There’s been far too much lampooning of the French character lately. It’s unfair, intolerant, and ultimately inaccurate. So one wishes that the French press would just lay off self-parody for a while. A trio of items:
ZUT! IT’S NEVER TO LATE TO SURRENDER!
Over the weekend, a worried Le Figaro took a look at the plight of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and, reflecting the reported “softening” of anti-Americanism among the French, called for bygones to be bygones. It was time, the paper said, for France to come to the aid of her “oldest ally” — and to send in French Marines to help the Americans. Do what, exactly, wasn’t explained. The paper has recovered its senses, however, and, under one of the most terrifying photographs of Paul Wolfowitz ever published, <a href=http://irak.figaro.net/reactions/20030411.FIG0759.html>reports</A> that the U.S. is going to make France “pay” for its perfidy.
WHAT PUTIN LEARNED FROM THE IRAQI INFO MINISTER
While France’s Liberation was reporting the Axis leaders’ meeting in St. Petersburg, both the Sunday and Daily Telegraph were discussing the documents found in Baghdad which showed that the Russians had been spying on Blair and others for Saddam (and even doing some helpful headhunting of hit men the Iraqis could hire). The meeting was perhaps a preview of the EU summit coming at the end of this week, since its purpose was to “reaffirm with one voice” the urgent need for the U.N. to take over for the Coalition in Iraq right away in order to safeguard the citizens — and, uh, all those documents. There was a great scene with the three of them on a small stage, where Putin was carrying a big piece of lumber on his shoulder. Putin turned around and the board first conked Jacques in the noggin, then Gerhardt! Just kidding, but as it happens, the leaders couldn’t actually agree on their one-voice document. No matter. The valiant effort was praised in a Le Monde editorial, and it received lots of play on French TV, where scenes of Baghdad looting were accompanied by lengthy passages from the Geneva Convention, which, for France, is the Bill of Rights. The Putin-Chirac-Schroeder show went virtually unreviewed elsewhere in the Euro-press, however. One notable exception: the IHT, which reports the cracks in the anti-Coalition. (For a ferret’s-eye view of EU unity, Ian Black’s comments in today’s Guardian can’t be beat.)
ON THE HIGH ROAD TO DAMASCUS
Finally, today’s Figaro carries a piece explaining that, in response to U.S. warnings to Syria, Dominique de Villepin has gone to Damascus as part of his three-day blitz of Arab capitals to help clear things up, ease tensions, and make the world safe for France. The paper reports that he has not publicly uttered “America,” “the United States of America,” or “George Bush” for 72 hours. He listened politely, however, while others did: the Syrian foreign minister, for example, compared the “American occupiers” of Iraq with Nazi storm troopers.
Other stuff: Washington’s weekend warnings that Syria was harboring Saddamizers and chemical weapons has turned Europe’s Press Sinister into a chicken coop. The BBC World Service is in high anxiety — although, typically, its website report is far more restrained — and today’s flustered Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung echoes most Euro-coverage in its anxious report that Bush has Syria in his Texified crosshairs. But it falls to the Independent to squawk editorially for most of the media here, worrying that Bush’s carefully phrased warnings to Syria “confirm fears of [America's] Middle East intentions” — which the paper doesn’t specify, exactly, but apparently involve waging non-stop war in a faraway desert just for the hell of it. Also, the oil. And the thing about Bush’s old man. And Cheney.
There’s an op-ed piece in today’s Wall Street Journal accusing CNN of broadcasting propaganda during the Iraq conflict. They probably did. But CNN is a private business, and I have to say that for those of us who must listen to the BBC’s grotesque World Service for English-language war coverage, CNN sounds like John Phillips Souza. I’ve already detailed elsewhere the World Service’s inept journalism and its blatant bias. As I type, for example, the World Service is broadcasting “voices from the streets” in Baghdad. I guess no Iraqi pedestrians have a kind word to say for Americans or Britons. (“Innocent people have been shot…I don’t know what faults we have committed to deserve [American occupation].”) However, since the World Service is funded by a government grant administered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, government criticism, such as that reported recently in the Daily Telegraph (and discussed in its editorial pages) carries great weight. The BBC’s only defense is defensiveness, which is now more and more apparent in its coverage. As Andrew Sullivan recently said, “Privatize them now.”
But other wagons are being circled to the left around the Beeb. The Independent today, at the end of a truly hysterical report by one of their bleeders (the Americans “will not get the awe, shock and surrender they seek from me or the millions who still believe this invasion is a travesty” — Robert Fisk could have suggested to the hack a little restraint here), lavishes praise on hapless Andrew Gilligan, the Bill Buckner of the BBC, the little buddy who looked everywhere, but just couldn’t find Americans in Baghdad. And yesterday’s Observer gallantly came to the aid of the BBC’s Rageh Omaar, one of Gilligan’s no-see-’um collaborators, who apparently had his view of the truth imprinted under the thumb of Saddam’s minders. The WSJ may have a point, however: the Observer profile reports that CNN is trying to poach the guy from the BBC. When the dust clears, somebody will do a side-by-side comparison of the journalism provided by embedded journos, who are forced to report what they actually see, and Scoop-alikes such as Peter Arnett, Rageh Omaar, and Andrew Gilligan, who are monitored by the enemy and encouraged to report what they think.
— Denis Boyles is a journalist based in Europe.