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Sarkozy's First 100 Days; God's Warriors Series; Chasing the Story

Aired August 26, 2007 - 20:30:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and welcome. I'm Becky Anderson in London. You're watching CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories.
This week, Nicolas Sarkozy completes his first 100 days as the president of France. Is the honeymoon over as far as the media is concerned?

Almost a year in the making, a behind the scenes look at CNN's special "God's Warriors."

And 10 years on, was the media partially responsible for the death of Princess Diana? One former newspaper editor says yes.

We begin in France. He took over the presidency in May. And it seems more than 100 days into the job, Nicolas Sarkozy is still riding high in the opinion polls. According to a survey published in the liberal (INAUDIBLE) newspaper, 65 percent of the French approve of Sarkozy's performance. That makes him the most popular president since Charles de Gaulle.

In the past week, the president pledged new prisoner assessment measures. That move came after it emerged a prison doctor has allegedly prescribed Viagra to a pedophile convicted of raping a child.

The job has also come with media attention he probably preferred to go without. Mr. Sarkozy's recent holiday in the United States drew widespread coverage amid criticism that he should spend his vacation at home.

So more than three months in, let's get an assessment of Nicolas Sarkozy and his relationship with the media. To discuss that, I'm joined by CNN's senior international correspondent Jim Bitterman. He's in Paris. And here in the studio in London is Pierre Lesourd. He's the London bureau chief of the news agency Agence France Presse.

Jim, that U.S. trip still generating pop visiting coverage?

JIM BITTERMAN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right after this weekend, in fact, Becky, as it turns out, there was something that went awry with a picture that was taken of the president while he was on vacation in the United States. The picture was first published in Paris Match. And it looked like a very normal picture of the president paddling along in a canoe with his son.

And then, L'Expresse went back and actually found the original of the picture and discovered that the picture had been airbrushed somewhere along the line to get rid of a certain bulge around the mid section of the president's love handles is what they're called in French and I guess in English as well.

But anyway, someone took them out. And that came up at a meeting with the presidential spokesman. He denied that the Elysees Palace had anything to do with the airbrushing of the photograph, but he came up with a new French verb - photoshop A. He said we're just not that good at doing photoshop conversions here for you (INAUDIBLE).

ANDERSON: This, Pierre, isn't the first time that a French politician has hit the sort of mid pages, as it were, for all the wrong reasons. I can remember pictures of female politicians in the past, who were also running for the presidency.

But in the past, the president in France has been to all intents and purpose out of bounds, not just for pictures like this, but even stories about the president. Has that now changed?

PIERRE LESOURD, LONDON BUREAU CHIEF, AFP: Well, so far, I would say that the French media are still in some kind of holding patterns with Sarkozy because they still don't know what to do with such an hyper driven president, omnipresent, which seems to have understood the mode or the cycle of the 24 hour TV news channel.

He's everywhere. He's speaking many times a day. He seems to know everything about everything. So the French media has to deal with that. And he's more and more looking like the American president.

I mean, you have adapt to the White House press correspondent in fact.

ANDERSON: Jim, you scratch our backs so far as sort of information is concerned. And I guess we'll show you belly. Is that what we're saying?

BITTERMAN: Well, I'm not so sure. That's quite - but you know, "The New York Times", just to pick up on what Pierre was saying, "The New York Times" called the president - President Sarkozy this morning Tony Blair on amphetamines. And I think that to sort of summarize it, he is everywhere. He's doing everything. He's exhausting to watch as that same "New York Times" columnist put it. And in fact, he is just for the press very difficult to keep up with.

ANDERSON: If you were to characterize, Pierre, the way that you see the relationship with - between the media and Sarkozy now, and how you expect it to develop, what would you say?

LESOURD: It's very good at the time because, you know, for the media, it's good news. It's news, you know. So I mean, it's easy to work with him. He's interactive, you know. He's regularly calling himself some journalist, even you know, to speak to some news room and so on.

So this is good. But now, I mean, that you say, I mean, the honeymoon is not over. But you have very dark clouds gathering over. And probably, you know, is the economic situation and the social situation by the end of September, early October probably the relationship between the Elysees Palace and the media will dramatically change.

ANDERSON: It's interesting - isn't it - Jim, because we know here in the U.K. with Alex Campbell when he first led communications for Tony Blair, the spin meister extraordinaire was able to generate an awful lot good publicity at the beginning of Tony Blair's premiership. Of course, things went horribly wrong when the stories weren't as positive. This is a problem, isn't it, manipulating the media, spinning to the media, making yourself available. Doesn't always work in your favor going forward.

