New Orleans Ben Smith, formerly of Politico, joined the New York Times over the last year as their media columnist and has quickly become a must-read in my book. His sources are amazing, his scoops unique, and his perspective wide-ranging and invaluable. The Times seems to know this, not only because they give him more space in the paper every Monday than any other columnists gets, except perhaps the Hollywood and Los Angeles specials that Maureen Dowd writes from time to time. He’s even allowed to write inside-stories on the Times, both ringing their bell on internal conflicts and a recent fanboy column on Trump political writer Maggie Haberman. He probably won’t win a Pulitzer prize until he has a full year on the job, but he has already earned it in my book, and I’d take a bet right now that he’s in line.
I know this already sounds like too much inside-baseball to many of you, who are now wishing I would get to the point, whatever that might be, so let’s do that. Ben Smith has carved out enough of a position already as the independent arbiter of media insight and criticism that the President of France Emmanuel Macron called him the other day to complain about the coverage he and his country are getting over their anti-Muslim policies. This is the same Macron who Smith notes has never been willing to give an interview to the Times’ Paris Bureau. Other than President Trump calling his buddies, formerly his BFFs at Fox and other outlets, who does that? Macron and more to come perhaps?
Macron’s beef is that we don’t get France. His brief is that race, religion, and ethnicity have no meaning in France compared to the universal concept of being a citizen dating back to the French Revolution. Identity politics do not matter for the French according to Macron, and their policies around their Muslim citizens are a reaction to the death toll they have experienced from “Islamist” terrorism and separation of the church and state. Everybody must assimilate the same, because they don’t go for this diversity mess of the United States.
ACORN’s French affiliate, the Alliance Citoyenne, has faced a different experience than Macron describes. The government’s campaign against Muslim dress codes for women including the hijab face coverings are both anti-Muslim and misogynist. In 2019, we led a campaign in Grenoble, Lyon and elsewhere to gain access for our Muslim members and their children in public pools, as our members jumped in the water in their burkinis. We have more recently been trying to get Muslim women equal access to sports teams.
Make no mistake, Macron’s complaints to the contrary, his policies are sweeping. Muslim women in hijab have been banned from public transportation and public employment. More recently, Macron expanded that ban to exclude Muslim women in hijab from working for any private company, nonprofit or for profit, that receives any public money or support.
It’s hard to not see Macron’s position as purely political as another French election faceoff with the far-right, anti-immigrant party of LePen’s looms again. No women have been arrested or linked directly to any of the terrorism that has afflicted the French, yet the policies seem specifically directed at Muslim women. Something is wrong here, and Macron is protesting too much, despite his savvy call to Smith and his complaint that he is an unhappy reader of the New York Times, making him one of many along with the rest of us.