The US Elections from a Kazakh Journalist's View

Dec 12008

By Gulnara Mukhanova

Covering the 2008 elections in the USA was very different than covering those in Kazakhstan, Georgia or Kyrgyzstan.

My first impression was empty streets in Cleveland, one of the major cities of Ohio. I arrived on a Sunday, 10 days before the elections. Comparing this scene with the elections in Kazakhstan and Georgia, I asked myself: Am I in battleground state? Is it really a swing state? Political campaigns in the biggest cities of Kazakhstan and Georgia are very noticeable. You may see the posters with candidates everywhere, the announcements that “Election Day is coming.”

I had to wait until the next day to have a feeling of this important political event, as I went to the Board of Elections. There were some people who were voting. But it was not enough.

I felt the real spirit of elections only in rallies.

People began to gather at the Mentor High School in Mentor, Ohio, from the 3 p.m. for a rally scheduled to start at 6 p.m. People came to the rallies with children. I wondered how people could find time to come to the rally to listen to the candidates’ 30-minute speeches. In my country, people do not come three hours early to listen to the short speech of candidate, as they are no so politically active.

I liked the novelty of the electoral system in the USA, when people start to vote 30 days before the elections. It gives the voter a chance to exercise his rights. If he was given only one day to vote, certainly he would not have enough time, as the Election Day in the USA is not a free day as it is in Kazakhstan …. In the USA, the statements of candidates have a huge impact on voters. The voters of Kazakhstan and Georgia have very critical and cynical views, and they do not trust every word of politicians. It is very hard to convince voters in my country.

The behavior of people at the rallies seemed to me very interesting, as they just had fun, shouting, singing, repeating the words of the candidate, such as “Yes We Can”. In my country, the behavior is very strict.

I did not like that newspapers endorsed candidates during the election. The endorsement of candidates is a regular thing in countries where there is not enough freedom of speech, or all of the newspapers are fully regulated by the authorities. In the countries where the style of journalism is not the same as U.S. style: Editorials and news stories are very mixed, every news story has its own position, a reporter’s own feelings, his attitude, view and etc. At those countries I could understand if newspaper endorsed candidates at the elections. But I could not understand it in American newspapers.

Newspapers of USA have strong policies about covering news stories. The reporters never include their own feelings and positions in the stories. But, why should the editorials support a candidate?

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, where I was attached, supported Barack Obama’s candidacy in this election. But four years ago, it supported nobody: because, the publisher liked George Bush but editorial board liked John Kerry, the Democrat.

This year both of them liked Obama. I wondered why should a newspaper support a candidate? Do they not think that undecided voters may pay attention to their endorsement, and will vote for that candidate? They answered me, “We do not think, that somebody will wait until the Plain Dealer’s endorsement, people are clever enough to decide for whom to vote. They have enough information....

One of the things that surprised me in the USA is that people still have racial views. They never tell you about this. But you may understand it from the rallies of McCain, where there were only white supporters. Or from the concert for support Obama’s candidacy, where 20,000 people attended and I did not see any white person. I did not expect that the USA still had such problems in the 21st Century.

It was very interesting to me to cover and observe these elections.

The writer is a reporter with Ekspress K in Kazakhstan.