Print Story Supposed US insularity
By grouse (Sat May 22, 2004 at 02:38:24 AM EST) (all tags)
I am an American living in UKia. All the time I have to listen to the crap about how Americans do not have any international news and that only 5 percent of Americans have passports according to Anne Robinson.

If I may borrow a word from my British brethren here: bollocks.


Let us forget for the moment that The Sun is Britain's biggest-circulation newspaper, which I think is a much bigger condemnation of British news taste than the allegation that U.S. news contains very little international news.

Let us compare the top stories of web sites of two British and two American nationally-read newspapers for today (22 May 2004). We'll call stories about the home country or its direct interests National and stories about other countries International. I deem Iraq stories to be in the national interest of both countries, although you could argue that everything is in the national interest of countries that trade so far and wide. There are also Sports and Local stories. You could probably argue that some of the stories I call Local are actually National and vice versa, but that makes very little difference when comparing to International.

New York Times:

Kerry Considers Strategic Delay for Democratic Nomination - N
Dogs and Other Harsh Tactics Linked to Military Intelligence - N
Economic Signs Are Pointing Up, but Bush's Ratings Are Not - N
Conservative Group Amplifies Voice of Protestant Orthodoxy - N
Leaving a Legacy in India - I
Car Bomb Injures Iraqi Deputy Minister - N
Steward Stock Case Is Jolted by Charge That an Agent Lied - N
Rodriguez's Homer Becomes Footnote in Loss - S
Kristof: Defending Rumsfeld - N
Brooks: Good Mideast News - N
Editorial: Abu Gharib Inquiry - N

Washington Post:

Brudno Honored on the Wall - N
New York Funding Flap - L
Abuse Inflicted to Punish Prisoners, Amuse Jailers - N
Prison Photos Given Context - N
Kerry May Delay Nomination - N
Building a New Democracy (former Soviet Republic) - I
Lead Editorial: Convention as Farce - N
Editorial: Arresting Witnesses - N
King: 'Fix It, Brother' - N
A Better Iraq Transition Plan - N

Times (London):

Big spending Britons - N
Channel 4 chief for BBC - N
Thieves market on eBay - N
New images show full horror of abuses - N
Detective killed by machete wielding man - N
Major's reformes failed to make honours even - N
Princes in snub to Burrell's last secret - N
Everest conquered in 8hr 10min - I
Unions step closer to co-ordinated strikes - N
Matthew Parris: Give yourself two years, Tony, then quit - N
Julie Burchill: I see in those photos why we are fighting - N
Patience Wheatcroft: "No wonder Sir Christopher Gent has opted for GSK rather than Marks & Spencer or Sainsbury' - N
Leading Article: Iraq strategy: Time for realism, not depression - N
Letters to the Editor: Use and abuse of power in Iraq - N
Obiquary: Lord Murray of Epping Forest, OBE, PC - General Secretary of the TUC - N


BBC ends months of turmoil - N
Killers 'led by Saddam's nephew' - N
Tackling things nicely - S
Did skydiver who fell to his death cut his own parachute? - N
Livingstone takes aim at four-wheel drive 'idiots' - L
Police officer stabbed to death - L
Chelsea owner in Kremlin's sights over tax - N
Partners condemn protest fathers - N
The day the tanks arrived at Rafah zoo - I
Unemployment time bomb is ticking - N
Director's props (travel feature) - I (although news value is debatable)
Fate of Russia's lost art treasure - I
House buying spree likely to bring new interest rate rise - N
The ugly face of power (U.S. election) - I

I would say that today, at least, the Times (London) doesn't seem to do much better than the American newspapers in the international arena. The Guardian does slightly better, although I think its international news stories tend to be about Europe, Israel, or the U.S., which are all nearby (consider that LON-TLV is a closer distance than NYC-LAX). Relative to other stories, I seldom see stories about remote areas of Asia or Africa in either group of newspaper, and stories about the Americas are far more likely in U.S. papers while stories about Europe are far more likely in British papers. Big surprise.


