Monday, August 20, 2007

The Presidency and the Media

The media don't need to be manipulated by Machiavellian politicians. They manipulate themselves. The politicians, judo masters, toss them around at will, using their own weight against them. The case of le petit Enis, the five-year-old victim of a multirecidivist pedophile, will serve as an example. The once-taboo subject has been a sure-fire way to sell newspapers and fill TV time over the past few years. Little Enis's story was too perfect: an avowed molester just out of prison commits the crime he had warned his jailers he would commit if they let him go. He juices himself with pills he claims were prescribed by the prison doctor. He is caught thanks to the alertness of a bartender and a cabdriver, who are promptly decorated for heroism, first by the prefect, then by the minister of justice. The minister of justice congratulates herself on the effectiveness of the kidnap alert system. The victim's father and grandfather are summoned to Paris for an audience with the president, who then pulls from his pocket a new hospital for sexual deviants, to be opened in Lyon in 2009. Recidivist sex offenders, it is promised, will be punished still more harshly (still more harshly than the stiffened penalties for ordinary recidivists in the law just passed by the new government? evidently the legislators failed to factor in the media-worthiness coefficient). They will be locked up and the key thrown away, unless they agree to hormonal treatment--"call it chemical castration," says Sarkozy, resuming his pre-election tough-guy guise for the occasion; "I'm not afraid of words." His press aide lets it be known that he is "angry."

All distance between the state and the victim is effaced. The president reaches down from the Elysée to share the family's anger, to embody their desire for vengeance, to pursue everyone responsible for the wrong they suffered. And all of it is dutifully televised, relayed in print, covered from every possible angle, from interviews with the humble cab driver to learned lectures on the effectiveness of various forms of aversion therapy and chemical castration.

Little Enis is not the only child who has suffered in the past week from the alleged carelessness of state agents. In Amiens a 12-yr-old boy is injured in a fall while trying to escape from police who have come to arrest his father, an undocumented Chechen immigrant. The child lies in intensive care. The parents receive a six-month visa extension from immigration minister Brice Hortefeux, so that they can remain with their hospitalized child. That is the extent of the attention they receive from on high. The minister does not visit the scene. There is no invitation for the parents to the Elysée. The president, though not afraid of words, does not mention the case. The media lose sight of the incident, which after all is just another police bavure, with nothing to grab the public imagination. Immigrant support groups stage demonstrations, but these, when reported at all, are relegated to the back pages, since they involve no major public figures. Television takes no notice. Reuters does, however, report today that the child is no longer in a coma.,

One might also mention the contrast between the Amiens case and the death of a boy and his father in the collapse of an amusement park ride. That, too, elicited presidential notice all the way from the United States. But Jacques Attali has already made this comparison.

Jospin Too

Lionel Jospin will also be publishing a book this month. It is said to include his thoughts about the future of the Socialist Party.

Another Book

Claude Allègre is quitting the Socialist Party. He's also publishing a book. Like Royal's, it has "defeat" in the title: La défaite en chantant. The former minister of education will cover not only the Royal defeat but also his boss Jospin's defeat in 2002 and the story of how the 35-hour week was included in the Socialist platform. One suspects that the book will not cover the party with glory. Pub date: October 4.

Quote of the Day

Il serait naïf de croire que le G7 ou le G8 pourraient imposer des règles de transparence ou de gestion des risques aux fonds spéculatifs. Cela relève du fantasme jacobin et de la gesticulation médiatique dont sont coutumiers nos dirigeants.

Italics mine. Source here.

Reza does Sarko

Speaking of books, the talk of the rentrée littéraire is a book by playwright Yasmina Reza about Sarkozy. It seems that Sarko was intrigued by the idea of becoming the hero of a work of nonfiction fiction and granted the author unusual access to him during the campaign so that she could write a book whose premise seems to be an intimate portrait of a man about to realize his life's dream--or to lose it. Hence the title: L'Aube, le soir, ou la nuit. The precise genre of the book seems to be puzzling booksellers, critics, and awarders of literary prizes: is it reportage, novel, or biography? Excerpts are to appear in this week's Nouvel Obs.

Strange Defeat

Ségolène Royal is going to publish a book about her loss called Une étrange défaite, a title reminiscent of Marc Bloch's classic L'Etrange défaite, about France's loss to Germany in 1940. A strange choice of title, given that Bloch chronicles the incompetence, miscommunication, and disorganization that hamstrung the French army in its efforts to turn back the Blitzkrieg. Is Royal planning to cast herself in the role of heroic poilue stabbed in the back by a bumbling general staff?