Media locks horns in US election battle

THE United States presidential election is becoming abusive and personal - not with the candidates, although name calling is part of the game, but between the competing media organisations.

Graham Dines

THE United States presidential election is becoming abusive and personal - not with the candidates, although name calling is part of the game, but between the competing media organisations.

National newspapers on the eastern seaboard regard themselves as a cut above the rest, expressing righteous liberal sentiments and holding their noses aloft at the smelly politics of the right.

Add to the New York Times and Washington Post the most influential newspaper on the Pacific coast, the Los Angeles Times, plus the New York based NBC, ABC, and CBS network television broadcasters and you have a powerful array of Barack Obama supporters in the media.

Taking it to the other extreme are the bible thumping radio stations stretching through small town America, who proclaim the case for a whole range of right wing causes including the right to life anti-abortion campaign and support for the death penalty

No matter that Republican candidate John McCain is what in Britain would be regarded as a socially One Nation Tory, the “thinking” media want to see Barack Obama in the White House to undo the damage inflicted on the nation by George W. Bush.

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Enter Rupert Murdoch and his Fox News cable and satellite channel. While Murdoch would get short-shift from UK regulators if he turned Sky News into an evangelising supporter of one candidate or another, he has no such restrictions in the United States.

Fox News is rabidly pro-Republican. Although Democrats do appear on its comment and talk shows, they are under no illusions over from where the network is coming.

Matters came to a head at the week end when the Los Angeles Times accused a Fox News report “Obama and Friends: The History of Radicalism” of innuendo and guilt by association to label the Illinois senator a dupe of the shadow forces of the left.

A critical report from LA Times staffer James Rainey started: “Now and then, Fox News makes a stab at living up to its 'fair and balanced' tag line.

“At other times, the cable network's operatives throw off the pretence, let their neatly trimmed hair down and do what they seem to love best - blame all the world's evils on those pointy-headed, American-hating liberals. Like, say, Barack Obama!”

He quoted the programme's conclusion: “If you love the Cuban revolution and Castro, if you love what's happening in Venezuela with Hugo Chavez, you'll love Barry Obama - Barack Obama as he calls himself - in the white House.”

Rainey continued: “Fox's hour long screed is just the kind of media coverage that has contributed to the increasingly angry and irrational tone on the campaign trail.”

In the UK, we understand that newspapers take political standpoints. Most are honed from decades old prejudices, although The Sun 11 years ago to exchanged support for free market Thatcherism to New Labour and Blair.

The Tories might mutter that the BBC is full of Guardian reading pinkos and should change its name to the Brussels Broadcasting Corporation for its unfettered support of the EU, but there is far more political balance at the Beeb than you will find in most democratic nations.

And as the US presidential election campaign draws to its conclusion, there is one feature which we should copy on this side of the Atlantic - the candidates' debates.

John McCain came out fighting this week in the liveliest debate so far as he sought to get his faltering campaign back on track, repeating some of the Republicans' most negative attacks to Barack Obama's face as he questioned his alleged links to a US terrorist

McCain, whose stumbling response to the economic crisis has seen him plummet in national polls, also insisted his presidency would not continue President George Bush's unpopular policies.

An initial CNN poll showed 58% thought Mr Obama won the third and final debate of the election, which saw the two candidates sit side-by-side at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Most US political pundits also thought he won the first two.

Only 31% thought Mr McCain won the encounter, but it was undoubtedly the Republican's strongest debate performance and such polls are often unreliable.

But some US TV networks used split screens to show the reactions of the candidates while the other was speaking: while Mr Obama retained his calm composure throughout, McCain often looked angry and frustrated.

The Republican said it was time for Mr Obama to explain his relationship with 1960s radical William Ayers, a founder of the radical Weather Underground group.

The Democrat brushed off the attack, saying he was eight years old when Ayers was involved in anti-war activities, including the bombing of federal buildings.

Obama linked McCain to President Bush, but, for the first time, the Republican wasted no time as he addressed the issue directly when he hit back.

“Senator Obama, I am not President Bush," stormed McCain. “If you want to run against President Bush you should have run four years ago.”

Obama replied: “If I've occasionally mistaken your policies for George Bush's policies, it's because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people - on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities - you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush.

“When it comes to economic policies, essentially what you are proposing us four more years of the same things and it hasn't worked. It's very clear it hasn't worked.”

VICTORY FOR THE EU FEDERALISTS - WHAT JOY!

EUROPEAN Federalists have voted for the European Union's flag, motto, bank holiday and anthem to be recognised officially throughout the 27 nation bloc.

Despite British Tory and UK Independence Party opposition, MEPs have backed the adoption of Ode to Joy as the official “national” anthem.

The vote - which saw a split in the Tory ranks as Christopher Beazley supported the moves- led to a furious row between MEPs of all parties representing the East of England.

Tory Geoffrey Van Orden said: “We are constantly reassured that the EU has no ambition to become a State, yet every resolution and piece of legislation through the European Parliament takes us further in this direction.

“The outstanding example of this was the EU Constitution. This was rejected, only to re-emerge as the draft Treaty of Lisbon.

“In order to try and make this Treaty more acceptable, national negotiators decided that those parts of the Constitution that could be interpreted as 'impinging on statehood', such as the EU flag and anthem, should be removed.

“Indeed, during their efforts to sell the Treaty to the British people, government ministers used this removal as evidence that the Treaty was not a Constitution.”

Mr Van Orden added: “The people of the East of England that I represent do not want an EU Constitution, they do not want the Treaty of Lisbon, and they certainly do not want a state called Europe.”

He was supported by UKIP's Jeffrey Titford. “It is an affront to our people for this Parliament now to give 'official character' to the symbols of EU statehood.”

Mr Titford, who is not seeking re-election next June, said: “The European Union has done so much damage to our country both democratically and economically that to ask us to celebrate its existence once a year is really rubbing our noses in it. We don't even officially celebrate St George's day here in England!

“I am dismayed to see that two East of England MEPs voted in favour of it, Christopher Beazley (Conservative) and Andrew Duff (Lib Dem).”

Mr Titford added: “The plans for making recognition of Europe Day compulsory in Britain would compel local council offices and other public buildings to fly the EU flag. There is no mention of them demanding it be flown over Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Westminster, but that day will certainly come.

“Forcing us to display fake symbols of a European state will simply alienate the EU even further from ordinary people, who are already highly suspicious of it.”

However, Liberal Democrat Andrew Duff said: “We all remember the blue flag with the yellow stars in the enormous demonstrations which broke communism and set these countries on the road to EU membership. We all remember the playing of the anthem at the Brandenburg Gate after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“This did not happen because of rules or treaties, but because the symbols inspired the hearts and emotions of ordinary European citizens. They symbolise the European Union's dignified values of peace and solidarity.”

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