Michael Cosgrove – Events on both sides of the Atlantic show that it’s time to acknowledge the essential part that tabloids play in ensuring that wrongdoing is brought to the attention of justice and the public.
The Weiner story has been keeping America and even Europe amused, bewildered or outraged for days now. That average Joe sinning Americans expect their politicians to behave better than they do and lead lives akin to those of monks or nuns is no secret in Europe, where people find it to be a bit holier-than-thou. We may not be quite as radical in our approach on this side of the Atlantic, but, as the French say, “vive la difference.”
On the other hand, we of course have had our own issues to deal with, and one of them – the rape allegations against Dominique Strauss-Kahn – is all over the papers right now. You may be thinking that this story is not comparable to Anthony Weiner’s – after all one is about allegations of rape and sexual assault and the other concerns a photo of a guy in his underpants – but you’d be wrong.
The French press has been in anguish since the DSK story broke because of allegations that it knew about his sexual misdeeds before but didn’t publish anything because of its collusion with politicians which meant that protecting their private lives from public scrutiny also meant covering up their sexual crimes (read more on this here on Green Heritage News.)
Philosopher Luc Ferry used the occasion presented to him by the DSK affair to go on a live TV show recently to claim that everyone on that TV set (they were all journalists) as well as the political classes and a prime minister were aware of serious allegations that a minister had indulged in a pedophile orgy in Morocco.
He has been vilified by press and public alike since because he is held to have broken a sacrosanct and universal belief here in France – a belief moreover which is backed up by laws and harsh penalties for offenders – that nobody should utter accusations of crime in the media unless they have proof that what they were alleging is true. France loves the motto ‘innocent until proven guilty.’
That explains why there are no gossip tabloids in France and no sex scandals. It is illegal to publish anything without having the proof that someone has done something. Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? Just think about it. No more ruined reputations and scurrilously false accusations, no more gutter press, no more shock-horror headlines. A perfect world.
Until you consider things in more detail and ask yourself what the word ‘proof’ means.
Luc Ferry came bounding back to defend himself today with a defiant and spirited exposé of his thoughts in an article for Le Figaro. And here are a few of the words he said about why the press in France refuses to reveal details of sex crimes (my translation.)
“The classic response, which the piously righteous repeat over and over again, is no more than a lazy excuse. They say ‘Either we have proof and we publish or we don’t so we keep our mouths shut.’ That is laughable.”
He is right. Because what exactly is ‘proof’ in France that someone has done something when it comes to the press being able to report it? The answer is that proof exists when someone is found guilty in a court of law. In other words, unless someone denounces a crime directly to the police, who then take it up and decide that it’s worth investigating and refer it to a judge who may or may not hold a trial, it can’t be reported. You can’t report the proof you have, you have to prove you have proof. In other words, it’s impossible, because if it involved a politician, they’d squeeze the case before it reached court. Net result – it is impossible for the press to print any allegations of sexual assault.
Kafka would have loved the awful irony and so would Joseph Heller.
So if you are American, the next time you are raging about your favorite politician or entertainer being caught up in a sex scandal that you think was concocted by his political or business enemies, and even if it turns out that you were right, stop and think about France for a minute.
Okay, it might not be possible for the French press to publish details of private lives, but that same mentality means that it isn’t possible to expose a pedophile either….
Long live the gossip and scandal press, for it is a necessary evil.