by Anne-Elisabeth Moutet
Friday, 22
October 2021
Dispatch
07:30

Le Woke has arrived at French newsrooms

Intergenerational wars are erupting inside France's liberal bastions
by Anne-Elisabeth Moutet

Whenever the French huff that some unwished-for social development, from school shootings to “safe spaces” in universities, could “only happen in America” (or, more broadly, “chez les Anglo-Saxons”), you can reliably bet on it reaching France within five years. And so it is with new intergenerational woke wars among the staff of liberal media institutions like Libération (founder: Jean-Paul Sartre, 1972, at the height of his Maoist phase), now restyled as “Libé”; or Le Nouvel Observateur (now “L’Obs”), the anti-colonial newsweekly founded by Jean Daniel in 1950; or even — whisper it — in some departments of the venerable Le Monde.

On one side, most well over 50, are the heirs of the founders and of the old French universalist Left. On the other are twenty-somethings newer hires who despise l’Esprit Charlie, analyse everything through the prism of American-style “systemic racism”, and believe reporting on any conservative issue (e.g. Éric Zemmour’s rise in the polls) should be reduced for fear of “giving a platform to the fascistosphere”.

A shrewd Le Figaro report by Claudia Cohen, published yesterday, points to the moment when the battle started: last summer, when a member of the Le Monde and L’Obs boards, the respected writer and media consultant Édouard Tétreau, refused to stay on as a L’Obs administrator. Facing his board colleagues, Tétreau pointed to a special issue entitled “Slavery, a French History”, arguing that deconstructing the entire national narrative through a single ideology was dangerous and that it was a betrayal of the French Left, from Jean Jaurès, Georges Clemenceau, Albert Camus to the magazine’s own founders. The rest of the board stared at him in horror before they started abusing him. No one, not even L’Obs’s owner, the banker Louis Dreyfus, wanted a piece of this heresy. Tétreau was, apparently, using the arguments of the extreme-Right.

Yet, says Cohen, many journalists at L’Obs, or at Libé, express the same worries — privately. “You can’t make jokes any longer”, one tells her. The young generation is “obsessed with political correctness.” The previous editor in chief of L’Obs, Dominique Nora, wrote, shortly before her departure a year ago, an editorial criticising the radical feminist Alice Coffin for calling all husbands and fathers “rapists” and “molesters”. She went on by suggesting that parity and abuses against women would be better fought with the help of male allies. The website staff, younger and more radicalised, started agitating against Nora — the same demographic, tech and social-media obsessed, who led the bullying of the journalist Bari Weiss at the New York Times at about the same time.

At Le Monde, reports Cohen, the editorial staff is similarly divided over secularism, the French principle of laïcité, which since 1905 guarantees State neutrality toward every faith — and the right for all to practice their religion as a private matter. The line of the younger generation apes the American one, with the French ban on religious symbols, such as crosses and headscarves, in the public sphere (schools, the civil service, but not universities) accused of racist intentions. At Libé, the hiring of the Charlie-Hebdo cartoonist Coco, a survivor from the 2015 massacre, caused rumbles — and almost every one of her biting cartoons is criticised internally, sometimes brutally.

The media historian Alexis Lévrier believes that the French media will not reach American extremes. He points out the Le Monde, following the current Education Secretary Jean-Michel Blanquer, has consistently criticised le woke. And it’s true that you rarely lose your job for something you’ve said here, although you find that invitations to conferences or State radio panels tend to dry up. 

Yet the five-year rule shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. Two weeks ago, Gilles Bornstein, a senior editor at France Info, the State broadcaster’s all-news radio station, told interviewer Ian Brossat (who also happens to be the Communist deputy Mayor of Paris) that Éric Zemmour was “forbidden to appear in our programmes”. (The following day, Bornstein had to amend this to confirm that once Zemmour officially declares his candidacy, he would be invited like all other candidates.) None of France Info’s staff had made any objection when their senior editor, paid like them with the nation’s taxes, decided a political personality polling better than any presidential candidate except Emmanuel Macron should be state-silenced. Amérique, nous voilà!

