Economist angers French with yet another nationalistic slur

Jan 4, 2013
Gavin Mortimer

French insulted as weekly mag portrays Obama as a Frenchman – and a cliched one at that

PARIS – Sacre Bleu, or in this case Sacre Barack! It may be a New Year but there's an old theme at the heart of this week's edition of The Economist - and it's not gone down well in France.

In its latest issue, the weekly magazine has on its front cover Barack Obama, but not like you've ever seen the president of the USA before. Gone is the power suit and ice-cool demeanour, to be replaced by a beret, stripy sailor's shirt and a red neckerchief. Worse, the world's most powerful man is clutching a baguette under the headline 'American turns European'.

The eye-catching front page was prompted by this week's deal on Capitol Hill, in which the USA pulled back from the fiscal cliff after Congress voted to raise taxes for the country's highest earners. The deal doesn't appear to have won the approval of The Economist, which describes events in Washington this week as representing "a broken system, a lousy deal and no end in sight". In short much like French politics.

But while Americans can pick the bones out of that assessment, here in Paris we must digest the sight of Obama dressed as a cliched Frenchman in what is another attack by The Economist on the Gallic way of doing things.

Back in November the magazine caused outrage in France with a front cover depicting several baguettes masquerading as a stick of dynamite under the headline 'The Time Bomb At The Heart of Europe'. In a coruscating attack on the French economy, the weekly declared: "In short, too many of France's firms are uncompetitive and the country's bloated government is living beyond its means".

And that wasn't the first assault on French pride by the esteemed British organ. During last April's presidential election, the front cover caricatured Edourd Manet's celebrated painting, Luncheon on the Grass, under the headline 'France in Denial: the West's most frivolous election'.

On that occasion The Economist opined that "What is most striking about the French election is how little anybody is saying about the country's dire economic straits."

Not surprisingly this latest dig at the French has gone down as well as a plate of cod and chips on the Champs Elysées. Le Parisien, France's best-selling national tabloid, accuses The Economist of resorting to the "favourite old cliches" of the French in depicting Obama as a beret-wearing, baguette-carrying Frenchman.

Le Parisien's readers are even more incensed, with one commenting that France need not take any lessons from the English, while another writes: "The Economist should look at the dilapidated state of its own country before mocking a Europe of which Great Britain is, unfortunately, still part."


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Maybe its time to renew my old Economist subscription ...

Name the country which welcomes other countries pointing out its faiblesses.

Indeed, I terminated my subscription about 3 years ago because TE has become a political organ more than an economic one. I recently took out a trial subscription to the online FT and found many of its articles surprisingly good, balanced and quite a few in depth rather than the usual glib dross from TM and most of the media.