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2004/10/28

"Sans a priori ni préjugés": Le supplément télévision de Le Monde

Our 60th anniversary coverage of Le Monde continues with an in-depth view of its weekly TV guide, along with the kind of programs French television proposes to educate le peuple français with, contributing to make every citoyen more lucide in the process.

The 60th Anniversary Celebration of Le Monde

The final week of French TV programming before America's November 2 election include France 2's The World According to America; France 3's GIs, Forbidden Words; Canal +'s The Moore Effect; Arte's Hollywood and the Pentagon (a voyage into the heart of "American propaganda", we are told); France 5's The America of the Neocons and The World According to Bush; Planète's USA 2000: The Chronicles of an Electoral Fraud (this from a TV channel that prides itself on its series of documentaries from… the German Democratic Republic); and Toute L'Histoire's Wake Up America! ("Soon after the drama of September 11, a certain part of the American population declared itself clearly hostile to the policies of George W.Bush [sic]. Demonstrations against the war in Iraq, associations, or large meetings, the challen ging [sic] took many faces hoping to wake up an America that is too 'passive'.")

But, never fear: as the newspaper of reference points out (under the title All the TV Stations Have Rallied), the election is an occasion to explore the American democracy "with an open mind and without prejudice".

The ever-helpful Arte has been broadcasting a series of programs to help "a French and European public better understand the United States". Among the commentators wanting to "decrypt" and "analyze" American society is Hubert Védrine, the former foreign minister who was always railing against Uncle Sam and who coined the word "hyperpower" (at the time Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party were in power…) How strange that the historian André Kaspi should tell Le Monde's Guillaume Fraissard that "the coverage of the American elections in France is partial and extremely influenced by the international situation."

On October 18, Canal + showed On the Right Hand of God and on October 19, Arte offered The Jesus Factor. While skewering the Reverend Robertson for his "sarcastic laughter" in his television review, Dominique Dhombres proceeded to paint the American people as some kind of devilish (or moronic) beings to be feared.

That was the second time in three months that Le Monde's TV guide had devoted a cover article to The Jesus Factor. The first time was Claudine Mulard's July article on Raney Aronson's Frontline show which had strictly nothing to do with the lineup on French television that week.

In September, Arte broadcast The House of Saud, for which Thérèse-Marie Deffontaines and Mouna Naïm interview the French-Egyptian director, Jihan El-Tahri, who of course comes out against Dubya. And once the documentary appeared on DVD, Arte decided to augment it with William Karel's CIA: Secret Wars. (Needless to say, the documentary was the subject of that Radio-Télévision issue's cover.)

The issue of June 12 — appearing less than a week after the US president's visit to the shores of Normandy for the 60th anniversary of D-Day — sported Bush and Rumsfeld on its cover, along with the words The Indictment of Bush and a Francis Cornu article called A Damning File. The story concerns William Karel's Michael-Moore-like movie, Le Monde selon Bush (again, a cover subject that had nothing to do with the that week's TV programming lineup, since the film will not be shown until… October 31). Catherine Humblot informs us that "the project goes back to February 2003 [when] various TV stations were contacted. Yves Jeanneau, in charge of the France 2 documentary unit, was the first to react", bringing almost a third of the 500,000 euro budget to the producers. The 125,000 euros, needless to say, comes from the French public's taxes, as France 2 was a French government-subsidized and -sanctioned TV station. (Guy Millière has thoroughly slammed the documentary based on a pair of Eric Laurent books, as well as the Michael Moore film.)

Then there are the television images devoted to the Iraq conflict itself. The title of the main article of the March 31, 2003, issue — i.e., smack in the middle of the war — asks What Reality Is Behind the Images of the War? This question (by Jacques Buob, Yves-Marie Labé, and Claudine Mulard) of such specialists as Paul Virilio, an… "urban philosopher" (?!) who is lucid enough to say No way (can television clarify reality) before proceeding to "denounce the confusion" of the TV images and choose three combat pictures in order to discuss (and dismiss) them as being akin to "theater". Already, by the way, we have an article (by Daniel Schneidermann) denouncing… "the degrading images of the Iraqi prisoners".

