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Le Monde, Journal of Record

by afew Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 08:57:01 AM EST

In late 1944, the French press, requisitioned and kollabo (with the obvious exception of the Résistance publications) during the Occupation, lay in ruins. Working at the task of raising France up again (not a sufficiently new France, unfortunately, but that's another story), De Gaulle asked Hubert Beuve-Méry to take over the remains of the defunct Le Temps and build a national, quality daily. Le Monde was born.


Le Monde was a publication of high standards that became France's newspaper of record, and one of the world's newspapers of record. The staff - first the Société des rédacteurs (association of journalists), then later, similar associations of managers and office staff, held a central position in the direction and control of the newspaper. The Société des rédacteurs controlled a majority of the equity and had the right to elect the director of the paper. Professional ethics were strictly adhered to. The paper attempted to be neutral, informative, not to take political sides, though it was humanist and progressive, and had a leftish tinge.

It was a broadsheet, written and printed in an austere style. There were no photos and only unobtrusive ads. Here's what it looked like, roughly, when I first set eyes on it in a British university library, though this edition is a little while before that (it's not hard to guess when... ;)):

click for large version

Some Years Later...

In the '80s, circulation began to fall, as with other dailies, and Le Monde began to run into financial trouble. The early '90s were critical years (as for Libération). And, as in the case of Libération, the response was a drift towards loss of editorial independence due to the need for injections of capital; or, put another way, loss of editorial independence due to excessive trust in "market" and "enterprise" solutions; or, another way, it got taken over by big money.

The change is associated with Jean-Marie Colombani, current director of the paper, who took over in 1994; with former Trotskyite Edwy Plenel, editor-in-chief till he left in 2004; and with Alain Minc, neo-lib businessman, consultant, and pundit, chairman of the supervisory board. (The links are to French Wikipédia).

The three played different roles: Colombani, smoothly centrist, with political contacts; Plenel, former journalist at Rouge, newspaper of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, was a tough newsroom boss; Minc was the man with the business ideas and the rolodex. The first recapitalisation saw the control of the Société des Rédacteurs reduced to a blocking third.

The ten years of the triumvirate saw a brush-up of Le Monde's look (today very elegant with colour photos and quality graphics), the launching of a web site in the mid-nineties, and an improvement in the financial position that has however proved short-lived. Beyond that, bizness bizness. From a small limited company in 1994, the paper is now at the heart of a complicated holding, Le Monde Partenaires et Associés, which controls Le Monde SA, which controls... Stop. Also in the mix are other companies that run a number of French publications, in particular the TV/cinema/cultural weekly de référence, Télérama, (with sales of between 600,000 and 700,000 a week), and also all the regional dailies of Mediterranean France, from Perpignan to Nice and over to Corsica. Buying up La Vie Catholique (group whose jewel was Télérama), and the southern newspapers, meant borrowing and also bringing in new partners, among them, with a stake of 17% in Le Monde SA, the Lagardère group, one of the world's biggest book and magazine publishers and otherwise owner of 15% of EADS, run by heir-to-the-throne Arnaud Lagardère, chum of Sarko's (that makes two with Minc).

Got all that? Like Libé, you think? Perhaps not entirely, but in common are the financial difficulties of French dailies (the French don't have the daily-buying habits of a good many other countries), and the readiness of a new generation of plutocrats to pour in cash in return for control of the brand.

Dark Side of the Force

What's different in the case of Le Monde is - beyond Colombani's capitalist-adventurer style - that this is a newspaper of record, a paper with influence. Critics have claimed that Le Monde's past ethics have been thrown in the bin, that professional standards have simply been ignored, in promoting commercial or political interests that involved, one way or another, kickbacks for the paper's leadership. Long-standing members of the editorial staff found themselves in opposition to the line coming down from the top, and up against refusal to accept open expression of doubt or protest, along with harassment. Plenel's running of the newsroom, with old buddies from the Trotskyite press as assistant editors, was particularly hard-line. Management tactics included threats of legal action and firing.

The big row blew up in 2003, with the publication of La Face Cachée du Monde (the Dark Side of Le Monde), by outsiders Pierre Péan and Philippe Cohen. The outcome was a legal stand-off, with Le Monde agreeing not to sue for libel if the authors and publisher agreed not to reprint. Which hardly shows Le Monde in a position of strength with regard to a lot of the book's allegations, which had become very public knowledge by that time, and a good many of which have been confirmed in print by other former members of the editorial staff.

