June 30th, 2008

300+ French journalists can be very, very wrong: in al Durah/France2 trial, it’s the reputation, stupid

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?”

41 Responses to “300+ French journalists can be very, very wrong: in al Durah/France2 trial, it’s the reputation, stupid”

  1. rlandes Says:

    thanks for this. a great parsing of a great article. at some level i knew all this stuff, but it’s still stunning. i think that in the future (if journalism remains part of a free society), students in journalism schools will do PhD’s on the corporate mentality in French journalism in the early 21st century, that will begin with the list of signatories.

  2. Colin Says:

    Perhaps this is a bit of an oversimplification, but this Enderlin character’s current predicament – and subsequent journalistic wagon-circling seems rather familiar to our own Dan Rather. With any luck, he’ll meet a similar fate.

    Take the average person, and their idealism goes only as far as their wallet. It’s sad, but hardly surprising.

  3. Sergey Says:

    This is a measure of French decadence: a culture in which appearances and titles mean everything, but essense and truth mean nothing. And all this outrage is accepted as a natural state, a norm of human life.

  4. bad haikumenter Says:

    Lion est le fatigue’
    Verite’ est la rumeur;
    Let the Jews eat dirt.

  5. Gringo Says:

    I read the Weekly Standard piece yesterday. This was my favorite paragraph :

    Then there was someone who insisted so vehemently on not being quoted or described in any way that I won’t even reveal this person’s sex. “Look, this whole thing has been a nightmare for Charles. He’s received hate mail, his wife has been threatened, he’s about to have a nervous breakdown. You want the truth? I don’t give a flying monkey about the case. I signed for Charles. In all honesty, I think he edited his film on deadline and was careless, and afterwards he didn’t want to admit he’d screwed up. A one-minute film, and it snowballed from there. Don’t put in anything that might identify me, I don’t want him to think I don’t believe 100 percent in what he says, he’d be devastated.”

    As others have said, circling the wagons. But also note the Enderlin, by initiating the lawsuit, continued the process. Like Oscar Wilde, he will learn that it is not a good idea to file such a lawsuit when there is truth behind what you are suing about.

  6. njcommuter Says:

    One reads, from time to time, of professors who consider their license to profess more important than advancing knowledge of the truth. Oliver Heaviside* was particularly bitter about these people, having tasted their scorn early. There is no way to know whether Heaviside’s contributions would have been greater or less had he not been forced to go out on his own, but it’s a deadly risk to civilization that this is institutionalized in the Fourth Estate. One can only speak truth to power if one has truth; if one is standing on authority (power) to declare truth, the Fourth Estate has joined the First.

    (*Oliver Heaviside was a self-taught electromagnetic theorist who, in his lifetime, advanced electrical and electromagnetic theory by one lifetime. Much of his work has had his name stripped from it, but the contributions endure. You may know of Maxwell’s Equations, the austere and enigmatic formulas that define electromagnetism. You may not know that Einstein called them the Hertz-Heaviside equations, because Hertz proved them true in the lab and Heaviside tamed Maxwell’s twenty-three simultaneous differential equations with the vector calculus that he and Gibbs invented.)

  7. harry McHitlerburtonstein the COnservative Extremist Says:

    That they dont catch the irony is the most frightening and frustrating part in this.

    That a “Political Scientist”, supposedly schooled and trained in critical thinking, cannot examine his own flawed reasoning, absolutely astounds. And we understand we arent just talking about France; you see this all too often in the US as well.

    Once upon a time, the prevailing culture rectified such egregious examples of cognitive failure by reminding people that some mental discipline must be practiced, and that axiom was practiced by people ranging the political spectrum. Not any more.

    Now, those on the left, (who routinely remind us how much smarter they are than the rest of us,) maintain to themselves their own idea of rational thought.

    The part that is particularly frightening, is that attempting to inform them of how dangerous to their very survival some of these more serious errors in rational thought, falls maddeningly on deaf ears.

    How will it end?

  8. Cappy Says:

    The petition] expressed rank astonishment

    Paging Claude Rains…

  9. Maquis Says:

    Triste.

  10. Promethea Says:

    A lot about this case reminds me of the Dreyfuss Affair. In that instance, the military was willing to sacrifice an innocent Jewish man in order to protect its reputation. Now we have the journalistic establishment protecting itself at the expense of innocent Israelis.

    I don’t remember the effects of the Dreyfuss Affair on the French nation, but it probably wasn’t good.

  11. Salah Says:

    neoneo with all due respect of your view writing about this case, let not forget the “BLACK” history of human carstophy under Israelis occupation.

    Does not matter if this case was true of false, are other daily acts by Israelis and settlers also false?

    Oh you and others might talk its self-defence of course its self defence against indefensible people isn’t neoneo.

