France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

January 30, 2009

Laurent Joffrin’s Media Condescension

Here’s the thing about conspiracy theories: Even if at the end of the day they’re proven to have little factual basis, they don’t come out of nowhere but often start with a suspicion based in reason. Let’s take, for example, one of the most apparently extreme of recent times: The so-called 9/11 Truth Movement. If you look at it from the factual perspective, the idea that the 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were not the work of terrorist fanatics but the government is ludicrous. *But*, if you look at how the Bush-Cheney administration immediately went to work to exploit these attacks for own agenda of hegemony and abuse of human rights abroad and suppression of civil rights at home, well then, it becomes at least more understandable that some citizens might think that they went so far as to create the incident that created the opportunity. In effect, by simply dismissing the conspiracy theorists as lunies and not probing further into their motivations, one misses an opportunity to look at the genuine concerns that might have lead them to this improbable place.

But let’s apply this lesson closer to home.

Across the world, the public doubts the mainstream media, whether it be corporate- or state-owned. And they have reason. At least in the U.S., if not Europe, the corp. and state media went along, for the most part, with the Bush lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that justified an offensive attack. (Because for anyone who read or listened to alternative media or the rare lonely voice in corp. medfia, it was no surprise that the weapons weren’t there.) But let’s look at a more recent event, here in France. Listening to France Culture radio this morning, we’re supposed to believe that the same reporters and anchors who joined yesterday’s general strike — regular radio emissions were replaced with canned music — can report credibly and objectively on that same event. Surprise surprise, we’re told that the strike was a grand success. Sure, passing glance is given to the lower police estimates of march participants, but no one — no one — poses the question of whether the strike was justified. Of whether in a time where unemployment is mounting — even here in France — workers who at least have jobs aren’t being a little bit offensive to complain about their work conditions. Of whether the unions’ claim that they were also protesting the loss in purchase power wasn’t a cynical attempt to engage more of the public than the meager eight percent who actually belong to unions.

In between the mostly glowing reports on yesterday’s strike, the France Culture morning program featured Laurent Joffrin, the editor in chief of the French daily Liberation, who’s been making the rounds (of various state-run radio stations) to hawk his new screed, “Media Paranoia.” According to Joffrin, apparently (haven’t read the book), for the most part, all that media mistrust and criticism cannot possibly have any basis in fact, but is a result of public paranoia about the media. To hear people talk, he says, you’d think he calls the (Liberation principal stock-holders) Rothschilds every day to find out what should be in the paper tomorrow.

It’s a nice try, Laurent, but it isn’t so much that we think that just because the Rothschilds own your paper that means you call them every day for marching orders. Rather, what concerns many in the public is that you all live, work, go to school with, party with, interact with and thus rarely question the basis of the thought and actions of your own rarified circle made up mostly of, if not government officials, at least politicians, commentators, and fellow journalists. *You rarely question establishment thinking.* In the United States that might mean that the New York Times is never going to really seriously question the official version, until it’s too late. (As the brilliant veteran British foreign correspondent Robert Fisk once said, the Times might as well change its name to “Officials say.”) In France, for an historically traditional Left-leaning journal like Liberation, the Establishment is the unions and the Socialist party, and you’re never going to question whether they’re right to go call and support a strike. (And, when the Establishment Left and Right back the European Constitution, you’re going to distort and mock the legitimate fears of those who oppose it.)

Instead of roundly dismissing roundly held public concerns as ‘paranoia,’ Joffrin might have looked at his own and his colleagues’ responsibility: How did we get here? What have journalists been doing, or not doing, to provoke such widespread public mistrust — and belief that they’ve advocated their founding principle of true independence? Instead, he’s content to cynically dismiss their concerns; those who criticize the media, as he said on France Culure this morning, “Are often extremists who blame the media” for not paying attention to their ideas “when the problem is their ideas.” Then when the public reacts by buying less newspapers, he has the temerity to warn, “If there are less journalists, there are going to be less people to challenge power.” Ou ca?

