BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York this is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. In the American press, coverage of the uproar at the UN Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa has been uniform. The conference was thrown into disarray when the American and Israeli delegations walked out in protest of a harsh anti-Israel declaration linking zionism with racism and genocide. From the New York Times to the Fox Newschannel the controversy was framed as an extreme and inflammatory rhetorical gambit led by a bloc of Arab nations, but what about elsewhere in the world? How did the Durban debacle play out in the international press? Joining us now is Martin Walker, chief international correspondent for United Press International. Martin, welcome to OTM!
MARTIN WALKER: Hello!
BOB GARFIELD: The events in Durban have given us a sort of deja vu to the '70s and the non-aligned nations movement, and that's how it played out in the U.S. press. Was there a similar reaction in the European media?
MARTIN WALKER: No, it's been a very curious reaction in Europe. The, the European press has been accustomed to being particularly critical of the United States and particularly critical of, of President Bush in person, and you'd have thought that this decision to walk out of the conference at Durban would have invited the usual kind of American-bashing, and it hasn't been like that.
In fact what's been really remarkable is the degree to which an awful lot of European opinion, even moderate left opinion, has been understanding the American line and in some degree actually supporting it.
I was, I was really startled to read the editorial in, in France's Le Monde which is a, a very left of center publication, a very distinguished one in which it attacks the attempt to conflate zionism and racism by saying coming from Arab states which in questions of the rights of man have no lesson to give to anyone, the maneuver is a mixture of absurdities and hypocrisies.
Now that's a remarkably strong statement from Le Monde, but it's, it's something that we've had echoed in, in various other normally centrist or normally slightly critical of America newspapers as well.
And I've also been struck to note that in an awful lot of the African press and particularly in, in the newspapers of Uganda and of Kenya we have seen furious attacks upon the Arabs for what they claim is "highjacking a conference that was meant to focus upon the sufferings of Africa" and conflating it into the Middle Eastern conflict.
In other words it, it looks as though the--the world media opinion is being very much more sympathetic towards the United States than I, than I would have expected.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:When Le Monde and the Times of London agree editorially on anything, it's, it's striking. Does this suggest some sort of globalization of opinion that the, the marchers against the IMF and the World Trade Organization have somehow missed?
MARTIN WALKER: I think maybe you, you, you have a point here, because it wasn't just that newspapers like the Times and the conservative Telegraph in Britain, the conservative Frankfurter Alagmeiner [sp?] in Germany and Die Presse [sp?] in Austria and Le Monde in, in France were all taking the same line, although that is pretty unusual.
It, it's also that they were using very much the same kind of arguments, and it was a realization I think that there are some kinds of common values which, despite all the family arguments, Europeans and Americans do tend to share.
BOB GARFIELD: Was there any notable exception to this chorus of support for Israel in this case?
MARTIN WALKER:There were one or two interesting dissident voices raised. For example Britain's Independent said that the American withdrawal was actually triggered by its fear of facing massive reparations claims for slavery from African-Americans and not by friction over language used to describe Israel.
And Britain's liberal Guardian said that the U.S. government quote "marched out looking self-righteous without once having had to talk about the deep racial problems in America."
But in some ways I think my favorite comment was one that came from, from Dagens Niehatte [sp?] which said that the real tragedy was that Durban, a city in South Africa which has seen the real triumph over apartheid, had to be the arena for this extraordinary display of international hypocrisy which wasted a chance to say something serious about racism.
BOB GARFIELD: Absent the walkout, do you suppose that the European press would have paid any attention to the Durban Conference at all?
MARTIN WALKER:Oh, absent the American walkout, I think it would not have got below the fold on page 17. In a sense, Colin Powell's decision not to attend personally and then to withdraw the U.S. delegation was what made the Durban conference into a major international media event.
BOB GARFIELD: Very well. Martin Walker, thank you very much!