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Friday, March 19, 2004

#1 of 2 Articles. EU PUBLIC OPINION AND THE USA: THE IMPACT OF THE MEDIA AND INTELLECTUAL TRADITIONS

From Joel, a knowledgeable visitor to the buggy site, the following comments have arrived. They seemed worth posting as a stand-apart article, along with the buggy replies.

1) I should add that polls sometimes should be treated with utmost caution when gauging actual public opinion somewhere. The way pollsters asked survey questions and how they were phrased determine the results of the poll. Also polls of this kind (on social science field rather than hard sciences or engineering) are subject to interpretations that are highly subjective.

For instance, I have seen polls taken in Germany cicra 1994 (Reader's Digest) that says 80% of Germans regarded the US as their most trustworthy and important ally (both East and West Germans, if counted separately, yield the same results, curiously - meaning that interpretation "fmr East Germans are more anti-American" is false). Hardly confirming your "German opinion is generally hostile toward the US and has been so since survey data showed this from the early 1980s on --- to repeat, hostile to the US as a country, whoever governs it" thesis. It is easy to produce a result of pre-determined finding among people surveyed by asking these for instance:

2) Do you believe the US has done incorrectly in the War on Terrorism?

Now 80% of Germans polled could answer yes, and we come up with answers like "80% of Germans polled are hostile to the US". But we could also divide this into several camps: some could think outright all kinds of anti-terrorist work is wrong - "the US should apologize and accede to the demands", some could think the US should readopt the Clinton combat-terrorism-by-policing-and-aid posturing, some think the US should be even more hardline. We simply have no way of determining anti-Americanism by asking these questions. (Granted, I admit Germany is truly more anti-US than Britain, which even it is wobble on this issue, but the extent is less bad - maybe 53% versus 47% kind of thing)

3) I think Steven den Beste best sums up on the best way to gauge true pictures of public opinions - observe how they actually vote. Spain is truly anti-US but once again it is a 60% vs 40% matter. (which, coincidentally, Spain has some of the most hardcore socialist and stand-by-Arafat people in the whole EU, even more so than France)


 



PART ONE: PUBLIC OPINION, THE EU, THE US, AND IRAQ

Joel: Thank you for the informative replies, doubly so because it's unusual for those who leave long comments to cite new data or other facts. In serial fashion, with some detailed analysis, here are some replies tossed off the top of the buggy head. You'll note that because of their length, the overall commentary has been divided into a two-article mini-series.

1. Survey Data.

Yes, public opinion data have to be treated with caution, a warning that the buggy prof has repeatedly made in several articles here that deal with poll surveys: they tap attitudes usually, not deep beliefs; beliefs themselves may not guide specific action at times; attitudes can change in response to dramatic events; and yeah, different questions can elicit different responses.

Still, there are ways to deal with these problems, such as longitudinal studies of attitudes over long periods of time, taking into account shifting opinions; sub-dividing the national responses into various categories, such as age (generations) or ethnic minorities or urban-rural or in terms of income or class. And random surveys carried out over time this way can be deepened to probe more fundamental beliefs --- which don't change dramatically --- by picking out certain sub-groups within a random survey and study the same respondents' attitudes in more thorough ways as a rough gauge of what might be happening in the larger population in question.

 

2. German Views of the USA.

The German outlook on the US was probed in depth in several surveys during the 1980s. Repeatedly, they showed that there was a marked decline in pro-American sympathies by age in that country --- note, pro-American, the questions assessing attitudes toward the US as a country, not specific policies. Essentially, what was found that Germans over the age of 50 were heavily pro-American; those between 40-50 far less so; between 30-40 years of age and 20-30 marked dislike or animosity emerged. It is out of the 30-40 year cohorts that the current generation of German politicians like Schroeder emerged in the late 1990s to govern the country. They hark back to the student radical days of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The shifting opinions in Germany toward the US, by the way, also seemed to reflect a half-concealed new nationalism . . . albeit of a semi-neutralist, semi-pacifist kind, the sort that Robert Kagan, generalizing too much about West Europeans --- British opinion is much different --- describes in the short-hand motto that Europeans are from Venus and Americans from Mars.
 

