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At the end of our conversation with French film director Agnes Varda on Wednesday, she said that these economic times are very difficult, and that Barack Obama’s election has given her a deep sense of hope:
Around me and around all the people I know, it’s such a sign of change. It’s such a sign of really evolution of minds, you know. It’s incredibly a source of hope for us.
Then she addressed me directly:
I hope you share my impression. Do you?
The exchange inspired B Sparks to write this:
Emily dodged her question, changing the subject, but Mdm. Varda called her on it and asked if she would answer the question. Emily seemed to be searching for what to say next, then responded with a general statement about how many Europeans and Americans shared her (Varda’s) view. It was clear she (me) would not, or could not, give her personal opinion.
Then B Sparks nailed it:
This is a concrete example of a profound cultural difference between French and American journalism.
When Agnes Varda asked me that question, I didn't know what to say. It was a very direct question, which I am inclined to answer. But at the same time one I felt I could not. I’m moderating conversations among people with different experiences, ideas, and beliefs. To me, an American journalist who has lived and worked in Western and Eastern Europe, that means I keep my views out of it.
This is very different from France, and other European countries, where journalists are expected (or perhaps obligated?) to hold and express convictions on issues they cover. Or as B Sparks put it, duty-bound to “reveal his or her bias up front.”
My take: That can work well. But "biases" are complicated. I’m not sure how the conversation here would benefit from my saying what makes me feel hopeful or what worries me. I think it could get in the way of people listening for something new to chew on or to change them.
I know I would dodge Anges Varda’s question again — but perhaps, next time, a bit more directly.
(And I kind of hope she was amused by the whole exchange, as B Sparks suggested she might have been. Her delight in life is infectious!)