Katja Gelinsky’s Peculiar America, Pt. 3

It’s time to play the Gelinsky game, in which one of Germany’s leading newspapers confirms prejudices about the United States, not by making things up, of course, but through slanted selection of stories. Here are seven headlines from Wednesday’s news flow in the US. Which two stories were chosen for Thursday’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung? (Answer below the fold, and for fairness I’ve excluded stories that would be clearly covered by the other reporter in the bureau.)

1. Mass[achusetts] Bill Requires Health Coverage
2. Theme Park-Like Camp for Cub Scouts Built on Old Disney Site
3. DHS [Department of Homeland Security] Spokesman Is Accused of Soliciting Teen Online
4. Hurricane Forecast: Calmer Than ’05
5. Majority of 32 Wisconsin Towns Vote for Iraq Pullout
6. CDC: Kids, men are fatter; women’s obesity peaking
7. Rivers Near Cresting Threaten Minn[esota] Town

Did you guess that Americans are fat and a government official has been accused of trying to sleep with a 14-year-old? Congratulations! You’re ready to visit the lurid land of the violent, ignorant couch potatoes that comprises Katja Gelinsky’s Peculiar America.

Sources: 1-5 Washington Post, 6 Chicago Tribune, 7 ABC News

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Europe and the world and tagged by Doug Merrill. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

15 thoughts on “Katja Gelinsky’s Peculiar America, Pt. 3

  1. I do not know this Gelinsky person.

    To what extent are her choices commercial/sensationalistic? Or is she deliberately going after the US?

    I often wonder how much of the biassed news on both sides of the Atlantic is just sensationalism in order to sell more copy.

  2. 3 includes sex, even if it is with an underage girl who in reality is probably an overweight police officer, and that always sells. It is also a big story. 1 is boring for outsiders. 2 must be spun to be interesting. 4 Forecast in a science not exactly known to be correct. 5 kind of story that you could write every day. Not News. 6 health and America is known for being fat. 7 Same kind of story in Eastern Europe and one requiers variation in a paper

  3. Doug, as you stated in your first post in this regard, her role may be to balance Rüb’s often too apologetic stance when it comes to the real issues there’s no transatlantic agreement about. They obviously do that in a way that will appeal to people whose concept of America is as differentiated as many Americans’ concept of Europe. As Timothy Garton Ash wrote back in 2003 in his exploratory research about “anti-Europeanism”, many Americans still think about Europe in terms of either “Euro snob” or “They don’t have a lot of huntin’ there”. This, unfortunately, cuts both ways.

  4. No, she’s just a rather bad, sloppy journalist who keeps recycling the same tropes over and over again.

    This would be no big deal, except that she’s in a position of unusually high visibility.

    Doug M. — American, married to a German

  5. I lost a long post to the comment gremlins, but the gist of it was this: If all a foreign correspondent is going to do is repeat cliches for the folks back home, why send one in the first place?

    Rüb’s story today provides a useful contrast: Washington Worried About Europe; “Threats from Islamists” / Democracy Report. According to Rüb’s report the US government is concerned that Europe’s lack of success integrating Muslims is a danger for international security. The second part concerns the annual State Department report on democracy and human rights around the world, and notes that thet US government does not believe it is prescribing democracy for everyone.

    The first part of the story shows that the US government sees Europe differently from how most Germans (as near as I can tell) see it. That’s news, and I don’t think it’s being apologetic for an area where transatlantic differences are significant. I think it’s highlighting them.

    As is the second part. That the US government does not believe it is doing what most Germans think it is doing is an important piece of data, for people who think about these things. Spelling out the difference, in terms the audience back home can understand, is the mark of a good correspondent.

  6. No link?

    It is quite obviously that the US government does indeed prescribs democracy for everyone. And with democracy i mean doing what the US wants you to do because on the whole the US is a bit allergic to democracy in foreign countries that don’t do what the US wants. See for example Russia, Haiti, Venezuela, Palestina etc.

  7. “No link?”

    The FAZ’s web site is so poorly organized that for a long time I simply referred to it was the “German newspaper whose web site could be better organized.” It is now the “German newspaper whose web site has marginally improved,” but not so much that you should plan on finding and linking to articles quickly. For reference, the piece in question is on page 7 of today’s dead-tree edition and is titled “Washington besorgt ueber Europa.” If you find a link, please post.