From a review in WorldPress.org:

The authors claim these men hijacked a great newspaper, transforming it into a "modern-day Pravda" where "the management seems to be fixed on one strategic aim: to control by intimidation, alliance, or vassalage the pressure points of society."

<...>

Le Canard Enchainé, the weekly that pioneered investigative reporting in France, notes that the book, "despite its aggressive tone," is still "a litany of facts, testimony, and documents that form a rude indictment. . . . [In responding to the book,] the managers of Le Monde did not answer the essential question, beyond all the polemics: What ties does Le Monde have or not have with major French companies and their managers?"

The accusations included dubious business exchanges involving large sums, (with the newspaper distribution monopoly NMPP for example), and influence-peddling, with Alain Minc pinpointed for boosting his own career in business and consultancy thanks to his position with the "newspaper of record". Then, deals with politicians: in particular, old law'n'order warhorse Charles Pasqua (offered benevolent neutrality), economic liberalish 1995 presidential contender Edouard Balladur (given backing), the rising star launched by Pasqua and patronised by Balladur, Nicolas Sarkozy (benevolent neutrality, at the least). (The old Monde would not have cut these characters any slack [afew]). While it protected some pols, the newspaper attacked others (review by Airy Routier of the Nouvel Observateur):

Let's mention just in passing Péan and Cohen's analysis that Le Monde, in attacking first François Mitterrand and then Jacques Chirac, and in spilling a lot of ink to denounce political scandals "both real and phoney" has "given the world an image of a France...under the yoke of a corrupt governing elite," and thus helped foment "a wave of populism that the newspaper itself criticizes," as Jean-Michel Quatrepoint, a former journalist at Le Monde, wrote in his newsletter, "La Lettre A."

Attacked too, by Edwy Plenel, was Lionel Jospin, a former Trot like him. Plenel's revelation that Jospin had continued to frequent his old Trotskyite friends even after becoming First Secretary of the PS in the '80s, with the subjacent accusation that Jospin was a mole, did considerable harm to Jospin's reputation in the run-up to the 2002 election that we all know he lost. (Péan and Cohen revealed in their turn that Plenel himself had lied in saying he had broken off from Trotskyism in the early '80s, since he had in fact continued close contacts with the LCR into the '90s... They also revealed Plenel's dealings with a prominent police unionist, who received favourable cover in Le Monde in return for having police officers do Plenel's "investigative journalism" for him. In 2004, Plenel left Le Monde.)

The picture that emerged, and was never denied convincingly by Le Monde's leadership, was an extremely ugly one: Plenel could be seen as an enforcer and quasi-blackmailer, Colombani as a bought-and-sold adventurer, and Minc as the evil genius making money off the brand while waiting for it to founder so he could take over completely.

And founder it may well. Péan and Cohen announced that the newspaper was deep in debt, and on that point the management published accounts and denied major problems. But the paper is still losing money. The 2006 accounts will show €12 or 13 mn loss; interest on debt alone rises to €11 mn; meanwhile high salaries and handouts are still de rigueur for the top people. That seems to be the road towards the need for further injections of capital and the continued decline of a once-excellent newspaper.

Things, overall, seem to have stabilised somewhat compared to the '90s and early '00s. Le Monde is still a useful information source. But it's no longer the rigorous and left-leaning paper it was, and it's as well to look at it with caution.

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What would you recommend as a reliable French newspaper?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 09:02:27 AM EST
About French politics, le Canard enchaîné. But it's mostly about politicians and their infighting...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 09:04:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And isn't on-line ...
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 09:06:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That, too :). You can't find it at a press seller close by?

That's a real question too : I can get a reasonable selection of Foreign press in Paris (and in most French cities). Is that possible everywhere in Europe ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 09:14:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In Dublin? It's never occurred to me to look. I think Le Monde and (maybe) Liberation are about the limit here.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 09:15:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know for Dublin, but in San Francisco, you can find most of these, including "Le Canard" at the Café de la Presse on Grant Ave., right across the Chinatown entrance...
by Bernard on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 04:14:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not that easy to get foreign media in the provinces: we can get a couple of the core European  papers - Die Welt and as above, El Pais, a few of the publications from Poland and other places that we have a large immigrant population from. But hardly a wide selection, as far as I can see.