Every time I hear the figure it changes for some reason. Probably because the number of Americans with passports is not something that the government actually keeps track of. However, this guy estimates about 20 percent.

Consider how far a U.S. citizen can go from the U.S. without a passport. Of course you can visit the whole of the U.S., an area almost 2.5 times as big as the area of the EU, and with a population of 2/3 its size, which includes far-flung states such as Alaska and Hawaii.

You can also visit Canada, Mexico, and many Carribean countries without a passport.

Consider how far a British citizen can go without a passport. The UK and Ireland. And oh yeah, the Channel Islands, can't forget them. To take advantage of a USD 60 Ryanair flight from London to Paris (a shorter distance than that between Dallas and Houston) you need a passport.

The cost of airfare alone from somewhere in the U.S. to somewhere interesting that requires a passport is probably overwhelming for most American families, whereas Brits can get somewhere else for cheap.

Try comparing U.S. citizens with passports with Canadians with passports, since they are in a similar situation. I estimate about 26 percent by a similar flawed method that is probably good enough for our purposes. That's not so much more. Whether or not, you agree with my explanation of why most people in the U.S. lack U.S. passports, if anyone is going to condemn Americans for it, they should also condemn Canadians.

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Supposed US insularity | 28 comments (28 topical, 0 hidden)
Most annoying thing about Americans. by ambrosen (6.00 / 2) #1 Sat May 22, 2004 at 02:49:15 AM EST
They need to do point by point rebuttals of every little tiny bit of xenophobia they come across.

I can see how people saying that gets annoying. Especially when you're the one visiting their country.

If I may steal our phrase back by snugglebunny (3.00 / 0) #2 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:03:27 AM EST
Probably because the number of Americans with passports is not something that the government actually keeps track of


Are you seriously proposing the idea that the most security conscious paranoid administration since McCarthy doesn't keep track of who it gives passports to? It asks people to prove who they are and then gives them a  hard to forge document and then destroys all records of who has one. It doesn't seem very likely to me.

That's not what I said by grouse (3.00 / 0) #7 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:15:12 AM EST
They do keep track of who they give passports to, which is where the statistics I actually used came up with. But I doubt they keep track of which of these people are dead, so it is hard to know how many people there are with valid U.S. passports.

In any case, if the information exists, it is not readily available to me, so estimating based on the number that are issued is the best I can do.

[ Parent ]
yeah... by snugglebunny (3.00 / 0) #16 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:47:13 AM EST
Well seen as I quoted you I think it's quite easy to show that, that is what you said.

Also I'm sure that the US has a death register and it would seem likely that your government knows to a fine level of precision how many valid passports are in existence. Especially if they expire every so often and won't be renewed.

In any case, if the information exists, it is not readily available to me, so estimating based on the number that are issued is the best I can do.

Well apart from...

yep, that's a fair statement.

[ Parent ]
C'mon honey by grouse (3.00 / 0) #19 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:55:08 AM EST
Don't mince words. My meaning was pretty clear and it was your "paraphrase" that was incorrect.

Please let me know where this death register is when you find it. k thx.

[ Parent ]
Hey darling by snugglebunny (5.00 / 1) #20 Sat May 22, 2004 at 04:00:40 AM EST
Still not convinced about your definitinon of paraphrasing but I'll let it slide.

Unlike the UK which has a a central death register it appears to be done on a state by state basis in the US. I just used the specialised .gov .mil search on google.

[ Parent ]
Yup by grouse (3.00 / 0) #21 Sat May 22, 2004 at 04:16:22 AM EST
In some states you might even have to go to the actual county to find the death records. I know this is true in several states for deaths that happened more than a hundred years ago. But that's not the point.

Since your passport number is not entered on your death certificate, I don't think that the federal government has a foolproof way of eliminating dead citizens from the passport registry. They can guess based on date of birth, name, etc, but the data entry won't always be perfect and some matches will fail. If the feds did do such a thing they could only mark suspicious passport numbers for further scrutiny, not be totally sure that those people are actually dead.

[ Parent ]
True story. by Tonatiuh (6.00 / 3) #3 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:06:42 AM EST
Norwegian friend driving in Texas.

