- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 4 (UPI) — Few Americans could find Afghanistan or Iraq on a map before four hijacked airliners caused death and devastation in the United States.

Today most of them could tell you who Saddam Hussein is and where he lives, and many have a connection to Afghanistan through a member of the military serving there.

And increasingly they are consuming more international news or television, radio and in the newspapers.

A poll just released by the Gallup Tuesday Briefing says Americans are now able to identify more national and international political leaders. In late May 2000, only 33 percent of Americans could name Madeleine Albright as the U.S. secretary of state. In early February of this year, 57 percent could identify Colin Powell as holder of that post.

Americans able to name Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair have doubled, from 18 percent to 40 percent, and 22 percent to 55 percent respectively. Gallup believes the rise in America's ability to identify Blair is due to his support of the U.S. plans in Iraq.

Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could also be identified by 37 percent of Americans.

"International news coverage sank like a stone in the 1990s. It increased a great deal after the sad events of Sept.11, no question about it," said Leonard Steinhorn, associate journalism professor at American University. "Our own fate here at home seems tied up with international leaders. Americans recognizing those leaders is a natural correlation."

Since February 2001, the amount of viewers paying closer attention to international news rose 10 percent in the first year, and another 4 percent last year. This rise in viewers is primarily due to the increase in U.S. foreign policy coverage by the media after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the poll said.

According to the poll, those following foreign coverage "not at all" and "somewhat closely" remained the same for the most part. Viewers watching the coverage "not too closely" decreased in both years as well.

Though Americans were able to identify the leaders of Russia and Britain, they still had difficulty recognizing Jean Chretien, the prime minister of Canada, indicating that Americans are more likely to know foreign leaders heavily involved in world affairs, rather than by proximity to the United States. For example, Cuba's Fidel Castro's identification sank by 6 percent in the same time period, although he was still recognized by 71 percent of those surveyed.

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