3. The Post-1960s Radical Generation in the EU.

The underlying interpretation in survey studies of such age-based results is that significant events in early life shape political beliefs that are fairly well anchored in an individual's psyche. All over the EU, not just in Germany, left-wing parties, the media, universities, and intellectual life are dominated by the post-1960s radical generation, now generally in their late forties, fifties, and early sixties. To understand the prevailing views in the EU about the US --- a matter we'll return to in a few moments --- you have to grasp this key fact and appreciate fully what it means.

That doesn't mean belief-systems formed in earlier life can't change --- over time, or because of an abrupt, dramatic event like the terrorist bombings on 9/11 here or 3/11 in Spain recently. Still, for the most part, fundamental beliefs --- which become incorporated into an individual's personality structure and underpin to an extent shifting attitudinal responses (toward Bush, the war on terrorism, the Kyoto treaty etc) --- don't easily change except slowly, if at all.

One good example of change: Joschka Fischer, the Green Foreign Minister in the Schroeder coalition, has seemed to undergo a more basic change of heart about foreign policy, relations with the US, NATO, and even the need for Germany to participate in war-making or peacekeeping missions. Specifically, he emerged from the left-wing marked by the Greens once in power, and last year was a moderating influence on Schroeder's more assertive anti-Bush policies. He has apparently been a major influence behind the German government's efforts to improve relations with the US since the war on Iraq.





 

4. German Opinion and the USA

The subsequent ups-and-downs of German opinion toward the US in the 1990s reflected the end of the cold war, the Clinton administration, the fears about Balkans instability (put to an end by the US, after the EU foreign minister head from Luxembourg in 1991 told the American government to butt out, that the Balkans were in the EU backyard and the EU was perfectly capable of handling the problems there ), and then the Kosovo war. The underlying dislike of the younger generations of America --- now aging and taking over power in German institutions, especially in politics and the media --- was still churning below the surface.

Probably the best analysis of this is by Josef Joffe, Europe's New Demons, by which he means systematic anti-Semitism and systematic anti-Americanism, the two uusally going hand-in-hand. Remember here, Joffe is the editor of one of the two most influential German weeklies, Die Zeit; he's also, though, a Harvard-trained Ph.D. in political science and hence knows biases and silly shallow ideologizing when he sees them. Again, however, as the buggy prof noted in a lengthy mini-series on EU anti-Semitism, even Joffe generalizes without relying on abundant survey data. On Joffe, see the buggy analysis published in early February 2004.

 

5. Spain

There was always a large majority against the war in Iraq, an obstacle that the Aznar government had to contend with when the war started. Most reportage cites 90% of Spanish opinion opposed to the war. The Aznar government, then, faced with this resistance, couldn't send troops into battle any more than Italy's Berlusconi could, where a similar obstacle existed in Italian public opinion. Will Spain's withdrawal of its troops, if that occurs under the new government, be popular there? No doubt, though the new Prime Minister has already hedged, something he didn't do over the last year or through the electoral campaign: he will withdraw them only if the US doesn't hand over sovereignty to a new transitional Iraqi government and the UN returns.

Both conditions are likely to be satisfied this year. That doesn't mean the new Spanish Socialist government won't still retreat, finding new conditions. We can only hope, though, that the new government reconsiders the wisdom of its policies toward Iraq.

 

6. Spain, France, and Germany The Most Anti-American in the EU

There is, needless to add, a diversity of opinion in the EU about the US that varies across countries. In particular, The Pew Global Attitudes Project in 2003 found the following results in West European attitudes:

(i.). Which Countries Are the Most Anti-American or Pro-American (Views
of the US as a Political System)?