  12. neo-neocon Says:

    Salah: see this. Also see this.

  13. harry McHitlerburtonstein the COnservative Extremist Says:

    Salah:
    “Does not matter if this case was true of false, are other daily acts by Israelis and settlers also false?”

    Well, it certainly doesnt help your credibility to declare that it doesnt matter if the al Durah affair was the truth or not does it?

    Do you see what I’m saying?

    Slah: Just another guy who fundamentally just doesnt get it.

  14. harry McHitlerburtonstein the COnservative Extremist Says:

    You see Salah, whose word are we to take that the Israelis are committing “other daily acts”?

    Yours?

    You’ve already thrown out any credibility you had by making the statement that whether the al Durah incident (the one igniting all the needless violence that followed) had actually occurred did not matter.

    Is it connecting yet Salah?

    So, its probably not a good thing to stage atrocities in order to garner sympathy from other is it?

    Besides, if the Palestinians were all that concerned with the lives of their children, that would be best demonstrated by not dressing them in explosive vests and sending them out to murder people.

    Is that sinking in Salah? Or do I have to go get a mallet?

    Sheesh…

  15. njcommuter Says:

    Besides, if the Palestinians were all that concerned with the lives of their children, that would be best demonstrated by not dressing them in explosive vests and sending them out to murder people.

    Or hiding behind them while they throw stones at armed riot police.

    Or teaching them that the way to heaven lies in blowing up a nation representing a people whose calendar is six thousand years old. This latter point requires a certain amount of logic, an application of “practical wisdom”, but that cardinal virtue does not seem to be in good supply among the so-called Palestinians.

    But the pattern should be clear. Suicide in the name of hatred is no virtue.

  16. SteveH Says:

    Isn’t this another case of “false but accurate” reporting? Surely there is a special place in hell for all these people that not only lie to their fellow man, but lie to themselves to protect their worldview.

  17. Fred Says:

    I can’t resist. Here is Arianna Huffington today, on Obama’s “move” to the center:

    “Fixating on — and pandering to — this fickle crowd is all about messaging tailored to avoid offending rather than to inspire and galvanize. And isn’t galvanizing the electorate to demand fundamental change the raison d’etre of the Obama campaign in the first place?”

    Since she could pass for a French journalist, I am posting (sorry). She goes on to say that a move to center is contrary to the entire notion of bringing meaningful, inclusive (har har) change to DC. What I find ironic here is not that she is apparently two months behind the rest of the media world (since Obama tacted towards center back in May, or earlier some may argue). The irony is that she is actually being vocal about it. It smacks of a certain desperation. I imagine that if Biden or Gore are the leading VPs, the Dems are beginning to line up their fall guy – either one of them would be perfectly plausible explanations for why wunderkind Bama ultimately was unable to garner enough votes……

  18. Hyman Rosen Says:

    While the current year in the Jewish calendar is numbered 5768, that is not the same thing as saying that the calendar has been around for that many years.

  19. Mr. Biswas Says:

    l’affaire al Durah is not over until it is known who actually killed the child, if he is indeed dead. It is now fair to ask, Was this a case of infanticide?

  20. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Salah, people have at times been willing to criticize Israel, even if they generally support it. Also, some people who are generally opposed to Palestinian tactics, and those of their defenders, have nonetheless tried to give credit where it is due.

    Now it is your turn. All alone and before God, I want you to say out loud – force the words out of your mouth – some good things Israel has done and some unfairness it has endured.

  21. Salah Says:

    Looks my words touch the nerve made many jump here with blindness talking.

    My answer to all of you, imagine RED Indian come to you and push from home and occupied you land and make you suffer, what you do Duds?

    Read this

    The next UN investigator into Israeli conduct in the occupied territories has stood by comments comparing Israeli actions in Gaza to those of the Nazis.

    Btw, harry McHitlerburtonstein the COnservative Extremist Abu “Sheesh” you know what Sheesh means yah? So what to do with “Sheesh”, put in you A* or sit on it whatever make you fell better!!

  22. Zeph Says:

    Salah’s comments reminds me of Golda Meir’s words that there would be peace in the middle-east when the Arabs learn to love their children more than they hate the Israelis. By the looks of things,that is as good as saying, never!

    If Al-Dura hasn’t been done in by Fatah, so far; and I concede that it is a very unlikely scenario, then surely their successors at Hamas will see to it that,no threads are left open. The only question is, how long before the next Al-Dura, and the next blood libel and the next pornographic portrayal of “death”, to be broadcast as “NEWS”.

  23. Salah Says:

    Salah’s comments reminds me of Golda Meir’s words

    First of all answer my question I paused above and tell us your felling dude?

    Instead talking about “Salah” to flee the real discussion of ththe main subject here read this said by the godfather of Israel:

    “If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign…”
    David Ben-Gurion

    “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist, not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushu’a in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.”

