Election Diary

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The Independent US

I used to suspect that network news might be partly to blame for Americans' woeful ignorance of the outside world.

I used to suspect that network news might be partly to blame for Americans' woeful ignorance of the outside world.

Now I am convinced it is.

At 7am one morning this week I tuned into NBC's Today show desperate to learn more about why Beslan had happened. They ran one piece of about one-and-a-half minutes. Did they interview their Moscow correspondent afterwards for some analysis? No. Did they talk to a Russian expert about the implications of this event? Not a chance.

By 7.15am, Katie Couric was deep in an interview with the lawyer of the woman alleging she had been sexually assaulted by the basketball star Kobe Bryant.

I have a lot of friends in American television news and they are highly educated, intelligent people. But how can they think that a 10-minute interview about a single case of alleged sexual assault involving some sports star matters more than 30 terrorists wiring a room full of women and children with high explosive and blowing them to pieces?

This was Russia's 9/11. Russia, America's old Cold War adversary. But thanks to the disservice of the American TV networks, huge numbers of Americans still have no idea what Beslan is all about.

The biggest source of news in this country is the TV. But how can Americans hope to make any sense of the world - and make an informed choice at the polls in November - if this is how the main television networks treat the news agenda?

Here is the ultimate absurdity of American politics.

Tomorrow, a ban on semi-automatic firearms is set to expire. The polls show that a clear majority of Americans want the ban to stay.

If they were following common sense, both candidates would therefore strongly support a continued ban. But neither Bush nor Kerry has pushed to keep the legislation alive because they're both terrified of offending the swing vote in the Mid West - an area with a higher gun ownership than the rest of the country.

So despite the fact that police chiefs have been parading through Washington for days pleading for Congress to renew the ban, it will expire. From tomorrow, it will be legal to carry semi-automatic assault guns on American streets.

Just wait until al-Qa'ida carries out a massacre with a legal AK47 bought in a US gun store. In presidential politics, attack is the best form of defence.

After the Republican convention, it's now clear Bush's top priority is to demolish John Kerry, not least because it helps to deflect attention away from his own policy failures.

The only way Kerry can respond is in kind. If George Bush is still standing, with his reputation and his image intact, on 2 November he will carry the day. It's possible the election may already have been decided in the courts.

This week a Florida court refused to let Ralph Nader (pictured left) on to the ballot in Florida. A judge ruled that his Reform Party was not a truly national party, as required under Floridian law. In 2000, Nader won 97,000 votes in the state. Without Nader, Al Gore would have won Florida, the electoral college and the presidency. This time, not having him around may well be enough to tip Florida Kerry's way.

Tom Carver is the Washington correspondent for BBC 'Newsnight'

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