Transatlantic Media Comparison: The G20 Summit

On April 2, 2009 the Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (G20) held a Summit in London to discuss international solutions for combating the global financial crisis.  Reporting that preceded the meeting of the G20 suggested a strong rift between the U.S. and Great Britain and Europe regarding the issues of financial regulation and stimulus spending; the U.S. and Great Britain favor increased spending as a solution to the financial crisis, while Europe favors the creation of an international financial regulatory authority.  Despite these differences, the G20 Summit yielded an international commitment to donate $1.1 trillion to the International Monetary Fund, and to increase national regulatory oversight.  But despite a generally positive outcome to the meeting, a media comparison between U.S. and European reporting of the G20 Summit’s outcomes reveals interesting nuances in transatlantic perceptions regarding the financial crisis and the future of capitalism.

The main consensus in transatlantic reporting was that the result of the G20 Summit was a positive occurrence of international cooperation.  Reporting from prominent European and American newspapers, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, Die Welt, and Le Monde, focused on the ability of world leaders to compromise and present a united front in combating the financial crisis.  All papers prominently featured a meaningful quotation by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who said, “This is the day the world came together to fight against the global recession. Our message today is clear and certain: we believe that global problems require global solutions.”

While the transatlantic consensus was that general cooperation occurred, U.S. reporting suggested that the G20 compromise was limited, while European reporting was more apt to speak of absolute success.  For example, The New York Times emphasized remaining divisions regarding the issues of stimulus spending and global regulation, beginning its summary of the G20 by drawing attention to “deep divides over how to revive a paralyzed global economy.”  The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal were equally skeptical about the effectiveness of the G20 summit and the extent of substantive cooperation, for example, The Wall Street Journal reported that global leaders “deferred many of the trickiest decisions or forwarded them to international institutions unaccustomed to the responsibility.”  The U.S. perspective on the summit suggests that compromises were superficial and lacking in impact.

On the other hand, European reporting emphasized cooperation and a successful conclusion to the G20 Summit.  France’s leading newspaper Le Monde asserted that the G20 conclusion was a historic and global compromise whose outcome exceeded the expectations of French President Sarkozy.  The most positive reporting from the European perspective appeared in the online edition of Germany’s Der Spiegel, which heralded cooperation and compromise, asserting that the divide between the U.S. and European approach to combating the crisis was “vastly overstated” in the lead up to the Summit, and that German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy, “appeared to be getting everything they asked for.”  European reporting suggests more satisfaction with the outcome of the G20.

In addition to diverging perspectives about the extent of cooperation achieved at the G20 summit, reporting in the U.S. and Europe tended to emphasize the importance of national prominence.  In the U.S., reporting centered around the leadership of new President Obama.  The New York Times heralded his leadership at the Summit as a remarkable debut on the global stage that demonstrated the force of his personality and his pragmatism.  Additional U.S. reporting centered on Obama’s personal role in striking a bargain between France and China over the issue of regulating tax havens.

European reporting certainly mentioned U.S. President Obama, but the force of his role was absent.  An interesting trend in European articles, which suggests slight anti-Americanism and European assertiveness and confidence in its economic structures, were statements that pointed to the end of the dominance of U.S. economic policy.  A quotation by President Sarkozy about the agreement to increase regulation and crack down on tax havens that “a page has been turned” on an era of post-war “Anglo- Saxon” capitalism was a central aspect of European reporting.

The implications from the divergence in reporting between the U.S. and Europe are vast.  The U.S. emphasis on the mediocrity of the G20 Summit’s outcomes signifies U.S. disappointment in the failure to obtain its goal of hefty international stimulus spending.  European reporting is symptomatic of European pride in its ability to resist U.S. pressure for extensive stimulus spending and European gains in the field of increased financial regulation.  National exaggeration in reporting implies a wish by both the U.S. and Europe to be dominant international players.  The U.S. failed to achieve its policy objectives, but the media’s attention to Obama’s role at the G20 asserts U.S. prominence and the primacy of U.S. leadership in the international community.  From a European viewpoint reporting that predicts the end of the Anglo-American financial model shows pride in the European economic model, and the suggestions that Europe is in fact superior to the U.S.