- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2005

French journalists used Hurricane Katrina to bash both the Bush administration and America itself, turning the natural disaster into a political bludgeon just days after it struck.

But the tables have turned after weeks of rioting by Muslim immigrants in Paris and beyond, subjecting France to a dose of press criticism on a global scale as its social policy and carefree image went under the media’s microscope.

“The French have always been very elitist about their ability to handle racial problems. Some of that was in play when the French media was criticizing America after Katrina,” said the Media Research Center’s Brent Baker yesterday.

“The coverage proudly emphasized the ‘wonderful’ social welfare system in France would have gotten relief to hurricane victims immediately,” Mr. Baker said.

On Sept. 4, the daily French newspaper Le Figaro proclaimed the hurricane “reminds us that the United States has refused to ratify the Kyoto accords. Let’s hope the U.S. can from now on stop ignoring the rest of the world. If you want to run things, you must first lead by example. Arrogance is never a good adviser.”

The newspaper Liberation said: “Bush is completely out of his depth in this disaster. Katrina has revealed America’s weaknesses: its racial divisions, the poverty of those left behind by its society, and especially its president’s lack of leadership.”

Le Monde opined: “Americans are upset at the fragility of their super power.”

French broadcasters on France 2 and TF 1 television networks dwelt upon images of the dead floating in floodwaters while on-air commentators complained that French aid workers were given “lowly” jobs on Gulf Coast relief missions.

The French coverage was “Force 5 skullduggery,” according to the American Thinker’s Nidra Poller, an American writer living in France. The French press, she observed, depicted the hurricane as “a test case for American ineptitude.”

Now, more than two months later, the riots have spawned international news coverage critical of France.

An Al Jazeera editorial noted that the unrest “laid bare the darker side of the city of lights,” while Reuters wondered whether the French “revolutionary ideal of equality for all has failed.”

French journalists were indignant. Jean-Claude Dassier, director of the French TV news service TCI, called the riot coverage “excessive,” but later admitted to censoring his broadcasts to avoid fanning passions of “right-wing politicians.”

The newspaper Le Parisien, meanwhile, complained that “newspaper headlines and TV commentaries set against a background of burning cars are really hyping it up,” adding, “fire and blood in France — that’s what some foreign media claim is going on.”

An editorial in Le Figaro castigated “American newspapers” for calling the riots a “Katrina of social disasters.”

Has the French press learned a lesson in the aftermath? Maybe not.

“You would think they might be chastened after this role reversal,” Mr. Baker said. “But I don’t speculate they have learned their lesson, or lost that elitist attitude.”

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