Well, arguably because we tell them we’re hateful. Hollywood’s basic trope since c. 1970 is that any American authority figure is likely a villain—or as the Volgi likes to put it, It’s Always the Highest-Ranking White Guy in A Suit or Uniform.* This black propaganda has probably contributed mightily to much of the world’s perception that American power is evil.
However, there’s a similar phenomenon which always boggles the Volgi’s mind in its degree: that of false famliarity, which this Standpoint article deals with nicely.
The Volgi would just add that there are ever-widening circles of ignorance. First, as Mr. Foreman† notes, there’s the ignorance and superiority complex of the coastal élites who depict the country as corrupt and seething with backwards lunatics—like Sarah Palin, the Snakehandler-American Candidate, if you believe some papers. Next come the foreign English-language press, who lazy as all journalists are, tend to take their cues from the American press. Any reader of British papers (or even Canadian ones) knows what lurid weirdness often gets presented under the guise of analysis of American politics or society.
However, monoglot English speakers may fail to realize that even these accounts come off as closely-observed, rigorously analyzed accounts compared to what runs in foreign-language presses. Foreman’s first commenter mentions the appalling ignorance of the French, and your Volgi has spent a long time in Germany coming up against just the same problem: Germans are often deeply ignorant about the United States, though they believe they are quite familiar with (and superior to) it. (The Volgi has often shocked Germans by asserting that he’d rather be a black American in the backcountry of Alabama than a Turk in Berlin, as he’d have more opportunity and face less bigotry.) It’s largely the same problem the NYT’s coverage of the Midwest, just writ larger because it comes through a game of telephone. German papers often rely on British sources (as well as American ones) and so incorporate the intermediary distortions as fact (usually unknowingly, I’d bet).
And by the time you get to countries like Greece and Turkey, say, you’re through the looking glass. (Not even to mention countries whose state-sponsored media take an anti-American line for political reasons. Russia, China, I’m looking at you.)
*Not to be confused with the Good Times Racist Principle, in which any white person who shows up at the Evans’ doorstep is out to steal their meager savings or worse. The Volgi always shouts, Look out, Florida! He’s white! The GTRP shows up everywhere, e.g., The Legend of Zorro (the dreadful sequel to the terrific Mask of Zorro: Hey, we’re in California populated entirely by patriotic Mexicans who’ve just become Americans. Who will be the villains? The four white guys in the movie! [In suits, so I guess IATHRWGIASOU holds as well.])
† Whom the Volgi may have once briefly met at a book party—I’ll have to check the shelf.
Don’t ask impertinent questions like that jackass Adept Lu.