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Want to see U.S. political issues discussed in depth?
Sit back and think of Britain, then — American media has ‘no stomach’ for it

| 20 October 2004

An innovative venture coordinated by Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, Harvard University, and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) provides a look at what’s at stake in the upcoming presidential election — for the benefit of a worldwide audience.

“Election USA,” a discussion among academics, former high-ranking U.S. and foreign government officials, and others was recorded live on Monday, Oct. 11, in Cambridge, Mass., before a crowd of about 600 at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Stephen Sackur, the BBC’s European correspondent and the network’s former Washington, D.C., correspondent, moderated the two 45-minute-long panels — “America at Home” and “America and the World.”

The event, shot on a special set equipped with 10 cameras, will air on BBC television on Sunday, Oct. 24, and later on the Public Broadcasting System in the United States. Radio broadcasts will be heard on the BBC World Service (www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/) and Public Radio International (www.pri.org/PublicSite/home.html) at varying dates and times; check your local listings or the relevant websites for information.

The 90-minute program was the brainchild of Orville Schell, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, who witnessed a somewhat similar BBC-led debate while at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, nearly a year ago.

He approached the U.S. broadcast media, but was unable to persuade them of the need for an in-depth, uninterrupted discussion about key election issues from a global perspective.

“They just don’t have the stomach for it,” Schell said.

But he pressed on and linked up with the BBC, where he said journalists understand the need for the rest of the world to examine the U.S. election process when so much is at stake on American shores and globally. One program goal, Schell said, was to show the world the multiplicity of American opinions about the candidates and issues.

When he began negotiations with the BBC, four separate programs — one each at UC Berkeley, Harvard, in Tennessee, and in Europe, all linked by satellite — were envisioned. But the final plan called for one program at Harvard, co-sponsored by the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School.

Participants in the “America and the World” discussion included former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright; former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke; ex-CIA Director James Woolsey; former British Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short; financier and activist George Soros; Helle Dale; and Graham Allison, director of the Harvard Center for Science and International Affairs.

The “America at Home” panel featured Bill O’Reilly of Fox News; Carnegie Corporation President Vartan Gregorian; Kennedy School of Government Dean David Ellwood; former U.S. Congressman Bob Barr (R-Georgia); and Christopher Edley, dean of Berkeley’s School of Law (Boalt Hall).

As a result of the program’s success, the BBC is interested in future collaborations with Berkeley and Harvard that would include programs at UC Berkeley, Schell said.