RSS FeedFacebookSearch
Gary Younge
Jackson saga and gay marriages turn US media focus from visit

On a day when thousands of demonstrators protested at the US president's visit to Britain, and rescuers sifted through the the rubble in Turkey, looking for bodies, Americans were both outraged and intrigued.

But their fury and interest was directed not at London or Istanbul, but Santa Barbara, where Michael Jackson turned himself in to police on charges of child molestation.

George Bush's visit to Britain was the subject of considerable attention, but provoked little interest when pitted against celebrity warrants and the Massachusetts court ruling endorsing gay marriages.

"Even [Dan] Rather and [Peter] Jennings [two of America's most respected anchors] led with Jackson, bumping Bush's London speech to second place," wrote the Washington Post's media commentator, Howard Kurtz, on the paper's website.

At the beginning of the week those who did focus on the visit were perplexed by Mr Bush's decision to go, given the huge protests that would greet him. By the end they were wondering why Tony Blair had invited him in the first place.

"While Britons are divided in their feelings about America's role in the world, they are increasingly critical of Mr Blair's management of the relationship," said an editorial in the New York Times. "Bush has benefited enormously from Blair's support on Iraq. Yet it is less clear what benefits Blair has reaped."

If it was the photo opportunity Mr Bush was after, he got it. Americans are suckers for pageantry and the media was happy to show shots of him surveying a row of busby's or chatting with the Queen.

But each picture caption came with warnings of demonstrations and unflattering descriptions of his "cocooned state visit". And the level of antipathy towards the president's visit shocked some.

"No Dorothy, we're not in Kansas any more," wrote the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, after scanning the papers when he arrived in London. "If this is how some of our best friends are talking, imagine how difficult it is going to be to win over more ambivalent allies."

Talk of the anti-war protesters being al-Qaida supporters, which dominated the beginning of the week, had subsided by Wednesday. "There is a whole constituency in Europe and the Middle East who are upset with Mr Bush because of what he does, not who he is," wrote Friedman.

Referring to Mr Bush's scarcely veiled call, during Wednesday's speech at Banqueting House, to withdraw support from the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, the Washington Post wrote: "The silence that greeted one of his most forceful lines said much about the limits of the support he can expect from Europeans worried about his approach."

If the visit served any purpose it was probably to reinforce, even among those who support the war, the degree of America's isolation.

"Right now we are operating in a context of global animosity," wrote Friedman. "We are dancing alone. We can't just ignore it all, especially when it comes from our friends. There is no country in the world that we can't smash alone, and there is no country in the world we can rebuild alone."

Whether this realisation would have any effect was, however, a different matter.

"What do you think the effects of the protest in Britain will be on Bush?" a caller from Virginia asked the Washington Post's political correspondent, Terry Neal, in an online session. "Politically speaking, I can't see they'll have much of an effect," Neal replied.

"Most Americans know that Bush is strongly opposed throughout most of Europe, and that he has a good deal of opposition even in Britain, America's closest ally. [But] the most important single Brit, Tony Blair, is still standing beside him and that's what's most important to Bush."

© Gary Younge. All Rights reserved, site built with tlc
Dispatches From The Diaspora
latest book

'An outstanding chronicler of the African diaspora.'

Bernardine Evaristo

 follow on twitter
© Gary Younge. All Rights reserved, site built with tlc