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November 14, 2005

Height of Omission

Stacked-Cars-France1

Sometimes I get some chiding for focusing so much on the hard copy newspaper when a.) I’m electronic, and b.) it’s a dying form.

It’s not because I’m nostalgic.  It’s mostly because the organization of the print paper with its variable relations and proportions lends an insight into the editorial process that you can’t get on the (more uniform) web.

For example, I’ve been concerned about a rightist spin in the coverage of France’s social unrest (particularly in the visuals).  I have a couple examples in mind, but I’ll offer you what I consider a primary one.

 

French-Housing-Articlerev

Back on November 9th, the NYT ran a front page story on life inside the French housing projects.

 

Back on November 9th, the NYT ran a front page story on life inside the French housing projects.

Although they have done a few other pieces from the minority/immigrant
point of view, I believe this was the most prominent and the only one
focusing on living conditions. When I saw the front page, I was
gratified to think that I would finally see some published images of
these notorious towers. After the jump however, I was disappointed to
discover there were no images with the story — not even a file photo.

French-Bias-Page-2

There was only a graph charting the increase in French
immigration. Although pitiful enough, what really troubled me was the
fact that right next to the housing story was an article about the
imposition of curfews — which included two images.

So, finally we had some towers — except these were towers of
automobiles which could only have been burned by the people in the
invisible housing projects referred to "next door." (There was even a
nice white man posed in front of those mostly — or previously — white
vehicles.) In the second photo, the Prime Minister was conferring with
the race baiting Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. So here we had the
powers that be. And, in the next column was not a dwelling nor even a
face to put to the population being conferred about and placed under
curfew.

After reading something in the print paper, I don’t usually
check its digital twin. As a result, it wasn’t until later that I saw the web version of the housing story.  And in fact, there was
an image there. Yes, there it was, a bit of a large St. Denis apartment
complex in the distance. But you could definitely make it out, in spite
of the trees on both sides, as well as the big blue police van in front
of those concrete road barriers.

(image: Frederick Florin/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images. November 9, 2005. Paris. nyt.com)

  • Lisa

    I do not understand the sympathy for those responsible for the riots in France. Solving social injustice does NOT involve fire and guns. Those who had suffered the most in those slums, the adults, were not the ones doing this. Unfortunately, let’s also be honest about something else. The improvished of French ancestry who lived in conditions nearly as bad were not the ones acting out either.

  • http://jokertothethief.blogspot.com/ Joker-to-the-Thief

    I don’t know if it’s so much about ‘having sympathy’ for the rioters as it is about trying to make some sense of what’s happened. The scale of the unrest means that it has concerned more than the usual delinquents. Half of them are under 18 and a lot of them did not have any previous police record (according to the police anyway – although I don’t have the figures). While those acts are crimes and should be punished, I think one needs to go beyond that simple fact. There is definitely a social and racial problem in France and the French need to address the issue without excusing the violence that has recently occured.
    Now in terms of rightist spin in the coverage of France’s social unrest, I think the use of anti-Islam rhetoric in a misleading interpretation of the events has been the most serious problem. (see on my blog at http://jokertothethief.blogspot.com). I wonder if there is anything ‘visual’ that could illustrate this spin. But the prejudice against Islam has been once again manifest in the wrong interpretation of the social unrests in France which have only social and racial and not religious.

  • http://jokertothethief.blogspot.com/ Joker-to-the-Thief

    I don’t know if it’s so much about ‘having sympathy’ for the rioters as it is about trying to make some sense of what’s happened. The scale of the unrest means that it has concerned more than the usual delinquents. Half of them are under 18 and a lot of them did not have any previous police record (according to the police anyway – although I don’t have the figures). While those acts are crimes and should be punished, I think one needs to go beyond that simple fact. There is definitely a social and racial problem in France and the French need to address the issue without excusing the violence that has recently occured.
    Now in terms of rightist spin in the coverage of France’s social unrest, I think the use of anti-Islam rhetoric in a misleading interpretation of the events has been the most serious problem. (see on my blog at http://jokertothethief.blogspot.com). I wonder if there is anything ‘visual’ that could illustrate this spin. But the prejudice against Islam has been once again manifest in the wrong interpretation of the social unrests in France which have only social and racial and not religious.

  • lemondloulou54

    Monsiuer Bag, Is the photo on the Times website really the only photo out there of the slums of the banlieue? Talk about sanitized! What I saw was more like the South Bronx during the Ft. Apache days than the photo of St. Denis.
    It is interesting that the Times website appears to be a bit more cutting edge than its paper sibling. No doubt this reflects a constant need to update the website plus the ability to do so without too much hassle. It would be interesting to find out whether the website’s photo editors are the same as the paper’s or if there is a completely separate staff?
    Doesn’t anyone at the Times read check this site?
    I have to say that overall the Times does an amazing job of displaying information visually. Their Katrina coverage was really incredible, what with all the cutaways of the engineering of the levees, the statistics of poverty, race, class, and car ownership, etc. etc.