She stopped somewhere to put gas on her car.

Some guy starts a conversation, eventually the dreaded question was asked: where are you from?

Oslo - came the answer.

On which part of Texas is that?- came the reply.

And like this one I have many.

No further comment.

Nah, USian bashing is always fun.

Having watched extensively both USian and UKian TV, heard UKian and USian radio, read newspapers, etc, I can confidently say that in both conuntries ' media are parochial and insular.  That came as no suprise in the US, but it came as a great disappointment in the UK where the excellent BBC Wolrdservice is relegated to an AM station no radio can catch, and their excellent international news channel is not broadcast in the UK itself (great one guys at the BBC)..

But most media in most countries is like that, with the forces of the market ruling the wolrld people naturally are more interested in issues close home, which is what sells. Sad but true.

When I grew up in Mexico we had international news on TV, the TV stations had reporters in most countries arround the world, the national news was as long as the international news.

Now with the market forces in place the Mexican news became as bad (and in some case even worst) as USian or UKian ones. Newspapers used to carry thick international news, our journalists were cultivated people that saw journalism as an educational endeavour. Now, same rubish everywhere, always looiing inwards, rarely outwards.

Thank gooddnes for the Internet that allows us to be really informed about the rest of the world.

Similar story in the UK by fritz the cat (6.00 / 1) #11 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:28:16 AM EST
"So, where are you from?"
"Near Milan"
"Milan? Is that the capital of Barcelona?"

[Ed.: currently a dormant account - posting on behalf of extremely tedious HuSer]
[ Parent ]
And the moral of this story is by Cloaked User (5.00 / 1) #13 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:36:08 AM EST
Ignorance is universal

This is not a psychotic episode. It is a cleansing moment of clarity.
[ Parent ]
Wrong. by ambrosen (5.00 / 1) #15 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:46:35 AM EST
It's that British people are crap. How did you fail to notice?

Of course, it's normal when I say I live in Walsall for people to make some remark about Poland.

[ Parent ]
I'm from Texas by grouse (3.00 / 0) #12 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:30:28 AM EST
In fact I'm from Austin, which many people here think is the capital of Massachusetts.

A newspaper that wants to be successful financially will do what it takes to sell papers, and most people just aren't interested in international news that doesn't affect their own interests.

A journalism prof once told me that for a local paper:

  • An event where one person dies locally is news.
  • An event where dozens of people die on the other side of the country is news.
  • An event where hundreds die in the next country is news.
  • An event where thousands die on the other side of the world is news.
I think there is a lot of truth to this. Personally I don't care of some guy in Beijing is shot in his home but I do care if there is a shooting down the street from where I live or if there is a massive earthquake in China killing thousands.

[ Parent ]
Re: I'm from Texas by Stalus (5.00 / 1) #28 Sun May 23, 2004 at 04:08:39 AM EST
You forgot to mention that Texas is large enough to have a podunk city for many major cities in the world - such as Paris, Athens, London, Moscow..  so the fact that someone thought there might be an Oslo isn't exactly surprising.  In fact, there's one in Florida and two in Minnesota.  Small town gas station attendant probably figured it was more likely that there was an Oslo, TX than someone from Norway telling him they're from Oslo and not Norway.

[ Parent ]
Flawed argument by fritz the cat (5.00 / 1) #4 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:08:09 AM EST
Whether the Brits are insular or not doesn't change the fact Americans are.
 As you point out yourself, news coverage as got more to do with the commercial/strategic interests of a country than its insularity.

The truth is that you both are very insular, annoyingly so at times.

[Ed.: currently a dormant account - posting on behalf of extremely tedious HuSer]

Yes. by ambrosen (5.00 / 1) #5 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:09:27 AM EST
We all talk about Italians far too little.

[ Parent ]
And when you do, you talk rubbish. by fritz the cat (5.00 / 1) #8 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:19:52 AM EST
In the only one language you know..

[Ed.: currently a dormant account - posting on behalf of extremely tedious HuSer]
[ Parent ]
Question by OAB (5.33 / 3) #10 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:27:52 AM EST
How do you get through doors with that chip on your shoulder?