57 percent of the French, 54 percent of Germans, and 56 percent of Spaniards held unfavorable views regarding the United States in June 2003. By contrast, only 26 percent of the British and 38 percent of Italians held negative views. Holland and Denmark were even less anti-American. (When Bush visited London last October, almost 70% of British opinion welcomed him and showed pro-American sentiments in British surveys).

(ii.) What Their Views of Americans as a People Were

42 percent of the French, 29 percent of Germans, and 41 percent of Spaniards viewed Americans unfavorably. Only 18 percent of Italians did so, and 15 percent of Britons.

(iii.) What They Thought about the Spread of "American Ideas and Customs"

72% of the populations in both Germany and France saw the diffusion in a negative light. In Britain, the equivalent figure was 56% and Italy 45%. Interestingly, too, when they were queried about American ideas of democracy as they understood them, 65 % of the French, 55% of Germans, and 61% of the Spanish disliked them.




 

PART TWO: THE EU MEDIA AND VIEWS OF THE USA

1. The EU Media: PC Dogmas and Ideology

One of the problems with Spanish opinion of the US --- and opinion all over the EU --- is that save for Britain, the media is dominated by left-wing types who came of age in the 1960s and early 1970s era of student radicalism, with a strong thrust anyway toward opinionated journalism that blurs any distinction between editorializing and reportage.

Le Monde more or less carried out a declaratory revolution on the Continent when, two years or so ago, it announced publicly that henceforth its journalists could report on the news and interpret it in ways at odds with its editorial policies. Whether in fact Le Monde's reportage did change is another matter. When a former reporter/editor of that paper --- disgusted with its Pravda-like dicta about the world --- sought out two other journalists outside the paper and documented Le Monde's journalistic travesties and dogmas, the top managers of Le Monde, rather than emulate the New York Times, meet with its journalists in an open meeting, sack the editors responsible for the Times' own irresponsibility and immediately take action to improve its reporting and the balance of its editorial views . . . those managers did what is predictable about the French: charge a conspiracy, claim they were victimized, launch a suit for slander, and continue to serve up predigested obiter dicta as journalism/

Such habits aren't confined to France or Le Monde. They are rife throughout the Continent, with a handful of exceptions at most, it seems.

[Sidebar clarification: To stay with Spain, ponder a moment or two the following comments of a Spanish intellectual about the Spanish left and media:

" . . . the Left in Spain have a real problem. In some respects we are the heirs of the French Revolution ; we have been influenced by the great ideologues like [Jean-Paul] Sartre and [Albert] Camus, and also by May 1968. That is to say, the overall thinking of the Spanish Left comes from France. Now, France is fundamentally anti-American…from which (comes) our anti-Americanism, that at times borders on the pathological, an anti-Americanism which is also anti-Semitic. This explains why to a certain extent the Spanish Left is anti-Semitic. Obviously, people like myself have great difficulty with this state of affairs.

I believe that if the Left has failed as a great world ideology, it is because the Left did not succeed in breaking with the worst of its dogmatic thinking. The Left can be very progressive, but it can also be very dogmatic. Unfortunately, the Left became infatuated with such infamous dictators as Pol Pot, Mao, and Stalin, and now it is in love with Arafat. The Left should be critical, and in the first place, self-critical. "]


 

2. Their causes? Easy to say: Intellectual and Ideological Traditions.

For one thing, to clarify this claim, those editorializing pieties that pass for journalism in most of the EU are habits rooted in well over a century of clear ideological commitments of almost all the newspapers in Europe --- communist, socialist, moderate liberal, Christian Democrat, conservative, or reactionary (never mind fascism in the interwar period and through WWII). If you were or are socialist, you read socialist-owned or socialist-oriented papers. Ditto Communists or reactionaries or conservatives. The notion of objective professional journalism --- a key underpinning of the American media --- is almost totally absent in Germanic and Latin Europe, historically and right now. It's even considered naive, oh-so-very silly American shallowness, a throwback to 19th century positivist theories of a scientific sort . . . all rendered obsolete by the convoluted, extravagantly opaque philosophers of post-modernism and relativism, a point we'll leave dangling for a moment or two before we explain it.

