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French Elections; CIA Leak Trial; Dangerous Documentaries

Aired February 2, 2007 - 14:00:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are handling the big stories.
This week, explosive media coverage of the battle to lead France. The presidential candidates under intense scrutiny.

Taking the fans, journalists are called as witnesses in a high profile political trial. We discuss the implications.

And the rigors of independent documentary making. We speak to the directors of two films in a new CNN series.

But first, leaks, bias, accusations of spying, and embarrassing on air hoaxes. The press has fueled an increasingly bitter French presidential campaign, which has made headlines across Europe.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the candidate for the governing UNP party was forced on a media offensive this week, denying charges of abuse of his office, the Interior Ministry.

During a visit to London, he dismissed claims his fund would be preferential treatment when his scooter was stolen.

Meanwhile, a newspaper report claims he ordered the state police service to investigate an aide of his Socialist rival.

BRIGITTE ROSSIGNEUS, CANARD ENCHAINE (through translator): He must not be načve. All politicians of left and right have always used the RG as an instrument of power. It has always been like that because it is easy to do it.

SWEENEY: Segolene Royal, the Socialist candidate, is also under scrutiny, as she steps up campaigning. She was recently the victim of a hoax when a radio comedian spoke to her, pretending to be a foreign leader. During the conversation, she suggested Corsica could be granted independence from France.

Also more on the road, the press, I'm joined from Paris by John Vinocur, a columnist at "The International Herald Tribune." And here in London by Benedicte Paviot, an Anglo French journalist who covered Sarkozy's visit to London.

John Vinocur in Paris, what distinguishes these two candidates? And how would you characterize the campaign so far?

JOHN VINOCUR, INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The best way to characterize them is that one is rising and one is falling. Sarkozy is on the up. Segolene is on the way down. The question is content.

Segolene doesn't seem to have much to say that's specific or precise about anything. And Sarkozy is the more standard politician, with plenty plans, plenty of notions of this many Euros for this much - these projects, etcetera.

If you'll look at next week's news magazines, those that people will be reading next week, the whole focus is why is Segolene falling so hard and so fast, and what can be done, if anything, to save her?

SWEENEY: Benedicte Paviot in London, you covered Mr. Sarkozy's recent visit to this city. And he wasn't without his own battles with the media, particularly over this business of this scooter. How would you characterize his campaign in the media?

BENEDICTE PAVIOT, JOURNALIST: Well, sometimes the French media love to - really, they love hate figures. And one of the things that keeps on coming up in various phone debates and TV debates is the ambition of the man and how he - his relationship indeed with the media, and how he wants to have a real control over the media.

He doesn't like the media, but he knows - he recognizes a row. And any intelligent politician in the 21st century knows that that is necessary.

Of course, there are these huge accusations. He's a very good speaker, by the way. What was very interesting is that needs must. And in the media, we do what we call clips. And we clip certain sentences. And the one that has stuck to him, and will stick to him probably forever, is the one that went around the world, when there were the November riots in November 2005, where he called people "hagaye" which means hoodlums, but hardly anybody knows what that means anymore. So scum, scum of the earth.

And this was about an immigrant population, you know, in France. So he is seen as divisive. And of course, the accusations you mentioned in your introduction about misusing his office as Minister of the Interior to use the Secret Service to check up on an aide of Segolene, which is hotly denied by Nicolas Sarkozy, of course.

SWEENEY: John Vinocur, I mean, the Socialists haven't exactly been quiet recently in their attacks on Mr. Sarkozy. They've just published the worrying quiet rupture of Mr. Sarkozy, which is basically an 87 page pamphlet or work saying that he is effectively, as one journalist described it in your newspaper, "The Herald Tribune," a card carrying Crypto American.

How is that likely to play in the French public's eye and indeed in the media? Is that the worst thing you can be in France, a card carrying Crypto American?

VINOCUR: Give the French some credit. That's old news. And last week or the week before its news cycle. It never made the headlines. It never went anywhere in this country.

The polls are widening in Sarkozy's favor. Mrs. Royal has said incoherent things about important issues like the Iran nuclear question. Her husband, this week in Paris, stepped in to respond to questions about very strange statements that Jacques Chirac made about whether Iran should have a bomb or not.

