Immigration: Its not just Eric Cantor’s problem anymore

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter: Sure, if the other man is an idiot. Was Martin Luther King Jr. a terrorist? Was Bin Laden a freedom fighter?

Jonah Goldberg, The Tyranny of Clichés (2012)

Immigration is the issue of the moment in the United States following Rep. Eric Cantor’s primary defeat this week. But the U.S. is not alone in playing host to illegal immigrants and struggling with sharply divided views over what to do about them.

Yet the coverage of the substance of these issues has been rather thin. The press here and abroad has been resorting to stock phrases and cliches to describe the controversies.

But where would newspapers be without cliches? In trouble most likely — for cliches enable authors to communicate ideological assumptions to their readers thus avoiding having to take the time or space to make an argument. European-style advocacy journalism relies on cliches to set the ideological tone of a story. Stock language lets the initiated know how they should approach an issue before they are presented with the facts.

For the party faithful cliches are a virtue. For the rest of us their use in political and social discourse destroys debate, limiting our autonomy of choice.

The language used by some French papers in their coverage of the trial of Father Gérard Riffard illustrates the methodology of cliche newspaper reporting. The language used at the top of the story sets the moral and ideological tone for the newspapers readers. It saves us the trouble and time of thinking through the issues and coming to our own conclusions.

So who is Riffard and what has he done to merit coverage in all the French dailies? The septuagenarian parish priest is on trial for harboring illegal immigrants (the view from the right) or for sheltering asylum seekers (the view from the left) in his rectory.

The classical liberal school of Anglo-American journalism would lay out his story along these schematic lines.

The opening paragraphs would report the who, what, when, where, why and how — Riffard stood trial last week before a court in Saint-Etienne in the Loire facing charges that he refused to obey the orders of the government ministry charged with overseeing refugees and stateless persons (Ofpra) that he desist from providing accommodation in his rectory and parish hall at the Church of Sainte-Claire in Montreynaud to migrants who had entered France unlawfully or who had overstayed their visas.

The article would have a lede sentence that would give the author’s editorial view of the matter, but then lead into the facts. Quotes from the trial would follow — the prosecutor’s denunciation of Riffard followed by the priest’s statement that he would not comply with the law. The potential penalties should he be found guilty would be presented — fines of almost $2000 a day for each day he is in contempt — followed by third-party commentary. Context would be provided that would ask whether the priest’s actions were representative of the views of the Catholic Church and his reasons and motivation would be spelled out. If space was available, the article would close with statements about immigration issues in France.

How have the French papers responded?

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Schiavo redux

A French court has ordered a Reims hospital to provide nutrition and hydration to 38-year old quadriplegic Vincent Lambert, who has been in a state of minimal consciousness (en état de conscience minimale) for five years following a motorcycle accident.

Last Thursday a tribunal administratif overruled the wishes of the hospital, Lambert’s wife and some of his siblings who wanted to cut off intravenous feeding. The court sided with his parents and his other siblings, who as observant Catholics, objected to euthanizing him. Le Monde reports the Lambert case will reopen the contentious debate about euthanasia, the value of life and human dignity in France.

Have we not heard this before?

The Lambert case has a number of parallels with Terri Schiavo saga in America: a spouse ready to move on vs. Catholic parents not ready to let go; no clear statement of the patient’s wishes, conflicting medical terminology of persistent vegetative state v. minimal consciousness; political intervention by Congress and partisan debates in the French parliament; and a high profile role played by Catholic bishops. While it is early days yet, the most striking difference is the different decisions reached by the courts.

In Florida the courts came down on the side of death, even though the presumption of the law is in favor of life, while in France they have chosen life, even though euthanasia is legal.
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Is CNN pushing the “Dirty War” story?

Suggestions that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was morally complicit in the crimes of the Argentine junta during the 1970s “dirty war” have made the rounds of the press following his election last week as pope. However, the American and French newspapers have diverged in their coverage of the story with the French reporting the accusations but giving them little credence.

GetReligion reader Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz argues some American outlets have been pushing the story.

CNN decides to keep up the appearance that there’s something wrong with Pope Francis after the Vatican has very forcefully denied any wrongdoing on his part during the Argentine Dirty War.

Given the denials put out by the Vatican and the lack of evidence to substantiate the charge’s Mr. Szyszkiewicz notes:

This is simply keeping the story alive after it should be killed. Kinda like Pius XII.

