Courtesy Reuters

Misunderstanding Each Other


Anti-Americanism has been a feature of the European news media for years. Newspapers such as Le Monde and The Guardian have long been a useful source of quotes for those who want to illustrate tensions in the Atlantic alliance, and the list is growing longer. According to Gerard Baker of the Financial Times, today even the BBC "rarely misses an opportunity to perpetuate every available negative stereotype about America and its current government."

More recently, however, this hostility has been matched on the other side of the Atlantic. The past couple of years have seen a marked change of tone in the reporting and commentary on Western Europe in the U.S. print media. From the right of the political spectrum comes a sense of deep distrust and icy contempt. And even the more moderate publications often convey a mixture of irritation and bemusement, portraying a group of inefficient and eccentric nations with a troubled past and a doubtful future.

The final months of 2002 were a testing time for the Atlantic alliance, with a number of specific bones of contention and widespread disagreement about the best way to deal with Iraq. And this apparent rift brings to the fore an important question: what would Americans understand about Europe if their only source of current information were the U.S. print media? And how are newspapers in the three biggest European countries -- Germany, France, and the United Kingdom -- covering these same issues?

Since newspapers and magazines tend to reflect and reinforce the views of their readers, this comparison reveals something about the current state of the transatlantic relationship. It also helps to highlight the main areas of current disagreement and suggest potential trouble spots in the future. In today's uneasy political climate, skewed media representation further shapes and entrenches negative attitudes. The question is whether there is anything that policymakers on either continent can do to restore the balance.


For a European, the hostility

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