"You cannot hope to bribe or twist,
thank God! the British journalist.
But, seeing what the man will do
unbribed, there's no occasion to."
With this epigram, published in 1930, the Italian-born English poet Humbert Wolfe dismissed and indeed defamed the gentlemen (they were all chaps in those days) of Her Majesty's Press.
This week French president Nicolas Sarkozy also traduced the British press only with less style and considerably less humour when he blamed them for "twisting" his words to suggest he was critical of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's handling of the global economic crisis in his state-of-the-nation interview last Thursday.
Talk about shooting the messenger. If I understand correctly Mr Sarkozy wants us to know that the following, said in front of four French journalists and several million television viewers, was not in the least critical:
1) "Franchement, quand on voit la situation aux Etats-Unis et au Royaume-Uni, on n'a pas envie de leur ressembler"...Frankly, when one see the situation in the United States and the United Kingdom one has no desire to be like them.
2) "Les Anglais ont fait le choix d'une relance par la consommation, notamment avec la baisse de deux points de la TVA, on voit bien que ça n'a amené absolument aucun progrès....La consommation en Angleterre non seulement n'a pas repris mais continue à baisser". The English have chosen a relaunch through consumption (spending), notably with the reduction of VAT by two points. We can see clearly that this has brought absolutely no progress...spending in England has not only not picked up but has continued to fall.
3) "Si les Anglais on fait ça, c'est parce qu'ils n'ont plus d'industrie, a la différence de la France."...If the English have done that, it's because they no longer have any industry, unlike France."
Even allowing for translation, even juggling with a few synonyms can this be interpreted as anything other than criticism? So who is doing the twisting. During his interview Mr Sarkozy also spoke of the economic "erreurs" made by Britain. I don't think "erreurs" is open to much spinning or twisting by perfidious Anglo-Saxon journalists, but in case anyone thinks it might be, erreurs = errors, otherwise known as mistakes. Critical, moi?
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