In support of his argument the sites this piece in CNN entitled “Vatican denies claim that Pope Francis failed to protect Argentina priests”.  The article begins:

Vatican City (CNN) — The Vatican pushed back Friday against claims that Pope Francis failed to protect two fellow Jesuit priests who were kidnapped during Argentina’s military dictatorship. The accusations have resurfaced since the Argentine cardinal’s unexpected election to the papacy two days ago.

As pope the A book by investigative reporter Horacio Verbitsky accuses Francis, who was then Jorge Mario Bergoglio and was head of the country’s Jesuit order, of deliberately failing to protect the two priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, when they were seized by the navy. They were found alive five months later. But the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, dismissed the claims — which date back to Argentina’s so-called Dirty War from 1976 to 1983 — as false and defamatory.

The CNN story then moves to quotes from Fr Lombardi and other church spokesman rejecting the accusations made by Horacio Verbitsky. (As an aside, context as to who was making the accusations might be helpful. Verbitsky is a supporter of Pres. Cristina Fernandez Kirchner and late husband Pres. Nestor Kirchner. Pope Francis as cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires has been a vociferous critic of the Kirchners that has led the fight against gay marriage, abortion, and governmental corruption and incompetence.)

Mr. Szyszkiewicz cites this transition in the CNN story as evidence of editorial bias trumping news reporting.

Nonetheless, the incident led to rumors and allegations that Francis was complicit in the dictatorship’s appalling atrocity — that he didn’t do enough to expose it and perhaps was even partly responsible for the priests’ prolonged detention, said Jim Nicholson, a former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

Although the allegations against Francis have never been proved, they continue to haunt him, so much so that the human rights group Center for Legal and Social Studies in Argentina opposes Francis’ selection as pope. During the years of military dictatorship, up to 30,000 students, labor leaders, intellectuals and leftists disappeared or were held in secret jails and torture centers.

The claims against the new pope have cast a shadow over what has otherwise been widely viewed as a positive start for the new pontiff, who has embraced humility and simplicity. As pope, he will have other tough questions to deal with. He takes the helm of a Roman Catholic Church that has been rocked in recent years by sex abuse by priests, and claims of corruption and infighting among the church hierarchy.

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Missing the grasshopper in the stem-cell debate

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Master Po: Ha, ha, never assume because a man has no eyes he cannot see. Close your eyes. What do you hear?

Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.

Master Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?

Young Caine: No.

Master Po: Do you hear the grasshopper that is at your feet?

Young Caine: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?

Master Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

Do you remember “Kung Fu?” From 1972 to 1975 ABC broadcast the story of Caine, a Sino-American Shaolin monk tramping across the old West in search of enlightenment and his half-brother. Following upon the martial arts craze of the early 1970′s, “Kung Fu” also instructed America in the wisdom of the East. Like the Charlie Chan movies of an earlier generation, each episode episode included a faux pearl of oriental wisdom — a philosophical bromide designed to expand the viewer’s conscious.

The deep thought from this episode, young grasshopper, is the distinction between seeing and perceiving. One can see but still be blind to the world around you. Let’s take this lesson and apply it to Wednesday’s reports in the press on the embryonic stem cell vote in the French Senate. (How’s that for a transition …)

In several posts at GetReligion I have lauded the European advocacy model of reporting, where a news story is unashamedly presented from a particular partisan political view. Read the coverage about the same issue in Le Figaro (right), Le Monde (center) and Liberation (left) and you will have a good appreciation of a subject. (So long as they are not talking about the United States.) My accolade for a partisan press is premised on there being a conversation — a dialogue between the reader and the newspapers — where all the facts are presented and disparate interpretations are offered for the intelligent reader to assess.

This model does not work well, however, when newspapers devote different space and resources to a story — or when an important perspective is ignored. Le Figaro, Le Monde and Liration — generally considered to be France’s newspapers of record — offered good first day stories on the Senate vote but fell down in the follow up. The politics were done well, the moral issues were not. Here is some background:

The major newspapers reported that the French Senate on 4 Dec 2012 passed the first reading of a bill to overturn the country’s ban on embryonic stem cell research. In 2004 France outlawed research on fetal stem cells and the ban was re-affirmed on ethical grounds in 2011 by the conservative government. The new Socialist government, however, has backed a bill allowing the research.

The parties of the left, the Socialists, Radicals, Communists, all voted in favor, while the conservatives split. The final vote was 203 to 74 — 63 conservative senators were either not present for the vote, or abstained.

