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The French president’s private life: Responding to the English press

Text by Sylvain ATTAL

Latest update : 2014-01-16’s editor-in-chief responds to scathing criticism from English journalists that the French press is too squeamish when it comes to covering the personal affairs of their public figures.

Referring to their behaviour at French President François Hollande’s press conference on Wednesday, the "Daily Mail", a British tabloid, called France’s journalists “a salon of oyster-munchers, the powdered, poodling, truth-smothering trusties of polite Parisian opinion”. The "Daily Telegraph" wondered, meanwhile, if the French press had gone “mad”.

Indeed, in England, France’s reporters seem to be on trial for their incorrigible softness when it comes to the personal affairs of public figures. Why didn’t they harass the president for details about his love life, Britain is asking?

It’s worth noting that the first question posed at the press conference - “Is Valérie Trierweiler still First Lady?” - could not have been more direct. Hollande’s answer, that he would clarify the issue before his upcoming trip to the US on February 11, may not have satisfied inquiring English minds. With Trierweiler currently in hospital reportedly being treated for stress and exhaustion, the president was probably careful not to add insult to injury.

The English seem to have interpreted Hollande’s dodge, and the press’s reluctance to badger him about it, as typically French hypocrisy.

The real problem here is Hollande’s failure to understand that France’s tabloid journalists have adopted some of the more invasive practices of their Anglo-Saxon counterparts. If they don’t yet steal quotes from hacked email accounts and phone messages, they probably will soon.

But that’s not a reason for more traditional news outlets - the very ones that were so indignant about the NSA’s surveillance methods - to dive into the dirty laundry of France’s most prominent figures.

Unfortunately, many highly respected French newspapers, TV channels and radio stations did exactly that, covering the news of the affair in greater, and more salacious, detail than is French journalistic custom. This sets a dangerous precedent.

Rather than getting worked up about the way we talk, write and seek answers about Hollande’s romantic adventures, I would have expected our colleagues in the English press to scold us for not using the press conference to question Hollande more pointedly about the new, fiscally conservative economic policies he pitched. Where will his proposed 50 billion euros in spending cuts come from? What social services will be slashed? Will workers be expected to put in more hours without extra pay? Are we moving away from the 35-hour work week? Will we be taking less vacation? Retiring later?

Hollande indeed should have been pressed for more detailed explanations on those and other matters. But instead the English are taking us to task for not sticking our noses in the president’s bedroom - for not asking him how long his affair has been going on, how often he and his mistress see each other, whether or not Valerie knew, and how he can be trusted to keep his promises to the electorate if he can’t even keep his promises to a woman.

Pardon my French, but who cares? As long as our president doesn’t start awarding perks and privileges to those he chooses to socialise with, I don’t see why this is our business. It was a wise decision by our culture minister to remove the actress Julie Gayet, the presumed presidential mistress, from consideration for the prestigious Villa Medici jury, avoiding the risk that her place on the list could be interpreted as nepotism.

The "Daily Telegraph’s" assertion that the Hollande affair is comparable to the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal is simply ridiculous. Yes, both were cases of marital infidelity. But Clinton was involved with an intern, which raised questions of abuse of power and possible harassment. Hollande is merely perpetuating the commonly held stereotype about the French being libertines. In other words: nothing to see here, folks.


Date created : 2014-01-15


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