BROOKE GLADSTONE: Wartime wounds were re-opened last month in two countries. In the United States former senator Bob Kerrey acknowledged his role in what may or may not have been a Vietnam War atrocity four decades ago. Coverage here was marked by a striking sympathy or at least empathy for Kerrey's feelings now, then and in between!
BOB GARFIELD:In France there was another grisly revelation. A book by a retired army general describing in detail systematic torture and killings by French troops against suspected Algerian revolutionaries 40 years ago. But unlike America where the horrors of Vietnam have long since been exposed, France's dirty secrets from the Algeria War have seldom penetrated the public consciousness. So suddenly the French media are in high dudgeon. Joining us now is Sylvie Kaufman, New York bureau chief for the newspaper Le Monde. Ms. Kaufman, welcome to On the Media.
BOB GARFIELD: You can't judge a man till you've walked in his shoes. This has been the phrase we have heard over and over again since Bob Kerrey's story broke. Are the press saying anything remotely like that about General Aussaresses and his revelation about torture in Algeria?
MAN: Basically in France this is new. Everybody sort of knew or assumed that there had been torture used as a policy in fact in the Algerian War, but nobody had ever really so openly admitted it. I think the American public has been confronted with the atrocities in Vietnam much more openly than we have in France been confronted with Algeria.
BOB GARFIELD: So how have the media treated General Aussaresses?
MAN:The media are treating him quite harshly. General Aussaresses basically says, yes I did use torture. Yes, I did kill people under torture. Yes, I did order people to be killed under torture. And he's very open, frank and-- unashamed about it. So that makes it difficult to feel a lot of sympathy for him.
BOB GARFIELD: On the other hand he was acting out of French national policy at the time.
MAN: Yes, that's, that's his excuse; that's what he says.
BOB GARFIELD: Is anyone asking, you know, where was Le Monde for the last 35 years? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
MAN:Yeah. Well-- actually no; nobody's asking because I think the media did their job. It's very int-- it's a very interesting process. I think the public didn't want to know. The evidence was there in fact. There were movies; there were books; and there were articles in the newspapers and in the magazines, and Le Monde was in fact in the late 50s the first paper to say look, torture is being used, and this is not good, even though some journalists, some moviemakers, some writers, some historians were telling them the public just was not buying this thing! It's totally different from what you experience with Vietnam.
BOB GARFIELD:I think it's true throughout Europe that newspapers tend to be associated or even affiliated with the political points of view, places on the political spectrum. Is there a difference in the way this story is playing in Le Monde as opposed to for example Le Figaro which is a, a right wing paper?
MAN: Absolutely. Le Figaro is an excellent newspaper but it's very close to - it used to be very close to De Gaulle and then to his political legacy. And so they're in a very uncomfortable position right now, and they, they are not giving a big coverage to this issue at the moment. Le Monde is really doing a lot. Liberation is following; is not in the lead but they're giving it a lot of space. L'Humanite, of course, which is the Communist newspaper is very aggressive in its coverage and in, in its condemnation of torture, but of course L'Humanite and the Communist party are, are nothing any more so-- that reaches very, very few readers. But Le Figaro, I must say, stands out as giving very little space and, and less than it deserves.
BOB GARFIELD:At the news of these revelations about systematic torture and, and murder, President Jacques Chirac said he was horrified and Prime Minister Leonel Jaspin said he was deeply shocked by the reports. I think of Claude Rains in his character in Casablanca; he was "shocked, shocked" that gambling was going on in the establishment. Is the French public buying this and are, and are the media buying their reactions? Do they think that this was a surprise to the heads of government and state in France?
MAN: No, I don't think they're buying this, of course. I think the politicians were taken by surprise by this. They didn't expect this to be so big. They didn't expect the media to play it so strongly, and they probably didn't expect the public to react so actively.
BOB GARFIELD: Slyvie Kaufman, thank you very much for joining us.
MAN: You're welcome.
BOB GARFIELD: Sylvie Kaufman is the New York bureau chief for the French newspaper Le Monde.