Friday, August 22, 2008

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Some of you may be old enough to remember Sgt. Joe Friday of the LAPD, who liked to say that he was interested in "Just the facts, ma'am." Bernard-Henri Lévy is no Joe Friday.

When I mocked his reportage from Georgia, some readers protested. They liked his style, even if it invariably put himself front and center. At least it made them feel as if they were there, standing alongside him, they said. But alas for Lévy, Rue89 saw fit to check his facts and found them wanting. Indeed, even Lévy's companions, who were standing alongside him, report that they didn't see what he pretends to have seen. For one thing, they never got inside Gori. For another, the city wasn't burning, even if some fields around it had been set ablaze, perhaps to smoke out snipers. For still another, the shakedown of UN observers by Russian troops at a checkpoint was not something the visitors saw with their own eyes; it was reported to them by Georgian police.

I urge anyone who relies on BHL for information to read the Rue89 piece. Why Le Monde would feature his account as the gospel on the situation in Georgia boggles the mind. The rumor has reached my ears that The New York Times will publish a translation of this piece. If anyone from the Times is reading this, I hope that the editors will read the Rue89 article and reconsider their decision.


Anonymous said...

If you don't trust BHL, maybe Michael Totten will be able to shed some light on the situation. Right now he, too, has not made it into Gori, but tales of burning are being told by persons who allegedly were there. We'll find out soon enough I suppose.

I don't always agree with Totten, but he at least sticks his nose further into matters than many journalists do.

As for BHL, he wrote that he was outside Gori, so I don't understand the excessive space devoted to that issue. Rue89 obviously has an axe to grind: Marriott a "luxury" hotel (cough); driving an air-conditioned van (snort). Oh well, I would not put my hand in the fire for BHL, but I'd rather have him grandstanding for the right cause than not. I certainly would not read him if I were looking for immaculate journalism. He's better for op-ed.

Also check out Paul Berman's recent article in TNR (subscription).

Sarkozy has acquitted himself well during this bout. He (and, to a lesser extent, Merkel) is giving an example of European leadership that can work with the US and for which the US certainly should be grateful compared to the bitter sniping of past years.

Evan Siegel said...

BHL's piece was very ably translated on The Huffington Post, which usually devotes itself to Democratic Party politics of a certain faction. (John Edwards was a bit too hot for them to handle until he became the object of scandal.)

I tried to post a comment on it:

More vaporing from a typical French intellectual celebrity.

BHL's fawning attitude towards Saakashvili, the madman who jumped into this Russian trap, is more extreme than the Washington press corps' attitude towards Reagan. He believes every piece of nonsense he says, no matter how ridiculous. Russian tanks were suddenly massing on the Georgian border? Oh really? Just like that? Doesn't BHL read the newspapers? Georgian forces had just wreaked mayhem on S. Ossetia, killing a bunch of Russian troops in the process.

BHL shows absolutely no curiosity about S. Ossetia. He doesn't even visit the breakaway province or make a token gesture in recognition of its suffering at the hands of Georgian forces. Close your eyes, BHL, and it will go away.

Yes, BHL, we all know that Russia is brutal. But there is more to geopolitics than Russian brutality. Did the Americans play a role in any of this? He only mentions the BTC pipeline to say that the Russkies shot it up. Is there really nothing else to say about what the West is up to in that region?

I also demanded to know what HuffPo was doing publishing such an obvious fraud. It was not posted, although much along these lines, in fact, was.

Thanks for your efforts!

alexpri said...

It’s no accident that Rue89 chose to fact check BHL’s “témoignage,” since, as I noted in an earlier comment, previous investigations of his reporting have uncovered similarly important falsifications. The “droits de réponses” of Raphaël Glucksmann and Gilles Hertzog to the Rue89 article are also quite interesting. Both express their outrage at Rue89’s low-minded attacks on BHL without contesting the substance of the Rue89 article, and, as the Rue89 responses to their responses reveal, in both cases, there seems to be a gap between the tone of their public declarations (outrage) and their private remarks (friendly encouragement). When the authors of the Rue89 article observe merely that “BHL n’est pas un journaliste,” they are being kind; it’s a way of letting him off the hook. But a “témoignage” that reports “choses vues” that weren’t is a kind of lying. If real journalists are caught making things up in this way, their careers are normally over (the Slate Magazine media critic, Jack Shafer, has argued that Michael Finkel, who was fired from the The New York Times Magazine for inventions that, in my view, are less serious that BHL’s, shouldn’t have been given a second chance).

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, we in France are used to the usual spin of Mr BH levy. It is not only about Georgia! He is not a journalist, but a writer, without discussing his ability and talent. he's also a liar since he does not hesitate to twist the truth in order to fit his view. After 2001, he wanted to give his "expertise" about Afghanistan, saying that he was a close friend of late cdr Massoud, but in fact, he spent a few hours in Afghanistan in the eighties, and just saw the cdr during 5 minutes or so. He invented stories about the death of Daniel Pearl, about Bosnia (same system as for Massoud, he spent a fex hours in Bosnia, then became a specialist)...he is always defending two lines: USA, and Israel. It is amazing to compare his account of Israel bombing of Lebanon two years ago, and the alleged bombing of Georgia this year. He defends money (he is an heir, worthing 150 millions of euros), power in place, and is very influent. But still a liar.

Anonymous said...

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