< The Foreign Press On Occupy Wall Street

Transcript

Friday, October 21, 2011

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Here in the United States, the press initially cast a wary eye on the Occupy Wall Street protesters, unsure of their seriousness and staying power. After more than a month, however, the protests have become a bona fide news story.

Part of what’s lent the protests credibility are seemingly coordinated protests around the world, and the international media have been paying attention. Here's a clip from China's CCTV.

[CLIP]:

MALE CORRESPONDENT:

Demonstrators have been camping out for weeks in a park near a street that has become a symbol of capitalism.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

And on Al Jazeera English:

MALE CORRESPONDENT:

— has the spirit of the Arab spring come to Wall Street, or are these just anarchists out to make trouble?

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

TheAtlantic.com contributor, Heather Horn, has been watching the foreign media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests. She says the press over there was quicker than the American media to give the protest serious examination.

HEATHER HORN:

While American news sources have been criticized for dismissing the protesters early on, the European press, in particular, was very, very quick to accord it a certain amount of respect and to treat this as a serious response to the problems of capitalism.

You're seeing French papers like Le Monde saying, the anti-Wall Street movement reaches Switzerland or, or takes  Switzerland. So they're clearly saying that protests that were scheduled, you know, in Zurich and Geneva and Basel are part of the same movement as Occupy Wall Street.

You're also seeing news sources, like the Arabic-language Al-Arabia, calling it “Wall Street Spring.” That’s their headline that they want with.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

And the Spanish daily El Pais?

HEATHER HORN:

Well, El Pais actually mentioned Occupy Wall Street in the same sentence as the riots in Arab countries and in Greece. Implied in mentioning these all on the same sort of list is that they’re all sort of the same types of movement.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

I was most interested in the quote you cited from Die Welt, They wrote, “Whoever wants to change the world must also be able to entertain. America shows us how it works.” What does that mean?

HEATHER HORN:

Die Welt ran this article talking about the appearance of the Wall Street protesters. There is some talk about how they’re dressed, talking about attractive academics, and so forth, just as you saw relatively early on some American news sources deriding the protesters for –

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

For generating a carnival atmosphere?

HEATHER HORN:

Carnival atmosphere [LAUGHS] is a good way to put it. I mean, you were seeing these various clips of people doing yoga, people beating on drums. And I think that made it relatively easy for some figures in the American media to dismiss this as a random parade of misfits. And you definitely aren't really seeing that in the European papers. And the Die Welt article is, is a very good example of that.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

And what about the Chinese news agency Xinhua?

HEATHER HORN:

So you're seeing, in particular, Xinhua’s  English site running stories that say, oh well, this is showing how the American dream doesn't really work.

What you're also seeing is that Xinhua has really caught on to a meme in American Media, saying that American journalists haven't covered this very well. Some of the Xinhua writers are saying that American journalists are turning a blind eye to popular discontent in their own country.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Generally, reporters are a bit skeptical when it comes to street protests. They want to see some proof that they're going to hang around. The Chinese have protests practically every week.

HEATHER HORN:

They do have a lot of protests, and certainly as, as American readers looking at this Chinese viewpoint that Xinhua has put forth, it can look a little bit opportunist, right?

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

[LAUGHS] Just a little.

HEATHER HORN:

Obviously, from the, the Chinese perspective, if the American free press is really just in the pocket of the establishment, then the Chinese state-run media is no big deal.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

How about on Al Jazeera Arabic?

HEATHER HORN:

Al Jazeera Arabic also covered the fact that American media was coming under fire for not covering this as well as perhaps they might have.

The interesting little trend here to note is that Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English were very highly praised in the States, including by Secretary Clinton, for covering the Arab Spring really well. So there has been this meme over the past couple of months that Al Jazeera is really good at covering mass protests, where American media perhaps aren’t.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Is there any in-depth discussion of the issues or are they, like the American press, waiting for them to get specific?

HEATHER HORN:

There definitely is an in-depth discussion of the issues. One German language paper, Die Zeit, gave American intellectuals, as they called them, six pages to sort of discuss the possible revolution in America. So that was a relatively in-depth treatment.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Mm!

HEATHER HORN:

And from a foreign paper, at that.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

What you think is the starkest contrast then between the foreign press and the American coverage?

HEATHER HORN:

What's really fascinating about the Occupy Wall Street story is how much it really is proving a sort of Rorschach test for these various national presses, this readiness to see it as an anti-capitalist response in France and Germany, this readiness to see it as a problem with America and the Chinese state-run media and, in fact, a signal of the press not being as free as Americans like to say it is.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

All right. Heather, thank you very much.

HEATHER HORN:

Thank you.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Heather Horn is a contributor to TheAtlantic.com.