    The disjunct between what is “quite obvious” to Charly and what the US government thinks it is doing is precisely the news value of the piece. And indeed, in Washington it may be quite obvious that it is not prescribing democracy; in Moscow it may be quite obvious that the US is bent on encircling and destroying Russia; etc etc etc. That’s part of what makes Rüb good; Gelinsky could do the same in the areas she covers, but doesn’t.

  8. >and I don’t think it’s being apologetic for an area >where transatlantic differences are significant. I >think it’s highlighting them.

    I’m not sure I would say that the European integration record is a shining example…

    Rüb’s clearly not dispatching any party line – the FAZ is not Die Welt, by far. Still, I think both the differences you are pointing out are the result of an editorial line that’s as confused about America these days as the party that is representing much of the FAZ’s core demographics, the CDU.

    To broaden the issue a little – just looking at the Economist’s stance on all issues concerning Bush and Iraq, I am astonished to which extent so-called independet opinion makers are apparently influenced in their (written/published) opinion, by what they *believe* their core customers are thinking – I think the economist’s stance at first, and the late turnaround, is completely explicable with a brief look at the composition of their sales figures. I’m guessing a little here, but I’d say, about 40% of their readers are bound to be, or at least vote, Republican.

  9. I often think the US press is guilty of the same kind of reporting. count the number of stories on french protests, most of which hew closely to the line that France won’t take the American style economic medicine that it needs to have a competitive economy, and is hopeless stuck in the 20th century. Compare that to the number of stories on France’s housing boom and domestic-demand led growth … if twenty-first century economics is all about borrowing against housing prices to support higher levels of consumption and higher levels of imports, both France and the US are leading practioners, so to speak. Playing to stereotypes makes for good press, and addresses the biggest risk of any foreign correspondant faces (being totally ignored).

  10. Maybe a more interesting story would be the ‘Left Behind’ series, the modern equivalent to ‘Mein Kampf’. Americans are crazy for this thrash and few people outside even know about it.

  11. For those who do not know, the Left Behind novels depict a fictionalized version of the End of the World that are primarily marketed to a group of mainly Ccongregationalist Christians (technically they would be fundmanetalists but that theological significane of that term means something that I do not have the space to explain). To compare them to Mein Kampf is preposterous because they are not a genocidal political manifesto.

    It would also be good to know that their readership does not generally overlap with the what is left of the terrorist right in the United States (who generally have holed up in the Rocky Mountain States while the Left Behind novels are most popular in the South and the Midwest). It would be nice if individuals on the Eastern end of the Atlantic did not emulate President Bush by spouting off on things they know nothing about.

    The Left Behind novels are a somewhat interesting story, but I fear that telling the story would be extremely difficult for a foreign correspondent. Such a writer would have to explain the difference between Evangelical Christians, Fundamentalist Christians, and the more extremist right wing elements that pop up from time to time in the American landscape.

  12. No, really explain a bit. I’m a Buddhist myself, all actions have appropriate consequences is the entire creed. I’d like to learn about the different levels of monotheist psychosis. This seems like a soft underbelly story for Americans, right?

    To get you started, how do you refute the claim that Left Behind promotes genocide in the Middle East and a particalurly distasteful version of Antisemitism?

  13. I am going to have some free time in about 10 hours and will attempt to answer your question in full. A teaser though: we have real anti-semites in this country and the readership of the Left Behind novels is tends to be opposed to them on most everything (the anti-semites tend to belong to a group I will explain in a few hours after work).

  14. To get you started, how do you refute the claim that Left Behind promotes genocide in the Middle East and a particalurly distasteful version of Antisemitism?

    Well, I personally refute it by reading the blooming thing, rather than reading scare-mongering about the book from lots of people who haven’t read it.

    If you read the book, you would realize something that the scare-mongering people seem to miss entirely. It is a work of fiction. It is not a manifesto or a statement of principles or an instruction manual.

    What the book says, in short, is that _God_ will cause certain things to happen in the _future_, including mass conversion of the Jews to Christinanity and nasty things to happen in the Middle East. What it does *not* say is that _people_ should go out _now_ and kill or convert Jews or nuke the Middle East.

    I personally am offended by the idea that most Jews don’t get to go to heaven unless they convert. However, there is a significant difference between a fictional book that suggests this, and non-fictional instructions to go out, find some Jews, and send them to heaven one way or another.

    In other words, and back to the topic of the post, a novel where all Americans are fat, stupid, and perverted is just boring. “News” reporting where all Americans are fat, stupid, and perverted is lying by omission.

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