And Mrs. Royal kept quiet. That's what people are noticing.

The newspapers and the president general have changed honor in their coverage in a significant way. How's that? She was always pictured smiling `til about, oh, two weeks ago, 10 days ago. Pictures of Segolene now with a closed bitter mouth. Every paper plays it like that.

Why is her mouth look different? Well, she's going down as the hot item in this campaign.

SWEENEY: Let me turn to you, Benedicte. She's going down as the hot item in this campaign. Her gaffes recently on the international policy, how important is - do the French take their role on the global stage? And how detracting are these gaffes by her for her campaign?

PAVIOT: France sees itself as welcoming people. And basically, Segolene Royal has had quite a few gaffes. And it is exactly what her opponents have criticized her from the past. And of course, it's the bandwagon they're jumping on right now.

She of course lacks high office. She lacks international experience. And yes, this has not gone down well. When she went to Lebanon in December, which by the way, very conveniently was on the first - was on the very day - she knew and her team knew that Nicolas Sarkozy was announcing that he would indeed be the candidate of the UMP. So they're both playing this game where they're trying to get - take each other's headline.

And what we have here is both Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal are new generation. And what we have in Segolene Royal is a woman. And that is part of her appeal.

SWEENEY: So John, what will the French people ultimately be voting on?

VINOCUR: I think they'll be voting on an issue that disturbs them. The issue is has our country stopped? Do we have an important role in Europe? Are jobs growing? Do we have an economic growth rate? Do we have somebody competent, who can get us moving again, because the wide admission on both sides of the - of this face-off between Sarko and Sego is the admission that France is kind of slowed down and not going anywhere.

Well, who is going to be able to move it best and with what kind of concrete plans?

SWEENEY: John, we're about to run out of time, but let me ask you if I may. How the French traditional media work in France? Do they come out and declare themselves for a candidate in the run-up to the election? And do they tend to fall along traditional political lines, depending on which political affiliation the newspaper or magazine might have?

VINOCUR: Dependency is less sharp than it would be, for example, in the U.K. or the United States for a newspaper or a magazine to endorse candidate A and say go vote for him. That happens, but it's not a necessary requirement that readers expect from their favorite publication.

At the same time, you would not be very sharp if you picked up a magazine or a newspaper and couldn't understand two pages in which side of the campaign they were on.

There will be articles that will look like news articles. And then when you read to the bottom, you can see a strong position. So there's left and there is right. And there are magazines and newspapers.

Television is a bit more, and must be, a bit more down the middle. But there are always complaints from - particularly from the candidates that one guy is favored over somebody else. And it's a - an extremely partisan media situation with nobody pretending too much to be in the middle ground and giving everybody their fair shake.

SWEENEY: Very briefly, Benedicte, in 30 seconds or so, what do you expect in the run up to the campaign from here on in, run up to the election?

PAVIOT: I think they'll be more gaffes. And I think they'll be - it'll become - we haven't actually, let's be clear about this in 30 seconds, the official campaign has not started yet. And Jacques Chirac indeed is letting a certain suspense reign that he might even be - go up for a third term.

SWEENEY: Benedicte Paviot here in London, thank you very much. John Vinocur of "The International Herald Tribune" in Paris, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, journalists as witnesses, the trial of a former White House aide sparks concern over the protection of sources. Stay with us.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. It's a high profile political trial, which this week, began calling journalists as witnesses. Former White House aide I. Lewis Libby stands accused of lying after he claimed that he learned about the events of a CIA operative from members of the press. The prosecution maintains he learned about the matter through official channels, and then discussed it with the media.

The role of journalists as witnesses has turned up the issue of protecting sources. For more, I'm joined by Howard Kurtz of "The Washington Post", who's been attending the trial and CNN's Brian Todd.

Brian Todd, why is this trial so sensitive?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's sensitive for a number reasons, Fionnuala. Number one, Scooter Libby's freedom is at stake. He could go to jail for up to 30 years if he's convicted on these counts.

But it also offers a window into whether the Bush administration engaged in scorched earth campaign to settle the score with a critic of their rationale for going to war. This trial may answer that question of whether it did that or not.

But for journalists, it's a broader implication of protecting sources. Two journalists have been put on the stand as witnesses for the prosecution. And they have essentially had to reveal some of their methods, some of the - not quite revealing their sources. But Judith Miller was asked if she had other sources other than Scooter Libby. And she said she couldn't remember.

