January 21, 200

Analysts and Insiders Ponder Greece's Media Image in the U.S.

by Demetrios Triarhos

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - How is Greece portrayed in the mainstream media of the United States? On Tuesday a group of think-tank analysts and university scholars conducted a roundtable discussion on just that topic at the Center for European Studies, at Harvard University. In addition to the panelists, dozens of members of the press, various community leaders and concerned Hellenes and philhellenes attended the two-session symposium.

While there was some disagreement on the details, the consensus was that Greece was not given adequate press coverage and, when it was covered by American media, it was in an overwhelmingly negative light.

Peter D. Hart, one of the country's leading public opinion analysts, served as moderator throughout the discussion, with Dino Siotis, press counselor of the Consul General of Greece, serving as host.

Members of the first panel took turns at sharing their experiences and observations of Greek culture and people, as well as the current political and economic status of modern Greece, and the way it is being presented to the American public by the U.S. media.

Hart, who directs Peter D. Hart Research Associates - which has conducted more than 5,000 public opinion surveys - confirmed what many Hellenes and Philhellenes already knew, that "people know more of ancient, historical Greece, than they do of modern Greece."

Dr. Ted Galen Carpenter, Vice President for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., blamed (at least in part) the American press and the American public for not exhibiting adequate concern for foreign affairs, especially since the end of the Cold War.

Admitting to being somewhat of a pessimist, he told those in attendance, that "it's hard for small countries to get any coverage - even for things that are important to Greeks." He also went on to explain that many right-wing Americans have a rather negative view of Greece today, which they see as leftist, and anti-American. Unfortunately, he also explained that Turkey, on the other hand, is often seen and portrayed in conservative media, as an especially loyal ally of the U.S., citing that Turkey sent troops to help the U.S. during the Korean conflict. When one of the audience reminded Mr. Carpenter that, in fact, Greece also sent troops to help the U.S. in Korea, his response was: "Right, but people don't know it."

Furthermore, Carpenter was concerned that the situation might get worse. "Greece's sins are covered, while the Turks' are downplayed or ignored."

"America's interest and coverage of Europe has been declining," noted Jonathan Clarke, president of the American Journalism Foundation and syndicated columnist. Clarke, however, is trying to change that. He is now running a program in cooperation with the Bank of Greece, sending journalists to Greece. He explained that there has been almost no reluctance of journalists to participate. Unlike Carpenter, Clarke was encouraged by what he sees as improving Greek-American relations. He also informed everyone that, although we all saw the protests in Greece during President Clinton's visit, to put things in perspective, the reality is that those protests were only 15-20% of what the protests in the U.S. were recently in the South over the issue of the confederate flag.

Don Feder, a syndicated columnist and writer for the Boston Herald, concurred that the press for Greece is generally negative, and often a result of ignorance. He read to all from a piece of negative journalism which claimed, in effect, that since Greece did not experience the renaissance, and thus, share in the Enlightenment, they never developed the cooler, western mind. "I'm Polish, so I guess that's why I don't have a cooler western mind, either," was Feder's reaction. He also shared his view that Americans, and in particular American journalists, have too little understanding or appreciation of history on a global level. In the case of the recent Balkan conflict, which Feder says was a big mistake on the part of the U.S., and Greece's disagreements with how the situation was handled, Feder asked "Didn't anyone think that, maybe, the Greeks had a better understanding than Clinton, of the situation in the Balkans, seeing as they live there?"

"Washington has a very dated view on Greece," commented Marcia Kurop, editor at Defense News and Space News in Washington D.C. "Simitis is great!" she said, noting that America's image of Greece is distorted by pop portrayals in films like "Shirley Valentine." Although claiming her Slavic bearing often gives her a pessimistic outlook, she was passionate about the issue at hand, and lent an air of optimism to the proceedings by clearly demonstrating that there are, indeed, very capable people who are fighting for a more just portrayal of Greece. "I'm not an apologist," she told her audience, explaining how her views have become more sympathetic and supportive toward Greece. "I've made a change from one viewpoint to another because I researched - unusual for a journalist."

One of the points that the panelist made was that the average newspaper editor allows a journalist only 500-600 words for a story, causing reporters to present things out of context in the interest of brevity. Feder tried to assure people that there's no conspiracy, it's simply "historical amnesia and very bad reporting."

During a question and answer session Kurop said that to improve the situation, "Greece needs to pull itself together for better lobbying," sighting the lobbying efforts of Jewish Americans as an example to emulate.

Maria Fiorini Ramirez, president and chief executive of MFR, Inc., a global economic firm, said that because Greece's economic situation has become such a big - and positive - story, "it's probably not a bad way to start to improve Greece's image."

John Defterios, CNN's Business Day co-anchor, spoke of the Greek economy's upswing and how positive stories of Greece have to be consistent and constant. "It's not a quick blast of a double espresso, it's a slow, steady drip-drip of a really good coffee," he insisted. Defterios noted that President Clinton recently lauded Greece's "Golden era of economic growth and economic turnaround."

Defterios also impressed on all the importance of Greek Americans and Greece working together. A young Greek-American himself, Defterios talked about the tendency for previous generations of Greek Americans to disassociate themselves from their ethnic identity, often Anglicizing their names, while today's younger generation are more confident, and anxious to re-establish a close relationship with Greece, with many actually choosing to relocate there now. He also said that while Greece has a glorious past, we must concentrate on the future, noting, for example, that when Greece made its bid to host the 1996 Olympics, they largely promoted their past, while in their successful bid for the 2004 games, they concentrated on promoting what they're doing now.

Sharing his experiences and knowledge of Greece and the Greek people, former U.S. Ambassador to Greece Monteagle Stearns seemed to echo the general feelings of the other panel members when he shared his view of how the American press has not really given the American public an accurate view, missing the fact that over the past few years Greece has greatly improved its international standing. In addition to his years as an American ambassador, Stearns has also been an associate and affiliate of the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University.

Manny Paraschos, professor of mass communication and journalism at Emerson College and co-publisher of Media Ethics magazine was the symposium's final panelist. He accused the American media of being extremely event-oriented, adding that many reporters were participants in "parachute" journalism (when a reporter with virtually no knowledge of a place and its history is simply "dropped in" to cover a breaking story).

The symposium was presented by the Southeast Europe Study Group, the Center for European Studies, Harvard University and the Press & Information Office of the Consulate General of Greece.

-- Courtesy of The GreekAmerican