Some European views of White House race colored by media caricature

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By Natasha Blakely and Bryce Airgood
(Additional reporting by Folu Ogundimu)

The U.S. election affects people around the world. As a long-acknowledged, somewhat self-professed, world power, the election has a global ripple effect.

As in the U.S., opinions are split about the character of the two major party candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Clinton is generally seen as flawed but reasonable, while Trump is seen as a dangerous and erratic buffoon, said Alan Yuhas, weekend editor and reporter for the Guardian newspaper of Britain.

Because of the UK’s tabloid culture, Trump has dominated UK press coverage of the American election over the last few weeks, Yuhas said.

Trump coverage is more entertaining, Yuhas said. He likened interest in Trump to the fascination of a train crash. “A lot of people just can’t look away from it.”

Trump has divided a major political party and has a history of sexual misconduct accusations against him, Yuhas said. He listed Trump’s ability to energize white nationalist groups, his desire for unconstitutional religious tests, and a retreat from decades-old treaty partnerships as reasons why non-Americans should care about the U.S. election.

Europeans have a certain expectation that their politicians be reserved and dignified, said Eric Lyman, an Italy-based freelance journalist. He said this quality does not fit the American image of a politician and this may account for why Trump is popular with Americans, because they see themselves in him.

This difference between Europeans and Americans may explain why many Europeans were surprised when John Kerry lost to George W. Bush in 2004, Lyman said. To Europeans, Kerry seemed like more of a politician while Bush seemed more like someone you’d grab a beer with.

Lyman compared the Trump candidacy to Silvio Berlusconi, who served four terms as Italy’s prime minister. Berlusconi was a billionaire without political experience who promised to boost the economy and fight immigration.

Although Berlusconi was an attractive candidate, he ended up driving Italy into the ground, Lyman said. Italians are wary of Trump because they see Berlusconi in him.

“They know what happens if we elect someone like that and they’re sort of horrified to see what’s happening in the U.S.,” Lyman said.

Unlike the British and Italian press, Russia’s state-controlled press has spent much time cheerleading Trump and decrying Clinton, said Matt Bodner, news feature writer for The Moscow Times. There are few liberal publications outside the grip of the Russian state, he said.

Most of the country outside Moscow and St. Petersburg lives in a tightly controlled information bubble that makes it easy for the government to feed people party-line propaganda, Bodner said. Coverage of the U.S. elections has been made to look like elections in the U.S. are rigged, to show that everything that happens with Russian elections is normal.

He said the main line of the state media has been to show that Trump is a good guy while Clinton is an anti-Russian hawk.

Russian television can get sensationalistic, Yuhas said. He noted that RIA Novosti, which has long held a reliable reputation, has quoted officials making strong anti-U.S statements.

Coverage of Clinton has mostly been about Wikileaks to show how corrupt and undemocratic she is, whereas Trump is portrayed as a good guy who is looking to end American foreign policy imperialism, Bodner said.

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