Back to 2004: in May, we were treated to a 52-minute documentary on Iraq by Canal +. This is how Daniel Psenny ended his review:

The images filmed by the Capa journalists, sometimes at the risk of their lives, are violent and raw. They show hatred, incomprehension, the hardship of combat, the seizure of power by religious extremists, and especially the quagmire in which the American army has locked itself and which, with fear in its guts, fights an enemy it doesn't know.
I'm glad to be apprised of the fact that the entire American armed forces is afraid and that it doesn't know its enemy. Why don't we ask Psenny to take a flight to Iraq and explain that to, say, a couple of Rangers or a platoon of Marines?… (I'm sure we could easily get a collection started for the plane ticket…)

Other Monday Investigation documentaries have included Luc Hermann's story on the scandal of America's voting machines (which helpfully explains that the French have wisely kept machines that are entirely reliable); Paul Moreira and Véronique Robert's explaining how "the [revolted] inhabitants of Baghdad accuse the Americans of killing more civilians, women and children, than resistants" (note the generalizations of all the Baghdad inhabitants and all the Americans, as well as the use of the word resistants — sort of akin to saying all Germans resisted Hitler during World War II, but I'm getting ahead of myself); Barry Lando and Michel Despratx's story of the Saddam Hussein trial you will not see (that of Saddam's Western backers — although the documentary does include info on the backing of individual French businessmen, it will likely not make much, if anything, about the fact that the entire French state apparatus was put into motion to keep Uncle Sam from toppling the psychopath — indeed, Le Monde's Francis Cornu mentions only Yankee treachery and speaks of "the Americans [being] foremost among the Western leaders" who supported Saddam, thus squelching any memory of Washington and London's efforts to disarm Saddam being undermined by the other members of the UN Security Council [in such ways is history rewritten]); and William Reymond and Bernard Nicolas' film on the assassination of JFK having been a plot hatched by rich Texan families (nudge nudge wink wink say no more say no more)…

The rewriting of history also extends to the Second World War. (You will recall all the rewriting during the 60th anniversary of D-Day this summer.) In her review of Stauffenberg, a TV movie about the German officer who tried to assassinate Hitler, Lorraine Rossignol sings the praises of "the public's rising interest for the resistance of the Germans during the war". "Of the Germans"? Oh yes, while you blame all Americans and all members of the American armed forces for rapes that occurred during World War II (or for deaths among innocent Baghdad citizens), by all means, try to make it a blanket pardon of all the German people.

On a related note, Patrick Jarreau, Le Monde's main correspondent in Washington (!) likens Dubya to… Mel Gibson (!):

Seen from Europe, the production of a film on the last hours in the life of Jesus Christ by a millionnaire Hollywood actor is a perfect cliché of a naïve, religious, archaic, worrying America. Mel Gibson is to cinema what George Bush is to politics: a dangerous zealot, who is in doubt about nothing and from whom one can fear the worst. The president and the actor do they not share a common public, that of the South's Baptists, fed with simple ideas and apocalyptic beliefs?
Again, this brilliant analysis doubling as a paragon of objectivity come from the main correspondent of France's newspaper of reference in Washington.

Meanwhile, Florence Colombani also notes the appearance of the DVD of the movie Outfoxed which, she explains, decries television's ability to be used as propaganda (well, Le Monde ought to know).

So there we have it: French TV approaching America "with an open mind and without prejudice".

Strangely enoug, neither FahrenHype 911 nor Celsius 41.11 has received any mention in the French press (certainly not enough to warrant any attention), and what little Stolen Honour (download here) has received is only as a partisan film.
As for Voices of Iraq, it is unheard of…

Meanwhile, read Douglas's take on a documentary which dared show the truth of conditions under Saddam Hussein and which "[Sa'ad] Salman had made by sneaking back into Iraq over the Turkish border through Kurdistan and recorded on a concealed mini-DV recorder at no small risk to his life". It was rejected by Arte and its director mocked or reviled on a French TV show.

This was only one of the myriad examples of the systematic silencing and shunning of any and all evidence or discussion of the suffering of Iraqis under Saddam. And the film contained some harrowing images of suffering and mutilation.
Not something that would win the Palme d'Or at Cannes, hein?

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