BITTERMAN: Well, Becky, I think it's very difficult to control the realities on the streets. And that's the kind of thing that Pierre is talking about we're going to start seeing in the fall. There's going to be protests. And there's going to be opposition to some of the things that the president's been proposing.

But he's gone around in some very sharp media people. His spokesman has been doing a very able job and meeting with the press on a regular basis. It's very - the accessibility is totally different than it was during the Chirac administration, where the spokesman would meet in an off the record fashion. David Markinal (ph), the presidential spokesman now, meets on a regular basis every Thursday on the record in front of cameras for the press, very similar by the way, to the kind of style you see out of the White House, fielding questions as they come along.

Now how long that'll last remains to be seen. Maybe when things get a little bit more pressurized here, that'll change. But for the moment, I think they're enjoying a pretty good ride.

ANDERSON: Pierre, this is, again from the start, not just for a president, but for a watching public in France as well. I wonder what you think or believe the French public expects to see in here from Sarkozy. And will they be surprised, do you think, at what they're getting at the moment?

LESOURD: Surprised, even flabbergasted at some point. And what is interesting, and then we are back to the media also. I mean, with this new role, I mean, the media probably - the French media will change also. It opens new doors. And we will see, for example, out of the French media and out of the public opinion we react at the way that, for example, the coverage of Mrs. Sarkozy would be used to call the Sicilia mystery. It's really a mystery. And Sarkozy himself did call some paper like Lamont the other day, asking them not to touch this subject.

But at some point, I suppose the media will insist - will go in this area, this new (INAUDIBLE.)

ANDERSON: And talking about the president's wife, I know she wasn't able to attend a tea party, I think, with the Bushes when last in the U.S. I know one of the headlines in one of the French papers was she had a mal (INAUDIBLE), which is what she had suggested, which is a bad throat. In fact, they said it was more of a mal du George. Is that sort of headline that I'm wondering whether Pierre is referring to here. How do you see that relationship briefly, Jim, developing?

BITTERMAN: I think these are - you know, these are sort of glancing blows. And they're sort of not really going to strike home. It'll be - on the substance issues, I think that it will see whether the relationship changes between the press and the president.

Up `til now, he's just been an amazing phenomenon to watch. And I think, you know, he's a person that's risen against all odds through a very tightly controlled system. He's gone right to the top to the presidency. And he hasn't done that because he's been lame or there's been any kind of a problem. He's done it because he's basically outsmarted and outwitted a lot of his opponents.

So I think we'll see more of that going forward, but whether or not it'll be enough to survive the test and whether the press will rise to the occasion, that's another question here, you know, exactly how difficult are they going to be with the president.

At the moment, it's still pretty much a fairly friendly relationship between the press and the presidency.

ANDERSON: And we shall leave it at that. CNN senior international correspondent Jim Bitterman in Paris. And here in the studio with me, Pierre Lesourd of the French news agency Agence France Presse.

LESOURD: Thank you very much.

ANDERSON: Thank you very much indeed.

LESOURD: Thank you.

ANDERSON: Still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS this week, traveling to the world's flash points to produce a landmark television special. We go behind the scenes in the making of CNN's "God's Warriors" after this.


ANDERSON: Welcome back. Now when politics and religion meet, it can be a volatile mix. Understanding why was the basis behind a three part, six hour special here on CNN called "God's Warriors." Chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour traveled the globe as a part of a year long investigation, focusing on Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. It's a huge undertaking given the subject matter and the scale of the project.

Well, we went behind the scenes.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm absolutely, completely 100 percent busy doing a long project for CNN for the summer.

(voice-over): Come with me around the world and see the struggle over religion and power.

So what's our first port of call?


AMANPOUR (on camera): I'm Christiane Amanpour in Iran in Amsterdam, in Jerusalem, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. So let's see where we are here.

MARK NELSON, SR. EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, CNN PRODUCTIONS: It's taken us almost a year, about 11 months to produce this. Christiane and her teams have traveled to four continents, eight different nations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). See, I'm getting a glare.

KEN SHIFFMAN, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, GOD'S MUSLIM WARRIORS: We've thought a lot about shooting locations. We wanted the locations to reflect the character, what the character was about.

AMANPOUR: You didn't see the rain.

