At six o’clock on a freezing Chimayó morning last week, I dragged myself
out of bed and onto a porch, where a friendly B&B proprietor had left me
a cordless phone. The reason was that a radio program, Democracy Now, wanted
me on as a guest to talk about the New
York Times and Sudan. Seeing as how it was insanely early, insanely cold,
and I hadn’t had any coffee, I think I acquitted
myself reasonably well.
Gratifyingly, a couple
of my readers seem
to have heard me on the radio, so I must have reached a halfways-decent audience.
Later on in the week, I ended up listening to Marfa
Public Radio while driving through the desert: there was nothing else to
listen to, so it’s not hard to see where an audience can come from.
Democracy Now has a clear left-wing bias: indeed, NPR is cited in Jack Shafer’s
pretty much the archetypal left-wing media entity. (BTW, is there any demand
for a Report Report Report on the media
But the report I heard
about the French employment demonstrations, on a Public Radio program called
The World, was anything but left-wing:
GERRY HADDEN: Eleanor, if we compare this to the United States, no one would
even begin to expect such job protection that the French are asking for. Can
you explain what’s going on?
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: A lot of it is ignorance. A lot of these young
people, maybe they just want to be out of class. I don’t think a
lot of them know what’s going on. They’re scared of globalization. I think
that globalization hasn’t been sold very well here.
Listen for yourself: the whole tone of the interview has no sympathy whatsoever
towards the demonstrators, who are portrayed as ignorant agitators who simply
need a bit of education and who would then understand that this law is all for
their own good. Really, it wouldn’t have been out of place on Fox News. That
the new employment law and globalization are essentially interchangeable was
never argued: it was simply taken as gospel fact.
Meanwhile, Lance Knobel has
found a much more interesting take on the whole affair, from Jean-Pierre
There is no valid case to be made in support of French Prime Minister de
Villepin’s first employment contract. I am totally in favour of far
more flexible labour conditions and contracts and also of longer working hours,
but I am definitely against picking on youth, among the most vulnerable and
traumatised segments of French society. What de Villepin is doing is trying
to show his machismo by bullying the weak. France is full, full, full of subsidised,
molly-coddled, highly protected sectors throughout the labour force. This
is what is responsible for the 24% youth unemployment in France and this is
what needs to be addressed. The farmers, the huge government sector, the civil
servants, who in France more often than not are highly uncivil, the transport
“workers”, plumbers, pensioners, these are the people who need
to be confronted.
Why, then, was the public radio report so simplistic, and biased against the
left? I don’t think it’s as simple as saying that the left in the USA would
be considered the center-right in Europe. After all, there’s no shortage of
anti-globalization activists in the USA, too, on both sides of the political
Rather, I suspect that NPR appeals to what you might call smug urban liberals,
the kind of people who congratulate themselves on being worldly enough to understand
the positive effects of globalization and even congratulate themselves on knowing
enough about the genocide going on in Sudan that they are appalled that the
New York Times would take the Sudanese government’s money.
If you buy Gentzkow and Shapiro’s theory of media, NPR then has every reason
to confirm such preconceived notions, unless there’s a chance that its listeners
will get a more nuanced and accurate view of the situation elsewhere. In the
case of the French demonstrations, there was very little chance that other media
outlets would run pieces more sympathetic to the protestors, so they were safe
going with the conventional wisdom. Those French students: it seems they just
can’t catch a break.