Saturday, March 13, 2004

...can't believe the news to-day

Tomorrow's edition of Le Monde, which hit the streets this evening, contains the following editorial on the recent purchase of one of France's largest media groups by one its largest defense contractors.
Le Monde Editorial

The French Exception
LE MONDE | 13.03.04 | 11h32
Do we have any idea what the reactions would be in the United States if the Washington Post were purchased by Lockheed Martin, maker of the F-16? In France, Dassault announced on Thursday, March 11, that it would buy up the remaining shares in Socpresse [a newspaper group that owns numerous French papers] owned by the heirs of Robert Hersant and take its ownership of Socpresse from 30% to 80%.

Not only has Le Figaro fallen into the hands of the company that manufactures the Mirage, but with it, L'Express, L'Etudiant, Le Progrès, Le Dauphiné libéré, La Voix du Nord.... Seventy publications in all. Curiously, this maneuver has not caused national upset over the future of the press and its independence from the economic and political powers. When one adds that groupe Lagardère, formerly Matra, owns the Hachette empire, one can calculate that in all 70% of national newspapers are the property of two weapons manufacturers. At the very least, this ought make one think.

France has also entered into the grand movement that is concentrating the world press, with smaller newspapers being absorbed into big corporations. The reasons are the same for the press as they are for other industries: a need for internationalization and greater reach. But France adds other incentives for concentration by imposing very poor general conditions on its press groups. That French newspapers should be reduced to throwing themselves at the feet of companies in other industries (weapons, in this instance, but also construction for Bouygues [a telecoms giant] or luxury goods for LVMH and Pinault) speaks volumes about the many difficulties: want for capital, inflated printing costs, distribution hurt by a dramatic reduction in the number of points of sale. The handicaps are legion against those who would survive in the information business. The government should be alarmed by this French exception, a deplorable one, and consider it relevant to democracy.

The things at stake here are at the heart of causes taken up by Le Monde, be they editorial or economic. It is in response tot this that our newspaper has sought to join with others in a group predicated on independence from the political and economical powers. In so doing, our desire is to help better the structures of a sector that is ill and frail.

Therefore we must hope that the arrival of Dassault won't mean a return to the days when the press danced for billionaires. We must also hope that it doesn't see the media come under political influence. Suspicion may be heightened by the friendship that exists between Jacques Chirac, president of the Republic, and Serge Dassault, the CEO of the family business, who was also a regional advisor to the Rally for the Republic [France's governing party] and mayor of Corbeil-Essones. A suspicion that can grow still further, given the direct dependence of the very same groupe Dassault on State contracts for its fighter planes.

One would want to think that a reversion to the customs that once existed between the power and the press is impossible, Today they are forgotten. The journalists of every editorial board, including those in the Socpresse group, know the price of independence: the credibility of their newspapers depends on it. Yet Italy shows us that there is still a vivid temptation for the power to take the media in hand.

Anti-corruption crusader and former investigating magistrate Eva Joly (previously discussed here, here and here) writes in her memoires (pp. 274-75):
Of the 16 largest companies in France, 11 are active in an area where the practice of high corruption is common: Total, Vivendi environnement, Bouygues, Vinci, Airbus... [based on 2002 figures, see here for 2003 figures]. But this fact is rarely mentioned; above all because most of the national media belong to these groups, which encourages neither to curiosity nor to debate. [The TV station] TF1 belongs to the Bouygues group [NB: Bouygues was part of the consortium involved in building Osirak], Le Figaro and L'Express are controlled by the Dassault group. [Radio station] Europe 1, Paris Match and the majority of publishing belong to Lagardère.
Joly doesn't take the time to lay the full extent of Lagardère's presence in the publishing, broadcast and advertising industries. Separate from its defense activites, Largardère Media is has considerable operations in four areas: publishing, print media, distribution and broadcast. The site reads that "Hachette Filipacchi Médias, a Lagardère Media subsidiary, is the world’s top publisher of magazines. Its 238 titles in 36 countries total over one billion copies and more than 130,000 pages of paid advertising annually. HFM has turnover of 2.2 billion euros, 54% of it generated abroad." Tenth largest publisher in the world, Lagardère also owns 40% of Editis (formerly Vivendi Universal Publishing).

Relative to Dassault's relationship to the government, page 70 of Notre allié Saddam (a book I have discussed here and here) gives us an illustrative anecdote:
In February of 1991, Olivier Dassault, RPR member of the Assemblée Nationale and son of Serge, president of the group, revealed one aspect of these ambiguous relations: "I chose to sanction Michel Rocard (this was a censure motion at the Assemblée Nationale). So my father, who thinks that one does not vote against a government to which one is selling planes, pulled me from my position as head of planning for his factories, a position I'd been in for six months [Paris Match, 14 mars 1991].
Just to give you an idea of what exactly we're talking about, let's consider one example of how the French defense industry reacts when people get too close to sensitive matters. On pages 70-1 of her book, Joly writes:
Such a threatening reality sometimes becomes hazy in my mind. I learn to live without thinking about it. But the backlash is hard. As was the very high-ranking French general with star-spangled epaulettes whose acquaintance I made during an impromptu cocktail party at an embassy. We engaged in light conversation for a few moments. Then suddenly he put his blue eyes right in mine.

