By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
As an introduction to the American television audience — it was his first appearance of the trip — the interview with Zahn was predictably disappointing. This being a typically hurried news show, there simply wasn’t time to give the audience a sense of who this particular Frenchman was, to run down a few items of his biography. Zahn didn’t even mention that he was the most important member of a small but influential group of French thinkers who call themselves “anti-anti-American.” Not pro-American, necessarily — LÃ©vy considers the Iraq war a folly, for example — but resolutely opposed to the hatred of the U.S. that has swept the world.
So a little context would have been welcome, if only as an act of politeness. After all, LÃ©vy had just spent a year of his life putting himself in harm’s way in order to investigate the death of an American at a time when the governments of France and America were barely on speaking terms. Though his nationality and political contacts would probably have saved him, it’s not inconceivable that he too might have ended up having his throat cut, with the resultant videotapes sold (as LÃ©vy says the Pearl tape is sold) outside mosques in Pakistan. After all, if Pearl was “overintrusive,” as Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf claimed, LÃ©vy was even more so.
The next television interview, with Fox & Friends, turned out better — much to everyone’s surprise. LÃ©vy’s publisher, Dennis Johnson of Melville House, was uneasy about his author appearing on such a right-wing station and said he would turn down an invitation from The O’Reilly Factorif one came in. (He was afraid O’Reilly would try to tear LÃ©vy to pieces.) And now in the green room, watching the segment before LÃ©vy’s — a conversation with a loudmouth DJ called Mancow — he looked like someone who’d just realized he’d made a horrendous mistake. Throwing his delicate French import into thisden of lions! Ashen, he gazed at the television nervously.
“What if, hidden behind the gruesome murder of Daniel Pearl, was another, still-darker story?” intoned host Steve Doocy as the segment began. “What if he was killed because he was a reporter who was onto something?”
“Well, joining us right now is a man who knows,” chimed in co-host Brian Kilmeade. “He’s from France, from Paris in particular — BERNARD-ONREE LEEVEE! Welcome, Mr. Onree Leevee, appreciate your comin’ down.”
Uncertain about the joshing tone of this introduction, LÃ©vy merely nodded his head in response. For a moment there was some European-vs.-American tension in the room. The French philosopher, immaculately dressed but neglecting to wear a tie; the two Murdochian anchormen, bright but uncultured, or concealing whatever culture they had for the sake of ratings. But with his answer to the first question — “What did you discover about who killed Pearl?” — LÃ©vy dissolved any lingering uneasiness.
“I discovered a few things,” he began, his voice soft, his demeanor earnest. “I spent one year of my life walking in his footsteps and trying to rebuild his last days, his last hours, and the biography of the criminals . . .”
It was a clever way to respond. How could you attack a Frenchman — even here, at French-Bashing Central — for spending a year of his life trying to solve the mystery of an American’s death? (Especially when no American had done so.) But, as it turned out, Doocy and Kilmeade had no desire to attack him. The interview was brisk but also concise, touching on all the important topics like a power-point presentation. In five or six minutes, you actually got a pretty decent idea of what the book was about. By the end of the interview, the temperature in the room had warmed up considerably.
“Great book, important book, and you tell it wonderfully,” Kilmeade concluded. “Great job. We thank you very much for joining us.”
“Thanks to you,” LÃ©vy replied. “Glad to be here.”
Smiles all round. Doocy even threw in an “au revoir.”
“They have electricity, juice,” LÃ©vy said of the Fox people when we were back out on the sidewalk. “You look in their eyes and you see enthusiasm, dynamism. I don’t agree with what they say, but . . .”
“Did they seem friendly?”
“They looked friendly. When they said I was French, I was about to say, ‘Nobody’s perfect.’” LÃ©vy laughs. “Of course, the interview was very short, but this is the American style. It obliges you to be sharp.”
“Do you enjoy that?”
“No. I’m a man of writing. I need space, I need to breathe. But I will never be one of those writers who complain about the bad treatment they get on TV.”
Of course, most writers never get on TV in the first place. For LÃ©vy, publicity is not a problem. (In France, where he is known simply by his initials, BHL, he is on TV all the time.) In 1977, when he published his most famous book, Barbarism With a Human Face, while still in his 20s, he landed the cover of Timemagazine and Johnny Carson invited him on The Tonight Show. LÃ©vy had an America-friendly message back then, too. Barbar- ism, which sealed his reputation as the leading member of a group called “The New Philosophers,” was a fierce attack on Stalinism and the hard-line French left typified by Jean-Paul Sartre, who, according to legend, promptly denounced him as a CIA agent.