    Moshe Dayan addressing the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology), Haifa (as quoted in Ha’aretz, 4 April 1969)

    However if there is will for peace from Israelis they should show it, the Arabs and their league agree of full peace offer by Saudi king Abdullah Israelis rejected even before knew it’s details.

    If Israelis withdrawal from occupied land I think there is no reason for final and last peace in the region.

  24. harry McHitlerburtonstein the COnservative Extremist Says:

    Salah, the Palestinians would’nt know what to do with a “homeland” once they had one. If all the hated Jews left the middle east altogether, Palestinians would murder each other as they moved to fill the void.

  25. Gringo Says:

    If Israelis withdrawal from occupied land I think there is no reason for final and last peace in the region.

    Precisely.
    Certainly Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, followed by destruction of the greenhouses and constant rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, shows the truth of your statement.

  26. Helen Says:

    Professor Richard Falk does not appear to know much about what the Nazis did and how they behaved. He obviously knows that a comparison like that would hurt many Israelis, who would have heard from their families the true stories. It is perfectly possible to criticize the Israeli government and the IDF (so far we have had Falk going against Israel and America – quelle surprise!) without that ridiculous and offensive comparison.

    People who do not care about the truth of a particularly influential story do not really understand the difference between freedom and totalitarianism. That is not a comment about Professor Falk who is simply ignorant of basic historical facts.

  27. kcom Says:

    Does this situation remind anyone of anything else in the news recently? In fact, Neo has a full post about it now:

    The leaders of Africa fail to live up to their Sister Souljah moment on Mugabe

    In one case it’s a bunch of reporters who should know better who are covering for one of their own after he totally failed at his job and was exposed for all the world to see.

    In the other, it’s a bunch of African heads of state who should know better who are covering for one of their own who totally failed at his job and was exposed for all the world to see.

    Covering for your own crosses all occupations and social groups but is still extremely frustrating every time it happens for those not in the clique. How anyone can look at Zimbabwe and pretend not to see what’s happening there is something I simply cannot comprehend. Thabo Mbeki should have a special spot in Hell reserved for him for his absolute vaccuum of moral leadership.

    This is why I had a hard time getting excited about a lot of “freedom fighter” movements in the ’80s. I don’t see it as a particularly noble acomplishment to trade a white dictatorship for a black one. The point of fighting for freedom is to increase freedom, not to change out oppressors. Mugabe has been a horror show for his entire rule, including starving his political opponents to death early in his rule. This is not a new phenomenon. Apparently all those black African leaders learned the wrong lessons from their struggles. Those struggles were about gaining power, not about improving the human condition. So sad.

  28. Salah Says:

    Apparently all those black African leaders learned the wrong lessons from their struggles. Those struggles were about gaining power, not about improving the human condition. So sad.

    Tell me the diffrence that US went to Iraq and about improving the human condition?

  29. Salah Says:

    Professor Falk who is simply ignorant of basic historical facts.

    Helen whiles you dear about historical fact then did you asked yourself about Palestine historical facts?

    How many colours you have?

  30. harry McHitlerburtonstein the COnservative Extremist Says:

    Sure Salah:

    Freeing the Iraqi people from a brutal dictatorship is an improvement for the average Iraqi citizen, who now stands to benefit further once they rid themselves of their religious extremists.

    Are you getting it now?

  31. Salah Says:

    Sure Salah:

    SHEESH!!

    AQ wasn’t in iraq, they came with your heroese, isn’t that fact? or again as Helen you are short of ” Histrical facts”

  32. harry McHitlerburtonstein the COnservative Extremist Says:

    I guess that’s what I get argueing with a guy who was never interested in honesty anyway.

  33. Gringo Says:

    Of course Salah would have that point about Iraq. The Palis supported Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. Love those Arab Strongmen! Brutal, corrupt: describes both Saddam and Arafat, though corrupt better describes Arafat, and brutal better describes Saddam.

    Unfortunately for the Palis, their support of Saddam got them kicked out of Kuwait after Saddam got kicked out of Kuwait. Oh well. The Palis do have a way of wearing out their welcome. Black September, Lebanon, etc.

    Saddam subsidized a Palestinian contingent in Iraq, in addition to paying cash rewards to families of Pali suicide bombers.

    Guess who were rather unpopular in Iraq after Saddam got kicked out of power? You got it, the Palis, who once again wore out their welcome. Guess there is some justice in the world.

  34. douglas Says:

    It’s gotta suck to be Palestinian these days. Even the true believers seem rather bewildered and beleaguered.

    Iraqi Muslims turning against their ‘brother’ AQI and Palis, and allying themselves with tribe Ameriki? Things improving in Iraq, for the average Iraqi? How can it be!