  • Marysz

    It could be that the print edition of the Times has a more conservative slant because of the demographic of its readers. The readers of the print edition are (probably) older and have been reading the Times for years. For its web edition however, the Times has to complete with other internet news outlets and for the attention of a younger, more fickle reader.
    In most of the photos of the riots, I’m struck by the fact that the pictures usually are of the police and firemen as they fight the car fires. The photojournalists tag along with the police, so we only see what’s going on through the eyes of law enforcement. It’s similar to the photos from Iraq we see that are shot from the vantage point of the American military. We’re only getting one side of the story. The Times does have a multimedia presentation called Who are the Rioters? Interestingly though, it shows pictures of the ordinary citizens of the French projects, none really (except in distant silhouettes against a wall of flames) of the rioters themselves. The essay conflates the rioters with all French citizens of North African descent who live in public housing. And of course, in all the photos we’ve seen of these riots, we rarely see women. The men and boys of the community have made themselves visible through the rioting (however imperfectly), the women of the projects are still invisible–doubly marginalized.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Lisa: If you don’t understand something, you might wonder if you are being given the whole picture.
    American reporting on the riots in France is not just conservative, it is woefully ignorant (although sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference). It presents the situation from a self-referential point of view, as if all Western cultures are modeled after ours (because, of course, America invented democracy). Our experience of urban underclass/racial rioting in this country is very specific and vivid (whether it occurs in Crown Heights, L.A., Cincinnati, or Toledo), and the reporting on France makes many assumptions based on OUR experience. If you pay attention to what the French citizens (those who are not government employees) are themselves saying about the riots, relatively few are calling for “punishment.” Instead, they are calling for solutions to the underlying problems. This is a “foreign” concept to Americans, it seems.
    Here’s an article that’s a little better informed:
    http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/world/3457282
    In it is this quote: “President Jacques Chirac conceded last week that the government failed to provide equal opportunities for the immigrants and promised to speed efforts to correct the imbalance.” Even here there’s some misreporting about the “immigrants,” who are now second- and third-generation (if non-white) French citizens. However, I don’t recall President Bush saying anything remotely similar when we had our own racial inequities horrifically revealed to the world by Katrina. It remains to be seen whether the French government will ultimately address the racial problems that prompted the riots, but in this country, it appears to be business as usual in New Orleans.

  • ummabdulla

    The New York Times is making a deliberate choice – for whatever reason – in their coverage, because the International Herald Tribune has had a lot of photos, more thorough coverage, analysis, etc. Since it’s affiliated with the Times, the Times obviously has access to their coverage.
    Joker, I agree about the attempt to link the riots to “radical Islamism”. People have been saying for years (maybe decades) that these areas were “powder kegs”, and it’s not because of any religious practices. They’re complaining about discrimination in housing, education, and employment (and gaining entrance to popular discos), and there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that the complaints are justified.
    They’re not “Islamists”, although I guess there’s always a chance that they’ll get fed up enough with not being accepted as French, and turn back to their Islamic roots.

  • readytoblowagasket

    To extend ummabdulla’s comments a bit further, we should wonder what is gained when a news story focuses on inflammatory issues that either link to “terrorism” directly or have the ability to stir American fears (about housing projects and welfare, idleness + drugs, immigration, violence, the unrest of the 1960s, random bombs on city streets, mosques popping up everywhere, recruitment of native-born innocent youths to a life of crime, to name a few)? Here are some choice phrases from the NYT article:
    1) “spends his days drifting around a government housing project”
    2) “until in the end it has become like a bomb that they carry inside”
    3) “a gleaming new mosque”
    4) “violence that has swept the country”
    5) “government declared a state of emergency”
    6) “you get into drugs”
    7) “Others turn to religion, a trend that has worried many officials” 8) “At prayer time, a steady stream of men pass his snack bar on the way to the mosque”
    Finally the article’s thesis is presented:
    “Fears of Islamic extremism and the terrorism it sometimes breeds have increased the mistrust between traditional French society and the immigrant neighborhoods, particularly after a spate of bombings in the 1990’s and the terrorist violence of the past few years.” If you tweak this just a little, the reporter could be talking about the United States, not France.
    A few more quotes:
    9) “When immigrants began arriving in the 1960’s, they moved into the subsidized housing”
    10) “Delinquency flourished in the now predominantly immigrant neighborhoods, and the police cracked down”
    11) “Otherwise, he warned, the door is open for other ideologies, like fundamentalist Islam”
    12) “French-born youths who have been recruited to violent radical groups”
    13) “A series of deadly bombings in France by terrorists tied to a war in Algeria”
    14) “As things grew steadily worse, crime in and from the projects grew”
    15) “a tall, young man who gave his name as Kunta Kinte, smoking a marijuana cigarette” This one is priceless: Did the reporter just see “Roots” on DVD?