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James Joyce
James Joyce
11 months ago

As a card-carrying members of Les Deplorables, I do not believe that this article goes far enough in describing the extent of the problem, nor does it trace the origin of Le woke.
At this point in the pandemic, after years of denial, it is now generally accepted that “woke journalism,” (an oxymoron since this is not journalism but advocacy), escaped from the newsroom of The New York Times at some point in the 90s. It survived in the wild with some success, but it did not become endemic until the early 2000s. At some point–experts disagree on the exact year and the exact event–the woke virus was weaponized by The Times and other (formerly) journalistic institutions, and the exact origin may never be known. These new variants, Times-2017, Wall Street Journal-2020, are resistant to vaccines, spread easily among the young, and are certainly a threat to the planet, as it is likely that these variants will wipe out intelligent life on the planet in the near future–and to be clear–I said wipe out intelligent life, not all life.
Interestingly and as noted, older journalists seem to be resistant, some even highly resistant to these “woke” strains of the virus. But the demographics suggest that this is a losing battle, only a matter of time. Perhaps nature is smart enough to come up with a variant that will eliminate the woke, in the newsroom, in the unis, etc. This is the last best hope of Western Civilization and reasoned thought and debate. It is sad that the French, who so admirably resisted the Me Too bandwagon (believe all the women all the time, unless it’s inconvenient), seem to have succumbed to this variant. Quelle damage!
As a footnote, I worked in the newsroom of The New York Times some time ago–not as a journalist but as a copyboy. The leftist lean of The Times was well known then, but one never knew the personal views of the reporters and editors (similar to the military, officers never preach right or left to the troops), and it was simply unthinkable for personal views to make it into the news. There was a complete separation of “church and state,” news and opinion, and this was sacred at The Times at that time (long, long ago….). I understand that there is serious consideration at The Times to changing its (timeless? hah!) motto of “All the news that’s fit to print” to “Truth from the Woke [that you must believe]”, though I understand the last part of the proposed change is still being debated.

Last edited 11 months ago by James Joyce
Peter Shaw
Peter Shaw
11 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

James Joyce. Thank you for a wonderfully crafted comment, all the better for being so depressingly true

James Joyce
James Joyce
11 months ago
Reply to  Peter Shaw

Thank you for your kind words. It is, indeed, a depressing situation.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
11 months ago
Reply to  Peter Shaw

Seconded !!

Karl Schuldes
Karl Schuldes
11 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

The Wall Street Journal? Please explain.

James Joyce
James Joyce
11 months ago
Reply to  Karl Schuldes

WSJ is now a woke publication, especially on the news side. There was a “revolt” in the newsroom–mostly younger “journalists”–100+ signed a letter protesting “systemic racism,” and all the usual objections of the woke. Very similar to what happened at The Times. The news coverage is also increasingly woke, since, through attrition, older journalists are edged out in favor of the younger. This is a disturbing trend. I also think that the WSJ has given in and used the capital B to refer to blacks, though no capitals for whites.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
11 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

“the WSJ has given in and used the capital B to refer to blacks, though no capitals for whites.”
A newspaper I will not be reading then.

Karl Schuldes
Karl Schuldes
11 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

The news section and editorial page are separate. It’s been true for years that the news section is liberal. I see no sign of wokism on the editorial page. A respectable news source has to maintain a certain degree of detachment and understatement.

James Joyce
James Joyce
11 months ago
Reply to  Karl Schuldes

Peggy Noonan. Increasingly woke so as to be unreadable.

Jim Cox
Jim Cox
11 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

She seems to be waking up from Wokism since Biden’s debacle in Afghanistan.

Karl Schuldes
Karl Schuldes
11 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

No argument there. She’s a disappointment.