But the whole issue of reporters coming in front of an open court and having to talk about their sources and methods is very, very sensitive for reporters.

SWEENEY: Howard Kurtz, you've been attending the trial as we said. What's it been like for you?

HOWARD KURTZ, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, to watch the tables being turned is quite a fascinating, in some ways, disturbing experience, because reporters love asking questions. They don't particularly like asking them. So we've had to deal with sloppy note taking, missing notebooks, this coziness factor that a lot of people here don't like about the media, where prominent journalists, television and print, make these deals with senior Bush administration officials like Scooter Libby. I won't identify you, I'll call you an official, I'll call you somebody who used to work in Congress.

This has really been quite a tutorial in some of the corner cutting that goes on. And I think that it's fair to say that regardless of what happens to Libby, many journalists are just getting a black eye as a result of these proceedings.

SWEENEY: Is there a suggestion here, and correct me if I'm wrong, Howard, that you know, perhaps some journalists employed sloppy note taking for want of a better word in order to protect those sources?

KURTZ: I don't think the implication is that any of this was intentional. I think what happens is, you know, we love to write stories about conflicting accounts among government officials. When the fact is we're human beings. We sometimes have poor memories. We sometimes don't get everything straight. And that has been laid quite barren here.

But the other thing is why do we use anonymous sources? Why is it important, not just in the United States, but anywhere? Supposedly, to bring to light information about corruption, safety, something - things that the public is really interested in.

But in this case, it looks like the journalists were used, simply in order to be a channel for political payback by a White House that was trying to get even with one of its prominent critics by outing his life as a CIA operative.

SWEENEY: Brian Todd, could this case be a landmark for journalists in the U.S. in terms of how they cover stories and their sources and their note taking?

TODD: It certainly could be, because you know, you're going to think twice about how - you know, how you're going to deal with a source. You're going to always have in the back of your mind, well, could this come out in court some day? Am I going to have to reveal this person's name? If I don't reveal this person's name, am I going to go to jail like Judith Miller did for, as Howard pointed out, almost three months.

Reporters are almost cringing as they watch some of this. I've been in court for several days watching Judith Miller and Matt Cooper. She has been very uncomfortable on the stand when cross examined by the defense, asking her about her sources. They wanted to let - to get the judge to let them ask who her sources were. The judge would not let them do that, but they were able to ask if she had other sources, other than Scooter Libby for some of this information.

She said she couldn't remember. So you know, while she didn't reveal any sources, she did reveal that she had a spotty memory.

KURTZ: If this leads to more caution by journalists in this promiscuous practice of promising people anonymity, that is not entirely a bad thing.

SWEENEY: All right, we've got to leave it there. Thank you both very much, gentlemen. Howard Kurtz and Brian Todd based in Washington, D.C.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, the dangers of independent filmmaking. We'll discuss the experience of shooting two new documentaries with their directors. Stay with us.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. Independent documentary makers face a set of unique challenges working in the field with the story they're covering often changing in (INAUDIBLE).

This week, we look at two documentaries CNN will be broadcasting as part of a new series. The first, called "The Very Thin Blue Line" focuses on the training of Iraqi police in Jordan.

The second documentary is called "The Road to Terrorism," looking at anti terror operations in the Philippines.

I'm joined now by the makers of those two documentaries, Wayne Harley and Thom Cooke.

Wayne Harley, you shot in the Philippines. Why is it a story you feel needs to be told?

WAYNE HARLEY, DOCUMENTARY MAKER: It has been labeled, but now widely publicized as the second front, the war in Philippines. And for 10 years, the international jihadists attempted, and to a certain degree succeeded, in turning the southern Philippines into the new Afghanistan of Southeast Asia.

Being a training ground where jihadists from Indonesia, local jihadists even al Qaeda, direct al Qaeda operatives and affiliates came there trained. And as a result of the training, went off and carried out terrorist acts.

SWEENEY: Let's have a look at a clip in this documentary. And I think it's where you're driving along at night looking for an informant. Can you describe it?


HARLEY: Tonight we are conduct surveillance against the suspected JLA member.


