The Boys on Le Bus: Foreign Press Mines Local Angles in U.S. Primary
While the U.S. press has been scrutinizing Mitt Romney’s business record, British reporters have focused on an entirely different angle of the Republican presidential primary: Ann Romney’s roots in a Welsh coal mining village.
In a dispatch the day before the New Hampshire primary, the Daily Mail detailed the tribulations of Mrs. Romney’s grandfather, a coal miner in the Welsh village of Coegnant Colliery: “When a coal cart crushed into him he lost a kidney,” the story explained, “leaving the family worried for their future.”
The Welsh coal mining connection appears to be an asset for Mr. Romney, the story continued. “Whether it is enough to secure the Republican nomination for Mr. Romney, only time will tell.”
Covering the endless U.S. presidential primary is a particular challenge for the 1,200 foreign journalists swarming the trail this year. They rarely win attention, let alone interviews, from the candidates. Moreover, their readers overseas often view the contest as if through the opposite end of a telescope: a race toward a barely perceptible goal featuring inscrutable issues and a shifting cast of characters.
That is why, even though they work alongside their U.S. counterparts, foreign reporters seem to inhabit a parallel universe, mining the contest and the candidates’ biographies for anything remotely resonant to various domestic audiences.
During the Florida primaries, the U.S. press featured a faceoff over immigration and public finances between Mr. Romney and a newly resurgent Newt Gingrich. The Irish Times, however led its website with a different focus: “Gingrich Vows Permanent Moonbase,” the Times proclaimed, referring to the former House speaker’s plan to colonize the moon by 2020.
Rick Santorum, who talks of the hardworking Italian grandfather who inspired him, prompted the Italian magazine Oggi to find distant cousins in his ancestral town of Riva del Garda. One of the cugini told the publication that Mr. Santorum’s grandfather and uncles were members of Italy’s postwar communist party. They were “communists to the core,” he said.
Mr. Santorum’s spokesman Hogan Gidley declined to comment on the Italian’s observation. “You’re not writing that he’s some kind of socialist, are you?” Mr. Gidley asked.
Veronika Oleksyn, an American-born freelance correspondent for Austria’s Kurier daily, thought she had written as much as she could about Ron Paul’s connection to Austria: He adheres to the Austrian School of economic thought, which espouses, among other things, reinstituting the gold standard and abolishing the central bank.
Then she learned that the Texas congressman’s favorite movie is “The Sound of Music,” the stylized saga of the Austrian von Trapp Family Singers, who eventually settled in the Super Tuesday primary state of Vermont. “I got really excited,” she said.
After some research, however, she discovered that “no one in Austria really knows what ‘The Sound of Music’ is.” She didn’t write a story.