All three of the major French newspapers had extensive quotes from senators for and against the measure. Liberation had the most extensive coverage, Le Figaro the least — but from a journalistic perspective all did a solid job as a reader could understand and assess the arguments proffered by both sides. The government and it supporters held that fetal stem cell research would be a boost to French science, would lead to scientific discoveries that would save lives, and would be strictly regulated by the government allowing no “commodication” of stem cells.

The conservatives said fetal stem cell research was immoral, scientifically unnecessary and contradicted established government policy. From Le Figaro:

« “Il s’agit d’un revirement à 180 degrés » a protesté Dominique de Legge (UMP). « Les cellules souches adultes ne sont-elles pas une alternative crédible à la recherche sur l’embryon? » s’est-il demandé.

Roughly translated — “This is a 180 degree turnabout,” protested Dominique de Legge of the conservative Union pour un Mouvement Populaire party. “Are not adult stem cells a viable alternative to embryos for research,” he asked.

And:

Jean-François Copé, président proclamé de l’UMP, a dans un communiqué publié avant le début de la discussion vivement critiqué le texte.« Ce projet de la gauche est un renversement complet de la logique actuelle du Code civil qui garantit le respect de la vie et de la dignité humaine », a-t-il estimé.

Jean-Francois Cope, president-elect of the UMP was strongly critical of the bill. In a statement released before the debate he stated: “This project of the Left is a complete reversal of the current logic of our Civil Code which guarantees respect for life and for human dignity.”

The second day stories took a geographic turn, with regional newspapers reporting on how their senators voted. What was nt reported was the news the French Episcopal Conference denounced the bill on ethical grounds. Outside the Catholic press, I found one mention of the church’s response — in Le Telegramme, a conservative paper from Brittany.

Le Croix, is a “Catholic” newspaper but not a “church” newspaper. By this I mean it is a general interest newspaper, with approximately 100,00 subscribers — roughly a third the size of the big three — and is written from a Catholic intellectual and moral perspective. It covered the senate debate in detail, but also ran a story on the reaction from the hierarchy.

The article “Mgr d’Ornellas juge« choquant » le vote du Sénat autorisant la recherche sur l’embryon” stated the Archbishop of Rennes, Msg. Pierre d’Ornellas was “shocked” by the vote.

Speaking on behalf of the French Episcopal Conference, the archbishop said the church objected to the vote on moral and political grounds.

« L’embryon humain a le droit d’être protégé … », indique Mgr d’Ornellas selon qui le Sénat « a remis en cause ce respect ».

“The human embryo has a right of protection,” Msg. d’Ornellas said, and the Senate “has challenged this respect.”

And:

« Cela est choquant. Et un tel changement est opéré sans même qu’un véritable débat ait eu lieu.»

“This is shocking. And such a change is being made without any real debate taking place.”

Msg. d’Ornellas saved his best argument for last. For goodness sakes, even the Germans do not allow experimentation on embryonic stem cells, protested the archbishop.

« L’Allemagne maintient l’interdiction de recherche sur l’embryon humain. Faudra-t-il que ce soit l’Allemagne qui soit en avance dans le respect dû à l’être humain ? »

“Germany maintains the ban on human embryo research. Will Germany be ahead of us in the respect due to human beings?”

None of this saw the light of day except in Le Croix and other Catholic outlets. All three of the majors reported on the ethical questions raised in the Senate debate — but I’ve not found where they followed up with a report on the the source of these ethical questions — the Catholic Church.

Here is one of the problems of advocacy reporting — the omission of news that does not fit into the worldview of the editorial board of a newspaper. When there is a multitude of voices, there can be a multitude of angles for a story. But as this story demonstrates — it can also lead to the silencing of important aspects of a story. We hear the birds. We hear the water, but do not hear or see the grasshopper at our feet.

Occupy Poitres

Le Figaro, Le Monde and Libération are France’s newspapers of record, the Presse de référence. While the national edition of Le ParisienAujourd’hui en France, may have a larger circulation, I believe that these three  best represent the voices of the French establishment: Le Figaro, the center right, Le Monde the center left, and Libération the left.

Yet French newspapers, like the French, are different from their American counterparts. The New York Times’ mantra “all the news that’s fit to print” which expresses the American concept of newspaper of record does not work for these publications. Nor are they written in the classical liberal style of Anglo-American journalism that places a premium on “fair and balanced reporting”. These three, along with most all French newspapers, are advocacy newspapers. They begin with a partisan stance on an issue and report on the news through that lens.

