Kerry: Damage to US Image Abroad Stems From Shutdown; No Mention of Spy Scandal

By Patrick Goodenough | October 25, 2013 | 4:28 AM EDT

The NSA spying story made front page headlines in newspapers around the world on Thursday, including in, clockwise from top left, La Stampa of Italy, Chile’s El Mercurio, and De Morgen of Belgium. (Composite image: Newseum/CNSNews)

( – Secretary of State John Kerry used an address to a liberal think-tank Thursday to cite ways in which the recent government shutdown hurt America’s image abroad, but his speech contained no reference to the diplomatic harm being caused by the escalating surveillance scandal.

Kerry’s appearance at a Center for American Progress conference came on the same day that German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle summoned the U.S. ambassador to warn friendship was at stake over the alleged bugging of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone.

Westerwelle’s comments to reporters afterwards strongly implied Merkel had not been satisfied by assurances given her by President Obama in a phone conversation on Wednesday.

“We expect that these activities that have been reported will be comprehensively investigated,” Westerwelle said. “We need the truth now.”

Also on Thursday, European Union leaders meeting in Brussels discussed allegations of widespread National Security Agency spying, and said afterwards that “a lack of trust [between the U.S. and E.U.] would prejudice the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence gathering.”

Merkel told reporters that “trust needs to be restored” between Germany and the U.S.

And in further fallout, the president of the European Parliament called for negotiations over an ambitious U.S.-E.U. free-trade agreement announced in June to be suspended.

Kerry, who has just returned from a trip to Europe, gave a speech Thursday afternoon to the Center for American Progress on “the importance of America’s leadership in the world.”

Despite the snowballing diplomatic controversy, he focused on the federal government shutdown, which he called “a self-inflicted wound.”

“I wanted to reflect on the damage that events like the one we’ve just been through can do to the esteem in which the United States is held in the world,” he said. “The shutdown, and the dysfunction, and the simplistic dialogue that came with it, didn’t impress anyone about the power of America’s example.”

“The simple fact is that the shutdown created temporary but real consequences in our ability to work with our partners and pursue our interests abroad,” he said.

Kerry also quoted from articles earlier this month in three newspapers in allied countries – Britain, South Korea and Germany – about the damage the shutdown was causing to America’s reputation. (A State Department spokeswoman cited two of the three same quotes during a press briefing on October 15.)

A review of the front pages of Thursday’s print and online editions of newspapers from around the world suggests America’s image is also taking a battering over the NSA spying issue.

German newspapers were understandably full of the affair, which Die Welt, a conservative daily, described as “a punch in the face,” but elsewhere in Europe and further afield, it also made waves.

“Enough spying,” said La Stampa (Italy) while De Standaard (Belgium) reported that “Merkel hauls Obama onto the carpet.” A page one headline in Diario do Comercio (Brazil) read “USA spies bugged the German eagle.”

Qatar’s The Peninsula said in an editorial that while the shutdown had “jolted the might of the American state,” the latest spying revelations “have made it look weaker and meeker.”

Other newspapers featuring front page stories included El Mercurio (Chile), De Morgen (Belgium), Jyllands-Posten (Denmark) and the Irish Times.

The story also led the “World” or “International” news sections of the Japan Times, Jakarta Post (Indonesia) and Arab News (Saudi Arabia). It featured at or near the top of online editions of Dagens Nyheter (Sweden), Ceske noviny (Czech Republic), New Straits Times (Malaysia) and Al Ahram (Egypt).

In Beijing, the story received prominent coverage in the state-run China Daily, while in the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times, no fewer than four out of six featured “World” headlines related to the NSA spying story.

(China had itself been accused of massive-scale cyber snooping. It leads the world in spying on its citizens’ Internet use, according to Reporters Without Borders.)

Asked during a press briefing Thursday whether the State Department had a plan to counter the negative headlines appearing around the world spokeswoman Marie Harf said, “Absolutely.”

“I think having senior officials come out and speak about it is one way to do it,” she said. “Certainly answering all of your questions about it to the extent that I can is one way to do it, but also engaging with local press on the ground.

“That’s why we have folks who do public diplomacy, who do press, who indeed represent the U.S. in all these places around the world,” Harf added. “So certainly, that’s part of their mandate, and we think it’s important not just to talk about it from Washington, but also to talk about it on the ground as well.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow