For Second Day in Row, Times Blames Right-Leaning French President for Soccer Team's Travails

For the second day in a row, French President Nicolas Sarkozy shared the blame for France's surprising loss in the opening round of soccer's World Cup - in a story in the Times' news section.

Jere Longman's Wednesday front-page story transmitted rants from Socialist Party opponents of the right-leaning, Bush-supporting Sarkozy, accusing him of being "President Bling Bling" and promoting a national "selfishness" that seeped into the players' psyches.

On Thursday, reporter Steven Erlanger handled sticky issues of race, patriotism and football failure in "Racial Undertones Emerge in Reactions to France's Exit From the World Cup," and also relayed criticism of Sarkozy, just the way the Times did during Sarkozy's successful 2007 presidential campaign.

While most politicians have talked carefully of values and patriotism, rather than immigration and race, some legislators blasted the players as "scum," "little troublemakers" and "guys with chickpeas in their heads instead of a brain," according to news reports.

Fadela Amara, the junior minister for the racially charged suburbs who was born to Algerian parents, warned on Tuesday that the reaction to the team's loss had become racially charged.

"There is a tendency to ethnicize what has happened," she told a gathering of President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing party, according to news reports. "Everyone condemns the lower-class neighborhoods. People doubt that those of immigrant backgrounds are capable of respecting the nation."

She criticized Mr. Sarkozy's handling of a debate on "national identity," warning that "all democrats and all republicans will be lost" in this ethnically tinged criticism about Les Bleus, the French team.
"We're building a highway for the National Front," she said, in a reference to the far-right, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim party founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Erlanger linked Sarkozy to the French far right, including the Le Pen family:

The racial makeup of the French team has long been an issue on the far right, even in a country where all the French are "citizens" and are supposed to have equal rights. Of the 22-man squad, 13 are men of color, with two born in French territories.


On Tuesday, Mr. Le Pen said that "the myth of antiracism is a sacred myth in France." He added, apparently with no irony, that he hated politicians who turned the national soccer team into "a flag of antiracism instead of sport."

Now, the language of Mr. Chatel, the education minister, resonates with the themes of the Le Pens. That reflects, critics say, the general effort of Mr. Sarkozy and his party, over the last few years, to weaken the far right by playing on the same themes of patriotism, nationhood and identity.

Elaine Sciolino's "reporting" on Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign remains some of the most obnoxiously biased to ever appear in the Times, including this bitter reaction to a Sarkozy campaign speech: "In this election, authority apparently is deemed to be more important than compassion."

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