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Sarkozy vs. the Ugly American: Might U.S. journalists be hurting our nation’s image in the world? 10/30/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in AttitudeJournalism.
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy walked-out of an interview with 60 Minutes’ Leslie Stahl when she asked about his troubled marriage. His last words were “If I had to say something about Cécilia, I would certainly not do so here.” Well, that certainly seems reasonable. So the question that must be asked is not why Sarkozy would act the way he did, but why a seasoned American reporter like CBS’ Stahl felt she could act the way she did, by asking such a personal, inappropriate, and disrespectful question.

The sad truth is that many American journalists like Stahl cultivate reputations for being brave by acting in a rude and intimidating manner when they are on home soil, where Americans fear their power. But when they are abroad with foreign leaders, they rarely show such bravery, and often allow the most heinous dictators to tell their stories the way they want them told, as Mike Wallace did with Iran’s Ahmadinejad and CNN’s Eason Jordan did with Saddam Hussein. When they make a mistake by forgetting where they are, the results can be darkly hilarious, as when Andrea Mitchell, taking for granted the liberties she has in America, got rough-housed for thinking she could shout-out a snarky question to the leader of Sudan. So, if foreign leaders see our journalists as bullies at home and cowards abroad, what are they to think of the American people? Whatever it is, this could not be helping.

Comments»

1. Wendy Withers - 10/30/07

When I was watching the interview and it got to the point where Stahl asked the question and Sarkozy left, I got indignant at the way 60 Minutes portrayed Sarkozy. They made it seem he was somehow out of line by leaving. I think American news is too involved in the personal lives of public figures when the information really doesn’t impact the tasks at hand. Being a world leader is a hard job, and sometimes leaders are hard people to live with. The divorce of Sarkozy and his wife shouldn’t have been brought up; asking about his relationship isn’t the same as asking the hard questions.

2. nicolaskb - 10/31/07

Nice post, but you seem to forget that president Sarkozy’s ex-wife *is* a public figure. She had (for some time) an official credit card, linked directly to the taxpayers’ money.

Most importantly, she went to Lybia as an official of the French government and took credit for the Bulgarian nurses’ liberation (in exchange for a lil’ bomb, but I digress).

Sarkozy decided to make a public person out of his wife, he can’t walk out when his strategy backfires.

3. Nigel Barlow - 10/31/07

I couldn’t agree more with you Steve.Some much for journalism being the 4th estate.Journalism is about keeping our politicians in check,not discussing private lives that have no bearing on their abilities to perform their public duty.

4. Steve Boriss - 10/31/07

Nicolaskb, The lines I am drawing are between public vs. personal issues and rudeness vs. civility. I believe that public figures in their private lives deserve the same amount of privacy and civility that the rest of us would expect.

On a completely separate point, I’d also suggest that there are few leaders in the world, including the U.S., who have spouses who are not involved in politics and government affairs in support of the leaders’ efforts, few who are not consuming a great deal of taxpayer money, and few who are not engaged in needed government functions. I also believe these leadership positions are difficult to achieve without a highly supportive spouse who also serves as an adviser. If the spouse violates laws, at that point I think a monitoring Press has a right to probe, but even then I would expect them to act with civility.

5. Dave Bertelsen - 10/31/07

I seem to remember an interveiw with Richard Nixon conducted by Barbara Walters. At the time the former Presidents wife was gravely ill. The first questions from Ms. Walters had to do with Mrs. Nixon and the details of her health. I thought this was rude and totally uncalled for but Mr. Nixon smiled and deflected the questions. After several other inane questions Mr. Nixon, still smiling and using a calm and measured voice, told Ms. Walters that if she didn’t get serious he was going to terminate the interview. Ms. Walters appeared shocked but then did start asking more pertinent questions. Maybe Leslie Stahl and President Sarkozy should have acted the same way.

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