BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. President Bush went on a grand tour of Europe this week -- the first of his presidency -- and if you had read the advance word from the Old World you would have guessed the streets would not be strewn with rose petals. Here's a clip from the president's stop in Sweden reported by the BBC this week. [CLIP OF PEOPLE SHOUTING EPITHETS]
MAN: They call Gothamburg "the friendly city." That's not how it looks just now. Early this afternoon the police clashed with around 200 protesters who'd thrown bottles and stones. The demonstrators were forced to retreat to a nearby park. And this is why they're here: the man they call "the Toxic Texan" who withdrew American participation in the Kyoto Accord on climate change.
BOB GARFIELD:Even the president's itinerary was fodder for critics. He skipped the big players --notably Germany and France for less influential nations like Spain and Slovenia. He seemed to favor crowned heads over duly elected leaders, and he only managed to squeeze in Russian President Alexander Putin for a couple of hours at the end of his trip. Then there were the contentious issues of the Kyoto Accords the U.S. has failed to sign, the unpopular missile defense system the president advocates and the execution of Timothy McVeigh.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So all in all, the European news media was not favorably inclined toward George W. Bush when he embarked upon his trip. Martin Walker is the chief international correspondent of UPI International. We called him in Sweden and asked what the European press was expecting to see.
MARTIN WALKER: Well they were expecting a slightly reformed alcoholic totally ignorant of affairs outside his native Texas, obsessed with capital punishment and determined to ram down the throats of the world an American First ideology which said we will protect America from missiles and nobody else, and we will also refuse to do things like sign the Kyoto Protocol to avoid global warming. And La Republica of Italy routinely now refers to the American president as "The Executioner in Chief." The cover of Spiegel, one of the great German weeklies, shows Bush as a wild-eyed cowboy and their headline is The Ugly American. You've got in Le Figaro of France The Toxic Texan. You've had in, in Sweden that this is the man who sends us dirty air and now tries to de-stabilize Europe.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I assume there was a big difference between the left wing and the right wing press.
MARTIN WALKER:Not so much as you'd -- I mean I was very surprised that there wasn't that much, because after all Figaro in France is a conservative newspaper. They're the ones who call him the Toxic Texan.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I understand that the Telegraph and the Spanish paper El Pais and El Mundo took somewhat positive takes on the president.
MARTIN WALKER:Well with, with a bit of a difference. El Pais and El Mundo in Spain were both delighted that Bush was starting off his trip in Spain. The Daily Telegraph was really rather split. It's a very conservative British newspaper; some of them said that Bush was the kind of conservative Europeans really ought to appreciate, but also there was a sense that Bush was starting to play fast and loose with the traditional Anglo-American alliance and that therefore he ought to be treated with some caution, and I think that what's been interesting is that we have had a certain amount of, of suspicion of Bush from the conservative wing in Europe as well as from the traditional left wing in Europe.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Does that come from his position on the Kyoto Accords and missile defense or something else?
MARTIN WALKER:I think it comes from, from three separate things. First of all it's the Kyoto Accords because everybody in Europe does take global warming very seriously. I think on missile defense an awful lot of conservatives in Europe were simply worried that he was getting rid of a tried and tested security system and not putting anything else in its place. The third reason was this sense of vulnerability about the idea that Europeans and Americans shared common values. Well we certainly do on human rights, but when it comes to common values, the death penalty really is a major issue for conservatives and for left wingers alike in Europe.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:The Bush trip, unhappily for Bush I think, coincided exactly with the execution of Timothy McVeigh. That played a part in some of his initial coverage anyway, didn't it?
MARTIN WALKER: It played a very big part. This whole issue of capital punishment is really a very burning one in Europe because of course you can't be a member of either the European Union nor the Council of Europe if your state supports capital punishment.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Were there comparisons made between President Clinton and President Bush in the papers you read?
MARTIN WALKER:Absolutely! The comparisons were please bring back President Clinton -- all is forgiven. [LAUGHTER] That was in the Irish Times, and there was a comment also that went on in the Irish Times to say that the thing about Clinton was that he had a, a European sense of warmth and compassion.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Hm! And the Texas bonhomie and Mr. Bush's much-vaunted charm offensive fell on deaf ears?
MARTIN WALKER:Well, before he arrived it certainly didn't seem to get any response. What has been remarkable since his arrival is that the story has changed. There is no longer, I think, a consensus among European politicians that Bush is a dangerous de-stabilizer who wants to poison the planet. The consensus is now becoming well this is the guy we're going to have to live with for the next four years, perhaps the next eight years, and he's prepared to talk to us; he's saying he's not a unilateralist; he wants to listen -- he is in person quite a charming fellow, and as a result, we are prepared to work with him. After all, we don't have much choice.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And so then have the media been behind the curve about the reality in which this diplomacy played out or are they on top of it?
MARTIN WALKER:I think the media in Europe have been about, oh, 3 months behind the curve. I think the media in the U.S. have been a few weeks behind the curve. But I think that the reality is going to start catching up because we are going to have to start writing that so far, at least until the meeting with Putin, Bush has had a serious success on his European tour! He has come out onto the world stage for the first time and has been, I think, a, a pretty reasonable figure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Martin Walker, it was a pleasure talking to you.
MARTIN WALKER: And to you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Martin Walker is the chief international correspondent for UPI International.