'Terror in Capitol' No Surprise to World
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 26, 1998; Page A23 LONDON, July 25 The fatal shootout at the seat of American government drew banner coverage in much of the world's media this weekend, with many reports concluding that the tragedy confirms the stereotype of the United States as a violent, gun-crazed society.
"Terror in U.S. Capitol as Gun Nut Kills Two," headlined The Sun, Britain's best-read newspaper. "Enemies in the U.S. Heartland" said the headline in London's Guardian. The banner headline atop the Italian tabloid La Stampa transcended language barriers: "Washington, terrore in Campidoglio!"
The incident Friday afternoon in which a gunman burst into the Capitol, killed two policemen and wounded a tourist, happened too late for coverage in today's newspapers in China. But as word spread through electronic media, some locals said they were accustomed to such reports from the United States.
"In America, this kind of thing happens quite often. Like during the Olympics in Atlanta, there was that explosion," said Wang Xin, 34, who was interviewed on a sidewalk in Beijing.
When President Clinton recently criticized the lack of political rights in China, some Chinese media responded sharply that China does a better job than the United States does in protecting the human right to public safety. Today, some Chinese citizens said the Capitol shootings show how the two rights can clash.
"America is a country that talks about freedom and democracy, but that can give opportunities to criminals," said Li Peng, 24, another Beijing resident. "It's very hard to change this situation. If you don't let citizens visit [the Congress], then they would think there were secrets."
No Russian newspapers reacted to the shootings, as the incident occurred too late to meet deadlines. Television ran the news without editorial comment, and the story took second place behind a meeting of Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko and President Boris Yeltsin.
Italian dailies treated the shootout as the day's top news, with large headlines and pictures. "An Assault on the Capitol in Washington," said Corriere della Sera of Milan, which said the attack occurred in a building "where preserving an open political system is so important it supersedes rigid controls on visitors."
Rome's La Repubblica put the story on the front page under the headline "Gunfight in the U.S. Congress." Shoehorned next to that story was a report on the latest turn in the Monica Lewinsky matter.
The British papers, never reluctant to dig into the dark side of American life, treated the Capitol shootings as a predictable, if shocking, development.
Comparing Friday's killing to the Oklahoma City bombing and the Ruby Ridge, Idaho, shootout, the Guardian said, "These are not acts committed in isolation from American society. ... Vehement anti-government rhetoric is now de rigueur on talk radio and in pamphlets. The Oklahoma bomb failed to stop such rhetoric, and there is no reason to assume [Friday's] murders will do so either."
Several British newspapers noted that gun-control bills have been introduced in the current session of Congress but that none is expected to pass.
In Mexico, in contrast, the shooting was treated as straight news story, with no lectures about the defects of American society, no outraged editorials or columns about the lack of gun control in the United States, no claims that the shooting was an attack on democracy, no stand-up interviews with Mexicans north of the border saying that they're packing their bags and going home where it's safe.
Radio Red Mexico's main radio news station broke in Friday with a live report from the Capitol shortly after the shootings. It and other stations followed the story throughout the day.
The story led the nightly TV news Friday, with file photos of the dead Capitol policemen and film from outside the building showing ambulances and tourists.
The Mexico City paper Reforma carried a story about the unusual openness of the Capitol, and whether there might now be pressure to tighten security there, in line with other federal buildings. The incident "certainly will prompt an increase in security in government buildings, something that also will give rise to a debate about how much public access should be restricted and the argument that this type of incident is the price of democracy," the Reforma report said.
Argentine television Friday night was filled with images of what one broadcast labeled "terror in the Capitol."
The Argentine daily La Nacion called the Capitol "a place of violent incidents."
Throughout news and radio shows, Argentine commentators focused on the growth of domestic terrorism in the United States, a place that for many Latin Americans unlike for Europeans is still viewed as a country of relatively greater tranquillity. "When you see an attack in the Congress of the United States, it makes you think that safety is not an easy thing to come by any more," said one radio commentator.
Correspondents Daniel Williams in Moscow, John Ward Anderson in Mexico City and Anthony Faiola in Buenos Aires, and special correspondent Michael Laris in Beijing, contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company