Domestic agendas, international consequences: Coverage of U.S. politics in the media abroad

Comparative popularity of the United States and China. Source: http://www.pewglobal.org/2013/07/18/americas-global-image-remains-more-positive-than-chinas/
Comparative popularity of the United States and China. Source: http://www.pewglobal.org/2013/07/18/americas-global-image-remains-more-positive-than-chinas/

This entry is a follow-up to a point I made in class about international attention to the domestic politics of the United States,

and what the soft power ramifications of this might be. Here is an example of how even state-level politics gets covered in other countries:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-26/arizona-bill-gay-discrimination-fears/5285554

One of the concerning tendencies of international coverage of U.S. politics that I have observed is disproportionate coverage of dysfunction or agendas considered unpalatable by most audiences abroad. Examples of this include debt ceilings, government shutdowns, birtherism and most recently, discrimination laws in states like Arizona. I don’t think this is the result of a deliberate media bias, but rather the natural incentive to present the audience with sensational stories.

I think the consequences of media depiction of an hyper-adversarial U.S. political system are mixed. On one side, it tends to give disproportionate attention to the more extreme elements of the domestic political environment at the expense of the far larger moderate demographics (although this criticism is perhaps also applicable to domestic U.S. media). This kind of portrayal gives more oxygen to the “stupid American” stereotype held by many abroad.

On the other side, showing the political divisions of the United States does contradict the erroneous perception of the U.S. government as a monolithic entity. It’s hard to paint pictures of grand U.S. conspiracies when it is evident that both the government and public are themselves divided on matters of foreign policy, such as Syria.

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