'The progressive reputation of Justin Trudeau is in ruins': A sampling of international reaction

The revelation that Justin Trudeau donned brownface for a costume party in 2001 landed too late on Wednesday night to make the print editions of many international publications, but reaction has since picked up around the globe.

U.S. and other international news organizations take different angles on brownface scandal

Justin Trudeau's brownface scandal and apology garnered coverage around the globe early Thursday. (CBC News)

The revelation that Justin Trudeau donned brownface for a costume party in 2001 landed too late on Wednesday night to make the print editions of many international publications, but reaction has since picked up around the globe.

The New York Times, for one, remarked on the damage to Trudeau's "carefully calibrated image."

"Mr. Trudeau has long cast himself as a glittering spokesman for the world's beleaguered liberals, standing up to President [Donald] Trump, supporting gender and Indigenous rights, welcoming immigrants, and fighting climate change and racism," wrote Dan Bilefsky and Ian Austen, both Canadians. 

"But that carefully calibrated image suffered a major blow."

Another Times piece, with an eye to the upcoming election, noted that South Asian, Middle Eastern and Sikh communities have been an "important source of support," for Trudeau and the Liberals, "particularly in suburban areas around Toronto, which are seen as key electoral battlegrounds."

In a CNN opinion piece, Canadian-born Michael Bociurkiw asked a question on the minds of many, in light of a similar U.S. case just over six months ago:

"What baffles many analysts is why the Liberals waited until it came out this way," wrote Bociurkiw.

"Trudeau could have tried to limit the damage by coming out with the news himself — he must have known about the damage it did to the Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, after revelations of a blackface image on his yearbook school page."

The BBC, with perhaps classic British understatement, noted the initial photo was "politically embarrassing for the prime minister because he has made progressive policies a signature issue."

Trudeau: 'I let a lot of people down'

2 years ago
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says his decision to get made up in blackface was a bad idea, and that he let a lot of people down. 1:14

Reputation 'in ruins'

In the U.S., publications that lean right were eager to take on a figure often portrayed as a liberal darling.

The New York Post — always quick to cover the missteps of liberals like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and former president Barack Obama — had four separate Trudeau items on its website by noon Thursday, including one predictably headlined, "Oh Canada!"

Another piece went a step further than nearly all other U.S. outlets, bringing up the "R" word: "Justin Trudeau won't say if he'll resign over 'brownface' scandal."

The right-wing site Breitbart, too, reported on what it dubbed: "Blackface Scandal in Great White North" while ardent Trump supporter and alleged Nazi sympathizer Sebastian Gorka deemed Trudeau "a virtue-signalling imbecile" on his website. 

Moving left on the political spectrum, CNN anchor Don Lemon gave Trudeau credit on Wednesday night for confronting the issue, bringing up Trump by inference.

"Wow, a leader apologizing. It seems odd, doesn't it?" said Lemon, who is black. "Because we have one who doesn't."

Later in his program, Lemon added: "We don't often see that here, especially in a world leader who is saying 'I should've known better and I'm sorry.' You can feel about it however you want, but that, to me, that does mean a lot."

By Thursday morning, after more images had surfaced, the left-leaning Daily Beast site was less upbeat, declaring Trudeau's "progressive reputation … in ruins." 

Scant international coverage

Though strong reactions could be found on social media, further abroad the Trudeau story was covered no more than, say, the Israeli election or the death of Tunisian autocrat Ben Ali. 

Trudeau was not on the top story page of Israel's Haaretz or Jerusalem Post, and the story merited only "world" page coverage on the sites of the Times of India and Italy's Corriere Della Sera (with a stock picture of Trudeau, no less, in the latter case).

News 24 in South Africa, NDTV in India and Le Figaro in France addressed the story on their main pages, but hardly with what one would call prominent placement. 

A photograph of Justin Trudeau in brownface and wearing a turban at a 2001 “Arabian Nights”-themed costume party was published in TIME Wednesday night. Soon after, Trudeau apologized, saying he now realizes it was “racist.” Today on Front Burner, Vassy Kapelos, host of Power & Politics, joins us talk about the reaction to the news and political fallout for a leader who has positioned himself as a champion of diversity and inclusion. 18:30

In Australia, the scandal ranked fifth or sixth on the Sydney Morning Herald's 10 most viewed stories — behind both a controversial report a rock singer's alleged bondage club habits, and a story about tensions in the Middle East. 

Back in the U.K., the Guardian's international edition rated Trudeau as the No. 2 most viewed story, but it wasn't rating at all on the site's traditional home page (which still features international news).