Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sarko and the Media

Nicolas Sarkozy once said that the difference between him and other presidents of the Republic was that he alone understood that la communication was the essence of government. Yet he seems to have miscalculated badly in the management of his media relations.

First, he drew the wrath of the press by filing a criminal complaint against Le Nouvel Observateur for publishing what it alleged to be a text message from him to his ex-wife and he claims to be a counterfeit. Many observers, including many journalists, felt that the publication of the message was indeed a violation of journalistic ethics, an unwarranted invasion of privacy. But few believe that a criminal charge is the proper response (I'm one of the few, however, assuming that the reporter knew the message to be a counterfeit). By overreaching, he has aroused the ire of the press.

Second, his proposal to eliminate advertising from public radio and TV stations has triggered a massive demonstration against him. Of course the Socialists also proposed eliminating advertising but drew back when it became clear that it would be difficult to finance quality programming with the resources available. Tonight on the France2 news, which appeared in a special edition to present the issues behind the strike, Hervé Bourges debated culture minister Christine Albanel. Albanel, Micawberlike, insisted that something would turn up to finance programs; Bourges, who has been there before, said in essence, "Show me the money."

Sarko, who may have expected that the abolition of advertising would be greeted with hurrahs, or who may have had at heart the interests of certain friends who happen to own private TV networks, is no doubt disappointed that he now has on his backs both TV and print journalists.

P. S. The video above is the famous ORTF horloge spirale that marked the beginning of programs on the old ORTF. Today's strike is the biggest strike in the audiovisual sector since the ORTF was dismantled in 1974.

Laïcité positive: Sarko persiste et signe, sort of

One might have thought Sarko had no need to persist in this particular battle, but he's a puncher who doesn't like to back down. He is willing to try a little fancy footwork, however, so we have a slight rectification of the now famous remark about schoolteachers and priests, rabbis, and imams. The morality of the latter isn't "superior" to that of the former, it's "quite simply not the same thing." Since he has to know this won't satisfy his critics, we must assume that he means rather to satisfy the dwindling number of his admirers, who like the fact that he rarely walks away from a fight and prefers rather to provoke combat than avoid it. This technique used to work for him, but in present circumstances I think it's ill advised.

Nuclear Diplomacy

Judah Grunstein, who has contributed to "French Politics," has an excellent piece on the French sale of civilian nuclear technology under Sarkozy. Grunstein considers all the angles--technical, economic, non-proliferation, diplomatic--and delivers a balanced assessment.

À celui ou celle qui me lit au Conseil d'État

I see from the blog logs that someone at the Conseil d'État has been using Google Translate to read the blog. Out of curiosity, I tried this out. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the mechanical translation is, despite a few major blemishes, on the whole intelligible. But please, if any important decisions of state are to turn on my advice, write me directly. I'll be glad to respond in French, which, despite my imperfections, will no doubt render the nuances of my thought more accurately than Google's algorithms.

80.124.149.131 (Conseil_d_etat) conseil d'etat [Edit Label]

Ile-de-france, Paris, France,
12 returning visits

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French Politics

Sarko, the Extreme Right, and the Municipal Elections

Pres. Sarkozy, who enjoyed the approval of 88 percent of Front National voters immediately after his election, has now plummeted to a 43 percent approval rating among that group. Many are expected to abstain in the upcoming municipal elections, and this does not bode well for the UMP. As Sarkozy candidly told Yasmina Reza, he could not have won had he not seduced a substantial number of FN-identified voters.

The reasons for the disaffection are numerous. The Attali report, which Sarkozy seemed to approve, called for more open borders, a fact that did not please voters who believe that there are "already too many immigrants in France." Some of this decline was inevitable: many of these Le Pen sympathizers are small businesspeople who thought that Sarkozy would increase old-age benefits and aid their social category in other material ways, but instead they must contend with higher fuel prices, increased competition from large retail chains, questions about corporatist protections (on hairdressers, for instance), anti-tobacco laws (very unpopular in small towns), etc. But most of all there is the matter of the presidential style. Le Pen, who initially had some kinds words for Sarko, has denounced him as President "fling-fling flon-flon" (Le Pen apparently isn't up on hip-hop lingo, so he didn't get "bling-bling" quite right, or perhaps he just couldn't resist the alliteration). One can imagine that shopkeepers who thrilled to campaign panegyrics in favor of la valeur travail are disappointed by the example of a president who takes luxury vacations and perhaps dismayed by the turn his private life has taken.

In any case, the implications for municipal elections, particularly in eastern France, are clear.

Bias, Decency, Etc.

My criticism of a Figaro article that in my view was unfair to Ségolène Royal has attracted many new readers to this site in recent days. Quite a few of them are French, who learned of the existence of "French Politics" when my post was translated into French and published on a number of French sites. It has been interesting to me to observe that many of the commenters make assumptions about my intelligence, honesty, and motives similar to the assumptions made about the intelligence, honesty, and motives of Mme Royal.

One writer suggested that I had been suborned by agents of the French government, who have over the years nefariously bestowed honors on me in order to win my favorable opinion of France. Several have thought it necessary to give me lessons in the basics of French politics: we are divided, they tell me, between the Left and the Right, and Le Figaro is a paper of the Right, whereas Mme Royal is a politician of the Left, et alors, que voulez-vous? (Big Gallic shrug.) To some I am clearly a Ségolèniste, no doubt seduced by her beauty and flattery to overlook flaws that, to the writers, are glaringly unmistakable. Yet another commenter explained the article about Ségo by suggesting that Le Figaro had become "a troskist [sic] fanzine," which I'm sure would surprise Trotsky and Serge Dassault as much as it did me.

To which I can only say, vive la démocratie! It's good from time to time to break out of the ivory tower and the confines of a relatively restricted Web audience to discover the full range of political opinion out there. But if I may offer just one word of explanation to discontented readers: it wasn't bias that I objected to in the Figaro article, it was the confident imputation of motives that could not possibly have been known to the writer. I have no objection to newspapers that have partis pris in policy matters. If a writer is persuaded that high payroll taxes are an impediment to growth or that borders need to be tightened or that the ECB should lower interest rates immediately, I say, à la guerre comme à la guerre. I prefer, of course, that opinions be coupled with arguments justifying them, but perhaps that's my academic bias. What I do not like is the imputation of ulterior motives or defective intelligence to explain opinions with which one disagrees. So if I insist that Mme Royal is not a ninny, for some this means that I must have been bought off or afflicted with a pea brain or ignorant of French realities or blinded by lust. No other explanation will do. Forgive me, but I don't think any of these theories is correct.

More SocGen Questions

Gunther Capelle-Blancard raises some good questions about the SocGen affair over at Telos. In particular, he wonders whether Kerviel had already started unwinding his positions before the bank claims to have discovered his fraud, as markets started their decline in the previous week. He suggests that these sales may have led to a more aggressive investigation by the bank, which had previously overlooked any irregularities. He also considers the extent to which the bank's trading might have contributed to the sharp January stock-market decline.