After Fox News caused uproar in January 2015 with its much-mocked report on no-go zones in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, this time it’s Britain’s Daily Express and a notorious American anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller prompting laughter in France over their coverage of the recent riots in the Paris suburbs.
On February 16th Geller tweeted one of her articles to her 140,000 followers titled “No-go zones expand as violence spreads ACROSS FRANCE”, in which she compared the fall of France to the Nazis in 1940 to the burning of cars and bins and vandalism of buildings in the Paris suburbs.
Geller was talking about the outbreaks of violence in several suburbs around Paris following the alleged rape of a young man named Théo by a police officer.
Her article was based almost entirely on that of an article by right-wing British tabloid The Daily Express, originally titled “PARIS RIOTS MAPPED: 20 no-go zones located as violence spreads ACROSS FRANCE.
The article included maps of Paris and France with the marked “no-go zones”, which incredibly included the historic Marais quarter, a popular tourist hot spot as well as cities including Lille, Nantes and Rouen.
Perhaps realising they had over egged the pudding a little, the Daily Express, which backed Brexit (and now appears to be backing the anti-EU Marine Le Pen given she's the only French politician they seem to quote), ditched the word “no-go zones” and replaced it with “areas”. But not before it had been noticed.
— SBM (@sbmiam) February 14, 2017
The damage was done and both Geller’s repeat of the Daily Express article and the original were being widely read on both sides of the Atlantic.
When word got back to France it was left to the French Twittersphere to respond. And they did ever so well in setting the record straight with Geller, rather than the Daily Express.
While many simply replied to tell her she was wrong, others responded with humour.
— Miss Nahn (@MissNahn) February 19, 2017
Particularly when it came to the idea that the Marais was a “no-go zone”.
— Emmanuel (@EmmanuelSPV) February 19, 2017
And Lille for that matter.
— Maitre Yoda ️ (@Maiitre_Yoda) February 19, 2017
The news site Buzzfeed did a good job of rounding up some of funnier responses to Geller. Inundated with tweets blasting her article the writer then wrote to Buzzfeed and pinned all the blame on the Express.
“The incidents I reported on in Paris all came from published reports in recognized mainstream news outlets. Scapegoating me for passing on those reports is typical of an establishment media,” she told Buzzfeed.
It would be a funny old tale if it wasn't so serious.
Both Geller's alarmist and exaggerated article and that of the Daily Express were picked up by other alt-right/far-right news sites in the US like Infowars and Breitbart.
As French newspaper Le Monde pointed out: “Only the facts that fitted their narrative were retained, all the others, which were against it, were left out.”
There's no doubt the outbreaks of violence in the suburbs were serious, especially in Bobigny, with over 250 people arrested over several days.
And obviously when stones are being hurled at police and tear gas is being fired back, then you definitely would be wise avoiding the area for a while, but the use of the word “no-go zones” along with images of the violent flash protests was “dishonest”, as Le Monde says.
As are false claims that violent incidents in France are linked to the terror group Isis, as Geller maintained at the weekend when a man described as “mentally disturbed” by French police stabbed several people.
— Samy (@sacha_bxl) February 19, 2017
The problem is all these tweets and articles stick in the minds of eager readers, as our own Twitter feed is testament to. It's perhaps hardly surprising given these reports that the Paris region lost some 1.5 million tourists last year.
— Joey Essex (@JoeyEss79967949) February 22, 2017
— Bella thinker (@thinker_bella) February 22, 2017
— Smiley girl (@smileygirl19681) February 22, 2017
“The exaggerations are coarse and the generalizations leave the impression of a country at breaking point,” wrote the French version of Slate magazine, which like Le Monde lamented the coverage of the riots.
One of the problems is that reports of trouble flaring in the suburbs around the French capital are often described in many articles as being in “Paris”, whereas in reality they are far from the places where visitors would ever venture.
There were violent scenes in Paris on a couple of occasions, once at Barbes and last Saturday at Place de la Republique, with reports suggesting many of those involved in the trouble there were from well known anti-fascist and anarchist groups who have a long history of violent confrontations with police.
It was the same for the demonstration that turned ugly in western France's Rennes.
In other words, it wasn't “immigrant youths” from the suburbs or even “Muslim youths wreaking havoc in France” as Pamela Geller wrote in her letter to Buzzfeed.
But luckily as a Facebook post to our own readers shows, there are many lovers of France who are not put off by the scaremongering reports of “no-go zones” and Paris going up in flames.