MediaWatch: November 1997
Table of Contents:
CNN Touts Paris Over D.C.
CNN’s weekly magazine show Impact filed a three-part series between October 12 and 26 called "Tale of Two Cities." Reported by Kathy Slobogin and Jim Bitterman, it compared the quality of life in Paris to that of Washington, D.C. Predictably, Washington suffered in comparison, portrayed as a victim of the media’s usual suspect: Not enough government spending.
The October 12 show compared social services in the two cities. From Washington, Slobogin blamed "bad management" and middle- class flight as the cause of the city’s troubles. But in Paris, Bitterman noted approvingly "It all costs money, and some who’ve lived in both capitals believe there’s a different attitude toward spending it here." He concluded: "Have Americans paid the price for that ambivalence [toward spending] in their capital city?"
The October 19 Impact focused on child care. Bernard Shaw introduced Bitterman’s report: "It is often said that the true gauge of the health of any society is how well children are raised. If that’s the case, there’s an unhealthy gap between French and U.S. society...money and management go a long way in explaining the differences between the capitals."
From Paris, Bitterman praised French-style socialism where everything is "free." He gushed, "France takes a lot of things seriously, but probably none more so than child rearing...From even before birth, the free universal health care system constantly monitors a child’s progress. A log book is maintained on the health and illnesses of each one of them; it is required for admission to schools and camps and youth organizations." Bitterman did note that the French pay more in taxes, "two-thirds more than Americans do."
Slobogin took the opposite tack, pointing out Washington spends more per capita on schools with some of the nation’s worst results, while racking up "an astonishing record of mismanagement and waste."
On October 26 the focus was on crime and other social ills. In Washington, Slobogin again stressed bureaucratic corruption, but Bitterman’s report implied money mattered most. After citing French support of gun control as a factor in the low crime rate, he continued: "As serious as their problems might appear to Parisians, they pale in comparison to Washington or other big cities. Mainly because of some fundamental structural differences." Michel Beaujour of the Institute of French Studies explained what Bitterman meant: "Here, practically everything is subsidized or paid for by the equivalent of the federal government."
Bitterman continued: "Not only does the national government stand by its capital city, but so too do its residents. Paris is not a city that has been abandoned by the middle class the way Washington has." Bitterman refused to cite possible reasons why Washington residents might have abandoned the city, such as high taxes and mammoth, inefficient bureaucracies.
Co-host Stephen Frazier summed up the series as if he hadn’t watched Slobogin documenting Washington’s financial waste, fingering lack of money as the culprit: "It is belief, our correspondents say, that will bring Washington’s quality of life closer to Paris’s. A belief that Washington should symbolize the nation, not just showcase its history. After belief, they say, the leadership and the money for improvement will follow."