Saturday, February 22, 2003

# Posted 2:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GRATUITIOUS SYMBOLISM: Must every NYT/WaPo article about foreign nations' attitudes towards the United States include references to the local McDonalds?

In today's profile of Polish attitudes toward the US, a Polish economist jokes that he is buying a McKielbasa (yes, there really is such a thing) because it symbolizes Polish-American cooperation.

Amusing enough. But the problem is that journalists have begun to treat local attitudes toward McDonalds as a proxy for local attitudes toward the US. Whenever rioters trash a McDonalds it is seen as a sign of anti-Americanism. But these rioters are the same people who patronized McDonalds before they trashed and the same people who will go back again once the franchise is rebuilt.

(You might be thinking, "Really? Isn't trashing one of your usual hangouts a little hypocritical?" Yes, it is. But I can personally verify that in Argentina, McDonalds was still extremely popular despite being victimized in riots the year before. In contrast, local banks still hadn't taken the armor plating off of their branch windows.)

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that focusing on McDonalds can be quite misleading. Take the Poland profile for example. People there seem to like McDonalds. But polls show that more than half are against a war with Iraq. Guess which fact gets more attention? In fact, there wasn't a single quote from an anti-war Pole.

(Yes, I am capable of complaining about media bias that favors the right. Though is suspect this was just incompetent reporting.)

Interestingly only 2000 protesters marched against the war in Warsaw, despite majority opposition. Now there's an interesting phenomenon. Maybe the NYT correspondent should explain that.

Btw, the NYT profile of East German attitudes toward the US is also a striking example of unbalanced journalism, this time in the usual leftward direction. It seems East Germans hold the US responsible for their impoverishment (relative to West Germans, not Eastern Europeans) but give the US no credit for holding off the Soviet threat or supporting reunification.

A more perceptive reporter might've wondered whether it is in East Germans' self-interest to oppose the war. Unlike the EU applicants to their east, the East Germans already enjoy the benefits of memberships, in addition to the massive subsidies the West Germans have poured in since reunification. If Germany and France can prevent the US from invading Iraq, thus reinforcing their dominance within the EU, that will directly benefit the East Germans.

Looking at domestic politics, the East Germans also have a strong interest in pulling Germany to the left, since so many of them support the Party of Democratic Socialism, or PDS, the successor to the East German Communist Party. A successful invasion might pull German politics to the right, making it harder for the PDS to form coalition governments at the state level, let alone the national one.

And here's one more reason to think that East German attitudes on the war reflect less than high-minded pacifism. Surprisingly enough, it's a reason I pulled from today's NYT, so some editor should have noticed what was going on. Anyway, it seems that Germany's high-cost/high-regulation markets are of much less interest to foreign investors than low-cost/low-regulation Eastern European markets. Stronger Franco-German control of the EU means less of a threat from freer markets in Eastern Europe.

(Conversely, Poles' lack of interest in marching despite their anti-war prefences may reflect an interesting in keeping foreign investment flowing.)

Finally, I can testify from personal experience that McDonalds is quite popular in East Germany. Thus the NYT would be wise to remember that there always those willing to bite the hand that feeds them.
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