One of the more amusing diversions in the foreign news business is the arrival of the American summer course students. They return like swallows to the many U.S. university branch campuses sprinkled around some of the more upmarket neighborhoods of London. They're generally media studies or political science majors and they come, like students everywhere, in search of knowledge, experience and a good time.
Inevitably the flocks alight in the various American news bureaus that operate here where they peck away at correspondents and producers trying to discover if there is something we know that we aren't telling them. And just as inevitably, we learn a lot more from them than they do from us.
Lately, when these students arrive you wonder how tired their little wings must be because the Atlantic seems to be getting wider. Their questions indicate that the gulf between the way they see the world and the way their contemporaries here might see it is widening.
You could forgive American college students for not showing up in Europe filled with curiosity about the apparent death through referendum of the European Union constitution. Europeans, after all, are at a loss to explain it themselves. Its recent rejection in France and the Netherlands seems to have been the result of an inadvertent and unlikely alliance between interest groups that have nothing else in common.
Roughly speaking the Left seems to have felt the relatively free-market model for the newly expanded EU was too "Anglo-Saxon" (code for American) and the Right that it wasn't American enough. The point, though, is that the American students seemed profoundly disinterested and who can blame them. Most Europeans haven't read the phone book sized document themselves and coverage of it in the American media could be flatteringly called minimalist (mea culpa). It was this last fact – the lack of coverage – that seemed to interest the American kids most.
The move toward a United States of Europe, combining more people and economic power than the Unites States of American, has been the driving force in European politics for decades. The European project, as it's called, envisioned the establishment of "an ever closer union" at least partly to counter the pervasive influence of the United States.
As it happened, this opened a fruitful area of discussion when a group of these college kids passed through this week. They acknowledged that the fate of Europe was of continuing importance to the Unites States. Europe is still, by far, America's biggest trading partner (not China).
U.S. foreign investment in Europe is greater by multiples than it is anywhere else. The U.S. now seems to want (even if it doesn't always get) European support for its policies. President Bush has visited Europe far more than any other continent. Yet, the kids said, they saw little in the papers or on TV back home to reflect the significance of this relationship. How, they wanted to know, could we make the important, interesting? It's a dilemma we face daily.
Some of the reasons for the relative invisibility of the European political story in the U.S. lie in the old saw that it's boring dull, classic "men in suits" often speaking in foreign tongues.
And frankly, other foreign new stories – wars, natural disasters, royal follies – are a lot easier to sell to editors and audiences. More to the point perhaps, they're also a lot easier to do.
The kids though, embody a challenge. They want to know more, they say. It's up to us to figure out a way to given them what they want.