Saturday, January 31, 2009

Comparing International Coverage of Obama's Inauguration

A Close Relationship... Canadian Coverage

Edited by Sally A. Cruikshank
Author: Cristina Mutchler

The presidential inauguration of Barack Obama had different meanings for different people, regions and countries. Inauguration day have been interpreted in many ways by journalists and people worldwide, and analyzing two countries’ coverage helps portray what is important or interesting to those countries and may reveal something about their relationship with the U.S.

Because Canada is one of our close neighbors, I chose to look at an article from the Vancouver Sun written by correspondent Sheldon Alberts, 'New Era of Hope Begins in America as Obama sworn in as 44th President.' The New York Times is so renowned and had an extensive collection of inauguration coverage to choose from that I decided to read an article written by reporter Carl Huse, 'Obama is Sworn in as the 44th President."

Photo courtesy of CreativeSoulPhoto

I was somewhat surprised to find many similarities with the two articles. Both focused on the historic aspect of this inauguration, the importance of this inauguration for the American people, and economy as one of Barack Obama’s main focuses for the future. It is evident that the economic panic, which polls indicate was the most important issue for 63% of voters, still plays a significant role for both countries' coverage (Foreign Affairs and the 2008 Election, Robert P. Saldin, p. 12). Quoting the inaugural address was also obviously an integral part of coverage for both countires. I found that the two articles used a few of the same quotes from the inaugural address; for example, 'Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.' The quotes from the inaugural speech used in both of the articles were significant and profound, and the selection that each reporter chose added emphasis to their focal points in the story.

The New York Times piece used and emphasized the 'change' that Obama’s presidency represented, something that was also an integral part of his presidential campaign message. Change was not, however, a huge topic in the Vancouver Sun article. The New York Times also highlighted the cheering crowds of American people that were present at this address; the Canadian article did not focus so much on this aspect. Bill Clinton was also a significant point of the article, as the New York Times quoted former President Bill Clinton’s remarks about the speech. This was not evident in the Canadian article.

Not so surprisingly, race was brought up as a point in both of the articles. What was so interesting was that the Vancouver Sun mentioned race within the first few sentences, but did not elaborate on that racial reference for the rest of the article. The New York Times reporter chose not to mention race until after the first two paragraphs, but referenced race a few more times, commenting on the prevalence of African Americans in the inaugural crowd and the symbolism of the proximity to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

What set the Vancouver Sun article apart from several of the other local reports that I read was its mention of America’s relationship with Canada, for obvious reasons. Included was a quote from Obama’s speech that gave a message for those beyond America’s borders. Most interesting were the quotes from Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean, who offered their best regards to the new U.S. president. The government officials were 'thrilled' that Obama will soon be in Canada for his first official visit, and referred to the U.S.’s relationship with Canada. 'The United States remains Canada’s most important ally, closest friend and largest trading partner and I look forward to working with President Obama and his administration as we build on this special relationship,' said Prime Minster Harper.

Also unique to the Vancouver Sun article was a focus on the personal milestones that Obama has marked throughout his political career. The reporter chose to recap Obama’s political journey from an Illinois state senator to a Democratic presidential nominee and finally, as the 44th president of the United States. Interesting to me is that this historical outlook on Obama’s career was absent in the New York Times article, as well as in other domestic reports that I have read.
Because Canada is such a close neighbor, perhaps Americans often times do not necessarily consider this alliance as a 'foreign' relationship. But nonetheless, foreign affairs still played a huge role in the 2008 election, and coverage of the inauguration may show us just how important that role was. Many of the points in the Canadian article were similar to those in the coverage by a U.S. reporter.

However, the additional four or so paragraphs regarding our relationship with Canada made it evident that this is an important factor most likely of interest to Canadian readers. Foreign affairs and our relationship with other countries played a large role in the U.S. election, as well. The racial barrier was not mentioned more than once in the Vancouver Sun article; perhaps this isn’t as important an issue for Canadians because of the eclectic mix of diversity there. But the historical significance of this inauguration, the meaning for American people, and the hopefulness to overcome the economic crisis remained the prominent issues in both articles, revealing that perhaps country borders are not indicative of the true importance of this inauguration to people of different nationalities and backgrounds. "

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