For another thing, except for Britain and a handful of small Northern European countries, education on the Continent --- the Germanic, French, and other Latin styles of intellectual life outside the natural sciences --- emphasizes loose speculative generalizations unanchored in anything, a form of indulgence in dogmatic abstractions floating in a cryptic void of ideology: a style, in short, that reinforces these other dogmatic tendencies. That's also true of what is called "Continental Philosophy," as opposed to analytical philosophy that dominates the English-speaking world, Scandinavia, the former British Commonwealth, and increasingly (it should be noted) in parts of France, Germany, and Italy.

Small wonder, against this background, that post-modernist and other forms of extravagantly opaque relativisms, along with a rejection of Enlightenment-ideals, originated in Germany and flourishes in France and the rest of Latin Europe.

 

The essence of analytical philosophy, by contrast?

Philosophers should offer rigorous, clear analysis of philosophical problems in systematic argumentive ways; then --- however famous any of them are --- be ready to engage in a systematic exchange with their critics in clear, concrete manner. This stress on clarity, on systematic arguments that advance by means of one rigorously stated proposition after another, and on an open dialogue and exchange with your professional critics --- no matter how famous the reputation of a philosopher --- is practically non-existent in the European Continental traditions outside Scandinavia and Holland. Well-known philosophers like Derrida would never deign to engage in systematic exchange with their critics; if others are too stupid to appreciate their guru-like insights into the world, tant pis for them, the fools! (Foucault, who once criticized Derrida in an article, received a private communication from him that said, according to John Searle of Berkeley, "you don't understand me, you're an idiot!" ) See first this link on analytical philosophy on the Continent. Then see thebuggyprofessor. Then look at Richard Rorty on this in a gordon-newspost analysis.

The outcome?

Once arcane, ideologically charged philosophical traditions of this sort take root in intellectual life, they can justify any opinionated gibberish, provided of course that it's all in line with the standard-model orthodoxies of the moment --- which on the Continent of Europe means politically correct pieties run wild, a form of surrogate (secular) religion that is thoroughly intolerant like other fundamentalist religions and full of witchhunting tendencies toward its opponents.

[Note in passing that except largely for Scandinavia, Holland, and Switzerland, a similar gap in intellectual style shows up in the use of statistical and other empirical methods in the social sciences, especially economics. Social scientists in these small Continental countries do the same kind of work that their equivalents do in Britain, the US, and the rest of the English-speaking world; and like British and American economists, they win lots of Nobel prizes in economics. Not so in Germany and the Latin countries. The surprise here is France: a country justifiably renown for its great mathematicians over the ages, it has produced only two Nobel prizes in economics --- one of them an American citizen at UC Berkeley. And the best young French economists are found at Harvard and MIT, where they are properly trained in rigorous theoretical and statistical modeling. It all points up to serious problems in the university systems in German-speaking and Latin countries.]

 

3. The Upshot on Journalism?

What these combined influences on the Continent mean --- ideology, education, and the dominance of the post-1960s radicals in EU politics and media and university life --- mean when it comes to reporting on the US as a country, the Bush administration, or Iraq should be evident.

Other than a handful of media outlets on the Continent of any sort, it's doubtful, for instance, that Continental print and TV journalism never bothered to report the latest BBC survey of Iraqi opinion, carried out twice over several months: it showed 70% or so of Iraqis thought that life since Saddam's collapse has improved. Such hard evidence would grate with the ideological thrust in the dominant EU reportage. In Britain, fortunately, there is a handful of prestigious weeklies and dailies that have more open-minded, better trained editors and journalists. More, the BBC itself --- which had engaged in attack-dog ideological journalism --- is itself undergoing an internal purge and reform.

 

PART THREE: THE MEDIA AND VIEWS OF THE USA IN SPECIFIC EU COUNTRIES

1. The German Media

More generally, as the major German reporters in this country noted at a Harvard-sponsored symposium last fall, they are required by their editors and readers back home to serve up predictable slop that matches the biases and sheer prejudice that the Germans expect. On the German media's systematic distortions, see Davids Medienkritik, a site in both English and German. For the Harvard symposium, see the buggy analysis here.

