From the pages of

The World Is Watching...
by Martin Lewis
(First published August 15, 2000)

American presidential elections have always been covered by the media in other countries. To varying degrees the results of US elections eventually impact on all the peoples of the world. This is especially true of those countries who look to America for assistance in resolution of interminable conflicts. And also of America's closest allies - such as Britain.

However American politicians and parties have usually been benignly indifferent to such coverage. With the primary focus on the winning of elections - the campaigns' attitude has been to be polite to such media - but place them at the back of the proverbial bus. You will need their support if you win the White House - but they are far less important than those who can directly help you win.

But a couple of factors have changed that old approach - and international media are starting to become an important part of the campaign mix.

First of all, both Republicans and Democrats have become increasingly aware of the huge prospective vote among Americans living abroad. According to the organization Democrats Abroad - there are currently over 3 million Americans living outside of the US who are entitled to vote - and that's a huge number of ballots. So the campaigns are eager to see their party message filter back to those expatriates who might be persuaded to complete a postal ballot.

The second factor is the quantum leaps in technology and media globalization - which results in increased exposure for reports that were once just for local consumption.

By way of example - Britain's BBC has had a major presence throughout the primary season and has been covering the conventions in greater depth than for many years. BBC TV's flagship news show "Newsnight" (broadly equivalent to ABC's "Nightline") is not only seen in Britain - but in dozens of countries round the world. Each week over 80 million people round the world see some "Newsnight" coverage. And inevitably a lot of Americans abroad are likely to be watching reports about their homeland. Compared to the minuscule numbers on some American networks - 80 million viewers is not (as Joe Lieberman would say) chopped liver.

Compounding that global reach of BBC's TV and radio output is the Internet revolution - which results in BBC broadcasts being just as available in Minneapolis as in Manchester... in Birmingham, Alabama as in Birmingham, England.

So the campaigns and the politically-minded are now paying much closer heed to the international media which descends on the conventions.

While most of my commentary work is on US networks such as Fox News, MSNBC, Court TV and America's Voice - as a Brit expatriate based in Los Angeles - I find myself lending an enthusiastic hand to old colleagues from the BBC. And what I and my American friends discover is that the British producers and anchors are remarkably knowledgeable about American politics.

There is one other significant factor to this increased profile for international media. The respected American composer David Ackles once noted that artists gain a clearer perspective of their homeland when living abroad. (His acclaimed song-cycle "American Gothic" was written while actually resident in Berkshire, England.) A fascinating parallel is that Americans speaking to foreign journalists about US politics invariably make extra effort to give the clearest explanations of what might otherwise be an incomprehensible process. And in that endeavor - they strike a seam of insight unlike the usual platitudes auto-piloted out for domestic consumption.

Two cases in point from my work this week with my BBC colleagues. On Sunday I arranged for Richard Dreyfuss to be interviewed for BBC TV's "Newsnight." I've known Richard for many years - and I have always found him to be an intensely intelligent speaker. Not just because I share his passion for liberalism. But - more importantly - because he thinks deeply about the broader perspectives.

In his interview he spoke most eloquently about the malaise in American politics. And he did NOT lay blame on those who he politically opposes. He incisively summarized the damage to the social fabric of the cynicism of the past 30 years and how it has destroyed the opportunity for any form of genuine idealism to rear its honest head. He then talked about how we as a society have to regain innocence. It was achingly good. And one rarely hears that sentiment expressed with such clarity and passion. With his and the BBC's permission I will try to post his exact comments as an "e-mail from the trail."

Last night I interviewed Rep. Barney Frank for BBC's "Five Live Breakfast Show." I asked him to explain for the British audience the incandescent vitriol and rage that has suffused some Americans against the Clintons for eight years. In a simple analogy he painted a picture of Leave it to Beaver families waking up one morning in January 1993 from a Norman Rockwell dream and discovering that evil wizards had transformed their world. The fear of diversity and the massive progressive agenda simply shattered that illusory world they were dwelling in - and their wrath has been most potent ever since.

There is no doubt in my mind that the clarity that Dreyfuss and Frank brought to the task of explaining America to the outside world is a perspective that frequently gets overlooked here in the USA.

Perhaps one of the ways we can unpoison the well, lessen the cynicism and - dare I say it - attempt to rediscover the innocence - would be if we all spoke to each other as if trying to explain our perspectives to those from other lands and cultures rather than in the old angry ways.

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