Ever wonder what our nation looks like to folks from afar? Here we look at how a uniquely American story--the kind of news we have trouble explaining even to ourselves--is being told overseas. Want to see a particular topic covered here? Let us know.
When the White House published the long form of Obama's birth certificate today the American press--castigated by many, including Obama, for their own part in the "birther" debacle--weren't the only ones to sit up and take notice. Helped out by the wire services, the news made headlines everywhere from Brazil to Belgium, Spain to Saudi Arabia. In fact, it's almost more interesting to look at what papers didn't feature the story prominently. The Japanese dailies seemed otherwise occupied, for example, while the Sydney Morning Herald seemed more interested in the security team Panetta-Petraeus shuffle, though they did find time for Trump and the royal wedding.
How, you wonder, do those covering the certificate overseas see this whole to-do? The UPI story appearing in the pan-Arab Al-Hayat noted Obama's characterization of birtherism as a "distraction" from more important topics like the country's future, high oil prices, and stability in the Middle East. Chinese government news agency Xinhua tossed the "distraction" quote in the headline of its cursory writeup.
Clues of what other countries might think of the affair can be read between the lines. The coverage in German daily Die Welt, for example, seems pretty straight until you notice it's been tagged under "Bizarre US-Debatte" (translates to exactly what you think it translates to). Perhaps there's something to be gleaned, too, from the fact that the paper ran two stories on the certificate release: one on the actual release and one under the headline "Trump invents the next conspiracy theory." The startlingly thorough story that follows goes through the new academic transcript questions, the origins of birth questions with Hillary Clinton's team in the 2008 election, and the fact that John McCain was not, in fact, born in the U.S., instead having been brought into the world via the Panama Canal Zone. Key heading choices within the article that look a bit like editorializing: "Absurd debate." and "Obama: 'I have better things to do.'"
For those fascinated by the intricacies of language: note, too, that Obama's characterization of the rumors as "silliness" translates into words of slightly different meanings in, say, French and German. The French "bêtises" seen in Le Monde or the Belgian La Libre conveys a different tone than the German "Dummheiten," appearing in the Swiss Neue Zürcher Zeitung or German Sueddeutsche Zeitung--think of it as roughly equivalent to the difference between "nonsense" and "stupidity" in English. Then there are more overt linguistic cues: Yolande Monge dubs the birther conspiracy theories "malicious" in her opening sentence for Spain's El País.
Heather Horn is fluent in written German and French, proficient in written Arabic, and has received purely decorative doses of Irish Gaelic and Western Armenian. All other languages are muddled through with the help of Google Translate.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.