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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Comparative newspaper studies

Both the New York Times and Le Monde (1,2) commented on Benjamin Netanyahu's first visit to the Obama White House. The interesting thing is that their analyses are nearly diametrically opposed. Le Monde stresses the fact that the two politicians "emphasized their differences" (affichent leurs divergences or a mis en évidence leurs divergences) while the New York Times is surprised at their common positions (while claiming that Obama moved more than Netanyahu did). For them there were only "some differences."

So, what does this mean? Quite honestly, I have no idea. The quotes used in both articles and the aspects noted are virtually the same. It seems as if the French paper simply saw more of a rift based on the same data than the American newspaper. Why would that be the case? The only explanation I could offer lies with a difference in beliefs that feeds some kind of self-fulfilling desired interpretation of this event. Thus, the French (and I am equating journalists and the general public as well as political leaders here in a very unscientific manner) as more critical towards Israel would like to think that the days of unconditional American support for Israel are over. The Americans (as above) on the other hand prefer a continued close partnership and tend to not emphasize Israelo-American political differences as much.

Does this make sense? I have no idea. Maybe the intern responsible for the headlines screwed up. Maybe I am reading too much into this, but I did feel like the completely diverging interpretations were a funny (as in: "differing from the ordinary in a suspicious, perplexing, quaint, or eccentric way" Merriam Webster) business.

UPDATE: This might not be a question of national perspective after all. Stephen Walt already had a look at it from the American side in fact and came to the conclusion that I am right in regard to political believes shaping one's interpretation but wrong in attributing it to French or American sentiments.

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