[ Parent ]
Knowing I'm not a twat like you helps. by fritz the cat (6.00 / 2) #14 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:38:35 AM EST

[Ed.: currently a dormant account - posting on behalf of extremely tedious HuSer]
[ Parent ]
That by OAB (5.00 / 1) #18 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:51:45 AM EST
Has to be the funniest thing I have seen today.

[ Parent ]
Wrong food by snugglebunny (5.00 / 1) #17 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:47:54 AM EST
It's pasta not a chip on his shoulder.

[ Parent ]
Touche by grouse (3.00 / 0) #9 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:21:56 AM EST
But the belief that I am hoping to debunk seems to be that the U.S. is more insular than other Western countries, and that the news and passport situations are evidence of this. I think trying to use those as evidence just shows a lack of understanding of the U.S. travel situation and the British news situation.

[ Parent ]
Write in by Cloaked User (5.00 / 1) #6 Sat May 22, 2004 at 03:15:00 AM EST
I hate them all equally

This is not a psychotic episode. It is a cleansing moment of clarity.
Also another factor by jump the ladder (6.00 / 1) #22 Sat May 22, 2004 at 05:14:52 AM EST
In the yanks lack of passports is probably the miserly amount of actual holiday/vacation time they get compared to most Europeans. I believe about two weeks is the typical amount.

Media is still fucking insular in the states. Let's take TV news which is the source of most people's knowlege of what's going on compared the newspapers.   Compare and contrast Fox News, CNN (domestic) or the   US national networks main evening news with the BBC, ITV or even Sky News. The vapidness and parochialism of the US TV news is just unbelievable. Soundbites and Edutainment dominates them.

It's money by ucblockhead (6.00 / 1) #25 Sat May 22, 2004 at 08:42:48 AM EST
To visit a country that requires a passport, an American has to shell out thousands in plane fare and hotels.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
American Media by CheeseburgerBrown (5.50 / 2) #23 Sat May 22, 2004 at 05:34:05 AM EST
Small, personal sampling: while I was recently away in Mexico our resort delivered to us each morning a copy of the hilarious self-satirical paper The Miami Herald.

Each morning was a fresh fold of hilarity whose obvious editorial mandate was to confirm my every worst prejudice about American media.

The best part was the world news section, which, while missing all developing stories in world news, supplied instead two stories about Iraq and six filler stories about how much other countries (other countries not currently making world news headlines) sucked, due to education/economic statistics that compared unfavourably to those of the United States.

It was a riot. It was like getting Mad Magazine delivered for free.

I am from a small, unknown country in the north called Ca-na-da. We are a simple, grease-loving people who enjoy le weekend de ski.
Write-in poll option by motty (5.33 / 3) #24 Sat May 22, 2004 at 05:46:42 AM EST
I really don't have spare energy to waste on hating countries.

I amd itn ecaptiaghle of drinking sthis d dar - Dr T
I can see by djotto (6.00 / 1) #26 Sat May 22, 2004 at 10:26:20 AM EST
how the UKian belief that "aggressive sarcasm" == "humour" would be a bit wearing for a non-native.

I've seen the kind of behaviour you're talking about directed towards American friends staying here, and it's always struck me as mean-spirited.

I can only point out that the average UKian views the US with 1 part love, 1 part hate and 1 part jealousy. It's a very weird relationship on our part - it borders on schizophrenic. Remember that and just smile politely next time they insult your homeland.

But sometimes I think they just don't understand by grouse (5.00 / 1) #27 Sat May 22, 2004 at 11:10:09 AM EST
Anyway I usually try to smile politely since usually the bashing involves Bush and I am no Bush fan. But sometimes UKians don't even understand where the Bush supporters are coming from... that way of thinking is so foreign to many of them that it is impossible to understand. When I try to explain that then I look like a Bush apologist, which I'm not.

To use an expression from home, maybe I should just keep my fool mouth shut.

[ Parent ]
Supposed US insularity | 28 comments (28 topical, 0 hidden)