French Journalism Drowns Trying to Save Charles Enderlin: Nidra Poller
PARIS. The honor of French journalism reached new depths on January 16 with one more absurd hearing in the lawsuit brought by France 2/Charles Enderlin against Philippe Karsenty, convicted of slander in 2006, acquitted in 2008, thrown back into Appellate Court after the highest court (Cour de Cassation) rejected the 2008 judgment on a technicality. Karsenty is accused of slander for declaring on his media watch blog in 2004 that the “death of Mohamed al-Dura” broadcast by France 2 on September 30, 2000 is a hoax, a fake, a staged scene. The state-owned channel, he wrote, should fire Jerusalem correspondent Charles Enderlin and news director Arlette Chabot.
The contested news report accuses Israeli soldiers of deliberately shooting at an unarmed Palestinian man and boy for 45 minutes with the express intention of killing the “child”. “Cold blooded murder,” in the words of cameraman Talal Abu Rahmah. Though the dubious news report has been reduced to shreds by serious investigators, citizen Karsenty is, in the eyes of the law, guilty of slander. He may be acquitted if he proves good faith, due diligence, appropriate language, and absence of personal animosity. Yes, the commoner who denounces an apparent journalistic manipulation is expected to conduct an extensive investigation while the journalist who influences public opinion on a grandiose scale does not have to prove due diligence or absence of animosity to the subject of the report, namely the Israeli soldiers in the outpost at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip that day.
The press release issued by the journalist’s union on the eve of the trial, urging colleagues to come en masse to defend Enderlin, was apparently a rhetorical gesture; three showed up briefly, none actually covered the proceedings. But they made their point: The distracted reader would conclude that Karsenty has been dragging Enderlin through the courts for the past eight years.
Last week’s hearing was an accurate reflection of the skewed notion of journalism, justice, and reality that prevails in this pitifully unfounded lawsuit. The three-judge panel, rather smirky as Karsenty set up a large-scale model of Netzarim Junction (where the killing of al-Dura is supposed to have taken place), gradually got drawn into the defendant’s encyclopedic demonstration of the anomalies, discrepancies, aberrations, fabrications, contradictions, absurdities, and falsifications concocted by Palestinian jihadis and validated by Western media. The so-called death scene is examined from every possible angle. No trace of wounds, no blood, the wall that serves as a backdrop to the cringing man and boy is intact, no signs of injury or death. The boy – pronounced dead in a voice over by Enderlin who was in Ramallah when the scene was filmed in Gaza – squirms, shades his eyes, looks at the camera.
So much for the due diligence of the honest citizen. When it came time for the tip top professional to present his version of the facts the machine broke down. For a full twenty minutes, Enderlin and his lawyer Maître Bénédicte Amblard, fiddled with the video, trying to get their act together. Sound, image, forward, backward, nothing worked. When the show did finally go on, it was a replay of several newscasts with Enderlin’s reports on the incident, followed by the spin film made in 2008 to “enlighten” the Appeals Court, and the show & tell video of Jamal al-Dura displaying his scars. This was a perfectly coherent demonstration of the plaintiff’s strategy: the news report is infallible because Enderlin and Abu Rahmah are infallible. The defendant’s critique is inadmissible because he relied on second hand information from “militant” sources instead of going to Gaza to interview Jamal, visiting the hospital in Amman where he was treated. Enderlin, who proudly claims to know everything there is to know about war reporting, reminds the court that this is not CCTV stuff, these are images captured in the heat of battle.
Yes, but … Enderlin’s newscasts are filled with snips and snaps of staged scenes that the court had just discovered, complete with their making-of, in Karsenty’s Power Point. These Pallywood productions have been available on the Net for years.
Philippe Karsenty called three witnesses; Enderlin, as usual, called none. Esther Schapira, producer for the German public network ARD, and author of two documentary films on the al-Dura case, went to Israel in 2001 to get the story-behind-the-story of soldiers who shot a child and a father who couldn’t protect his son. But due diligence led her to question the authenticity of the news report. Though France 2 and ARD are both members of a pan-European group, Charles Enderlin was aggressive and uncooperative. He refused her request to see the master tape of Talal’s film, saying he would only show it if there was a court order. He threatened to sue her if she claimed the report was falsified. “I was shocked,” said Schapira. “For a journalist, every question is open to question.” She calmly expanded on her reasons for concluding that it is highly unlikely that Israeli soldiers killed Mohamed al-Dura, but “didn’t want to accuse anyone of lying or fabrication, I didn’t have the smoking gun”.
Dr. Patrick Bloch, a surgeon specialized in combat wounds, testified to the obvious fact that the man and boy in the video were unscathed. He showed gory images of exit wounds that every war correspondent would recognize. Ballistics expert Jean-Claude Schlinger confirmed that the wall behind the alleged victims was not pulverized, as it would have been by 45 minutes of uninterrupted gunfire from military weapons. The handful of bullet holes on the wall were fired straight on, and could not have come from the Israeli position.
But there’s the rub, and the Avocat Général (a sort of state’s attorney but not really), Jean-François Cornaille de Vallray, wrapped it up concisely: the Court is not asked to rule on the “historic truth” but simply to judge the defendant within the limits of the good faith definition. Will the verdict turn against Philippe Karsenty for defending himself with documentation that was not in his hands when he wrote the incriminating article? Were the presiding judge, Jaques Laylavoix, and his two colleagues impressed by the eloquent reasoning of Karsenty’s counsel, Delphine Meillet and Patrick Maisonneuve? Might the judges rule against France 2/Charles Enderlin for failing to lift a finger to corroborate the – obviously dubious – news report? Or will they harken to the trembling plea of Maître Amblard, begging for mercy for her client, Charles Enderlin, whose only fault is telling the truth about the “Middle East Conflict”? The verdict will be announced on April 3.
Whichever way the judicial wind blows, French journalism has disgraced itself. Beyond the personal failings of Charles Enderlin stands the arrogant refusal of his colleagues to face the evidence and publicly acknowledge what they privately admit.
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