Here, to give you just one example --- a little brain-dip into German journalism at it's standard ugly approach --- is the way Der Spiegel, the leading weekly in the country (something of a bible for the educated and half-educated intellectual classes of the left), reported last year on two similar incidents: an electrical blackout briefly in Italy and in the USA [taken from this site]:

Blackout in Italy

The (complete) failure of the Italian (and also a part of the Swiss) power net is reported on factually by (Germany's left-wing) SPIEGEL without the type of spiteful gloating that accompanied the blackout in the US a few weeks ago.

SPIEGEL: "ITALY WITHOUT POWER - France rejects responsibility for the blackout. In Italy, the power went out in the early hours of the morning this Sunday, affecting more people than the blackout in the USA. In all likelihood, storms knocked out two major power lines connecting France and Italy. The search for a scapegoat has begun." The language of the SPIEGEL was different than when New York was hit by a blackout:

"BLACKOUT IN AMERICA - The dazed world power was plunged into chaos by the largest blackout in the super power's history: Cities in the dark, planes on the ground, and a nation marching single-file like geese through the darkness. The land of limitless opportunity was shut off by a couple of exploded fuses. A world power between perception and reality - SPIEGEL TV with observations from a country whose lights have gone out."
.

The summary judgment of David Kaspar, who runs Davids Medienkritik web site?

SPIEGEL logic: The blackout in the USA proves the weakness of the American nation. The blackout in Italy proves the weakness of two major power lines

 

2. The Spanish Media

Back to the Spanish intellectual whose remarks on the Spanish left were quoted a few moments ago, Pilar Rohara. At one point, her interviewer, Marc Tobiass, asked whether her views didn't "add up to an indictment of the European media --- note, European and not just Spanish. Her reply?

What I want is to launch an appeal to the collective European way of thinking, and especially to the intellectuals and journalists, because, from my point of view, they are in the process of creating a collective reality that is Judeophobic. Today one must prove oneself to be on the left ; it is necessary to be anti-Semitic to have credibility. Things have reached the point where, for instance, Sharon is always guilty of being guilty, while Arafat is seen as an honest figure, innocent, a tireless old resistance fighter, a heroic figure, a kind of Gandhi—in brief, a person gussied up in romantic finery, when in reality he is head of an oligarchy that has so much blood on its hands.

 

The French Media

By now, its prejudices and biases --- a mix of deformed standards, ideology, hurt national pride and resentment, aggravated by state-control and some censorship of the state-owned TV and radio networks --- is well known to buggy visitors. No need to elaborate. Still, a couple of example are worth underscoring its journalistic travesties:

First, a reporter and editor of a journal, Le Croix, was fired last year simply because he wrote a book about the shockingly shoddy and misleading French media coverage of the war in Iraq last year. The coverage was so bad and full of ideologically biased views that most Frenchmen, the author found, were stunned to learn of the quick US victory. See the interview with the author here.

Second, the interviewer here, by the way, is Nida Poller --- an American ex-pat who, until very recently, preferred French life and earned her living as a translator. Now she's worried and left full of dismay and anger at the French betrayal, emulated by many other West Europeans, of the growing anti-Semitism and systematic anti-Americanism in France . . . a sign in her view of moral and intellectual decline:

France is in fact an adversary of the United States—as is its right, after all. But the French honestly believe their country is behaving like a reasonable ally, and there is no way to convince them of the contrary. They are hooked up to an intravenous flow of lies about the United States, fed propaganda disguised as information, molecules of fact dissolved in a carefully regulated solution to keep them on an even keel and save them from having to judge for themselves. No raw data allowed; one mustn't have people developing a taste for reality.

 

END OF THE FIRST ARTICLE IN THIS TWO-ARTICLE MINI-SERIES

Replies: 4 comments

Joel,

Most Americans are honoured that you regard it so.

