COL Media can't let candidates off easy on foreign policy

"We are about to hold power accountable next Tuesday," said Leigh Geramanis-Hart, the news director of KAAL-TV, summarizing her view of the news media's role in the national elections next Tuesday.

She was one of four local journalists who appeared at the monthly Post-Bulletin Dialogues public affairs program Monday night at the Rochester Public Library. Also participating were Bill Buzenberg, the head of news for Minnesota Public Radio; Jay Furst, the Post-Bulletin's managing editor; and Greg Sellnow, the coordinator of the paper's editorial pages; and myself.

The evening's topic was the media's role in the 2004 election, and the discussion between panelists and the audience covered everything from the Post-Bulletin's new policy of not making editorial endorsements in partisan political races, to the rise of Internet "blogs" as an important force in the national election, and whether there is political bias in the news media.

We didn't delve deeply into the foreign policy angle of Geramanis-Hart's noble journalistic aim, however, so I would like to do so now by asking "How should the media, including local TV, radio stations, and newspapers, hold power accountable on foreign policy issues?"

I ask that question on behalf of a majority of Americans who, for the first time since the Vietnam War, believe that foreign policy and national security issues are more important than the economy, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.


The survey found 41 percent said "war/foreign policy/terrorism" is the most important problem facing the nation, with 26 percent choosing the economy. The last time foreign policy issues topped the economy among Americans was in the election of 1972; from 1976 to 2000 the reverse was true.

Even more noteworthy, the poll shows that a majority of Americans have in the past four years shifted from being basically isolationists, in seeing a lone-wolf America in the world as good thing, to being internationalists, in believing America should belong to a global partnership of nations.

For example, the Pew poll found that 74 percent of Americans believe the United States should share leadership in the world, as opposed to 11 percent who say the United States should be the single world leader. And 66 percent worry that the United States is less respected in the world than it was in the past, and believe this increasing lack of respect is a serious national security issue.

Speaking on behalf of the majority of Americans who are now internationalists, I suggest three ways the media should push the candidates further on foreign policy and national security issues:

The biggest threat facing America today, Bush and Kerry agreed in their first debate, is that a terrorist group will get a nuclear weapon and set it off in an American city. Yet six days from the election, there has yet to appear any serious follow-up on this rare and deadly serious point of agreement between the candidates. Citizens -- let's not call ourselves media consumers -- should demand it from the media!

The media should press the candidates for more detail on their commitment to involving the United States in international organizations, treaties, and projects such as the global fight against AIDS, the International Criminal Court, and the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. The war on terror is not the only global war -- perhaps not even the most important one.

The media should press the candidates to talk in greater detail about their policies toward South America, as well as China and India, the world's two most populous countries that are changing our economy profoundly; and Africa, which this year is sending record levels of refugee immigrants to the United States. And what do the candidates have to say about the humanitarian catastrophe in Haiti right now, where some 300,000 people are homeless and starving following Hurricane Jeanne?

The war in Iraq and the war on terror are obviously important, and in many ways paramount. Yet if we allow these wars alone to define our worldview and priorities, we will continue to see the world in terms of "us vs. them."


Yet most of us today say we need to see the world more as "us." Not as a frill or luxury, we believe, but as a matter of national security.

Security is us. Which candidate believes that more, and will enact it more through his personal leadership and policies?

That's the question that we, and the media on our behalf, need to be asking the candidates more frequently and forcefully, next Tuesday and every day.

Global Rochester is written by local free-lance writer Douglas McGill, who also produces a Web log called the McGill Report ( His e-mail address is

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