Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

06 February 2015

Vive Paris!


[For an update of 2/16/15, click here.]

[The recent post on accurate and realistic cost accounting for solar photovoltaic energy is one of the most important ever on this blog. But it’s time to move on, with only a backward link-look. There will be more posts on energy in the near future, in recognition of the vast changes that our species must make in its energy infrastructure, as oil runs out globally, in order for human civilization to survive in anything like its present form. In the meantime, it’s good to pour some disinfectant on the rotting and stinking slime-mold that is Fox.
]

Paris is suing Fox. No, not the infamous celebrity; the French capital. Why? Because Fox, in its customary disregard for truth and decency, maligned the venerable French city.

Fox accused it of bending over backwards to appease militant Muslims by, among other things, setting up official “no go” zones in its suburbs, which were out of bounds for non-Muslims. Fox made this bizarre claim in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, when all the civilized world stood as one with Paris. But not Fox.

Like much of what passes for “news” on Fox, the calumny was and is false and misleading. So now Paris is going to call Fox out in an eminently civilized way: a lawsuit for libel and defamation.

The thrust of Fox’ lie was its customary appeal to the worst in us Yanks, our mindless chest-beating. We Yanks, it implied, know how to keep Islamic extremists in their place. The “wimpy” French, with their “European socialism” and unpopular president, do not.

In fact, it’s much the other way around. Our Yankee First Amendment guarantees everyone religious freedom. So we let Muslims (or anyone else) wear what they want, especially if their religion demands it.

This is one of the few instances in which we Yanks surpass the French in liberty. We allow Islamic head scarves in schools and workplaces. France does not. We allow them unless there’s a convincing practical reason—not a political, cultural or religious one—not to. For example, workplaces here can forbid head scarves where they might get caught in rotating machinery and cause injury.

In the long sweep of history, Paris’ lawsuit is far more important than the controversy about the phone and e-mail hacking perpetrated by Antichrist Rupert’s other noxious rags in England. This suit will address whether a sensational lie, labeled as “news,” can tarnish a whole society and distort our views of a central issue of our age: how human civilization can embrace its Islamic faction, and vice versa. And it will do so in the context of Fox’ decades-long slander of France and Europe as weak, “socialist” and decadent.

At first glance, the legal standard for the suit is a tough one. Under a half-century-old Supreme-Court decision (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964)), a libel plaintiff suing a news medium with regard to a lie about a public figure must prove that the medium acted “recklessly” in publishing the lie. The reason for this high standard is our First Amendment and our freedom of the press. We Yanks don’t want to “chill” news reporting by making news media liable for honest mistakes.

But this was not a single lie. It was part and parcel of a longstanding pattern and practice of slandering, belittling and deriding France and Europe—the very places that gave us Yanks our Enlightenment values and an instruction book for our democracy.

Those of us who understand how crude, extreme and yet effective a propaganda machine Fox has become will never believe this was an honest mistake. On the contrary, it seems part a relentless campaign to tar France and its leadership as “wimpy,” “socialist,” and generally unworthy of respect, let alone emulation. It’s part of an appeal to our basest Yankee nationalism and pride, an attempt to get us Yanks to ignore one of our best, oldest and wisest friends.

Were it not for the support of the French Marquis de Lafayette, our nation would not exist. Nearly a century ago, our own Colonel Charles E. Stanton, speaking for General Pershing, noted this debt to France, which we can never fully repay. Speaking at Lafayette’s tomb during World War I, he declared, “Lafayette, we are here!”

But France has done much more for us Yanks than allow our national birth to occur. Over the centuries, its great thinkers, philosophers, scientists and engineers have helped teach us Yanks what “liberty” is and how to manage both liberty and a modern technological society effectively and gracefully. Even the bloody French Revolution and its imperial aftermath helped teach us Yanks what not to do.

Today, quietly and without fuss, France is in the vanguard of nations on four issues, all vital to our entire species’ future.

France’s advanced electrical power grid uses clean nuclear energy for nearly three-quarters of all France’s electricity. Despite this heavy reliance on nuclear energy, France has never had a serious nuclear accident. As a result, France today is our species’ least national abuser of the Faustian fuel coal.

With its small but potent “force de frappe” (strike force) of nuclear weapons, France taught the world decades ago (or tried to) that the sole useful purpose of nuclear weapons is deterring aggression and avoiding war, not facilitating first strikes or threatening others, let alone destroying the world.

Third, in recent years France has been in the front lines of the struggle against Islamist extremism and terrorism, as well as piracy on the high seas. In the Gulf of Aden, in Libya, and in Mali France has not hesitated to use military force to impose minimum levels of civilized behavior.

Finally, France today is teaching us all how to grow food sustainably and locally, to keep it fresh and savory and enjoy it immensely. Anyone who has ever visited France and tasted its superb local cheese, produce, food and wine can recognize our grossly polluting Yankee industrial-scale agriculture for what it is: a human and environmental abomination, which (among other things) breeds “superbugs.”

With any luck, Paris’ suit against Fox will reach our Yankee Supreme Court. The suit raises a number of novel and undecided questions. Can a foreign municipality be a “public figure”? How does a longstanding pattern and practice of belittling and demonizing a target of relentless propaganda affect the legal standard of “recklessness” in a libel lawsuit? Does a halfhearted retraction and “apology,” which Fox has made, make up for decades of willful and deliberate condescension and minimizing, if not demonization? And if not, what can and should the law do about it?

Some so-called legal “experts” have reportedly dismissed the lawsuit as frivolous. But Paris should go ahead with it. The suit is novel in many ways. It’s hardly just a matter of an injured individual with an overweening ego affronted by a single falsehood. It’s a matter of a decades-long, consistent effort on the part of history’s worst and most effective propaganda machine to insult, malign and demonize an entire nation for ulterior political motives, most of them senseless, sensationalist, or downright evil.

With modern computer transcription and searching, Paris’ lawyers should be able to collect a mountain of evidence at little cost and effort. All they have to do is search the vast archives of Fox propaganda for the words “France” and “French” in the vicinity of words like “wimp,” “weak,” “socialist,” “timid,” “Communist” “useless ally,” and the like. The results of this search—and the extremism, consistency and longevity of the slander that it no doubt will reveal—will surprise even people like me who despise Fox and all it represents.

Whether our First Amendment permits all this is something that our courts have, to my knowledge, never decided. The Nazis did something similar to the Jews in Germany and the rest of Europe. The Nazis’ propaganda was more extreme but less extensive than Fox’ in time and space. Isn’t it about time for humanity to develop some basic standards of honesty, integrity and ethics in portraying various ethnic and national groups, especially on the part of powerful private institutions that insist (contrary to all sense and evidence) on keeping the word “news” in their corporate titles?

So Paris and France deserve their day in court. At the end of the day, France is our nation’s best friend, with the possible exception of England. (England is, by the way, the only nation ever to have sacked our Yankee capital, in the War of 1812.) Quietly and without fuss, the French can teach us Yanks some important lessons about how to live and get along in the world, if only we would listen.

So as the lawsuit takes shape, let all our real news media give it front-page coverage. And let every civilized Yank, who knows history and our many debts to France, raise a glass of fine French champagne or humble bordeaux and declare, “Vive la France! Vive Paris! Vive la liberté!”

Update: 2/16/15

Apparently Paris is serious. Its city council has approved the lawsuit.

Godspeed. May Paris win and make Fox and its shareholders pay dearly for two decades of cheapening and brutalizing our Yankee civilization and—because we Yanks are still global leaders, mostly by default—our human species.

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