Maybe in the main city centre branches I might do slightly better. I haven't looked to see what Borders carry in that line.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 09:18:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Strictly speaking, there isn't one.

As we're used to here - cross-refer, read more than one source. Be aware what's not said can be as important as what's said.

Online, I look at Le Monde, Libé, the Nouvel Obs. The Figaro can be a source in time of peace, but at the moment it's a Sarko war machine.

Offline, the Chained-Up Duck.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 09:48:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The same for me

And foreign media online...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 10:51:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
reading several sources is the best thing to do.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 09:50:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I do:  I read ET!

Seriously, I read no individual paper, but go to my daily "sources of sources" that I find reliable and pick and choose links from all the English and Spanish.  I wish I knew enough French.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 02:50:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not sure who told me (possibly the journalist that did my portrait last year, but I'm not sure) but things have changed internally now that the web edition makes money while the paper version is bleeding red. The web team is gaining in power and legitimacy, and imposing new ways of doing things.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 09:51:55 AM EST
Yes, and Plenel is out. The worst years are no doubt over. Still, the financial/business questions remain.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 10:44:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can we nab this for ProgressiveHistorians?  I'm fascinated with Le Monde, having done some research on its views of American foreign policy in the early 1900's.  Man, it was a paper that pulled no punches back then.

The Crolian Progressive: as great an adventure as ever I heard of...
by Nonpartisan on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 10:01:20 AM EST
Sure, I'll cross-post.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 10:29:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Another excellent piece, afew. Thanks for the work on this!!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 10:37:04 AM EST
On
Alain Minc
: It seems he once said :


Le totalitarisme des marchés financiers ne me réjouit pas. Mais je sais qu'il existe et je voudrais que toutes les élites le sachent. Je ne sais pas si les marchés pensent juste mais je sais qu'on ne peut pas penser contre les marchés. Je suis comme un paysan qui n'aime pas la grêle mais qui vit avec. Les 100 000 analphabètes qui font les marchés, si vous ne respectez pas un certain nombre de canons aussi rigoureux que les canons de l'Eglise, peuvent mettre en l'air l'économie d'un pays. Les experts sont au moins les propagandistes de cette réalité.I don't enjoy the totalitarianism of markets. But I know it exists and a want the elites to know it. I don't if the markets think properly. I'm like a peasant who doesn't like hail but lives with it. If you don't respect a certain amount of dogmas as rigourous as those of the Catholic Church, the 100000 illiterate people who rule the markets can destroy a country's economy. At least, experts are propagandists of that reality.  

It seems Minc's goal is to make Le Monde the propaganda arm of the market, convincing everybody that we must adapt or die...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 11:14:00 AM EST
Le totalitarisme des marchés financiers ne me réjouit pas. ... Je ne sais pas si les marchés pensent juste mais je sais qu'on ne peut pas penser contre les marchés.
I don't enjoy the totalitarianism of markets. ... I don't know whether markets think properly, but I know that one cannot think against them.

Double-think, here we go.

Where is the Galileo that will dare not to respect the dogmas of this Church?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 11:18:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry for the mistranslation, and thanks for correcting.

I'd say one of the things we must remember, as left wing people, is that (a part of) the elite doesn't believe its own bullshit, and we must convince people of that.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 11:22:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I find his expression fairly confused. He's a pundit who writes a bad book a year. He's a friend of Bernard-Henri Lévy.

But, yes, basically, he's saying: without me to tell you what to do, lightning will strike.

High priest takes big money to stave off disaster.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 11:26:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not by chance I coined them the Congregation for the Propagation of the Economic Faith a.k.a. The Holy Economics Office

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 05:40:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, afew!

I've been regularly reading Le Monde since I was 14 (40 years ago...), and I share your view. The main criteria to assess its quality is the time devoted to read it and what I would call the "obsolescence delay" (i.e. the number of days you can keep it and still find the articles worth being read). Both have dramatically decreased in the last years. It might sound subjective, but I have found many regular readers who feel the same. I am a subscriber of the online version and I recently stopped to buy the paper version...

