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Eye on the News

Denis Boyles
Garlic Press
It stinks when it takes blogsites and papers named after ducks to keep the French press somewhat honest.
23 February 2004

The French journalists who work for the leftwing Libération, the conservative Le Figaro, or the liberal Le Monde may not agree on much. But they share the assumptions that inform a French sense of nationhood, including the firmly held conviction that to be anti-American is to be pro-France—especially when it comes to the Middle East, where Israel is seen as a bad patsy of the U.S. “Our history has taught us not to like tanks,” one French journalist sniffed, “especially when they are used against children throwing rocks.”

So much has anti-Americanism become an undisputed expression of truth for the French press that, when veteran journalist Alain Hertoghe documented in his recent book La guerre à outrances (the “all-out war”) how the big French papers, because of their hatred of the U.S., reported the Iraq conflict with wild inaccuracy, the media response, right and left, was . . . silence. Well, except at Hertoghe’s own paper, the Catholic daily La Croix. There, his boss accused him of committing “an act of treason” and fired him (just as the BBC yanked journalist Robert Kilroy-Silk’s radio show off the air after he penned an angry column in the Sunday Express praising the U.S. and harshly criticizing “despotic, barbarous, and corrupt” Arab states).

Last week, the newspapers in Paris uncomfortably covered another story that until then they had successfully avoided. Earlier this month, the European blogsite EURSOC.com reported a story they’d spotted in the Belgian satirical weekly, Sprout, written by a German politician, Ilka Schroeder, about the misuse of E.U. funds sent to Palestine. It seems the E.U. gives the Palestinians more than $400 million annually—including some $12.5 million each month, paid directly to the Palestinian Authority. The money may be going to wage war on Israel, and indirectly on the U.S. The E.U., says Schroeder, is “well aware that much of the funding ends up in the hands of terrorists”—a situation that Schroeder says doesn’t alarm the E.U. at all. On the contrary, “[the E.U.] hopes that a deepening conflict in the region will highlight America’s inability to mediate a satisfactory peace deal—and that Europe will then be able to ride to the rescue.”

In fact, Israel claims that E.U. funds are bankrolling suicide-terror groups such as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Nevertheless, E.U. External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten has led the fight to weaken any attempts to investigate the scandal. “It would not be appropriate to cast doubt on our actions in the Middle East,” Patten told inquiring MEPs, “at a moment when the E.U. [may be able to help] broker peace in the region, in particular thanks to its actions and aid packages delivered during the last years.” Patten has dismissed the Israeli claims.

At about the same time, both EURSOC and other European-based blogsites began reporting a scandal involving Yassar Arafat’s Paris-dwelling wife. It’s thought that Soha Arafat may have laundered as much as $10 million of E.U. funds earmarked for Palestinians apparently into her personal account. After days of dominating the euro-blogs (and U.K. dailies), the story finally appeared in the French press—in the weekly Le Canard Enchainé, like Sprout a satirical publication. Only then did Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Libération cover the controversy.

It’s obvious that without the blogsites’ scrutiny and the exposure of the scandal in the foreign media, the story never would have made it into the mainstream French press. Hertoghe says the attempt to sidestep the E.U.-Palestinian story is easy to explain. “The newspapers do not want to report a story that tells the French people that Sharon may be right,” he said. The consequences of a badly informed French public are serious for the Middle East, the rest of Europe—where anti-Semitism is again on the rise—and the U.S.

Does it anger French journalists that it takes bloggers, foreigners, and quirky weekly journals to force their media to report the truth? No. How about Hertoghe’s demonstration of the systematic failure of the entire French press to report major events honestly and completely? No, that’s not a problem for the mainstream scribes either.

But don’t say French journalists are incapable of outrage. Recently, the Société des Journalistes took the unheard-of step of censuring the news director of France 2, Olivier Mazerolle, a man French journalists despise because of his background in commercial broadcasting. His crime? France 2 reported that former prime minister and Chirac crony Alain Juppé, convicted of corruption, would dutifully resign his official posts. But at almost the same time, on rival TF1, Juppé was saying he wasn’t quitting anything. Outraged leftwing journalists said France 2 had tried to make Chirac look good. Zut!

If French journalists are certain of the justice of their anti-Americanism, other journalists are forming their own certainties about France. Says EURSOC’s Neil Dodds, “If you credit France with the most cynical, self-interested motivation, you will usually be proved right.” Just don’t expect to read about it in Paris.

Denis Boyles writes the weekly EuroPress Review column for NRO.

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