Foreign journalists discuss U.S. media’s Sept. 11 coverage

Tom Ford

St. Paul’s temporary itnernational journalist community discussed the implications of America’s loss of security and praised and criticized the U.S. media, Monday night.

At a Macalester College forum, the 2001 fellows of St. Paul’s World Press Institute – a group of 10 foreign journalists who have traveled and been immersed among American media and people for the past four months – spoke about their reactions to the New York and Washington, D.C., attacks and their impressions of the U.S. media and its coverage of the events.

“This time, the strike showed that even the superpowers can be vulnerable,” said Silvia Ruano, Monterrey, Mexico reporter.

The attacks came as a shock to most of the world, Ruano said, since the United States is seen and sees itself as “invincible and omnipotent.”

Increased U.S. vulnerability threatens American civil liberties that Yusuf Kalyango Jr., a director of news and current affairs at a Ugandan television station, said he perceived as immense when he arrived in July.

He said he’s been appalled at how the media is allowing the government to dictate more and more of its coverage, a practice he has heard American journalism instructors in Uganda forbid.

Kalyango said he has seen a change in American attitudes, which before the attacks stated “one is innocent until proven guilty” but now suggest “everybody is suspicious until you prove you’re one of us.”

The ability of terrorists to strike the United States, said Alexander Vergara, a reporter with a Philippine newspaper, causes considerable concern for smaller, less secure nations like his own.

Despite that fear, Vergara said he hoped the attacks would give Americans a better global perspective.

“America’s pain is felt by the world while the world’s pain is not typically felt by Americans,” he said.

Since Sept. 11, Vergara said there’s a “hunger for international news” and that Americans are making efforts to better understand their connections to the world.

But Ewa Losinska, an editor at an independent Polish daily newspaper, said media coverage of the attacks comes at the expense of other foreign coverage. She said stories about events in Europe, which did appear in U.S. media before, now get scant attention.

At the same time, Losinska said she “cannot even dream” of the access to astounding amounts of information the American media enjoys.

Polish officials and culture are not open with information in the way America is, she said, which makes reporters there work harder.

Losinska said being an American journalist is “quite a nice job.”

Based out of Macalester College, the WPI began in 1961 and was developed by Reader’s Digest creator DeWitt Wallace, a St. Paul native and Macalester alumnus.

Each year a group of journalists working outside the United States is selected to participate in the program. The fellows tour the country and experience America through people and journalism for more than four months.

Kristine Mortenson, WPI program director, said activities allow the fellows to encounter Americans from almost every walk of life.

For example, this year the fellows met with reporters and editors at The Washington Post and staff at the State Department, spent time meeting urban Chicago residents, stayed with farm families for a week in out-state Minnesota and went on ride-alongs with U.S. border patrol officers along the California border, Mortenson said.