"I imagine it must not be much fun for you everyday, ma'am. Such agitiation, the pressure, the threats. But I'll think you'll make it in the end."

I didn't answer. He paused for two seconds. I started to smile in thanks. Then he continued, coldly.

"It'd be another matter if you left the petroleum business to look at weapons sales. With us, there's no warning. If you start an investigation, I'll give you 48 hours..."

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Bland Spongiformity

Before he became the lightening rod that he is today, member of the Académie française and philosopher Jean-François Revel traveled to Italy and returned with the accounts that would form the book Pour l'Italie ("For Italy"). The book was an argument about the nature of Italian society, its social conservatism, sexual practices and its treatment of women. Yet even before his transformative Vietnam-era visit to American University campuses (after which he wrote his pro-American polemic Without Marx or Jesus), one can see traces of the figure that was to emerge. Here's a quick rendering of a passage from page 136:
The commonplaces of international psychology are as stubborn as they are numerous and false. This is why the quality (and the demerit) of being cartesian is attributed to French intellectuals. The author of the most wooly-minded page will write: "We French, born cartesians...," etc. However, in our time, the French are anything but cartesian: they are claudelian, heideggerian, Christian, spenglerian or malrausian but not cartesian. Even scholarly works are beset with obscurity, prolixity and disorder. Given that the entire French system of evaluation and examination is founded on the art of dissertation, it is surprising to learn that most French academics can neither write not compose.

By contrast, the only true cartesians to-day are the English. Their academic works are the only ones that are rigorous and well-written. It is the same with their newspapers: reading the weekly The New Statesman [Oh! How the mighty have fallen!] is consolation for the bland spongiformity of so many French weeklies that think themselves "alive" and "spirited," etc.
UPDATE: I posted some of the dirty bits over at LOTF. In case you're interested...

Monday, March 08, 2004

Dieudo gets the egghead treatment...

Prof. Eric Marty, author and editor of numerous books, gives a rather abstruse analysis of the content of Dieudonné's statements.

Take heart, Dieudonné!, by Eric Marty

LE MONDE | 06.03.04 | 13h58
Israel, the land that, in its flesh, is surely the most comfortably universal and cosmopolitan of all.

The Dieudonné scandal is pronounced in three parts. The first is his appearance on the Marc-Olivier Fogiel's show dressed as an orthodox Jew, with the accouterments of a Palestinian terrorist and shouting "Isra...Heil!" : here the Jewish victim materializes as his two executioners.

The second part are the political statements in which it appears that Jews are "slave drivers converted to banking" and that Israel has "financed apartheid its final solution projects" (Le Journal du Dimanche, February 8).

Third part: his appearance through numerous media, yelling about conspiracies, particularly on Canal+, on the evening of Saturday, February 28, for example ("7 jours au Groland"), where he acted the part of the banished, and where it emerged that his banishment illustrates the fact that he is speaking a truth that everyone wishes to silence.

This anti-Semitic farce in three acts is easily recognizable; so much has it been played out in history that now it only exists in parodic form, in which until then, the last known actor had been Jean-Marie Le Pen.


It shall be said that a victim — and blacks are obviously victims —ultimately has two choices: he can either condemn his genuine, historic tormentor — and this is the case with current historical projects on slavery — and thus cease to be a victim; or he can play on what René Girard has called mimetic rivalry: the victim choses not the enemy but the rival, that is to say the one who appears, in his eyes, unjustly, as identified by the world as being more of a victim than he is.

The rival victim is the one who prevents the victim from being, and proclaiming himself a victim the way he wants to. In the mind of anti-Semites, such is the place of the Jew. The ideas emerging from this small but virulent fraction of anti-Semites among the black community eliminates the Jews as victims by making them into executioners (executioners of the Palestinians), but, as if this weren't enough to cancel out the weight of mimetic rivalry, the Jews must be made into their own executioners: the Jew is a slave driver, a financier of apartheid, etc.

[...]Dieudonné and his friends should take heart: Israel is the first civilization in the world to have admitted the absolute anthropological equality of blacks by viewing the sons of Cham as the direct descendants of a universal parent (Adam), and this isn't the least benefit of monotheism that the self-proclaimed atheist that is Dieudonné might think on.

Moreover, because the notion of "race" is foreign to the Jewish being, there are even Jewish "Negroes" — the Falashas — that Operation Moses, starting in 1984, and then Operation Solomon, in 1991, have saved from the discriminations they suffered in Ethiopia and integrated into the land of Sem, Israel, the country that, in its flesh is surely the most comfortably universal and cosmopolitan of all.

During the Dieudonné scandal, an AFP bulletin informed us that the mayor of Nablus resigned in the face of the terror that the Palestinian militias (including the al-Aqsa martyrs brigades) had been inflicting on the population since the start of the Intifada (September 2000) and of which the latest incidents had caused the death of 30 people, including the mayor's own brother. That I know, the French media took little notice, if any. That's another one for Dieudonné and co. to think on: the real criminal is rarely the scapegoat!

Eric Marty is professor of contemporary French literature at université Paris-VII - Denis-Diderot.


Sunday, March 07, 2004


Remember Tim Blair's Beat-up of the week? Le Monde has just fallen for it, hook, line and sinker. It's also shot up the reader recommended list to first place.

UPDATE: Le Monde responds over at LOTF.