizations are providing unprecedented coverage of the U.S. presidential campaign, and as Election Day nears, correspondents are making a new effort to balance their coverage between Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

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Polls show Europeans increasingly see their countries' future linked to the outcome of the battle between McCain and Obama. The media is responding to the interest by devoting more resources than ever before to covering the U.S. election. CNN's Spanish Edition is preparing special coverage for the political conventions in Denver and Saint Paul. For the first time, the station's staff will be at both conventions, and in Denver, correspondent Carlos de Vega will have a private set where he will do live reporting all week for the different news shows.

Until recently, news organizations in Western European countries were intensely focused on the democrat's candidacy as Obama mania swept the continent, and reported little about McCain's.

Foreign correspondents assert they are not obliged to be perfectly balanced in their reporting of U.S. politics. For some, they are reflecting what the American media are covering; for others, they cover what is relevant to their countries.

"We couldn't just cover, 'He said this, she said that,'" said Jack Iccard, BBC correspondent in Washington. "I think Americans get carried away by that, but it doesn't work with European audiences. We try to explain the consequences, trying to be constructive."

Europeans are far more intrigued by the first black man to claim a major political party's presidential nomination than the presumptive Republican nominee, as the huge crowds that greeted Obama in London and Berlin in July indicated. The often unbalanced coverage in Europe is a function of the audiences' curiosity, their interest and their questions about a candidate they didn't think could be the president of the United States.

"Even if you look at things without racism, history has told you that whenever a white man and a black man meet, it's the white man that has more power," said CNN's de Vega. "Now you see Barack Obama meeting with European authorities, and he could become the most powerful man in the world. In the United States it might not be so shocking, but in Europe it's revolutionary."

Tom Rosenstiel, Director of the Washington-based Project for Excellence in Journalism, said that American journalists are under far greater pressure to provide balance in their coverage, in the face of criticism that Obama is receiving more newspaper and TV coverage than McCain.

"Here journalists are like interviewers on behalf of voters," Rosentiel said. "Consequently, they have an added responsibility to make sure that both candidates are playing on a level field."

With Election Day drawing closer, however, correspondents are beginning to worry that if McCain wins, they may have done a disservice to their audience by focusing so intently on Obama.

"We have covered more about Obama. I know it's a mistake and I try to be more fair," French television TF1's Pierre Grange admitted.

When asked what the French know and think about McCain, for example, Grange said that they think the Republican candidate is "old" and cannot determine whether he agrees with Republican President Bush or not.


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