Friday, January 30, 2009

Comparing Local and International Coverage of Obama's Inauguration

Photo courtesy of Jim Young, Reuters
The Oath Heard 'Round the World

Edited By: Sally Ann Cruikshank
Author: Natalie Cammarata

Remaking of America....

British Coverage

"In The Guardian (United Kingdom) and The Washington Times, I found two very different responses to the inauguration. In their article, 'Obama Takes Charge,' Stephen Dinan and David R. Sands, had a positive take on the inauguration. They mentioned how historic the day was and key elements of President Obama’s speech. In The Guardian article, 'Obama Inauguration: Let the Remaking of American Begin Today,' Alan Rusbridger was focused also on key elements of the speech. Both articles quoted specifically, 'harness the sun and the winds and the soil,' as well as, 'To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.' Both these points were brought up similarly in both articles, but that is where the similarities end.
The biggest difference with these two articles was how the authors presented the inauguration to the reader. I felt that The Washington Times article showed the inauguration and entire day’s festivities as an awards show. There was a lot of 'hype' about what the president said, but very little substance about what it meant. Instead of focusing on how serious this time is for America, he focused on Oprah Winfrey and Sean 'Diddy' Combs being in the crowd.

In The Guardian article, however, the author focused on the somberness of the speech. He also highlighted how this speech fit into history better than the Times article did. Rusbridger stated that there were 'four ghosts' at the speech that day, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. He showed President Obama’s similarities to each of these historical figures and what each of those figures sacrifices and contributions meant to the inauguration.

Overall, I enjoyed reading both these descriptions of the inauguration. I think, however, that The Guardian article was a much better piece. The Office of the President is one of the highest and most respected in the world. I felt that the article from The Guardian communicated that respect better. The Washington Times article did not disrespect the presidential office by any means, but I thought it focused more on the celebrity aspect of it." --Celia Shortt

"When I read the inauguration accounts by The New York Times and England's The Guardian, I was struck by how similar the two articles were. Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian's correspondent, titled his article 'Obama inauguration: Let the remaking of American begin today.' That same quote from President Barack Obama's inauguration speech was featured in the first sentence of the New York Times article. I found it interesting that both newspapers would highlight the idea that America need to be remade.

The similarities didn't stop there. Both reporters set the scene in similar ways. Peter Baker, the New York Times reporter, talked about the celebratory crowd begin 'sobered' by Mr. Obama's 'grim assessment' of the country's hardships. Rusbridger likewise used the word 'sombre' to describe the inauguration speech. Both the articles mentioned Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and the fact that the Capitol and the White House had been built by slaves. Many of the quotes from the speech were used in both articles.

However, there was one major difference between the two articles that I particularly noticed and that was how former President Bush was addressed. While Barker did mention the 'implicit criticism' of Bush in the speech, Rusbridger went one step farther and said there was 'plenty' of 'repudiation of the previous eight years of Bush.' Furthermore, Barker wrote about Bush leaving the events to go back to Texas, while Rusbridger framed the former president's exit by saying 'there was one final rousing cheer as the helicopter carrying George W. Bush rose... took the former president off to Texas-- and out of public life for ever.' It was a much stronger way of describing Bush's exit. It made me surmise that despite Bush's low approval ratings in the U.S., maybe foreign media are more comfortable with condemning his time in office than the U.S. press is.

There were a few other minor differences. The New York Times article was longer and more in-depth. It mentioned not only Edward Kennedy's collapse earlier in the day, but also some of Mr. Obama's immediate plans in office. Overall, what struck me about both articles was something that seemed to be apparent in the crowds at the inauguration, and that is a feeling of hope for a brighter future for the United States." --Sally Ann Cruikshank

"The articles I read from The New York Times and The Times (London) both covered Barack Obama's Inaugural Address but with differing focal points.
Kakutani, the New York Times reporter, wrote 'Speech Puts a New Frame on Obama's Call to Serve,' and in it focused on the historical aspect of Obama's speech, noting how Obama's aim was not only to 'inspire a country grappling with an economy in free fall and two ongoing wars but to situate America's problems in a historical context.'

The article goes on to highlight Obama's rhetoric about the progress we have made thus far, and the progress we hope to make in the future. Kakutani mentions how Obama refers to 'us' and 'we,' and gives the reader a sense that Obama sees his presidency as a movement that is bigger than himself, as he calls on the American public to serve their country.
Compared to the British article, Kakutani's interpretation of the speech delivers a message of hope and progress, casting a positive light on Obama's fresh takeover of Washington. The British article, 'Barack Obama's promise to America,' had more negative connotations and focused on the sorry state that America is in now, at least more so than the American article.

Foreign Correspondent Tom Baldwin called Obama's address a 'sombre speech that had little of the soaring rhetoric' that we are used to hearing from our new president. It's true, many political commentators were discussing on cable news channels how his speech was not up to par with his campaign speeches, but Kakutani did not bring this up in his article, and for good reason. Any decent journalist should know that this was not supposed to be like a campaign speech--the American public (well, most of them) are already on board with Obama and his plans, so now is the time to inspire them not to go along for the ride but to do their duty as faithful Americans.
Baldwin also mentioned that we are in a 'crisis' and that America's 'challenges would not be easily met.' He said how the stock market fell 4 percent on the Inauguration Day and compares the number to that of the Great Depression. Kakutani mentioned none of these sobering details.
In addition, Baldwin played up the race factor throughout the article, making note of America's historic struggles with slavery and segregation. Kakutani alluded to this in a subtle fashion, quoting Obama's part of the speech about how his father wouldn't have been served at a restaurant 60 years ago.

In general, from this sample, it seems that the British coverage is taking a more critical stance towards American politics while the American coverage is less critical and leaning more towards the notions of hope and progress. Although both mention the focal point of Obama's speech as a call to service for all Americans, the British I think actually take into account the context of American history and our current circumstances. Even though at first glance it seems the British are making some negative associations with U.S. policy, I think they end up with the more fair and balanced coverage, compared to the American coverage which seems lenient on its own nation."

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