SHIFFMAN: We were exposed to the elements. And it made for some really challenging, but very interesting moments.

AMANPOUR: The wind kicks up all the time. We're planning to do the most important part of this work.

(on camera): It's been a little trying to say the least. And then the jack hammers, it's not the wind, it's the jack hammers.

SHIFFMAN: We've had jack hammers. We had explosions.

AMANPOUR: It's like Sarajevo.

SHIFFMAN: Mother Nature just wasn't always on our side.

CLIFF HACKEL, SR. PRODUCER/EDITOR/DIRECTOR, GOD'S MUSLIM WARRIORS: We had a local government minder with us at every outdoor location on the street, in a mosque, in a marketplace.

AMANPOUR: Go back there. I have to go in and out and in and out. I think I'm the only woman without a veil in the whole market.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the difficulties for Christiane was adhering to local customs, even in Iran where she grew up, for example, she couldn't shake hands with a man or a man wouldn't even look at her.

MIKE MOCKLAR, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, GOD'S CHRISTIAN WARRIORS: Christiane is one of the most recognized journalists in the world. When she's traveling, people walk up to her. They want to meet her. That's great because it helps open doors when you're doing a story, but at the same time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People want peace.

MOCKLAR: .sometimes it gets in the way when she's out reporting and people want to get in the middle of things.

AMANPOUR: I'm Christiane Amanpour.


AMANPOUR: Very nice to meet you.


MOCKLAR: One of the challenges of this project was we were talking about people's faith. And that means getting people to trust us to tell their stories.

AMANPOUR: Do you think God told you to blow up the mosque?


AMANPOUR: Too schematic?




ANDY SEGAL, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, GOD'S JEWISH WARRIORS: You're dealing with an issue that's not only very complex, it's very personal to people. And some people are very open about talking about it. Not everyone is.

AMANPOUR: It's like global television mafia.

JULIE O'NEILL, PRODUCER, GOD'S CHRISTIAN WARRIORS: This so effective mass of undertaking. There were cameras everywhere.

AMANPOUR: I just have to say you looked at all things at each other.

O'NEILL: It was humorous to see how many times we could actually get in each other's shots.

AMANPOUR: He's shooting me. Mary's shooting him. And he is shooting everybody.

O'NEILL: In part of our entourage, we were lucky to have still photographer Brent Sturpin (ph) with us. He captured amazing and unique photos of our characters and of unique moments Christiane interacting with some of our God's warriors.

DAVE TIMKO, SR. PRODUCER/EDITOR, GOD'S CHRISTIAN WARRIORS: Everywhere you go, people love being on television. So when you stumble upon a moment that's truly honest and unguarded, that's the moment you grab. That's what goes on TV.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know that what I have inside me is real.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is about the intersection of religion and politics in our lifetime. It is an enormous undertaking. We're talking about a six hour super documentary television event.


ANDERSON: Behind the scenes of "God's Warriors," now if you missed this special here on CNN, you can see the highlights on the website. The address is

Still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, a decade on, one former British tabloid editor says the media should bear responsibility for the death of Princess Diana. That story after this.



Now this month marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana, killed in a car crash in Paris in 1997. Well, she endured plenty of attention from the world's media during and after her marriage to Prince Charles. And even after her death, there's been endless speculation about what caused the accident that claimed the lives of Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed.

Many believe partially, at least, it was the unrelenting paparazzi that followed Diana's every move.

Now it is worth noting that inquiries in France and in Britain completed that pursuing photographers did not cause the crash. Well, almost 10 years on, the former editor of Britain's "News of the World" tabloid has spoken out about the press interest in Diana.

Phil Hall says readers wanted pictures and photographers were prepared to go to great lengths to get them. Katie Durham and Allister Stewart (ph) spoke to Phil Hall about the lessons learned over the past 10 years.


PHIL HALL, FORMER EDITOR, NEWS OF THE WORLD: I do think newspapers are more aware of the consequences. But it was a trite (INAUDIBLE). But an industry been built up. And there was a huge demand for pictures of Diana.

Any time we run a story about Diana in the newspaper, big circulation rise, lots of mail bag from the readers loving every word of it. So it was very difficult.

ALLISTER STEWART (ph): She knew that as well.

HALL: She knew it.

STEWART (ph): She courted the publicity.

HALL: Of sure.

STEWART (ph): And we, to be fair.

HALL: Yes.