I find more and more that the external contributions (op-ed, LTEs) are the most interesting part of the paper it applies to Libération, too).

I nevertheless think Le Monde remains the French reference media, but you have to know that its standards are not as high as before and take what it publishes with a grain of salt (and, as said above, diversify your sources).

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 11:15:58 AM EST
So you would recognize the July 1967 number illustrated above! I didn't really start reading it till five years later.

Your obsolescence point is dead right. Le Monde used to have good things to read way after the twenty-four hours each issue covered. Now I don't often get the paper version, but if I do I leave it around. And find I don't go back to it.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 11:36:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And let's have the charity of not talking about the degradation of, say, the cinema critics... Or the piece of fluff that is the daily portrait (with all respect to Jerôme)

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 11:38:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Their movie critic is so ... so ... (the words fail me). Anyway, any movie that Le Canard Enchainé likes and that Le Monde does not is a sure bet to be enjoyable.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 05:05:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Even before I had the chance of having a full page on myself, I like these portraits. These, and some of their newer pages, like the two-page reports on various topics, and other in depth analysis they print, are some of the best things they've done in a long time.

i.e. their comments and in depth analysis pages have really improved, as their news pages have clearly declined a bit.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 05:07:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I must admit to not having read Le Monde much since the nouvelle formule, but the times I did, I always found the  portrait to be too hagiographic for my taste (and also compared to Libé's... Why did they end up copying Libé, too ? they even are starting to have an "ecology" page..). Maybe I had bad luck.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 05:19:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But hagiography of Jerome is definitely a good thing ;-)

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 05:47:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with you on these features. In fact they are the only pages I keep to read them later...


"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 05:45:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
1967 was the year I started to read it regularly.

Do ou remember the front-page billet by Robert Escarpit?

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 06:17:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, thanks afew for this comprehensive post.

I'd just like to go back to these words "journal of record".

They are no small words.

It's quite difficult to convey the sense of security one felt, buying the newspaper at 4pm, when you knew anything you heard on the radio or watched on the tv was of very dubious value : it was a miracle, for a few miserable francs, you had in your hands the work of hundreds of intellectually honest, well connected and competent journalists, who were decrypting for you, every day, in painstaking detail the day's or week's events.
They would cover not only France, but Europe, the whole world, not only politics, but any cultural or social aspect.
Some of those articles were absolutely stunning in their comprehensiveness, height of view, and clarity. Think André Fontaine, but many others.

Many people just couldn't throw the paper away. I have seen rooms stacked full of old issues, which were kept there, just in case.

So, because I am basically a faithful person, and notwithstanding Alain Minc, I still subscribe to the electronic version. I just don't want to see Le Monde disappear.

As a side note The Resistance Newspaper was of course Camus' [Combat]

by balbuz on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 11:24:44 AM EST
Like Melanchthon, you bring up the "obsolescence" point - that old Monde issues had a long shelf life. And the quality of international coverage was tremendous.

I have read (can't recall where) that, during the Plenel period, the international section managed to hold its own and not be dictated to. (Internal French matters were no doubt of greater importance to the triumvirate anyway). Unfortunately, it doesn't really show all that much any more. Not as it used to.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 11:48:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Having been an expatriate, I share your view. That's the reason why I'm still a faithful reader of Le Monde. That also the reason why, as many here, I am very demanding in terms of standards: they set them!

BTW, there were many newspapers from the Résistance which continued after the end of the war:
Combat, led by Henri Frenay, Bertie Albrecht and Claude Bourdet,
Libération (the first one), led by Emmanuel d'Astier de la Vigerie and Raymond Aubrac;
Le Franc-Tireur, led by Jean-Pierre Lévy:
Défense de la France, led by Philippe Viannay, which became France-Soir;
Témoignage Chrétien, led by the jesuit Pierre Chaillet;
La Vie Ouvrière, the CGT magazine, led by Benoît Frachon;
and L'Humanité...

There were also dozens of smaller publications, either professional ones or local one like La Liberté in the Lyon area...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 06:09:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
These diaries on the press give me a more thorough  background to understand the French election pieces, besides being interesting business cases.  Thanks, afew.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 02:56:25 PM EST
This is very important reference material. Thanks, afew.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 05:03:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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