This article in Le Figaro is an example of European advocacy journalism. The story published on 20 Oct 2012 entitled  « Des identitaires occupent une mosquée de Poitiers » reports that a group young French nationalists, or nativists occupied the site of a mosque under construction in the city of Poitres.  They unfurled a banner with the phrase 732, Génération identitaire — a reference to the name of their organization and the date in which Charles Martel defeated a Moorish army that had invaded France — halting the expansion of Islam into Europe.

Before I dive into this article, I want to say I am not so much interested in the events in Poitres but in the reporting on the events. What I see in this story from a center-right newspaper on a religio-political topic is a typical example of advocacy reporting.

The article is Le Figaro‘s first report on the incident and is framed to show the newspaper’s dislike of Génération identitaire and their politics. It begins not with a description of events, but with a condemnation of the group by Socialist prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. The who/what/when/where/why are cited in paragraphs two, three and four with the report that a mouvement d’extrême droite (extreme right) had occupied a mosque under construction in protest to the « l’islamisation de la France ».

 Jean-Marc Ayrault a «condamné fermement» samedi l’envahissement du chantier d’une future mosquée par une soixantaine de militants qui protestaient contre «l’islamisation de la France». Trois organisateurs ont été placés en garde à vue.

Une soixantaine de manifestants du mouvement d’extrême droite Génération identitaire ont occupé pendant quelques heures samedi matin le chantier d’une mosquée en construction à Buxerolles, à côté de Poitiers.

Les manifestants souhaitaient protester contre «l’islamisation de la France». Ils ont déployé une banderole sur le toit de l’établissement portant la mention «732, génération identitaire», en référence à l’année 732 où Charles Martel a arrêté la progression des troupes musulmanes au nord de Poitiers. «Nous ne voulons plus d’immigration extra-européenne ni de nouvelle construction de mosquée sur le sol français», est-il indiqué sur le site de Génération identitaire.

Here is a links to an English-language France 24 report on the issue. And for a sympathetic account, here is a story from Frontpage magazine.

Le Figaro then moves on to a litany of objections, denunciations and complaints against Génération identitaire. The prosecutor of Poitiers, Nicolas Jacquet, lists the crimes the Occupy Poitres movement have committed. The prime minister is quoted as having “strongly condemned” the action which was an act of “aggression against the Republic and its values.” The minister of the interior is quoted as saying his ministry will deal with the group with the “utmost firmness”, while the Socialist and Communist Party leaders have called for a ban on the group and their prosecution for “incitement to racial hatred.” And not to be outdone, the Radical Party said that calls to end immigration of Muslims from North Africa to France “are poisons that divide our society.”

The second day story from Le Figaro continues in this line. « Mosquée occupée: quatre militants en garde à vue » reports that four leaders of the group of 73 young people remain in jail. On top of this news is a condemnation of their temerity in protesting against the virtues of multi-culturalism.

What is wrong with this, you might ask? From an advocacy journalism perspective, nothing at all.  The reader is given sufficient facts and told what to think about the incident. The voice of Le Figaro is the voice of God, or reason (this being France after all) and one must believe.

The voice not being heard is that of Génération identitaire.  The group has a website, and has even translated its materials and proclamations into English. Nor did Le Figaro solicit voices from the French political establishment that might agree with the viewpoint, if not the tactics, of Génération identitaire. There is nothing from the Front national, the Mouvement National Républicain or the Mouvement pour la France.

Is it accurate, or fair to say that opposition to immigration is a conservative or “far right” phenomena? Have not trade unions historically been opponents of immigration? While the Front national, Mouvement National Républicain and Mouvement pour la France oppose the Islamisation of France, they do not share a common economic policy or foreign policy.  The Front national is protectionist and socialist on economic issues while the other two support classical liberal economic policies — free markets. Which policy determines whether your are right wing — immigration, economics, foreign affairs?

In light of the enthusiasm many newspapers felt for Occupy Wall Street, Occupy St Paul’s and other sit-in movements of the past year, I find it somewhat absurd that Occupy Poitres should receive such opprobrium in comparison to their fellow college students in New York or London. If the protest were held at a cathedral to protest the French Catholic Church’s stance on gay marriage — a live political issue in France — would Le Figaro have responded in the same way?

This article fails the test of classical liberal journalism as it does not give both sides to the issue. The reader is not invited to think the issues through and come to a conclusion based upon his unaided reason, but is instructed what to believe. This is the future of newspaper reporting.


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