January 6, 2009

The Times lies, Hamas and Gitai miss golden opportunities, Zionist negationists and why for Israel it’s not a humanitarian crisis; Obama passes the buck

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 10:57 pm
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I really didn’t want to return to this topic for fear my reader(s) might justly protest, “What does this have to do with France?” In fact, if this journal is about anything, it’s about the perspective of an American living in France and, well, let’s start by explaining why on the question of Israel’s war crimes, that might be different than that of an American living in America.

Now, an American who relies on the New York Times might be forgiven for believing that the 30-40 PEOPLE taking refuge in a clearly marked UNITED NATIONS facility were killed by accident. “Israeli Strike Hits Refugees Near a U.N. School in Gaza,” read the headline in the Times. Contrast this with the head in the French daily Rue89, which heralded its story from Reuters via Yahoo France, “Many tens dead in the bombardment of a UN school in Gaza.” In interviews today on the BBC, UN officials on the ground said they had clearly given Israel a list of their facilities, ncluding this one (and another where Israel killed three civilians earlier). But that’s not the best. Never mind that Reuters was there and filmed the scene — “a vision from a nightmare: bodies, shoes and torn clothes strewn about the floor, in tides of blood” — and never mind that the tallies of 30 and 42 came from, respectively, the UN and Palestinian doctors, the Times report had the cupidity to add, “The number of those killed at the United Nations school could not be immediately independently confirmed.” Well – Duh! That’s because Israel isn’t letting international reporters into Gaza! This is what we call Zionist negationism in real time. (Q: Why does the U.N. say there is a humanitarian crisis, while Israel says there’s not? Because they’re not human! They’re Arabs. Did Barack Obama make the same cynical equation when the best response he could come up with was to say, “the loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of deep concern for me”? At last count, that would be 5 Israelis and 630 Palestinians. Obama did add, said the Times, his new bromide that the US has one president at a time (er, unless it comes to money. I mean dead children are one thing, money another. How’s that for moral values!?) But now, Obama will defer to our war criminal of a president to comment or not on Israeli war crimes.

PS 1: Unfortunately, Hamas isn’t helping those of us who would defuse Israel’s propaganda. I’d been telling those who say Hamas is to blame because of the rocket attacks that Hamas was ready to renew the cease-fire if Israel just ended the blockade, but yesterday on the BBC, a Hamas rep. said that besides that, the Occupation would have to end for them to stop firing rockets. Way to shoot yourself and your people in the foot, Hamas!

PS 2: On the Israeli side, filmmaker Amos Gitai did not do much better. Asked to comment on the current events during a brief appearance on France Culture radio Tuesday morning to discuss his 2007 film related to the deportation and the Holocaust, the best he could do was bemoan the ‘bloody’ cycle of violence. And another Israeli supposed liberal loses the moral ground.

December 15, 2008

If the shoe fits, or, dog insult bites president

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 9:23 am
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Even if the NY Times has not done so bad in reporting the tale of the Iraqi journalist who threw two shoes at President Bush yesterday in Baghdad in denouncing what Bush has wraught in his country — the paper in effect recounting how Bush’s hackneyed retort “Democracy comes with freedom of speech” was punctuated by the screams of the young man being beaten by Iraqi security agents — the fact is that as is often the case when it comes to news that reflects negatively on the Bush administration, you have to go abroad for the kind of front page coverage the incident deserves. (European papers lead with it; the Times relegated it to the inside pages.)  For balance, try, for instance, this report on Rue89, the Web-based journal founded by former journalists at the national daily Liberation. For starters, check the sub-title: “Mountazer al-Zaïdi, correspondant de la télé irakienne Al-Baghdadia, est en passe de devenir un héros dans le monde arabe.”

