It's little wonder why. Countless articles and videos, from journalists like Matthew Norman of The Independent and Gary Younge of The Guardian, have portrayed the Tea Party as hillbillies who firmly believe that Obama is a native of Kenya. For many in their audience, this resonates with a deep-seated sense of superiority to Americans. It's a common problem across Europe, according to Joseph Joffe, editor of Die Zeit. He notes that Europeans believe "America is the land of intolerant, fundamentalist religion, with screaming televangelists calling homosexuals Satan's semen-drenched acolytes, while Europe is charting a path toward enlightened secularism."
Commentary from Michael White of The Guardian on the January 19 Republican debate in South Carolina seems to confirm Joffe's take:
I watched Thursday's CNN-sponsored debate at Charleston, all flag-waving and heart-on-sleeve patriotism, more brawn than brain.... In their self-absorbed American way, the word China barely featured... blissfully ignorant that the best EU healthcare -- including the NHS -- delivers so much more for less than America's unfair and inefficient system. Who pays out most but still wins the Obesity Cup? Why, they do!
Britain still reserves the halls of power for its elites, and a whiff of classism is evident in much of the coverage of the United States. At the height of Herman Cain's popularity, The Independent's Archie Bland wrote an article titled "How an idiot could still end up in the White House." Bland pointed to the infamous clip in which Cain was unable to recall his own stance on the allied intervention in Libya and wrote that the former Godfather's Pizza CEO is "brazenly thick." Bland is of course right that Cain's credentials were never presidential caliber, but his tone rankles: It's that of an effete European dismissing the notion that a Horatio Alger-style self-starter should ever be considered for the presidency -- much less win it. Hadley Freeman, a Guardian journalist born in the U.S. and educated in the UK, says, "The truth is that some high-profile Americans who have received a lot of coverage do, to a certain extent, embody some American clichés, Sarah Palin being the most obvious example." But Freeman adds that most Britons will know that this is not the full story.
More often, however, it is race and political extremism that captivate the British press. Every article on American politics now includes an obligatory paragraph on the Tea Party, the strong influence of the religious right, and the fractious state of American politics. Andrew Preston, a senior lecturer in history at Cambridge University, says the British media have "a tendency to over-exaggerate, to miss nuance and instead overplay the divisiveness." He says the British press portrays Tea Party supporters as racists and over-emphasizes the power of the religious right. "I'm not a fan of the Tea Party," he adds, "but the issue of racism in the Tea Party has been over-egged."