The fabrication of information
Did you know that so many « big » newspapers mostly copy & paste news from the press agencies when they report on Europe? I had the second chance this year to notice that, after the 70 years of the « Anschluss » last March.
A journalist from Associated press recently asked me if I had something to say about the Americanization of political life in France. I was glad to tell him a few ideas I had out of my readings (see below). He just took out of my text a couple of sentences (fair enough, I knew he just needed a short statement), his text has been cut and slightly modified by the editors and then, it came out like this in The International Herald Tribune and like that in The Guardian, just to name two famous newspapers. You have here an opportunity to judge how information is created and realize the utter importance of press agencies!
The text I wrote:
In France, it was during the presidential campaign in Winter 2006/07 that a new way of writing speeches was defined. Two relatively new politicians in their early fifties, Mr. Sarkozy and Mrs. Royal, became adept at what is now commonly called “Storytelling”. Setting aside in their discourse the epic big narratives, like exemplifications of the famous French “Liberté Egalité Fraternité”, they started to cozy up to voters by publicly identifying with their hopes and fears. They directly addressed the feelings of voters, while telling
stories, commenting on “faits divers” [short features on crimes or just small stories people like to talk about – the German “Stammtischrede”] but also without hesitation referred to their own experience. Mrs. Royal spoke about the way she brought up her kids, insisting she knows the “real” problems of French families, but also emphasizing the necessity to have French flags in front of schools. This typical mix of patriotism, demagoguery and populism was already used by Sarkozy when he was at the Minstère de l’Intérieur (2005/07), but not in a systematic way. There were just “affairs”, like when he called young people from the banlieue “scum” (“racaille”) or when he said he would clean up these parts of the Parisian suburbs with a Kärcher (high-pressure cleaner).
During the first year of his presidency, he managed to use media (Lagardère, owner of Paris-Match is one of his closest friends) to deliberately display his American way of life, be it eating burgers with George W. Bush, running from L’Elysée with his NYPD T-Shirt and the Prime Minister Fillon (well placed, three feet behind him)… and – the icing on the cake – presenting in December 2007 his new fiancée, Carla Bruni, at Euro-Disney! The latter is now used by the presidency to tell stories when other topics could cause him trouble. Instead of reporting on the loss of purchasing power, the increasingly precarious employment situation (unemployed people must now accept any job within 120 miles) or the skyrocketing prices of fuel, the government makes sure there is a new album of Carla Bruni for the journalists, that his son Jean Sarkozy will be in the front pages of magazines with his wedding, or that “Sarko” himself will visit a factory in the early morning and meet “real people” from “those who get up early” (“la France qui se lève tôt”). Even the Dior-addicted Justice Minister, Rachida Dati, always has a story to tell. New laws are justified by short feature stories on amazing crimes. And while France is condemned by the European Court of Justice for the bad management of its prisons (64 250 prisoners for 50 806 places as of August 30th, 2008; many murders and suicides these months), Dati (42, a Sarkozian model of good integration which reminds us of the US-melting pot), just revealed that she was pregnant without giving any information about the father — enough for a journalist to write a few more people pages, and ‘forget’ the mains issues.
Source: former reading of an article by Christian Salmon, « Une machine à fabriquer des histoires », Le Monde Diplomatique, Nov. 2006, p. 18-19, here on line. See also » Un souci permanent de mise en scène – Emotion des candidats à l’Elysée », Dec. 2007 on the website of this journal.
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