December 4, 2008

Everything but the News is on strike; Europeana, meet Qantara; Catherine Deneuve is in Lebanon; French News workers out of work

For the second consecutive week, France Culture was more or less on strike today. Last week, my morning began — because it starts for the last year with the 7-9 morning program hosted by Ali Badou with a stable of commentators, newscasters, and one or two special guests — with a program with just Badou and commentators but no news. So when the top or bottom of the hour arrived, we were mistreated to bad mix tapes. Or rather ‘tape,’ as the same one played throughout the day. This morning it was the reverse; just news, with Ali and allies AWOL. Why? BECAUSE THEY DON’T GET PAID ENOUGH. That’s right folks. Journalists being laid off all over the planet, independent pubs like our own Dance Insider feeling the knock-off effect, and these guys (because they’re mostly guys), WHO HAVE JOBS where their colleagues are losing or fear losing theirs, go on strike because they’re not getting paid enough. This week in my department of France, the entire 22-person staff of French News, a 21-year-old vigorous English-language monthly whose offices are based in Perigueux, find themselves without work as the publication is going under because of financial difficulties exacerbated by the crisis.  And their confreres are striking because it’s not enough to have secure jobs, they want to be paid more. Oh-lah-lah.

Not wanting to listen to the same old music — literally — again, I switched to France Entiere, and there got some useful cultural news that seems to have — you’ll divine why in a minute — eluded the U.S. cultural gatekeepers’ radar. Apparently Catherine Deneuve took a little trip to Lebanon in 2006, not long after the Israelis bombed large swathes of it to rubble, and rode around with a Lebanese actor and film crew encountering people and, well, bearing witness. The film, Deneuve  acknowledged on France Entiere today, is not expressly political nor engaged, but…how could it not not show Israel in a negative light, from the footage of devastation and from episodes like the one in which we hear aircraft suddenly flying low over-head, prompting the alarmed matinee idol to ask worriedly, “Qu’est que c’est?” When her interloper explains it’s Israeli planes taking photos, she let’s out an almost angry sigh… Hmm, wonder why we haven’t heard more about this film — called, btw, “Je veux voir” or “I want to see” — from the U..S. press? If you happen to be reading this in NY, you can see it at the Museum of Modern Art (whose website refers to the Israeli invasion by the more gentile nomenclature ‘incursion” ((‘Pardon me, Madame, if I incur you by bombing your homes and when you listen to our instructions and try to flee them, your cars with you in them.’)).) I also learned, in another segment, that while Brussels has been bogged down in a 2 million digitial Euro library that doesn’t work, a group of Mediterranean nations, including this one and Algeria, and the afore-devastated Lebanon, coordinated by the Paris-based Institut du Monde Arab, has launched the much simpler — and effective, it actually works! — ‘Qantara’ — whose goal is to demonstrate, through, among other things, images of artifacts you can actually find on its website, the traditions that have united these sometimes disparate-seeming cultures over 2,000 years.

November 17, 2008

‘A shave and a haircut and close Gitmo while you’re at it’; and, the BBC’s Man Bites Dog Story

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 11:49 am
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Last night on the American television news show 60 Minutes, President-elect Obama announced he’d be closing the hors de loi Guantanimo Bay Prison Base plus pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of 2010. As an American living abroad, which of the following news sources do you think I learned of this this morning?:

A) New York Times
B) BBC
C) France Culture Radio’s 15-minute news broadcast

Of course it was C, and, as far as mainstream media culpability in the Gitmo atrocity, there’s the rub.

When I finally found today’s Times’s coverage of the appearance, it was buried in a blog column called the Caucus which spent more time (a couple of sentences) on the president-elect’s bemoaning that he would now have to order out for a barber than on his decision to close the institution that’s probably been the biggest embarassment to America (and Americans) abroad over the last eight years of anything the Bush Administration has perpetrated in our name (to say nothing of its violations of international and American law and their tactile effect on the detainees). (No mention in the Times story.) More than just bad journalism, it’s this kind of mainstream U.S. media lack of attention that has enabled the Bushies to get away with this for the last seven years. Out of site, off mainstream media radar, out of the public mind.

The BBC was hardly better; no, 0 mention of Guantanimo in its segment on Obama’s 60 Minutes gig but healthy time to Michelle Obama’s update on the puppy situation. Personally, I — and many Americans and others abroad who care about the United States — am more concerned about detainees being treated worse than dogs than puppies in the White House.

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