As part of the Edward R. Murrow 60th Anniversary initiative current and former fellows discuss the stories that have had the most impact and present ideas for sustaining serious international journalism. Former fellow James Goldsborough talks about the backlash of the Vietnam War felt in Western Europe and declares education as a way to foster demand for international journalism. For more on the initiative, visit cfr.org/murrow.
What is one international story or topic (of your own reporting) that you believe had the greatest impact and why? Explain why you chose to report it.
For six weeks in May-June 1968 I covered for the International Herald Tribune (IHT) the student-worker anti-government revolt in Paris, an uprising of the kind that France had not seen in a century and that scholars to this day are still dissecting. Just this spring a new book on the uprising based in large measure on my IHT reporting was published by Guido Carli in Italy. The French story had international importance because it illustrated to what degree reaction to the Vietnam War had turned into anti-establishment, anti-First World discontent and infected America’s international relations. France was at the center of Vietnam-related unrest, but it soon spread out across the continent and left no nation untouched. In France, for a month it appeared that the revolt would bring down the de Gaulle government and bring to power a Socialist-Communist coalition owing its triumph to the Vietnam War. De Gaulle, however, maneuvered deftly, frightening the nation into supporting him for another year in a snap election. My daily coverage of those tumultuous days, coverage that reached the United States through the IHT’s affiliation with the Washington Post, impressed on readers the degree to which the war was undermining U.S. interests around the world. During those six weeks, I began an interesting dialogue with French historian Raymond Aron, who wrote a weekly column for le Figaro, on the meaning of the uprising. He called it catharsis. I believed it was the first significant demonstration of West Europe’s growing independence from America, a trend that would become much clearer over the next few years and lead me to write a book about it.
Is there another story or topic, perhaps one that is not already widely cited, that comes to mind that you believe has had a significant impact? This can be a story reported by you or someone else. Tell us about it.
The disaffection and disassociation of Western Europe from U.S. policies that began during the Vietnam War accelerated in the early 1970s as the West Europeans pressed the Nixon Administration to hold a "peace and security conference" with the Soviet Union and its allies. Nixon and Henry Kissinger were skeptical of this multi-lateral approach, believing they had enough trouble with Moscow over Vietnam and negotiations for a bi-lateral arms control treaty. A further cause of resistance in Washington was that the Jackson-Vanik and Stevenson Amendments to 1974 trade bills attempted to force Jewish immigration quotas on the USSR and led to a sharp reaction in Moscow. But the Europeans kept the pressure on for the conference they believed would bring down the Iron Curtain that had divided the continent since 1945. They were right. The EC prevailed and the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe was held in Helsinki in July-August, 1975. The IHT (I also was reporting for the Toronto Star at the time) sent me to Helsinki to cover it. The Helsinki Final Act, signed by President Ford, was the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union. The Russians thought they were getting more than they gave, and they were wrong. In return for recognizing World War II borders (mainly the Oder-Neisse Line), the West opened up Eastern Europe and the USSR with a series of accords (Basket Three) that allowed the press, business, cultural and scientific groups to travel throughout the region, helping Russians and East Europeans to understand just how bad things were for them. Soon after covering the Helsinki conference, I traveled to Moscow and was able for the first time to find Western newspapers. After Helsinki, the Soviet bloc was never the same.
Do you have any ideas--whether yours or someone else’s--for how the news industry can sustain serious international reporting at a time of great upheaval in the media?
The only way to assure that Americans continue to receive good foreign news coverage as the printed press declines is to make sure they continue to demand it, and that is a matter for education. As long as they are well-educated, young Americans, wherever they turn for their news, will insist on being informed about the world. Some of us will always lament that the medium that was historically our primary source of foreign news - daily newspapers - are losing their place, but it does not follow that a change in the medium means a change in the message. We will have fewer newspapers, but those surviving should have greater reach and greater quality. The regional press will contract, but in terms of foreign news the regional press already depends on a handful of foreign news syndicates that should grow stronger. As the regional printed press contracts, we see the rise of electronic newspapers (e.g. The Voice of San Diego, for which I write), and if foreign coverage on these sites is now sparse it will grow as the market grows. As long as Americans are well-educated they will demand to know about the world and someone in the news business will inform them. The IHT, which is almost all foreign news, has doubled its circulation over the past two decades, and the Economist has done even better. Perhaps we’ll see more of both in the home market. Where there is demand there will be a supplier.