  • jt from B.C.

    following, readytoblowagasket’s excellent detailed analysis of the NYT times article I see it as deliberatly intented to create FEAR,obscure real issues and marginalise a more nuanced or rational discussion.
    In France we are witnessing a variation of GWB’s GWOT rhetoric, its called Law & Order Governance. A strategy especially favored by right-wing politicians to acquire and maintain power. Very effective lately.
    ………..
    Chirac could afford to say nothing: After leading the French right-wing Gaullist party for the past thirty years and being president for the past ten, he will finally step down in time for the 2007 presidential election. This has created a heated contest between his two presumptive heirs, Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. Although all three players are on the right, only Sarkozy is an economic neoliberal who advocates “openness, suppleness, and letting citizens make their own choices.” A second-generation immigrant with a Greek-Jewish mother and a Hungarian father, Sarkozy openly admires American neoliberalism, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Rudolph Giuliani. He regularly counteracted the lofty pronouncements of the patrician Chirac with comments like “I do what works.” As one French ghetto kid put it, “He acts and speaks like a gang leader.”
    And words do really matter as I tried to emphasize on another photo posting
    ..The full force of this insult has not been captured in the American media, where the word racaille has been regularly translated as “scum,” or alternately, as “rabble” or “hoodlums.”… a French right-wing blogger used a quote by the existentialist philosopher Albert Camus to justify the Minister of the Interior’s use of just that word: “Si l’on mettait toute cette racaille en prison,…les honnêtes gens pourraient respirer” (“If you put all this scum in jail,honest people could breathe.”) Yet “scum” fails to capture the actual subtext of racaille for a French ear. An extreme right-wing web site, closed down in 2003 with jail time and fines for inciting racial hatred, was simply called: SOS-racaille. excerpt,TomDispatch Nov 14, 2005
    ……
    The youth know gangsters when they see them.
    as ummabdulla has surmised I see it as inevitable that they will turn to their “Islamic roots” if their plight is not adequately addressed.
    In the US think, Black Panthers, Mohamed Ali, et al.
    The scrapped cars represent the 2nd & 3rd generations who serve no purpose,(their grandparents have completed the economic tasks for which they were originally needed and welcomed) While cars may be returned to the dump or recycled, with scape people its, “lets sent them back to where they came from”. Unlike discarded inanimate objects which cannot speak the animated youth can and will do…..?
    American ghettos are in cities where as the French build them outside to house immigrant populations.
    Sorry for all the words hopfully I’ll get better in presenting my views.

  • mad

    Great comments by all. I have not followed the riots closely and learned much here.
    I note that in the NYTimes article that there is reference in the third sentence to “a gleaming new mosque.” This certainly sets the tone for the whole article– the threat of Islam and the fundamentalists.
    It is not clear in the reporting how many of the rioters come from Muslim backgrounds- but one of the graphs in the article shows that less than 30% of the foreign-born in France are from North Africa.
    At the same time, these graphs are showing info about foreign-born in France, whereas many of the people in the “suburbs” are not foreign-born. So– are the graphs relevant or not? Who knows?
    Another point: a graph shows that unemployment for non-EU foreigners age range of 15 to 24 is 37%, but for “French” people in same age range it is 20%. In both cases it would seem that there is trouble brewing.
    I wonder if this “senseless” rioting will show up in other European cities and in US cities next summer. Do such disenfranchised people have anyting to lose in going out for “fun” like this.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Thanks for mentioning that graph, mad, because now that I study it I see it is utter bullshit. There are so many things wrong with the entire sidebar that I can’t ennumerate them all without writing my own article. But consider this:
    1) The graph quantifies “statistics” that France does not even collect, let alone track, in its census data — one of the “sources” of these graphs. It is illegal for the French government to ask someone’s ethnicity or religion, so such numbers vary wildly in France among groups who might be able to guess. In other words, 37% or 12.8% are super-specific numbers that reflect the NYT’s need to use their pie-chart-and-graph-making software, not any “official” or useful facts. It’s misleading (if not outright dishonest) to put such specific numbers into charts and graphs.
    2) “Foreigner” and “foreign-born” are two totally different concepts, blended into a linguistic smoothie in the sidebar copy for us to gulp down, and neither concept is relevant to the current events. The rioters are French citizens — NOT FOREIGNERS — which is why they are angry. Their parents or grandparents are “foreign-born.” The kids themselves are French — born and educated in France. Again, the NYT is creating a fictional bar-graph world (by separating out “the French” and “foreigners”) and selling it as fact. The relevant fact not pictured in the graph is that France does not treat all French citizens equally.
    3) It’s hard to know if the numbers in the pie chart reflect skin color or religious practices. See the Wikipedia article link about confusing the terms “Arab” and “Muslim,” among others. The North African-born population in France has been in place for a long time, which tends to happen when you absorb other peoples into your empire of colonies.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_France
    Out of curiosity I did a check to see how many times the word “immigrant” is used in the article. The answer: 17, which includes the title of the bar graph. One would think that France has an immigration problem. The issue is not “immigration,” it’s segregation and discrimination. I’m beginning to wonder if Craig S. Smith (the author of the article) or the NYT, have a racism problem of their own.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/browneyedgirl65/ BEG

    Can anyone expound on the meaning of “racaille”? Obviously an exact equivalent isn’t to be found in English, and equally obviously there’s context that wouldn’t exist in another country anyway, so does someone want to clarify?
    Thx,
    BEG

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