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Writer fired after blasting French war coverage

Reporter Alain Hertoghe’s book accused the French press of not being objective in its coverage of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. His newspaper fired him.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Reporter Alain Hertoghe’s book accused the French press of not being objective in its coverage of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. His newspaper fired him.

The book, “La Guerre a Outrances” (The War of Outrages), criticizes the French reporting for continually predicting the war would end badly for the U.S.-led coalition.

“Readers can’t understand why the Americans won the war,” Hertoghe said in a telephone interview. “The French press wasn’t neutral.”

The book, published Oct. 15, charges French reporters were more patriotic than journalistic and what was written amounted to disinformation.

Book examines five major French papers
It examines daily coverage by five major French dailies, including Hertoghe’s own La Croix, in the three weeks from the first strikes on Baghdad on March 20 to April 9 when Saddam Hussein’s regime fell.

“As soon as there were a couple of wounded, of dead, they were talking about Vietnam, Stalingrad,” Hertoghe said.

In contrast, work by journalists traveling with U.S. troops indicated that “the war was advancing well,” he said.

Hertoghe, a 44-year-old Belgian, said reporters reflected the emotional high in France more than realities on the battlefield, becoming caught up in France’s central role in leading the opposition to the war at the United Nations.

“The French public was so carried away,” he said. The journalists, he wrote in the book, “dreamed of an American defeat.”

Hertoghe, who covered the 1991 Gulf War and the presidential campaign that put President Bush in the White House, was assistant editor-in-chief of La Croix’s online version during the Iraq war.

Besides war coverage in La Croix, the book examines that of the independent Le Monde, the conservative Le Figaro, the leftist Liberation and the regional daily Ouest-France, which has the largest circulation in France.

Over three weeks, the five papers carried 29 headlines condemning Saddam’s dictatorship and 135 blaming Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Hertoghe was fired on Dec.15 for a “loss of confidence” following publication of the book. La Croix, in a letter, cited four points, including damaging the newspaper’s reputation, Hertoghe said.

Silence from French papers

La Croix refused to comment.

Efforts for comment from Le Monde — the paper Hertoghe targeted most severely — also were unsuccessful, with the international editor away on vacation. A Paris-based reporter cited in the book did not answer his phone.

Only a free newspaper handed out in the Metro, “20 Minutes,” has so far reviewed Hertoghe’s book.

“The silence is deafening” in France, although there have been rave reviews in Belgium, said Ronald Blunden, editorial director at Hertoghe’s publishing house, Calmann-Levy.