Rashomon in Damascus: Same interviewee, diverging coverage


January 11, 2016 – Fort Russ News –

– Charlotte d’Ornellas in Boulevard Voltaire, translated by Tom Winter –

Tr note: I have added, in brackets, snippets from other French coverage for the contrast.

In effect, there were not three French microphones held out to Bashar al-Assad on Monday but four, including that of Boulevard Voltaire. It is at Libération that we must recognize this little honesty of precision, but once does not make a habit! [RTL’s coverage said “the three major French media” were there — tr]

Our colleagues will have to face the obvious: we are doing the same work and it is therefore normal that we cross paths from time to time. This time, it was in Syria, in Aleppo, in the presidential palace.

Libération even went so far as to watch the interview of Bachar el-Assad on Boulevard Voltaire because its journalist had unearthed a sentence that no other media had broadcast, and for good reason. “The mainstream media has failed. Their version has been discredited. It is in the alternative media that we must seek the truth,” replied Bashar al-Assad to the journalist who asked if he had a message to address to France.

And the journalist of Libération adds: “To feed the conspiracy theories on the lying media.” 

The Liberation coverage editorialized, assuring the readers that anything said by Assad not in line with the Western press was a lie. A sample: 

“The master of Damascus characterizes as terrorists all opponents to his regime, going so far as to conflate the Islamic State with the White Helmets, the Civil Defense rescue squad. He keeps on baldly lying in denying the use of barrel bombs on civilians, the bombing of hospitals, and the torture of prisoners, summing up ‘so that entire story just doesn’t hold up.”

Le maître de Damas qualifie de «terroristes» tous les opposants à son régime, allant même jusqu’à confondre l’Etat islamique avec les Casques blancs, les secouristes de la Défense civile.Il continue de mentir effrontément en niant l’usage par ses forces de barils explosifs sur les populations civiles, de bombardements d’hôpitaux ou de tortures de prisonniers, en résumant «Donc toute cette histoire ne tient pas debout».liberation

It is perhaps in this kind of incessant comment that our work differs, finally, as we tread the same ground and question the same people.

RTL gives us an example in their introduction to the interview: “Suit and blue tie, ostensibly considerate, almost seductive, Bashar al-Assad answers all the questions. But it is a façade intended to pass the message. In his replies, the Syrian President is cold, unscrupulous,” says the special envoy of RTL in Damascus, Thomas Prouteau.

When I give the floor to someone, it is first to listen to him.

Not to give in addition the fruit of my imagination, adding to it the hidden intentions or other secret thoughts of my interlocutor. Because I just ignore them. But perhaps the ability to probe the kidneys and hearts is automatically attributed to anyone who works for a “recognized” medium. 

In the present case, I have seen a Syrian President actually welcoming and friendly, and I have no legitimacy to say that this was a façade. That naturally does not prevent me from knowing that a war is never as simple as a confrontation between good and evil, of course.

It’s all about a disturbing distance on the part some journalists, which ends up becoming worse than embarrassing after six years of conflict. Our mission is to inform, and to interview Bashar al-Assad is therefore an obvious part of our profession — even greater when, for five years and without the least contradiction, the opposition was given the floor as if it were a harmless bloc …

Why apologize for having an elected and recognized president speak while it was fashionable to have the so-called “Mayor of East Aleppo” speak three weeks earlier, whose peculiarity was never to have been elected, not to be Aleppin and to have been proclaimed the representative of districts of the city by … Al Nusra?

The bias is obvious, and it is particularly unfair to accuse calling out this unfairness as “conspiracist.” My interview was broadcast in its entirety, without comment, because readers and listeners of Boulevard Voltaire are big enough to get an idea of the situation on their own. If delivering an interview in these conditions places you in the “conspiracist” camp, well…

To return to Bashar al-Assad’s statement on the media, quoted above, it is doubtless explained by the five years of blind bias on the part of many journalists, notably French. While many were busy commenting from Paris, the “alternative media” Boulevard Voltaire went into the field, to see and report. Acknowledging this could be an early solution to one of the aspects of this “crisis of the press” that is so troubling …

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