BROOKE GLADSTONE: What happened and what’s happening in Ferguson is a uniquely American story. But international coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown and the aftermath reveals a lot about how America is seen around the world. Adam Taylor writes the “World Views” blog at the Washington Post, which explores what other countries are reporting about us. While covering the global reaction to Ferguson, Taylor says two similar angles keep appearing, over and over again.
ADAM TAYLOR: I think the first thing I've noticed is an incredible amount of sort of schadenfreude.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Oh, yeah?
ADAM TAYLOR: The world's most powerful country could have this sort of incredible scenes happening on the streets. The one that really sticks out to me is probably Russia. It's really the classic example of, sort of, what-aboutism. "You criticize us for this? But what about these things that are going on at home?" We have a Washington Post Moscow-based writer Karoun Demirjian. She points out that this is an opportunity, in this area of sanctions and new Cold War-style sentiments, basically to accuse America of being a giant hypocrite.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So that's number one, schadenfreude. What's the second big thing you've noticed?
ADAM TAYLOR: There's been quite a lot of sort of reflection on how this reflects back on Europe's own problems. France has a lot of issues with racial problems. I'm British, so I can think of 2011 London riots which were also sparked by the shooting of a young black man. As much as these situations seem very similar. There's also the points where they seem very different. And one particular way that they seem very different is the police response. You know, you can walk around London or Berlin a couple of days, you probably won't see any police officers with a single gun. And you see this incredible police militarization in Ferguson.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It's the view of the semi-automatic rifle. It's featured a lot in the European press, isn't it?
ADAM TAYLOR: Yeah. I mean, It's just a very jarring image. I believe The Economist recently put out an article that said that in the entire of last year, British police officers only fired their guns three times.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And resulted in no casualties actually in Britain.
ADAM TAYLOR: No casualties, yes. It's one of the reasons that, sort of, the European press, when they look at these things, they're not necessarily even seeing the London riots. They're seeing protests in the Ukraine. Or, you know, the Arab Spring.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is that why some of the British press are treating the conflict as a war zone?
ADAM TAYLOR: I would guess so, yeah. I mean, The Telegraph sent Rob Crilly who's their Afghanistan correspondent and he actually got arrested. Ansgar Graw, who's a journalist with Die Welt, a German newspaper, he also got arrested. And he said afterwards that you know he'd been to Iraq, Vietnam, China, all over the place, and the only place where he'd actually been arrested was the United States.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Talk about the German coverage. They appear to have been even more harshly critical than the Brits?
ADAM TAYLOR: Yeah. Ziet Online, which is sort of this online news site with a centrist point of view. One of the things it says is that the situation for African Americans has barely improved since Martin Luther King. Says, "The dreams of a post-racist society which flared up after the election of Obama seem further away than ever before." Obama has this interesting link to Germany because he gave that Berlin speech a few years ago. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, is one of Germany's largest newspapers, had this incredible quote that was, "It seems like a mockery that Barack Obama was still called the most powerful man on earth." Suggesting that, you know, really Obama should have the power to end this, and he can't. Der Spiegel, it's a news weekly. They interviewed Marcel Kuhlmey, who's an academic who studies police reactions, and he contrasted the police reactions with that of German police. Pointing out that the last time you saw assault rifles on the average German police officer was during the Cold War. He goes on to say that things would never proceed like this in Germany.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And that perspective has been entirely replicated by the French, right?
ADAM TAYLOR: Yeah. I mean, interestingly Le Figaro, even though it's a conservative daily, it actually points the figure at the Republican party. It says, "The repercussions might be felt for a long time and even cost the GOP the next presidential elections." Even European conservatives look at the American right wing and see something they can't relate to. For example, El Mundo, a right wing Spanish newspapers wrote that, "Obama's words of peace and reconciliations are perceived by many activists as an inadequate and almost treason to a situation they see as a direct result of slavery and racial segregation laws that were enforced until 1965."
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Tell me about the Iranian coverage of Ferguson.
ADAM TAYLOR: They've made a big deal out of this. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this, I'd say, is that Ayatollah Khamenei has taken to his Twitter account. I presume it's not actually him sitting there using his iPhone tweeting. But whoever is using his account has been tweeting these sort of images that show, sort of, racial divides in US. Really hammering home on it. Which, a lot of people, obviously, find a little ironic considering sort of the blight of various minorities in Iran, the 2011 election protest in Iran and things like that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: There's also a certain irony in the fact that at least the last I checked you're not allowed to have Twitter accounts in Iran.
ADAM TAYLOR: [LAUGHS] Yeah, that's one big point as well. This is in English. This is aimed at English speakers around the world.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: OK, so one of the tweets that Khamenei wrote was, "Racial discrimination is still a dilemma in the US. #Ferguson." You've observed that America's problem with race appears to be unique. I wonder if you could sum that up.
ADAM TAYLOR: I think from a European's perspective, you know, obviously there's a lot of racial problems in Europe. But they're pretty distinct from America's racial problems. Like,they're almost entirely to do with 20th century immigration rather than the legacy of slavery and segregation. And so, you get a lot of British and French and German writers sort of looking at their own problems and then contrasting them with the U.S. problems. And being like, "Well, the problems have been there for centuries. Why can't America sort them out?" It is interesting. You know, even in London, the riots after the death of Mark Duggan in 2011, it maybe started as a disturbance in the black community, but as it progressed you'd see crowds that were almost entirely white. And so I think when you think of the photographs as a Europeans or an outsider and see police officers who are almost 100 percent white versus a crowd that is almost 100 percent black it's really stark. It's very rare to see that sort of thing in Europe or really any country.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Adam, thank you very much.
ADAM TAYLOR: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Adam Taylor is a foreign affairs reporter and blogger at the Washington Post.