US Election down under: how Australia’s media outlets are covering Obama versus Romney

The American presidential election continues to fascinate and confuse Australians, with all major media outlets providing extensive coverage.  But what kind of coverage, and how are Australians viewing the close Obama versus Romney match-up?

First, let me acknowledge the biases:  I am a strong Obama supporter, and have been ever since he arrived on the national political scene in the USA in 2004.  That said, I was pleased that Romney became the Republican nominee for President, not because I thought he was the weakest candidate in the Republican field, but because I believe he was the best.

I will spare you my analysis of the other Republican candidates, but it was very clear (to me, at least) that Romney was the adult leader amongst them.  And in this year of persistently high unemployment in the USA, the Democrats were uniquely vulnerable.  If the Republicans were to win, I wanted it to be Romney – and not one of the others.

Sure Romney has problems, well-articulated by others.  He has chosen Paul Ryan, an ultra right-wing running mate who reportedly once held Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged as his favourite books (hey, I did too – but I was back in high school in the 1960s).  Romney started a moderate Republican, but swerved sharply to the right in order to obtain the Republican nomination, and then – lo and behold – he quickly moved back to the centre at the first televised debate with President Obama.  This apparently took Obama by surprise, but certainly appealed to many undecideds in the centre.  What does Romney stand for?  Many have speculated:  go to Zerlina Maxwell in the New York Daily News (August 29, 2012, “the human Etch a Sketch”), Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker (October 23, 2012, “Romney’s Double Vision”) or The New York Times (editorial: “Mr. Romney Changes His Mind, Again”, July 5, 2012).  And perhaps Romney himself does not know.

But the purpose of this post is to review how those of us living in Australia are viewing the election.  Yes we are, in a word, fascinated.  I have already written about the slanted pro-Republican coverage by the national News Corp-owned paper The Australian.  As of today (Saturday 3 November), this shows no sign of abating, with a full coverage on page 11.  Their columnist Brad Norington ascribes Obama’s possible margin to “Superstorm Sandy” – (“President enjoys a storm surge as Romney beached”) despite consistently average high poll averages.  And the paper shows a map taken from The Wall Street Journal (copy below) which certainly undercounts the President’s likely winning states.  (You can try looking this up yourself at http://projects.wsj.com/campaign2012/maps/, but that page did not load for me – it may for you.)

Compare that map to the one on Nate Silver’s 538 blog on The New York Times website:  does it look different?  It sure does?  How can you explain that?  Lots more blue (Democrat) in the Silver version, isn’t there?  By the way, as of early Saturday morning New York time, this blog now predicts Obama’s chance of winning the election at 83.7%, +9.3 since October 26.  Here is Silver’s simple summary in response to those who deny that Obama is ahead:

Obama’s ahead in Ohio.  A somewhat-more-complicated version:  Mr. Obama is leading in the polls of Ohio and other states that would suffice for him to win 270 electoral votes, and by a margin that has historically translated into victory a fairly high percentage of the time.

Tell that to The Australian.  Not yet, though.  Because today’s paper also featured an article by Karl Rove (former George W. Bush adviser and key organiser of the political action committee American Crossroads) also taken from The Wall Street Journal and entitled “Sifting through the numbers for a winner”.  Rove asserts that Romney “maintains a small but persistent polling edge”.  And what poll does he quote?  Yes, you got it – Gallup, the major Republican-predictor “outlier” poll of the race.  Other coverage in The Australian:  a more realistic article by Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan (“Obama’s Debt to Sandy”) that acknowledges Obama’s lead but ascribes it to the superstorm – “Hurricane Sandy is, politically, the October surprise that just may have saved Barack Obama’s presidency”.

Hmmm, do I see the makings of a conservative rationale going on here?  Something that goes along the lines of “Romney would have won except the storm got in the way.”  Nate Silver – the pollster of pollsters – does not believe that.  Nor do I. But it may give conservatives comfort (“we were robbed” … by the storm).

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (Nick O’Malley, page 15 “Spend and bend as poll goes down to the wire”) takes a more analytical approach.  He writes of how everyone is “trying to get a true sense of the two campaigns’ end strategy” and notes that “The paths they have plotted across the swing states do not fully match the two sides’ rhetoric.”  Both The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age then come up with the reality:  Peter Hartcher (Political Editor) has a column entitled “Obama is storming home”.  He states it pretty much up front:

Barack Obama is likely to win. In spite of everything. In spite of the ruinous state of the economy, in spite of the record federal deficit, in spite of the fact that most Americans think their country is on the wrong track, the chances are that Obama will be re-elected on Tuesday for four more years.

The Australian ABC has a whole website devoted to the election.  So does the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney  Even The Australian Jewish News (which I write film reviews for) has gotten into the act, calling last week’s edition (November 2, 2012) a “special edition” of “America decides”, with a full seven pages of coverage (few of which are actually on their website).

You can believe that everyone will be attempting to analyse this campaign for an awfully long time to come.  I can’t imagine such interest in the USA for any overseas election – nor in Australia about any election outside other than the USA.

Back on August 28, 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Hartcher wrote about how so many Australians get confused about the USA, noting the following story:

In the days after the terrorist attack on the US in 2001, a small group of Australian primary schoolchildren held a solemn candlelit moment of mourning and reflection for the dead. It was a touching scene.  But when questioned, it turned out that the children thought the attacks on New York and Washington had occurred in Australia.”

The context:  that day, the paper released the results of a poll showing that “an overwhelming 72 per cent of Australians would vote for the Democrats’ Barack Obama if they had a vote in the US presidential election while a mere 5 per cent would choose the Republicans’ Mitt Romney.”  Apparently support in Canada and Europe is even greater.  Makes you think, doesn’t it?

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