I’ve written reams about the al Durah libel trial in which France2 and journalist Charles Enderlin were the plaintiffs, some of it from personal observation of one of the trials I attended in October of 2006.
Even so, I’ve learned something new, fascinating, and disturbing from Anne-Elisabeth Moutet’s remarkable piece on “L’Affaire Enderlin.”
Although Enderlin lost the Karsenty appeal case, and was revealed in the process to be remarkably slipshod in his journalistic practices as well as an outright liar in the resulting coverup, this hardly seemed to matter to the 300-plus journalists who signed a petition defending him and trotting out the old and utterly disproven charge that the Israelis were responsible for the shots that allegedly killed al Durah.
Anne-Elisabeth Moutet is a French journalist herself, and is quite familiar with the way that country works. She knows that reputation and status are almost everything, and that many journalists are inordinately full of themselves (perhaps this is not limited to France).
But even she was shocked by the utter disregard of these signers for the truth. After all, these people are journalists, and are supposed to be interested in the idea that veracity matters.
But it seems that all that matters to the signers is reputation, reputation, reputation. Enderlin has—or used to have—an exemplary one, as do many of the signers, and so the wagons were circled to protect both his and, by implication, theirs:
[The petition] expressed rank astonishment at a legal ruling “granting equal credibility to a journalist renowned for his rigorous work, and to willful deniers ignorant of the local realities and with no journalistic experience.” It professed concern about a jurisprudence that would—shock! horror!—allow “anyone, in the name of good faith and of a supposed right to criticize and so-called freedom of speech, to smear with impunity the honor and the reputation of news professionals.”
Ah, there’s that word “smear” again, which apparently means “when someone you support is criticized” and has nothing to do with the veracity of the accusation. Truth is apparently no defense, and perhaps it even makes the offense worse because it’s especially outrageous to be bested in such matters by underlings.
Moutet, a French journalist herself for several decades, looked at the list of signatures with mounting horror:
There were the names of people from every magazine or newspaper I’d ever worked at; people I’d trained with; people I’d been great pals with before life packed us off in different directions; and people I’d last seen only the week before. It was, to tell the truth, Stepford-like scary.
But Moutet’s shock was nothing compared to the shock the signatories received when she decided to call some of them for an interview. All went well at first, chatting and reminiscing, till she brought up the subject of the petition and why they’d signed it, and revealed her own point of view that Enderlin might in fact have been guilty of journalistic wrongdoing:
As I started explaining that I was writing a piece on the al-Dura affair and was wondering why they had signed the petition, I learned to recognize the telltale pause, the “Good Lord, she’s caught Scientology! She’s gone over to the crazies!” moment, after which the whole object of the exercise would become to hang up on me as fast as possible.
Some gave answers, however, and their explanations are stomach-churning to read. Much of it boils down to the sentence “I did it for Charles.” Charles Enderlin, the “grand reporter” (that’s not a description, that’s a title he earned; France seems to bestow ranks on its media journalists), couldn’t have done anything wrong. And even if he did, he needed protection, not condemnation, for it.
Forget the little fact that his shoddy reportage was at least partly responsible for inspiring a wave of murders during the Second Intifada, and has become priceless propaganda for terrorists around the world. But hey, what difference does that make, when such a “grand reporter” is under the (metaphorical) gun himself?
Read the entire piece to get the full flavor of the self-serving, amoral position taken by many of the French journalists Moutet interviewed. One of my favorites quotes is from Jean-Yves Camus, a political scientist and expert on radical Islam who went on the record saying that despite Enderlin’s error:
…you can’t own up one, two years after the fact. It’s too late, it would mean you abdicate. It’s a nice job Charles [Enderlin] has, he’s nearing retirement age. I don’t think he wanted to rock the boat. You know Charles, he’s always been status-conscious; he likes being the France 2 man in Israel. Plus, these people behind their computers, they’re not real journalists, are they? You can’t come from your day job and blog at night and imagine you’ve become a reporter. It doesn’t work like that. There are standards.”
Standards, indeed. Camus ignores the fact that it’s exactly because of Enderlin’s violation of journalistic standards that he got into trouble in the first place.
But journalistic standards don’t seem to translate that well to French, if we can take the word of elderly lawyer Theo Klein, who mentioned that things had gotten so bad that Enderlin and his wife had actually thought of (sacre bleu!) emigrating to America. Moutet responded that Americans were actually rather big on correcting reporters’ mistakes.
Klein’s answer? “Surely not after so much time?”