Posted by Richard A. Heddleson @ 03/21/2004 10:13 PM PST

I just returned from a brief trip to Germany last week. On the point of journalism, I couldn't believe what I was reading in the mainstream (less high-brow) German press about the US and Bush in particular. It was pure anti-US propaganda (not to mention shabby reporting), making outrageous assertions about the Bush Administration's motivations without any factual support and, even more disturbingly, hinting in at least two journalistic reports at a Jewish cabal directing US foreign policy. One article in the weekly magazine Stern, for example, reported that a dissenter to US policy in Iraq inside the State Department was visted by some shady-sounding government agents and pointedly told that there would be consequences to her if she were to make any criticism of Israel. It was completely off the subject of the article. Simply outrageous. Those kind of suggestions can only be to try to corroborate the dangerous and false anti-semitic beliefs held by too many people in Europe.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the mainstream German media I read through, there's much fretting going on about Schroeder's pension and labor reforms and the stagnant German economy which, as a regular vistor to Germany, was palpable. I've generally sensed an enormous amount of uncertainty and anxiety in Germany (in the press and talking to people) each time I've visited there in the past few years. This time it seemed even more intense. Arguably, Germans are lashing out at the Americans for piling on to their general insecurity and anxiety by pressuring them to spend money they don't have and take risks they're too anxious to be in a mindset to accept to participate in a War on Terror and to help put out fires the world over in a manner befitting one of the world's wealthiest countries. So it's a bit of an embarassment to German nationalist ambitions too, which an assertive and demanding American foreign policy seems to rub their noses in.

Posted by John @ 03/20/2004 07:03 PM PST

Correction: it should be "America's sheriff in South Western Pacific and Eastern Asia".

Posted by Joel @ 03/19/2004 05:36 PM PST

Many thanks to Gordon on this piece commentary. I very much appreciate that. It seems mystifying that how the Germans who are in their 20s cicra 2004 (in other words, anyone who were born between 1974 and 1984) could still be anti-American when during precisely this period Communism was thoroughly discredited and we saw many instances where a last resort of war got rid of tyranny in the world (GWI, GWII, Kosovo, Bosnia). These incidents largely vindicated American policies from Ronald Reagan onwards. According to your thesis, it should, just like the United States, produce a more conservative generation (a very recent survey of teenagers in the US reveal that 45% lean Republicans vs 20% leaning Democrats. See instapundit) but instead the younger generation of Germans sticks to their equivalent of baby-boomer generation (i.e. their parents' generation) opinions on the US.

(One interesting sidenote is that if you read Western European accounts of Ronald Reagan, they still don't recognize his contribution to defeat of the Soviet Union when even former CPSU members and KGB officials admit it was Reagan who brought them, the Soviet Union, to the edge. It is absolutely blank - nothing but a description of a comical fool who was voted in, twice, by a group of far-right Americans, according to these European mythologies. Even the most left-wing media in the US like the New York Times or CNN have to grudingly accept this fact - and Bill Clinton is famous for acting I-was-part-of-the-resistance when he praised Reagan in 1990s. This may indicate that what's commonly termed liberal media in the United States isn't that left-wing at all - in which case Die Zeit may sound like Radio Pacifica for some Americans)

From the perspective of a foreigner (I'm from New Zealand but originally born in Hong Kong as Chinese) it appears that anti-American attitudes is a mix of old-right and new-left attitudes. A mix of nationalism and socialism, disguised with hints of post-nation state internationalism.

You are certainly right about Australia. Politically speaking, if we happen to have a situation where the United States happens to be left with only 2 or 3 allies and the rest deserted her, Australia will definitely be one of these few ally countries. Australia, even more so than Canada, is politically more similar with ther US, so much so that some anti-American South East Asians call Australia "America's sheriff in South Eastern Pacific and Asia". And most Australians regard this name-calling a honour.

Posted by Joel @ 03/19/2004 05:33 PM PST