Last edited 11 months ago by Karl Schuldes
Jim Cox
Jim Cox
11 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Yes, your comment is true. After the hot mess of the 2020 election, the news pages of the Journal fell docilely in line with the progressive mantra “Nothing to see here”as voting rules were changed in Democrats’ favor in swing states to render invalid ballots entirely legal.
The Woke crapfest of the news page attempting to control the editorial page(perhaps the world’s best) was resolved by management’s declaring the two opposing camps to be inde-
pendent actors, free to continue in their current paths. WSJ readers did react in a heartwarming way, supporting their excellent, trusted
editorial staff. Quite interestingly,
a noticeable decline in language
proficiency in WSJ news reporting occurred simultaneously. My own editorial comment is that wokism, according to empirically verifiable
facts, is simply ruthless communism
with a very thin college-educated
veneer.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
11 months ago

We must be careful of referring to young metropolitans as “the young” – this only encourages them. Let us call them by their proper names – extremists, communists and totalitarians. They are certainly not “liberals”. It is no surprise, therefore, that such people should have taken over a formerly Maoist publication. Mao, in the name of politics just like theirs, murdered upwards of sixty million people. He is easily the equivalent of a certain German dictator. This was broadly acknowledged before the extreme Left mobilised its lumpen-intelligentsia into systematic denial, about twenty-five years ago. In “The Critic” recently, I read an article in which an anonymous academic was quoted as excusing Stalin’s atrocities on the grounds of their aims. A certain playwright and so-called “national treasure” has defended the Cambridge spies as at least working for “the right side”. The problem we face today, then, has deep roots and has been obvious to many of us for years. “Woke” is simply its most developed, threatening and openly cultic form. In essence, it is nothing but the attempt to reinvigorate so-called “class war” by introducing elements of racial hatred, the racial hatred of the rump, native populations of western Europe. In cities we are out numbered; in general we are old; and in birthrates we are all but eclipsed. We are a minority in the youngest cohorts already and will be a minority overall by mid century. Therefore, if we do not successfully quash the doctrines of “Woke” within the next five years, we are putting ourselves and our sadly few descendants in terrible danger. Totalitarians murder people, don’t forget; and they start with just this level of screaming indignation.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
11 months ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

“Let us call them by their proper names – extremists, communists and totalitarians.”
And fascists.

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
11 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Puritanical absolutists.

Graeme Laws
Graeme Laws
10 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Why not just eejits?

James Joyce
James Joyce
11 months ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Completely agree, and I object to false names in the press, i.e. progressives. I should have mentioned this; thank you for reminding me.

Lindsay G
Lindsay G
11 months ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

I am approaching 60 and my wife of 40 years and I always have been considered ‘young at heart’. Fortunately, we have no children so I am spared the worry of the dystopian future they would be facing. I feel for the sane young who face a future where the woke rule.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
11 months ago
Reply to  Lindsay G

I have a sane 29 year old who wont have kids, works a bit , rock climbs, lives in a camper truck and is a semi full time animal right activist – seems to me to be a very sensible lifeway choice for the sane young !

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
11 months ago

In one way, the young and the woke are just another manifestation of an age old problem — the obnoxious teenager who assumes every idea he has is utterly original and has never occurred to anyone before he was born, much less been dismissed as nonsense by them once they reached their full height. The modern wrinkle on the problem is that they don’t appear to be reaching their full height anymore. I mean, who needs puberty blockers? The irony is that the people who stormed around Germany in the 1930s wearing brown shirts and beating up Jews were the woke of their generation.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
11 months ago

Similarly with Mao’s Red Guard kidz during the 60’s and early 70’s.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
11 months ago

I will admit here that I spouted lots of nonsense in my teens because I knew it all then; most of those in power were tolerant but only to a degree (there were always some History Man types who were down with the youth). The problem now is that those in power are facilitating the nonsense and making the adherent believe that they are correct and therefore have the right to brook no dissent.

Mirax Path
Mirax Path
11 months ago

Western culture is uniquely into youth worship and thinks nothing is cooler than teen rebellion. Other cultures dont have this blindspot. The Maoists for example, never lost control of their young Cultural Revolutionaries.

