Two Triumphs of 'Mediacracy'

Letter From Paris

Seldom in France's recent history has the difference between what is truly urgent and important and what the public is concerned with been so apparent as during the past twelvemonth. Last October, at a time when international attention was focused on the flood tide of East German refugees that was surging through the breach in the Iron Curtain opened by the Hungarians, the French were absorbed for weeks in a heated controversy as to whether Moslem schoolgirls should or should not be permitted to wear a head shawl during class. Again, in May of this year, when Europeans all over the continent were anxiously watching to see what the first more or less free elections in decades were going to produce in Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria, French public opinion was so convulsed by the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in southern France that this outrage pushed every other kind of news into the background for days.

Far be it from me to suggest that there are never moments when it is best to "find great quarrel in a straw." It is to France's eternal honor that in the late 1890's an uncompromising politician, Georges Clemenceau, and a famous novelist, Émile Zola, dared to turn the country upside down by frontally assaulting the military establishment because of a scandalously dishonest sentence passed on a humble captain, falsely accused of having acted as a spy for a foreign power. However, it would be absurd...

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