HARLEY: I was lucky enough to get in with the special operations group. They're operated within a place intelligence here. And these were the frontline boys.

And we went out on a real surveillance call against (INAUDIBLE), when the financier, who they had had under surveillance for the last three months. Also on the ground was an informant operating for them. His name was Troy.

And we went out there. And the best laid plans often go astray. And that night was no exception. And it just showed the brutality of this conflict.


HARLEY: The crowds in the street signaled something is amiss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Who shot the guy?

HARLEY: The man killed is Ledo's (ph) informant, Toy, gunned down just minutes earlier.


SWEENEY: We'll turn to Thom. You were filming in perhaps the more secure environment, the filming of the training of Iraqi policemen by Americans. How would you describe your experience?

THOM COOKE, DOCUMENTARY MAKER: It was secure in the sense that it was about 3,500 very (INAUDIBLE) police around the whole time, but you often wondered which way the guns were pointing and what the security was for, whether it was to keep the guys - to stop shooting at each other, because they're all very bad shots, or whether it was to stop them being assassinated, as it had been quite a lot.

The - lost their secure compound just over the border in Jordan. They're under a great deal of threat, these guys, because what they do is very controversial.


COOKE: Then, it's out onto the firing range. Many of these men will be killed on the job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, from the clothes that everybody shot, one class every six months is eliminated by - yes, 1500.


SWEENEY: And I think towards the end of the documentary, as well, there's a scene where they graduate. And then they - the reality hits them that they may not ever see each other again. And they may not survive.

How did that impact on you as a journalist shooting it?

COOKE: It's very moving, very difficult to film. I've never seen anything like that work in the Middle East for quite a while. Actually, some - it was a still photographer there from "The New York Times" with me at the same time. And he said I have never seen anything like this.

If you drag me, I was looking somewhere else. (INAUDIBLE). And he was like (INAUDIBLE) just dissolving you to tears. You know, he's a sort of supposedly (INAUDIBLE) policeman.

And it was (INAUDIBLE) emotions. Like some of the guards are very young. And it was the first time they (INAUDIBLE). So it was a big experience going to Jordan, going somewhere different, and meeting all these new guys.

Some of them realized that they'd made some good friends who they'd probably never see alive again.

SWEENEY: The film was - has its own development within the confines of the guys arriving for training, getting their training, and then graduating. But Wayne, I think in your instance, the story developed of a certain accord, particularly with the shooting death of Henry?


HARLEY: What we found out is that Henry, our guest at dinner last night, and the last surviving member here in Yallow of Colonel Kasimara's original squad of 17 people has been shot.


HARLEY: They were such powerful events, tragic events, that completely changed the dictates of what the story would be. And you just - well, it was a very, very sad and incredible situation.

But you had to turn the whole story around to what it was in sort of the dangers that these people faced, because well, it's manifested itself in the most sad and tragic way of being the death of these two people.

SWEENEY: And they knew you were in town. And Henry's death hastened your exit from the area?

HARLEY: Yes, it's not in the story, but I witnessed intelligence intercepts, radio intelligence intercepts that said I had become a target. And they asked me to leave because it was drawing unnecessary heat on the local journalists. And that's why I was refused access to go back out into the town hall.

Because I said, look, you know, you will draw a grenade attack. The local journalists go out. They'll probably be OK. But you are now in the crosshairs.

SWEENEY: Thom, speaking of access, this documentary you shot was in May 2006. Is there any way you could have envisaged yourself being physically able to go back to follow up on any of those police who graduated?

COOKE: That's obviously problematic. And I've got to see these guards when they're working. Majority of the guards that I followed (INAUDIBLE) from Fallujah. Following a policeman around Fallujah is a quite dangerous proposition.

I've had some information about some of the guys. There's a guy who features in the film right at the end who said he was going back to Baghdad. He (INAUDIBLE) back to Baghdad. He did, unfortunately. We heard - he was one of the guys who was easy to identify.

Unfortunately, a number of these guys go back and they never actually even join the force. They go straight to the insurgence.

SWEENEY: We have to leave it there. Wayne Harley, Thom Cooke, thank you both very much indeed.

And don't forget you can see the full version of those documentaries on CNN "When the World's Untold Stories" launches on February 16th.

That is all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I'm Fionnuala Sweeney. Thanks for joining us.



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