During the first half of this year, coverage by Japan’s print and broadcast media of America’s presidential primary campaigns and debates was heavier than usual. But as the two remaining contenders stagger toward the finish line, one gets the impression that Japanese are just as weary as their American counterparts — if not more so.
Where’s the outrage? More specifically, has the media here toned down the most controversial revelations concerning Donald Trump — and, to a lesser extent, Hillary Clinton? I posed that question to Dave Spector, a veteran TV personality and Chicago native who has been giving regular talks about the election on local TV shows.
“I don’t believe there have been any conscious efforts here to downplay or avoid any level of sexual innuendos concerning Trump, at least within the parameters allowed in broadcasting,” Spector responded. “The now-infamous leaked audio excerpts from ‘Access Hollywood’ were shown repeatedly on television here with only a few words disguised or bleeped out. I myself had no problem airing the material and there was no suggestion it might be too strong, even for the morning programs. As for the now notorious line, ‘Grab them by the pussy,’ no exact equivalent really exists in Japanese, so if translated literally it wouldn’t have the same meaning as Trump intended,” Spector says.
“Naturally TV must deal with time constraints, so viewers here are not going to be exposed to anything near the level of U.S. TV coverage.”
For Spector, this is “the first time in memory” that a U.S. election has received such heavy coverage in Japan — and just about all the candidates’ “dirty laundry has been aired,” he says.
One of the more disparaging stories concerning Trump appeared in Aera (Oct. 31), a weekly newsmagazine with a feminist slant. Under a headline describing Trump as the “unrepentant king of sexual harassment,” journalist Keiko Tsuyama went into some of the details claimed by his victims (“He was like an octopus”).
“While there are many criticisms of Trump aside from his apparent contempt for women,” concluded Tsuyama, “there can be no doubt that his past acts of sexual harassment should make people reconsider voting for him.”
On the day of the 9/11 memorial ceremonies in New York, Clinton developed pneumonia and was shown needing assistance to walk to her car. A U.S.-based Japanese reporter, Sachiko Hijikata, reported in Sunday Mainichi (Oct. 2) that the so-called alt-right, a nascent right-wing group often concerned with preserving “white identity,” accused Clinton of concealing serious health issues, ranging from Parkinson’s disease to the after-effects of a brain injury. (Those are rather mild, compared to what bloggers on the lunatic fringe have been posting. Some have gone as far as to assert she is actually dead, and that the person shown on TV is an impersonator.)
“The election strategies being adopted by both sides are becoming increasingly chaotic,” Hijikata remarked.
It goes without saying, but many issues judged important by Americans — such as gun rights, abortion, illegal immigration and appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court — don’t resonate much with most Japanese and tend to be glossed over by the media here, whereas Japanese writers seldom shirk from commentary on America’s ethnic and racial dynamics. It would appear that some Japanese journalists reporting from America find it safer to choose selectively from what they see in the U.S. media and quote it, sometimes almost verbatim.
The Washington Post boasts one of the most hostile editorial stances toward Trump and has been widely cited by Japanese media during the 2016 campaign. This includes the lead story in an eight-page section on the U.S. elections in Shukan Economist (Oct.25) by Akihiko Yasui, a division manager at Mizuho Bank’s research arm. In the article, titled “Clinton maintains her advantage; Trump’s scenario for a come-from-behind victory,” Yasui quotes from the Post, writing that “Votes by nonwhites are Trump’s weak point.” He then went on to explain how shifts in U.S. voter demographics have made Hispanics a key factor to winning in New Mexico, as well as in so-called swing states such as Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Nevada.
Yasui echoed U.S. predictions that, whether Trump wins or loses, the Republican party’s dilemma — dependence on America’s shrinking base of white voters — is likely to persist.
In addition to Yasui’s essay, Shukan Economist ran four other articles. Three focused on specific political points: the televised debates; American concerns over unemployment that might impact on ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement; and differences in the candidates’ policies toward foreign military intervention, with Trump reportedly supported by members of the military by a margin of 49 percent versus 34 percent for Clinton. The fourth was an essay by Surugadai University lecturer Masayuki Hatta on the alt-right. Made up of mostly Caucasian voters, it has formed a key segment of Trump supporters.
“Even if Trump wins, curbs immigration and halts free trade, it will bring no immediate improvement in whites’ condition,” Hatta writes. “Their decline is due to other factors, such as their shrinking demographic and the technological revolution. I suppose a Trump presidency will fail to dispel the dissatisfaction being voiced by members of the alt-right.”
With the election just over a week away, the Japanese media seem to have adopted a wait-and-see attitude, conserving energy for election night coverage. Whatever the outcome — whether America elects its first female president or a flamboyant, outspoken political outsider — more excitement is in the cards.