AP's Excuse for Not Reporting Sarkozy, Obama Swipes at Netanyahu: 'French Media Tradition'

Are we supposed to believe standards of professional journalism are so different in France that when you hear something clearly newsworthy, you don't say or write about it when the government tells you not to because of "tradition"?

That's what Angela Charlton at the Associated Press, which admits to having had a reporter on hand when French President Nicolas Sarkozy told U.S. President Barack Obama that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "is a liar," would have us believe. Though she did note Obama's lack of objection to Sarkozy's assertion, Charlton downplayed Obama's actual and equally broad response -- "You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day!" -- by holding it until the eighth paragraph of her report and keeping it out of the story's headline. The first six paragraphs of the report (9:45 a.m. version also saved here for future reference, fair use and discussion purposes), which includes the excuse, follow the jump (bolds are mine):


Sarkozy overheard telling Obama Netanyahu's a liar

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has labored to improve French relations with Israel, said he "can't stand" Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and called him a liar in a chat with President Barack Obama.

The conversation between Sarkozy and Obama was overheard by reporters last week at the Group of 20 summit in southern France, via headsets that were to be used for simultaneous translation of an upcoming news conference.

Obama, whose remarks were heard via a French translation, was not heard objecting to Sarkozy's characterization of Netanyahu. Through the interpreter, Obama was heard asking Sarkozy to help persuade the Palestinians to stop their efforts to gain U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state.

Several French-speaking journalists, including one from The Associated Press, overheard the comments but did not initially report them because Sarkozy's office had asked the journalists not to turn on the headsets until the press conference began, and the comments were deemed private under French media traditions.

A French website that analyzes media coverage of current affairs, Arret sur images, reported the fragments Tuesday.

Sarkozy's office would not comment Tuesday on the remarks, or on France's relations with Israel. The White House and Netanyahu's spokesman also said they had no comment.

So it looks like what could be seen as a French counterpart to NewsBusters may be the only reason why the comments got into the open at all.

Questions simliar to those I posed last night (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog) remain quite pertinent:

  • How can anybody in the New Media Age believe that something like this would go unreported?
  • Who in the world elected these people the world's information gatekeepers?
  • What self-respecting journalist, at least in a society with a representative government which depends on aggressive media coverage to adequately inform the public (which France supposedly is), would choose to ignore and fail to report what was said?

The clear suspicion here is that if the players had been different -- say a Republican or conservative U.S. president, or even anyone other than Barack Obama -- we would not have seen similar restraint exercised by the journalists involved -- regardless of "French media tradition."

In fact, Charlton cites a similar instance where an open microphone didn't matter: "At a Group of Eight summit in 2006, an open microphone caught then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair appearing subservient to President George W. Bush, who greeted him by shouting, 'Yo, Blair!'" If the G-8 summits typically attempt similar journalistic restraints, there surely wasn't any holdback in evidence on this one, was there?

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.