Matt B
Matt B
10 months ago
Reply to  Mirax Path

Many ‘youth’ I meet are in fact well-rounded and impressive in many ways, not least their equanimity when faced by some of the cyclical and structural messes they have inherited.

Last edited 10 months ago by Matt B
G A
G A
11 months ago

The difference is that when I was a smug know-it-all, the institutions paid no attention to me.

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
11 months ago
Reply to  G A

There were spines then.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
11 months ago

The problem is not the young. It is the people who are middle-aged but want to see themselves as young. For older people, being ‘young’ is the ultimate achievement in life. For some it is just filling cracks in faces but for others it is trying to see life as a young person – their idea of a young person’s life, that is.

Lindsay G
Lindsay G
11 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I agree. The problem is that people old enough to ‘know better’ are pretending to go along with this non-sense.

G A
G A
11 months ago

What a thoroughly depressing read.

David McDowell
David McDowell
11 months ago

Reading the article and the other comments one is inclined to say that no one is forced read all that crap.

Last edited 11 months ago by David McDowell
chris sullivan
chris sullivan
11 months ago
Reply to  David McDowell

what actually do you mean ?

David McDowell
David McDowell
11 months ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

People are complaining about the content of publications they are under no obligation whatsoever to even think about never mind read. Reading it is funding it and talking about it isn’t much better.

Last edited 11 months ago by David McDowell
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
11 months ago
Reply to  David McDowell

But it’s not some form of entertainment which you can take or leave, depending on your taste, these are writings that are affecting our society and culture and therefore, will affect us all as individuals. Not reading it is akin the putting one’s head in the sand and just hoping that it will all go away – when you take your head out you’ll be in for a rude suprise.

David McDowell
David McDowell
11 months ago

They only affect those who pay attention.
Either there are alternatives or there’s a good reason why there are no alternatives.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
11 months ago

Like me, you can read and read and read. You can have many theories. But here is the problem: if everyone has a theory, how is it useful?
UnHerd causes me problems because, while it is entertaining, it is also useless. Anyone can sit in front of a computer, read and form a theory. Then you have to be literate to type an answer. Literate does not mean that your theory is correct, or that it is important. It can be seen as an entertainment, though.

Andrew Holmes
Andrew Holmes
11 months ago

My memory of the open advocacy of advocacy dates to the death of Henry Luce, owner of Time magazine, and supporter of the Vietnam War. There was much discussion asserting that the impossibility for a journalist to be completely disinterested (true) meant that no one should try (false). Self-righteousness was rampant then as now.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
11 months ago

So the young end up defending abusive and misogynistic faith. I give up. They’d absolutely fit right in to the Hitlerjugend

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
11 months ago

This Marxist-spawned wakeness will engulf those cultures too weak to resist. That will leave authoritarianism as the only alternative to death by smothering.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
11 months ago

Slightly at a tangent, but in the same vein as other Anglo-Saxon imports to France; I see ‘uni-sex’ toilets have made an appearance.
Walking along the Champs Elysee the other day, I was looking for somewhere I could have a pee. Finally, in a grand department store (Gal. Lafayette), I saw a welcome sign. On entering it was obvious it was mixed sex, but that’s hardly anything surprising in France. Sometimes it’s one entrance with a nod to separation between ladies and gents. Often there’s a low wall so you can only see the back of the man standing at the urinal, from the ladies’ area.
As I left I saw a sign claiming this was a ‘Japanese’ inspired loo, with one of those funny 3-way symbols for male/female/other. designed to be ‘inclusive’ whatever your inclination. The sign was translated into English presumably to reassure sensitive American visitors not used to the French way of doing things!

Last edited 11 months ago by Roger Inkpen
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
11 months ago

This doesn’t surprise me. The very first person I heard saying that there were dozens of genders, women can have willies, men can have vaj’s etc was a young French woman.