Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dangerous Liaisons: Sarko and the Press

Marie Valla has a sharp rundown on the way French President Nicolas Sarkozy spins the press on the France 24 Web site, and not only because she quotes me. (It's in English as well as French -- even though Sarko keeps talking about shutting down the English television service):

Even before the dust has had a chance to settle from French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ‘get lost you cretin’ mishap at the Agricultural Fair, a new Elysée faux pas has become the talk of the French media. French Daily Le Parisien admitted on Wednesday that the President’s interview published in the paper the day before had not only been reread but also modified by the Elysée press service.

This infringement by the Sarkozy administration blurs the lines between politics and journalism. “In Moscow, they used to hide the official portraits of personalities who had fallen into disfavor. At the Elysée, they rewrite interviews given by the President,” wrote newspaper L’Humanité in its Wednesday edition.

In the interview, Sarkozy stands by Saturday’s outburst adding that “Just because you become President doesn’t mean that you suddenly become something people can wipe their feet on.” L’Elysee thought best to add the sentence “At the Fair, I should not have answered,” thereby significantly changing the tone of his initial answer. “This sounds like a press aide desperately trying to do damage control after the fact,” says Christopher Dickey, Newsweek bureau chief in Paris.

But the bigger problem is the fact that the Le Parisien editorial team - arguing that they were providing useful information to the reader - failed to mention which portions of the interview were an addition. “This is inappropriate,” says Stefan Simons, Paris correspondent for the German weekly Der Spiegel. It isn’t so much the fact that the interview was reread that’s problematic but “the way in which it was done. At Der Spiegel, heads of state are always given the possibility to read and fix their interviews before publication,” he adds....(more)
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