Being a French journalist means never having to say you're sorry.
Jul 7, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 41 • By ANNE-ELISABETH MOUTET
Having dug in his heels in time-honored fashion, Enderlin, a seasoned journalist and a French-Israeli dual national who'd spent most of his adult life at the same job, never imagined the al-Dura story would dog him. He was covered by his superiors in the hierarchy, affording him the Zen-like serenity achievable in large French organizations, which are profoundly top-down and basically unchanged in spirit since the court of the Sun King. His coverage of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, while regularly criticized by pro-Israeli groups, was highly esteemed by his peers. He had produced a well-informed documentary series on the Oslo Accords, the peace process, and the 2000 Camp David talks, tied to a book that has been published in English; and, while it could be argued that he was perhaps too close to some of his sources (several of the parties to the peace talks actually held discussions at the France 2 bureau, loaned by a helpful Enderlin as discreet neutral ground), this was a notable achievement. Such a person could not, in the order of things, be seriously threatened by a bunch of activists or scruffy bloggers behind their computer screens questioning his professional judgment. When he dismissed accusations of a cover-up by explaining that he had chosen "not to show the full footage of the child's agony," which would have been "unbearable," he fully expected to be taken on trust.
Yet the bloggers and the activists refused to let the story die. In fact the unlikely alliance of, among others, a professor of medieval history from Boston University, a hot-headed former financial executive, and a former Le Monde reporter soon brought to light practices that would surprise no journalist with experience working in a totalitarian state. Most foreign correspondents covering the Palestinian territories from Israel rely on local stringers, cameramen, fixers. These Palestinian nationals do not benefit from the protections routinely granted international journalists. They and their families can be subjected to all sorts of pressures by a system not known for its respect for human rights and free speech niceties. The staging of scenes for the benefit of photographers is common.
The medieval history professor, Richard Landes, a soft-spoken American who spent his childhood in France and got his early education in a Paris public school, now one of the case's most devoted parsers, coined a word for Palestinian manipulation of the media: "Pallywood." He believes the whole al-Dura incident was staged. Using footage taken by other cameramen on the scene that day, he argues his case forcefully on two well-visited and regularly updated websites (theaugeanstables.com and seconddraft.org) as well as in countless articles and interviews.
Enter the hothead. Philippe Karsenty is a French Jew who felt so let down by the mainstream coverage of the second Intifada and the Middle East in general that he gave up a successful career in finance to start a media monitoring agency. His Media Ratings (web address m-r.fr) challenges the validity of press stories on all subjects with a test he dubs "the P.H.I.L.T.R.E method," rating articles for "accuracy, consistency, independence, freedom, transparency, accountability, and exhaustiveness." Karsenty took up the al-Dura case and started firing away at everyone he saw as responsible for perpetrating a dangerous lie.
Karsenty is a boyish character in his early 40s with rapid-fire delivery, a serious cell-phone habit, and an unflagging, self-appointed sense of mission. He makes enemies among his friends with as much gusto as he takes on the French establishment. (There is something of the neighborhood kid ringing all the doorbells on the block about him.) He has attacked various French Jewish leaders as well as France 2's news director, Arlette Chabot; Enderlin; France 2's chairman, Patrick de Carolis; and a slew of politicians. He routinely uses expressions such as "I will bury him!" and "I will end that conniving bastard's career!" He is a bit mad, but it can be argued that many saints and heroes were a bit mad-if Joan of Arc had been happier in her Lorraine village, we Parisians might all be speaking English.