Foreign journalists on 2016: ‘Is this the demise of objective American journalism?’

An outsider’s perspective can often prove to be an invaluable catalyst for self-reflection. This election season has certainly shown that we Americans need it.

Staffers from several international news organizations aimed to provide such a catalyst with a discussion of global views on the 2016 presidential race at an event Monday at the Columbia Journalism School. The journalists, whose news organizations hail from Europe, Asia, South America, and the Middle East, shared public opinions from their home countries and the difficulty of explaining this campaign—and Donald Trump in particular—for global audiences. The group was rounded out by an opinion writer for The New York Times, which has recently announced ambitious plans for international expansion.

Video of the full panel can be found here. CJR drew out some of the participants’ most interesting points below, edited for clarity and length.

Jérôme Cartillier, Agence France Press White House correspondent

As seen from France, the overwhelming majority of political leaders have openly said they’re backing Hillary Clinton, which is unprecedented. You got people from the right and from the left, the one exception being Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the far right. When it comes to foreign policy, I would say 80 percent of the political spectrum is basically rejecting what Trump has to offer. It applies generally to the French population as well.

Tolga Tanis, Washington correspondent for Hürriyet, a major Turkish newspaper

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Secretary Clinton is aware of what’s going on in the [Middle East]. I’m not sure if Donald Trump has any idea of what’s going on in the area. For example, as Washington correspondent, my job is to make a comparison between the two candidates. And my editors in Istanbul have asked several times, “Can you make a table of what the plan is for each candidate on Syria or for Iran?” I tried to reach some advisers from both campaigns and I couldn’t reach anyone from the Trump campaign. 

We have a serious campaign on Clinton’s side. We know who is doing what. We don’t have this kind of thing with Trump’s campaign. We have a candidate who can deny what he said 24 hours ago, and he can easily justify it as, I’m learning. At the end of the day, when you try to compare the two candidates, it’s unfair because we don’t know what Trump would do. This guy, when he is elected, will be someone else because he’s learning.

Related: 7 photos that capture the absurdity of this election season

Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, AJ+ correspondent

There was a time earlier this year when a lot of newspapers in the Arab world buried [Trump’s] nascent rise. They kind of dismissed it as a 200-word story on Page 8. The perception was that America is this really vibrant and healthy democracy. And yet there’s this man, a reality TV star, who has managed to kind of hijack the Republican primary with a combination of randomly constructed inflammatory speeches on Twitter.

Given the power of these tools, as we saw in the Arab world in terms of changing the ways governments interact with their citizens and citizens interact with each other, I think we’re seeing a very similar phenomenon with Trump. One of the hardest things for people covering this for audiences in the Arab world, in Arabic, is to understand this white alienation that seems to be fueling a lot of Trump’s campaign.

Weihua Chen, Washington correspondent for China Daily

Can we also ask the question Is this the demise of objective American journalism and news reporting? The role played by the news media in this election is not very admirable to me. You should be an observer rather than a participant.

Vikas Bajaj, New York Times editorial board member

We on the opinion side have had a very clear view of Trump’s candidacy. We’ve not been shy about expressing that view. The only concern sometimes is that the more you criticize him, the less the criticism seems to stick, in a sense. People get a bit tired of it—tired of hearing it—but I feel like it’s still an important thing we have to keep talking about. You can’t just sort of normalize it. At the risk of becoming a broken record, you can end up sounding like you’re repeating yourself when you’re writing about him, because you run out of adjectives very quickly.

[With reporting], it can be a dicey proposition to say, You have to be objective, so you have to treat both sides equally. That’s not what you’re supposed to do. One side lies 10 times more than the other side, then you have to call out those lies 10 times more than the other side. We are not taught to treat both candidates equally. If they’re behaving in completely different fashions, we’re supposed to treat them differently.

Francisco Aravena, International Editor of T13 Radio in Chile

This whole election process, for the rest of the world, this is a big, big learning opportunity and cautionary tale. I’m sorry to say you are part of an experiment, and we are learning a lot in terms of the role of the news media and infotainment and how far this 24/7 news cycle can go.

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David Uberti is a CJR staff writer and senior Delacorte fellow. Follow him on Twitter @DavidUberti.