Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Exemplary neutrality

In a recent article entitled Fait divers [display], I evoked a terrible happening in the nearby city of Grenoble. A patient wandered out of a mental asylum, took a bus into the city, went into a hardware store to purchase a knife, then walked out and stabbed mortally the first pedestrian he encountered on the sidewalk.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, Nicolas Sarkozy reacted—rightly or wrongly—in his usual excitable style, promising all kinds of reforms. Not surprisingly, the bewildered director of the psychiatric hospital was relieved of his duties. Meanwhile, specialists appear to have determined that the alleged murderer is fit to stand trial for his act.

Now, as long as a legal affair is pending, the accused must not be "judged" beforehand by the media. In France, this is both a moral principle and an article of law.

From this point of view, the distinguished and time-honored weekly L'Express behaves admirably. Like all the other media, they might be tempted to display startling images of one kind or another... just as I myself did, a moment ago, in borrowing a photo of the crime scene. Well, in cases such as this, instead of striking photos, L'Express displays the following image:

This dull formal representation of the spirit of justice is an excellent reminder of the humanistic ethical principles that are necessarily involved whenever a powerful press organ expresses itself concerning what I referred to, in my previous post, as a fait divers.

The weekly L'Express was founded, half a century ago, by two extraordinary individuals: Françoise Giroud, in charge of the magazine Elle, and Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, former editorialist of Le Monde. In founding L'Express, they hoped to promote the political ascension of a man whom History regards as one of France's greatest statesmen: Pierre Mendès France. Later, L'Express opened its columns to writers named Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, André Malraux, François Mauriac and Françoise Sagan.

Truly, L'Express (like Le Monde, Le Canard enchaîné, Le Figaro, Libération, Le Point, Télérama, etc...) is French journalism of an excellent kind.

As a Martian visitor might say: "Show me your journalism, and I'll tell you what kind of a nation you are." To maintain such a belief, however, the Martian in question would nevertheless need to steer clear of the two vast but decrepit French principalities, oozing with pestilential vapors, named Sarkozia and Socialistica.

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