France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

July 21, 2009

Leçon raté or, one 40-year leap backwards for mankind

Until these last few days, the July 20/21 moon landing remained a local event for me. I watched it from Miami Beach, where after much pleading my grandparents had let my brother Aaron and I stay up late. I even remember the room we were in, their bedroom, the specific images of the astronauts on the moon, and the hour flashing across the bottom of the screen. It was local because Florida was also the home of Cape Canaveral. And of course I remember the planting of the American flag.

What’s striking about remembering the event from another country, France, is how, while giving the Americans their due, the achievement is regarded as all mankind’s, an accomplishment without borders. (That makes three American moonwalkers in three weeks who have received unprecedented French media attention.) Usually the French, or at least the French media, are quick to claim primacy, and even to exaggerate France’s role in a particular historical event. But here’s a feat which is not particularly theirs to claim, and yet the French media has been lavish in the media time accorded to Apollo’s acheivement. (Although I just couldn’t watch a docu-drama recreating the lives of Armstrong, Aldren, and Collins around that time in which their typically suburban circa 1960s American families all spoke French.) Radio and television has been saturated with coverage, to the point where I’ve got ‘magnificent desolation’ imprinted on the brain.

The most striking — and tragic — juxtaposition is that of the observation by one of the astronauts, Collins I think, of how tranquil the Earth seemed from up there with the turbulent reality we returned to shortly after that parenthetical instant of unity embraced in ‘mankind’ — too many small steps in reverse which added up to a giant leap backward for mankind. Vietnam was not the last war fueled by territorialism, by nations believing themselves more individual bands who need to protect what’s theirs because the other guy wants to take it than one ‘mankind.’ If today’s newscast began on the moon, it ended by reporting that British and Spanish boats are still squabbling over who owns Gibraltor. And that’s the way it is.

It’s enough to make a man resort to the sentiment expressed by another local hero from Miami, Jacky Gleason: To the moon, Alice, to the moon!

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?

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