“But enough about me. What do you think about me?”
That old joke was my response to the idea that Global Voices might choose to cover the 2008 US Presidential election. When Rebecca and I began discussing the Global Voices project in 2004, one of our motivations was a belief that US media paid too much attention to stories in the US and not enough to international, especially developing world, news.
Fortunately, I got voted down and Global Voices partnered with Reuters to produce Voices without Votes, a blog aggregator that portrays the US elections through the eyes of individuals around the world. There’s no doubt that there’s widespread interest in the US elections in many corners of the world and a desire to understand the decisionmaking that American voters are going through in our apparently perpetual election process.
Al Jazeera wanted to give their hundreds of millions of viewers a slightly different perspective on the convention, covering not only the speeches in the convention center and stadium, but watching the speeches on television with average Americans in a suburban Colorado town. After some investigation, they chose Golden, Colorado, the home of Coors Brewing and of 18,000 opinionated and vocal citizens, a gold-rush town 14 miles west of Denver.
Initial plans for Al Jazeera’s presence in Golden included broadcasting from a (pork-free) barbecue at City Manager Mike Bestor’s house. After extensive local debate, Bestor revoked the invitation, citing the concerns about perceived slights to the local veteran’s community.
(Update: Golden, Colorado mayor Jacob Smith clarifies that the barbecue was moved to another house, where it went off without a hitch. Please see his comment below.)
While no longer invited for barbecue, the Al Jazeera team has been embraced by the owner of the Buffalo Rose bar and roadhouse, Murray Martinez, who has invited them to broadcast from a corner of his establishment. This decision has been controversial in Golden, gathering a group of protesters across the street from the Buffalo Rose and motivating Martinez to post a copy of the First Amendment to the US constitution outside the bar.
It’s worth watching the above video, produced by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, as well as reading his written piece for the Post. The article sounds as if a major confrontation is underway, reporting a truce from three biker gangs so that they can protest Jazeera’s presence at the bar. The video’s significantly more lighthearted, showing a wide range of Golden’s citizens, including a pro-Jazeera (or at least, pro-welcoming international reporters) citizen riding a six-foot tall Penny Farthing, as well as a wide range of angry people wielding air horns.
My friend and colleague Jillian York points out that Al Jazeera has had a very hard time finding tolerance, never mind acceptance, in the US. Burlington, VT, one of the most liberal communities in the US, has been one of only two communities that’s offered Al Jazeera English on their local cable system. Based on “dozens” of complaints from subscribers, the local cable system manager decided to drop the network from the system’s offerings. This led to a set of public meetings where passionate debate on both sides led to a decision to keep the network on the air. York notes that the debate has largely been between people who’ve actually watched the channel – who want to keep it on the air – and those who haven’t. One wonders how many of the air horn wielding folks outside the Buffalo Rose have watched the network, a channel that’s so popular in Israel that it’s recently replaced BBC World and CNN International on major cable networks, and which is the network of choice for many US soldiers stationed in Afghanistan.
Al Jazeera wanted to film in Golden because they wanted to show their viewers how the election is viewed in different American communities. The protesters for and against the network’s presence, as well as the Buffalo Rose customers who simply appear bemused by all the attention, are probably a pretty good representations of the mixed feelings many US communities have about international attention to a domestic election. (Remember the Guardian’s plan to have readers around the world write to undecided Clark County, Ohio voters in the 2004 election? That went well.) While I’m embarrased that some of the citizens of Golden would demonstrate agains the right of a network to report news, I’m hopeful that the coverage will include some of the citizens who were excited about welcoming international perspectives as well.
By the way, it looks like an excellent night to be at the
Buff Buffalo Rose, as the locals evidently call it – it’s ladies night, and there are $4 pitchers of Coors Light for the fellas. And death metal band Grimoire starts playing at 9pm, right after Obama’s speech. Bet they’ve thought very little about the possibility of building their Qatari fanbase.
(Smith clarifies that, whatever visiting journalists think, “I’ve never heard it called the Buff. It’s either the Buffalo Rose or the Rose, and I have a great deal of respect for Murray (one of the owners) and his staff for being so stalwart. They never blinked.” Thanks for weighing in, Mr. Mayor, and thanks for your willingness to engage with these issues.)