Dear French people, do not shoot the foreign correspondent!

This is just an anecdote, but it is very revealing of France: guest on France Culture, the Paris correspondent of the Washington Post has been criticized for not understanding France, and especially for criticizing it on secularism. But it is precisely this external view of the foreign press from which the French have a lot to gain today.

I do not know James McAuley, the correspondent in France of Washington Post, just appointed columnist in charge of Europe. I have also chosen not to contact him before this column, which focuses less on his work and his vision of France than on the treatment he recently received in the show Replicas on France Culture.

McAuley, perfectly French-speaking, will also be one of the guests next July at the Couthures International Journalism Festival organized by The world [Courrier international fait partie du groupe Le Monde] from July 9 to 11, including The weather is a partner. We will discuss with him the image of France and the United States. So much the better. This will be a great opportunity for the public to contradict or criticize us together, alongside fellow Spanish, British, German or African colleagues …

No one to listen to what the journalist had to say

The subject is not therefore to provide assistance to a wounded colleague on the battlefield of opinion and information. The Washington Post, a prestigious daily owned by Jeff Bezos, the boss of the giant Amazon, does not need Swiss support. This is the method that intrigues us here. Guest of one of the flagship shows of the French intellectual landscape, James McAuley fell into an ambush. It was not, for its host Alain Finkielkraut (who has just sparked a new controversy on LCI, about the charges of incest brought against the constitutionalist Olivier Duhamel) and his guest and old accomplice, the novelist essayist Pascal Bruckner, to listen to what this foreign correspondent had to say about France, its secularism and its relationship to religions . The goal was to summon him to explain himself, after the publication of several critical articles vis-à-vis the Hexagon in … the New York Times. Accused, stand up: the court is listening to you. Unsurprisingly, the execution appeared, throughout the show, scheduled …

Far be it from me to teach our French interlocutors a lesson. This column would probably never have been written if Pascal Bruckner, author ofAn almost perfect culprit: building the white scapegoat (Éd. Grasset) did not give me a pole when he said on France Culture: “If a Swiss journalist criticized us, it would be acceptable, because Switzerland is an irreproachable democracy…” Is that so ? So here we are, little Helvétie barricaded yesterday in its banking secrecy attacked with vitriol in the book of Memoirs of judge Van Ruymbeke just published (Ed. Tallandier), promoted authorized censor of the Republic. Yes to Swiss critics. No to American critics. Reason: the United States do not understand France and they do not support it because it resists their “cancel culture”. The American flag put by Emmanuel Macron next to the tricolor standard in his surprise intervention, the night the Capitol was invaded in Washington, is decidedly a disastrous diplomatic error.

The correspondent is neither essayist, moralist, nor judge

Here is what the Swiss correspondent, proclaimed an “acceptable” observer, can say about this one hour radio show: it was not worthy. A foreign correspondent is first of all only a journalist. He observes. He comments. He tells. He could obviously be wrong. It may, as some unacceptable comparisons of the New York Times on the cartoons of Muhammad in Charlie Hebdo and caricatures of Jews during the war, poured into a scandalous controversy. But he is neither an essayist, nor moralist, nor a judge. What differentiates him from a lot of French intellectuals. That my American colleagues do not understand secularism, an eternal subject of fracture between the two sides of the Atlantic, is therefore in no way a condemnation of French republican mores. That these same colleagues explain, contextualize, even defend, the emergence of the “culture of cancellation” does not mean either that they venerate their country and its excesses.

France more than ever needs to look at itself in the mirror of the foreign media. Not because these are better than the national press. But because they put their pencil in certain French wounds more visible by journalists educated in another culture, with other points of reference, and used to interacting with other readers.

“Not understanding” is anything but a crime. It often happens that I no longer understand France, where I nevertheless grew up. I understand it even less when I watch it from Switzerland. However, it seems to me that many French people, too – no offense to Alain Finkielkraut and Pascal Bruckner – no longer understand it.

Richard Werly


Born in March 1998 from the merger of New Daily, of Geneva Journal and some Gazette of Lausanne, this center-right title, popular with executives, is presented as the benchmark daily in French-speaking Switzerland and


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