Politics & Policy

French Fables

France's propaganda machine is working to undermine U.S. interests.

Every American who still has illusions that a Kerry administration would succeed in convincing “Old Europe” to help us in Iraq should spend a few days reading and listening to the French media as they report on the U.S. elections.

The French, of course, believe that they will elect the next U.S. president. (In fact, they believe they already have.) The center-right daily Le Figaro published the results of a poll it commissioned on Friday, Oct. 29, showing that 71 percent of Frenchmen support Senator Kerry while 82 percent believe President Bush has made the world a more dangerous place.

Daniel Mermet of French state-run radio is just one of many well-known French journalists who have abandoned all pretense of reporting the elections. Instead, he and others of his ilk present blatant campaign commercials that would make even Mike McCurry and George Stephanopoulos blush.

“French politicians running for president in 2007 can take heart from the U.S. elections,” Mermet began a recent screed from West Virginia. “The U.S. election shows you can run on a catastrophic record–that’s the case for Bush–and succeed completely. It shows you can be in the pay of the big oil companies, you can pass a totally unfair tax cut, you can devastate the poor, gut social security, ravage the health care system and throw 600,000 people out of work, but that’s ok.”

I can add a personal experience to the mix. State-run France-3 television recently invited me to participate in a panel discussion on the U.S. elections. While I had few expectations of fairness, the extent of the lies and distortions I encountered was astonishing even by French standards.

The show began with a 52-minute pseudo-documentary, which France-3 producers claimed they had filmed while embedded with the 1st Calvary Division in Iraq. I learned the next day from the U.S. embassy officials who process French media requests for Iraq that the French TV crew never requested to be embedded. Instead, they had gone to Baghdad on their own, where apparently they found a public-affairs officer willing to accommodate their request to accompany troops on non-vital patrols.

Now, I have great respect for “seat of the pants” journalism, having done it myself–it’s gutsy and full of risks. But that’s not what French TV viewers saw.

“They say we’re here to fight terrorism,” one of the handful of U.S. soldiers interviewed told the French crew. “I’ve been here three months and I haven’t seen a terrorist.” Asked his opinion of the war and of the U.S. president, this soldier said that he hated both.

And that was the only opinion French TV viewers heard for 52 minutes of footage that was remarkable only for a total lack of contact between U.S. troops and bad people with guns. Without exception, all the soldiers interviewed expressed opposition to the war, hostility to President Bush, and said they planned to vote against him. To watch France-3 television, you would never have guessed that 75 percent of U.S. troops in Iraq have told U.S. polling firms that they planned to vote for the president.

Even back in Washington, all France-3 could find were opponents of the war, from Wayne Smith, executive director of Vietnam Veterans of America, to Pat Gunn, an anti-war mother featured on Socialist Worker Online.

After this bit of Pravda on the Seine, moderator Elise Lucet launched a live panel discussion. My fellow talking heads were Nadia McCaffrey–a French-American woman whose 34-year-old son had enlisted in the National Guard and was killed in Balad, Iraq, on June 22–and a spokesman for Democrats Abroad. Mrs. McCaffrey arrived in the studio wearing a huge Kerry-Edwards button, which she took off just before the show. I wore an American flag. I was identified as a representative of the Republican party (which I had told producers I was not). She was introduced as a grieving mother, who blamed President Bush for the death of her son.

Our moderator oozed sympathy for Mrs. McCaffrey, and encouraged her for nearly 15 minutes to tell her son’s story. Then she turned to me and asked whether I believed that Patrick McCaffrey was a hero.

“Of course, he’s a hero. He was defending our freedom,” I said. “But I’d like to point out that if your hope was to explain the American political debate to a French audience, you’ve done our listeners a tremendous disservice with a 52-minute film of unadulterated bias that gives the impression not a single U.S. soldier in Iraq supports the war or the president.”

Ms. Lucet didn’t let me get even half-way through that sentence. When I watched the show later with French friends, they burst out laughing. It was actually comic to see how quickly she transformed from smarmy, caring hand-holder to partisan attack-dog.

I might still be laughing were it not for the fact that so many Americans have fallen for Mr. Kerry’s absurd contention that under his presidency the French, the Germans, and the rest of “Old Europe” would come to America’s aid, just as we came to their aid during WWII.

Two nights later, my wife and I were having a splendid dinner in a 15th-century castle on the outskirts of Avallon, a small but beautifully preserved city at the northern gates of the Burgundy wine country.

Among our table-mates in the giant stone kitchen was a sophisticated and agreeable French couple. The man had traveled the world on business, and had set up companies in the United States and in the Arab world. His views–all so reasonable, all so normal and matter of fact–give a better idea of why I believe France is becoming the enemy of freedom.

Saddam was a secular leader, he argued. If the United States had wanted to attack Islamic fundamentalism after 9/11, it should have hit Saudi Arabia.


The United States didn’t go to Iraq to find WMD, but to gain control of Iraq’s oil and win contracts for Halliburton.

France will never be a target of terrorists, because France is not their enemy.

And anyway, the core of the Middle East problem not radical Islam, but Israel. If there were no Israel, everything would return to normal.

Of course, Hitler also believed that Germany’s real problem was the Jews. His “final solution” was applauded by the Arab leaders of the day, the most prominent of whom was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, a man whom Yasser Arafat admired and occasionally claimed was his uncle.

While Kerry supporters in the U.S. may still believe Halliburton is the great beneficiary of the war in Iraq (tell that to the families of the dozen Halliburton employees who have been brutally murdered by terrorists), most thinking Democrats who know the facts know better. We have a debate in the U.S. over the wisdom of the war, but in France such a debate is taboo. After all, there are all those Oil-for-Food bribes to hide.

But France, an enemy? When it comes to military power, France doesn’t count for much these days. But they do still have a veto at the U.N., where Mr. Chirac rallied a coalition of the coerced and the bribed (literally) with the aim of defeating us and preserving Saddam. Added to that is a formidable diplomatic and propaganda machine, which is working intensely to undermine U.S. interests around the world. Radio France International broadcasts anti-American venom throughout the Arab and Muslim world, and ranks along with al Jazeera in its incitement of hatred and delegitimizing of the state of Israel.

To help those French patriots who believe their country still treasures the values of liberty, free speech, and representative government, we should consider launching a French language service of Radio Free Europe. Six years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the French have erected a new wall of propaganda and anti-American filth. The next American president should help tear it down.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight Magazine and author of The French Betrayal of America. He lived for 18 years in France.


The Latest