Monday, December 3, 2007

The 18th Brumaire of Edwy Plenel

Edwy Plenel, the former editor of Le Monde, and 5 colleagues are launching a paid-access on-line media outlet, MediaPart, which will emphasize investigative journalism. The "pre-site" opens today and can be read for free. Laurent Mauduit has an article comparing the current regime to the Second Empire and notes that yesterday's launch date is the anniversary of the 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (Dec. 2, 1851). Karl Marx published a brilliant screed under that title, and Mauduit notes a parallel between the circle of wealth that gathered around Napoleon III and the circle that has gathered around Nicolas Sarkozy. MediaPart's paying formula is supposed to guarantee its independence of financial backers.

Of course Plenel himself was the target of an interesting piece of investigative journalism, La Face Cachée du Monde, by Pierre Péan and Philippe Cohen. The latter is now editor-in-chief of a competing on-line site, The thesis of Péan and Cohen was, in part, that Plenel and Colombani allegedly used Le Monde to favor political friends, harm enemies, and extract financial support from interested parties who did not wish to become targets of investigative reports. If the subservience of the press to financial interests is an old story in France, so are other types of suspect relationship between the media and their potential targets, as Paul Jankowski's fine history of the Stavisky Affair shows for the 1930s.

The "inuendo press" has expanded in France thanks to the Internet. In addition to, there is also, a sort of on-line version of Le Canard enchaîné. It remains to be seen how these new alternative media will develop. Rue89 is already a worthy alternative to Libé, from which its founders departed. I hope that MediaPart will become a worthy alternative to Le Monde and not a gossip sheet. I do, however, have my doubts that a paid site can succeed. The New York Times was forced by intense competition to drop its Times Select formula.

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