  35. Salah Says:

    those Arab Strongmen! Brutal, corrupt: describes both Saddam

    Welcome to club “Historical facts” another blind and deaf member.

    Isn’t Saddam was US spoiled kid though Rams field went personally to hand him WMD?

    Wait I can’t stop what about Al-Saud Brutal, corrupt regime?

    What about Prince Sultan (Former Saudi ambassador in US) took kickback Millions of US dollars form his Yamama project with full approval cheering him. Moreover Tony Blair the strong Man in UK went more further to closing down investigations after Prince Sultan is their more corrupt Dude.

    Oh I just remember your stupid Sheikh the thief “Ali Baba of Iraq” Paul run with USD9.0 Billions how much corruption your guys got.

    Why not shut up and look to yourself better.

    I hope you feel better now isn’t?

  36. Ymarsakar Says:

    After all, these people are journalists, and are supposed to be interested in the idea that veracity matters.

    You’ve got to be shatting me, Neo. That doesn’t even parse as a hypothetical.

    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:

    This is why France lost WWII. When a nation becomes defunct and weak, destiny has a way of telling others that this has happened.

    and to willful deniers ignorant of the local realities and with no journalistic experience.”

    Replace “journalistic experience” with “proper aristocratic bloodlines”, Neo, and you’ll get what reading of things.

    Much of it boils down to the sentence “I did it for Charles.”

    Serfs and retainers of a feudal lord are expected to die in defense of that lord, Neo.

    France seems to bestow ranks on its media journalists)

    If you ask me, Neo, there’s an obvious reason why.

  37. Salah Says:

    that Americans were actually rather big on correcting reporters’ mistakes.

    Neoneo I wish this also be true for US administrations. five yeras past in still saying ” we stay the course” of what course may be untruthful reflections of the reality.

  38. Gringo Says:

    Salah:
    We agree with each other: brutal and corrupt has been the prototypical Arab model of government. I point out Arafat and Saddam. You correctly point out Saudi Arabia. I agree with you that what Tony Blair did was shameful. You correctly point out Iraq’s corruption. Yes, Iraq DOES have a problem with corruption. Thousands of years of custom are difficult to erase in 5 years.

    Why not shut up and look to yourself better.
    I argue with facts, and you tell me to shut up. That says a lot more about you than it does about me. Why should I be surprised? Arabs are ruled by Arab tyrants and adopt the tyrannical ways of their rulers. “Shut up” is what a tyrant says to his oppressed subjects.

    Isn’t Saddam was US spoiled kid though Rams field went personally to hand him WMD? ( Rumsfeld)

    And Mossad was the instigator of 9/11.( I hope you are able to detect the sarcasm in the previous sentence.) If you are willing to leave the world of fantasy, and deal with facts, consider the following fact. Saddam formally took power in 1979. From 1979-1990, the US accounted for 0.6 % of Iraq arms imports under Saddam’s rule . ( 6 tenths of one percent: 3 parts out of 500) . Saddam the spoiled child of the US, with less than 1% of arms sales from the US? Iraq’s arms purchases when Saddam was formally in power came from the Soviet Bloc (62.5%), China (14.7%) and France (14.5%). It is interesting to note that both France and Russia were very much against the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

  39. Salah Says:

    Thousands of years of custom are difficult to erase in 5 years.

    First apologies been out of main subject but I find I need to clear things.

    I agree Arab and other third world having problems they are defiantly not developed not understand the life and humanity like the west were they built their primed of humanity and democracy with sacrifices long time ago.

    So if you talking about corruption and other things don’t forgot there are nations in Africa in Latin America and in Asia having same problem more or less it’s not Just the Arab. The Arab more under the eyes because the money and more money make more corruptions.

    By saying Thousands of years can be fixed by five years! This is falls statement what I said is your US ambassador in Iraq had a problem and his Co not the Iraqis here the money vanished from US administration in Iraq headed by Paul Bremer not by Iraqi as far as we know.

    And Mossad was the instigator of 9/11.

    Look, don’t put your words in my mouth I did not said this, playing and mixing mangling in the words and diverting the subject blame yourself for that don’t put it on me.

    As far as CIA and Saddam there are many reports, I am not created this if you asked any Iraqi he will tell you same, he was promoted and helped by CIA to come to the power in Iraq. This is not my imaginations.

    I agree that amount of weapons sold to him its very minor compare with others but that I think no reason to make believe he is not backed by US early days.

    What France and Russia did before 2003 its due to their strategy of befits as US do anyway.

  40. Ymarsakar Says:

    five yeras past in still saying ” we stay the course” of what course may be untruthful reflections of the reality.

    Given that this is your personal bias, it has nothing to do with the truth.

  41. Salah Says:

    Given that this is your personal bias, it has nothing to do with the truth.

    Can you telling us your your personal bias truth please?

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