Sunday, October 21, 2007

The New York Times's reporting on France

My French friend, who doubtless would prefer not to be named, finds the coverage of France by the New York Times insipid and infuriating. "Does the Times think we are children?" he asked me (I paraphrase from memory) back at the time of the election. "America's leading newspaper seems unaware there are serious issues of economics, politics, state policy, and all its Paris correspondent thinks about is making cliched comparisons between France and the United States about women, divorce, affairs by politicians. Does she know anything else? New York liberals think we are Disneyland. At least American conservatives want to talk about real things."

I was flattered that the "conservatives" he meant included me. I am highly francophilic, although I can't speak French - I have taken enough classes in order to be able to read Stendhal, Char, Cendrars, and Camus in the original with a dictionary, but that's more or less it - and this friend tells me that I am not so much a conservative as the American cognate of a center-right Gaullist, which is also highly flattering and in its way very astute. He describes himself as a center-left Gaullist - but what matters, he says, is the Gaullist part. French Gaullists and American Gaullists clash, he says, because what they share is that neither one is in the least bit apologetic for speaking for the interests of his country and, more importantly, its honor. He adds, still annoyed, that the "best way America and France could immediately improve relations would be for the Times to replace Elaine Sciolino with someone who understood more finance and less fashion." Banish her, he said, to where she really belongs, in the "Style section and Travel."

I doubt he has yet seen today's Week in Review in the Times, in which Sciolino has a major front page story on - the reform of the French economy? Non. The impending strike and its consequences? Non. Olivier Roy's new book on Islam and French secularism? Non. It is, instead, yet more cultural trivialities about Sarkozy and divorce - always the same shtick - the sophistication of the French versus the vulgarity and prudishness of the Americans. "L'Amour Has Little to Do With l'Etat." We might add that "L'Times's Coverage Has Little to Do with L'Real Issues of France But That L'Times Doesn't Seem to L'Notice or L'Care." The justification at the offices of the Times, I suppose, is that it has calculated, probably correctly, that this blather is what its Manhattan readership, and its cognates across American cities, want to read over Sunday brunch.

So when I quote Stendhal in the post below, "I crave leave to slander France," well, it's not me I'm talking about. I rarely jump onto the criticize-the-Times bandwagon; I have many close friends there, now and in the past (and, anyway, at some point I will think its stock price, even sans voting rights, will be low enough to warrant buying). When the Times wants to do something serious on Western Europe, it can always call on Christopher Caldwell or David Rieff, over at the NYT Magazine. But I thought my French friend should have some voice on what he regards as the thoughtless liberal American slander of France.

(Thanks, Glenn, for the Instalanche and welcome Instapunditeers!)

(ps. Continuing the Times's preference for trivialities regarding France, today's Week in Review, Sunday, November 4, 2007, has an article by someone or other on names of children in France. It mentions immigration issues and names, and tries to glue on something of weighty social significance of class and identity, but as the article itself says, there is a "lighter side" to French baby names, and the essay gives a good thousand words to it.)


Anonymous said...

Tell your friend not to take it too personally - liberals slander everybody.

(But he's right about the vapidity of American reporters and reporting. See, e.g., Paris (Hilton) and Brittany (Spears).)

Anonymous said...

It's relieving to know that at least one European is seeing such attitudes the way I've notice for a while - a smug, patronizing tome so that liberals can feel good about themselves at the expense of a country with various people and viewpoints. And as a liberal myself, I find that embarrasing, espcially when we idealize such concepts as national healthcare.

In a book called "Food Court Druids, Cherohonkee, and Other Creatures Unique to the Republic," there is a chapter on "Hexpatriates" - Americans who claim that Europe is so much better and claim they want to live there, only to find that when they visit or move they end up hanging around other Americans.

Callimachus said...

Enough French to read Stendhal is perhaps all of any language anyone needs.

Anonymous said...

Do you blame the wolf or the farmer who doesn't put his livestock in the barn at night?

Why is anyone in France reading the NYT?

Maybe they don't understand that the quality of the NYT is bad in so many other areas it is not worth taking seriously.

Some Europeans may enjoy reading the awful coverage of other countries from the nyt but when the same sensationalist sales oriented reporting is turned on them, they don't like it.

When they develop the objectivity to recognize good coverage across the board, they they'll stop reading the nyt and the problem will be irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

Why should any American give a crap what any Frenchman thinks?

I mean, really?

When the Muslims take them over in 20 years, are we going to help them? I think not.

Anonymous said...

I am an American on the rather 'conservative' side of the political spectrum. Although I've never been to Paris, I've been to France (Corse, the Med. coast, Alsace) several times over the past few decades, generally avoiding the big cities.

I think your comment re Gaulist hit the nail quite well. I found most of the French people to be more-or-less as friendly as Americans (although sometimes showing it a bit differently), and often with a patriotism which felt, well, homey. (OK, Corte was different, but Bonifaccio was that way.)

My impression, which may be wrong, was that the French version of Joe Sixpack would join me in bewailing the leftist elite media, and would have an almost American-like respect for hard work for himself.

Then again, I think that most of the West would get along better if we could somehow reduce the influence of the lefty elites. Oh, well: one can wish.