STEWART (ph): .provided it. We will all play (INAUDIBLE).

HALL: Well we have private lunches. And sometimes she would ring one particular occasion, she would telephone me and say did you get your photographers to Kensington High Street this afternoon, you'll get some of your pictures. We caught her in McDonalds with her kids. Within four or five weeks, there's an interview out there saying do you know what? They even follow me to McDonalds. It was a very difficult situation.

KATIE DURHAM: But do you think that the line was crossed at some point during that relationship that you had with her, which sort of justified the comment that her brother made at her funeral that we hunted her to death?

HALL: I don't think we did hunt her to death. I think there was a collision of a lot of circumstances. I think the police acted. Here are motorbikes chasing cars down the road. They're harassing people. They're putting their lives at risk. Nobody was arrested. And they should have been arrested.

I do think there was situations where we overstepped the (INAUDIBLE). But often, pictures arrive on your desk. You haven't got a clue how they were taken. You see the picture and you take on its merit.

And a lot of newspapers, certainly me included, turned down an awful lot of pictures about Diana - the pictures in the gym. There were pictures of her with Dodi that we turned down. We turned down a lot.

But at the same time, she was calling us. And there was pictures being snatched in the streets, so called, and she would ring and say, "How do I look?" What do you do in those circumstances? Because if you're a newspaper and you didn't run those pictures, you would lose your job. The circulation would crash. Everybody else would gain from it. It was a very - it was an impossible situation to manage.


ANDERSON: Well, that was the former editor of "The News of the World," Phil Hall speaking to Katie Durham and Allister Stewart (ph). So too little, too late when it comes to the tabloid press admitting some of the blame in the death of Diana. Was it?

Well, Richard Fitzwilliams world watcher and former editor of "International Who's Who" joins me now in the studio.

Too little, too late, Richard? Was that effectively an apology?

RICHARD FITZWILLIAMS, ROYAL WATCHER: I think effectively, it was an admission of a certain amount of complicity. I mean, let's be frank. The situation was impossible, but there's no question the decoy occurred, the fateful crash of course subsequently occurred because that Mercedes wasn't attempting to avoid the paparazzi. We all know that Diana at that time was the world's number one celebrity. You could say the most glamorous woman. And photographs of her were worth a fortune with Dodi Fayed worth even more.

I think that it is an admission that a lot of factors were at play here. It was a giant industry. And it still is, but also, it was a deep tragedy. And the press did play their part in it. But of course, it was a speeding, drunk driver. And on that, history will clearly have its judgment.

ANDERSON: I think I would be remiss if I didn't suggest that, as others have, that Diana courted publicity. But given that, we're now 10 years on. What has the press learned?

FITZWILLIAMS: I think that the press hasn't learned a great deal. When there's a story, you have to try and get it or another rival paper or outlet will do so. We just look, for example, at the Kate Middleton case. When she was 25 outsider her London home, there were some 50 news media. It's daunting. It is pretty ferocious.

For example, she had pull out of a channel race, which she was participating in.

ANDERSON: Dragon boat race, yes.

FITZWILLIAMS: A dragon boat. Because it was thought there'd be paparazzi intrusion. On the other hand, of course, the last thing the press really wants is blood on their hands. But remember, when Diana actually died, and (INAUDIBLE) practically spat on in London, then of course, there was big excuse because it was (INAUDIBLE) was drunk going three times the French speed limit.

But on the other hand, it's all part of a ghastly tragedy that had she had the protection, had she had her seat belt on, this would have been avoided. It's part of the puzzle of the complexities of what is an absolutely unique end to a unique person.

I mean, Rosa Munter, a friend, put it very well. She was such an extraordinary woman. People find it so hard to believe she met such an ordinary death.

ANDERSON: Royal watcher Richard Fitzwilliams, we thank you.

Now before we leave you this week, a little insight into life as a cartoonist. Presidents and prime ministers and indeed the royal family are more than often the target. And politics inspires much of the work by Steve Bell and fellow illustrator Gerald Scarff (ph).

I met them both recently and witnessed Scarff (ph) at work. This time, it was the U.S. president as the subject matter.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I suppose when they first come into power, you don't really know what to make of them. And the first drawings I made of Bush didn't look anything like this.


ANDERSON: We'll see more of our cartoonist in action in "The Spirit of Satire" show coming up next we can hear on CNN. And you can also find out more about that show at

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

I'm Becky Anderson for you in London. Thanks for joining us.