Having been caught in the middle of the French transportation strike today, and it seems tomorrow, I can see first hand the kind of exaggeration that afflicts headline writers in English news journals and reports. The BBC announces that "French strike brings travel chaos", The Washington Post says "Transit Strike Immobilizes France" and Time tells me "Strike Hobbles French Traffic".
I saw nothing of the sort today. Yes there were a lot of cars snaking along Blvd. Saint Denis. Bicycles were everywhere (but traveling unimpeded down wide bike paths). Some people used roller blades. And many more people were on the streets at 9:15 a.m. when we set off for a 45 minute walk to Montmartre. Frankly, though, I came across worse traffic jams last week in London's Soho district in the middle of the day and have seen much worse on an ordinary day in New York and Toronto
Note . . . I am not saying the strikes are popular. It seems 58% of French people support Sarkozy's hard line against the unions trying to protect over-generous pension plans and some former past supporters of the so-called mouvement sociale have changed their points of view as you can read and listen to here (in French). What bothers me is that sometimes the headline drives the tone of people's reaction and the historical record. And when the headline gets it wrong, it can have a negative impact on public policy and political behaviour.