Ever wonder what our nation looks like to folks from afar? Here we look at how a uniquely American story--the kind of news we have trouble explaining even to ourselves--is being told overseas. Want to see a particular topic covered here? Let us know.
Orange County Republican Party official Marilyn Davenport sent an email this past weekend with an image showing President Obama as a chimpanzee along with the words, "Now you know why--No birth certificate!" The latest, courtesy of the LA Times, is that after describing the fuss over the weekend as "much to do about nothing," Davenport admitted Monday, "I wasn't wise in sending the email out. I shouldn't have done it. I really wasn't thinking when I did it. I had poor judgment." She doesn't, however, think she is racist, a word tossed around quite a bit even by fellow GOPers. Agence-France Presse offered a writeup and foreign newspapers pounced. Even the AFP report, though, is getting spun slightly different ways in different countries. The sense one gets reviewing coverage is that, though conservatives have accused liberal media figures of playing up birtherism, the foreign press is at least as fascinated by the nativist movement as our own.
French: Not Amused
"It was a joke! I have black friends." That's the Davenport line, printed in the OC Weekly on Sunday, that the French media like 20minutes.fr and Le Figaro, as well as Terra Colombia and Argentina's La Razón picked up through the AFP writeup. The French version of the AFP report reads: "Ms. Davenport reacted to the affair in the local press, in a joking tone." The article also explains, for readers, that the original email "echoes the fringe of the Republican movement which doubts President Obama's birth in the United States." The blog BondaManjak, which offers a focus on news from Martinique, Guadeloupe, Guyana, promptly complained that "the worst part of this story" was that the 20 Minutes "shut down the debate before it started" by saying "after a number of outbursts on this type of subject, the editorial team feels forced to close this article for comments."
Germany: Focus on Birthers, Defend Obama's Honor
Even AFP writeups, however, make it to different countries in different forms. German publication Die Welt included something not present in the French versions, tying the incident to the the Arizona bill--recently vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer--aiming to force presidential candidates to prove their place of birth. Der Spiegel likewise mixes a few reports together, adding that "comparing African Americans to monkeys has a sad tradition in the history of American racism." The article mentions the "caricature" in the New York Post a few years ago "show[ing] a shot chimp and text that drew a comparison to President Obama." Interestingly, the article also appears to choose sides, referring to Davenport's message as "the racist email from Marilyn Davenport" in the lede. In case you didn't notice, that's minus the "allegedly" modifying "racist" in the American AP headlines.
Bavarian newspaper the Sueddeutsche Zeitung seems about ready to fight a duel in Obama's defense. Take a look at this opening paragraph to this story on the e-mail and see if you agree:
His health care reform got compared to the atrocities of Hitler and Stalin and shortly after assuming office he was characterized in an American daily as a chimpanzee: Barack Obama has had to put up with below-the-belt attacks since his presidential campaign. Even older is the charge that Obama can't even be president of the U.S., because he wasn't even born in the U.S. Obama therefore made his birth certificate public ... But even that apparently wasn't enough for the conspiracy theorists.
Elsewhere: Tea Party Fascination, Etc.
Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, the Chinese seem completely uninterested in the scandal, preferring gleeful headlines about the U.S. debt and, in the case of the Communist Party's daily, "tiger moms" taking over the world and U.S. citizenship losing its cachet. The Arab world seems similarly preoccupied with other matters, though the largest Arabic daily, Al-Hayat, did run a quick UPI report on the story. Those Russian sources that covered the scuffle managed to get in a sentence about Michele Bachmann in one case and, with popular news site Lenta.ru, the following: "it should be noted that Marilyn Davenport is among the followers of the conservative Republican movement known as the 'tea party,' which sometimes has very radical views on certain issues."
Heather Horn is fluent in written German and French, proficient in written Arabic, and has received decorative doses of Irish Gaelic and Western Armenian. All other languages are muddled through with the help of Google Translate.