Old Media, Old News (The IHT Discovers Douste)

Posted by John Rosenthal

What counts as a "scoop" at the International Herald Tribune: French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy appears to be incompetent.


Here the May 1, 2006 article from the IHT on the subject:

"France’s Top Diplomat Caught in Harsh Light"

Here a September 20, 2005 article from Transatlantic Intelligencer on… the same subject:

"Douste-Blazy: Maybe He is Not the Right Man for the Job"


Note that The IHT had to wait until its colleagues at Le Monde wrote about Douste-Blazy’s – in France, by now legendary – blunders before it took note of them.


Note too that the IHT piece is so uninformative that it wastes 73 of its 482 words on an interview with the author of the piece from Le Monde – as if Le Monde’s covering Douste-Blazy’s gaffes was the "story" and not the gaffes themselves. Indeed, the IHT piece barely touches upon the actual content of the Le Monde article: in effect, translating bits of the first six paragraphs of the latter – without, however, saying that it is doing this – and ignoring the bulk of the article that follows. The rest, by the way, is not so unequivocally "harsh" in its portrayal of Douste-Blazy, even pausing to note his "seductive quality and social skills" (a description that is bound to provoke some mirth among experienced Douste-watchers).


Note further that in response to the most embarrassing gaffe – Douste-Blazy’s repeated "inquiring-minds-want-to-know" queries, while on a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, about the fate of British Jews during the Third Reich – the intrepid IHT reporter asked the Foreign Ministry "about…the Le Monde report" and received the predictable "no comment". This takes up another 20 words. The article does not mention, and the author is apparently unaware, that last September, when the episode is supposed to have occurred, the Israeli paper Haaretz interviewed Yad Vashem personnel in Jerusalem who confirmed the report (which, incidentally, originated in the French weekly Le Canard enchainé, not in Le Monde).


Perhaps the most revealing passage, by the way, in the original article from Le Monde is the account, based on Douste-Blazy’s own words, of how he came to be Foreign Minister in the first place:

He explains matters frankly: "Four or five days before being named to Matignon [i.e. Prime Minister], Dominique [de Villepin] asked me what I wanted. I wanted a ministry with sovereign powers [un ministère régalien] in order to complete my résumé. Economy or Interior." The proposition is ambitious. Of course, Philippe Douste-Blazy had brought a part of the UDF into the orbit of the UMP, at the time still a Chiracian party, in 2002, and he had taken the side of Dominique de Villepin against Nicolas Sarkozy.

…But in this Spring 2005, he does not have the qualifications for the posts he is demanding. Bercy [the Economics Ministry] seems too big a job for him. François Pinault, one of the few important business leaders to frequent Jacques Chirac, warns the President…. As for the Interior Ministry, it is only if he is named to it that Nicolas Sarkozy is willing to rejoin the government.

So, Villepin opens two doors: a grand ministry of social affairs or Foreign Affairs. "Douste" opts for the prestige of the Quai [d'Orsay: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs].

These three short paragraphs speak volumes about the mode of functioning of French governmental politics; and they massively confirm the conclusion of my earlier article on Douste-Blazy, to the effect that: "the overriding criterion for [government] appointments seems to be ‘are you reliably one of us?’".


[Note: Chirac's friend Pinault, incidentally, was implicated in the Executive Life scandal and largely financed the international expansion of the French polling firm IPSOS – which now conducts American polling for the AP. See here for details.]


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