Thursday, November 10, 2005

Clash of Realities

A NY Times article Letter From Paris must have been written by a French bureau of Tourism official.

The story paints a picture of a calm and peaceful Paris with packed cafes and tourists happily wandering the streets. The reporter, Donald Morrison, even goes so far as to say that the usual heavy French police presence has been reduced. However, he does not say that this is because all the cops have gone to the suburbs to keep the rioters out of the Paris city center.

Morrison writes:

The various French police forces - which report to the national government, not the localities - have evidently been pulled off the central streets and deployed elsewhere. The effect, paradoxically, has been to lower the stress level for the average tourist: With fewer riot cops in view, you're more likely to think about things besides rioting.

Talk about turning lemons into lemonade.

Deployed elsewhere? Sounds like they were sent on vacation.

Fewer cops around are supposed to make you feel safer? If I chose this inopportune time to visit Paris I would be pretty worried that the city streets were stripped of cops in order to hold back the rioters.

Morrison's next bit of sleight of hand is nothing more then an outrightl lie.

The reality - contrary to what foreigners may deduce from television broadcasts of burning cars with the word "Paris" superimposed over them - is that the rioting remains distant from visitors. It has so far been confined to a handful of relatively distant, heavily working-class, immigrant communities.

At its peak a few days ago riots were taking place in 300 French cities and towns including dozens of Paris neighborhoods. I'm not sure what measurement is considered "distant" by Morrison, but there is not much of a buffer if De Gaulle airport is 15 miles from the tourist areas and the rioters are somewhere in between. I'm sure its close enough to see and smell the smoke from the burning Renaults.

Now I can understand why the French national news organizations are downplaying the events with the idea that showing burning cars will incite more rioting. The riots are a potential disaster for tourism and French self-esteem, always fragile, is taking a beating. It seems to get the best coverage on the rioters Frenchmen have turned to overseas coverage.

What does the Times expect to gain by publishing shiny, happy news? Does it somehow reflect poorly on the Times that France is having so much trouble? This is a mind boggling story.


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