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French press pounces on first lady’s Twitter mishap

Valérie Trierweiler, France’s new first lady, has become the focus of intense scrutiny by the French press after she sent a Twitter message embarrassing the Socialist Party four days ahead of key parliamentary elections.


French President François Hollande’s honeymoon cruise with the press ran aground on Thursday as newspapers pounced on the controversy pitting his companion Valérie Trierweiler against Hollande’s own Socialist Party.

On Wednesday, Trierweiler embarrassed leaders of the president’s political camp by endorsing a rebel Socialist Party (PS) member who is running for a parliamentary seat in the western city of La Rochelle against the party’s official candidate, Hollande’s former partner, mother of their four children and PS heavyweight, Ségolene Royal.

“A promise that one tweet broke,” the conservative daily Le Figaro wrote in reference to Hollande’s campaign pledge to keep his private and public life separate and be a “normal” head-of-state.

Hollande told voters he would lead a “no-drama” administration that would avoid the constant media exposure and encroachment on private life that former president Nicolas Sarkozy seemed to invite.

On Thursday morning, however, Hollande and Trierweiler were the focus of intense scrutiny across the French media, while the hash tag #Trierweilergate had been coined on Twitter.

Normal presidency no more

Even newspapers that have typically shown more sympathy toward Hollande, like the left-leaning Libération, widely covered the incident.

First lady Valérie Trierweiler makes the June 13 cover of the French newspaper Libération. "France's first gaffe" the headline reads.
First lady Valérie Trierweiler makes the June 13 cover of the French newspaper Libération. "France's first gaffe" the headline reads.

“France’s first gaffe” Libération headlined, in an allusion to Trierweiler’s reported wish to find a substitute for the “first lady” title.

“It is an improbable movie script that mixes political rivalries and private jealousies, power plays and intimate secrets and all at the highest level of the State,” wrote Libération’s Grégoire Biseau. “We thought this kind of cocktail would remain the trademark of the former president… now we know that the normal presidency of Hollande is finally not so normal.”

In a blog titled “The first lady’s existential crisis”, Le Monde commentator Françoise Fressoz describes Trierweiler as a woman torn between her journalistic reflexes and her ill-defined new role, and Hollande as her unsuspecting victim.

“It would have been better to keep silent, because it’s François Hollande who now faces the firing squad. The 'normal president', who had almost been faultless, is now forced to comment on his romantic life and threatened by the celebrity treatment he strongly condemned during the past five years,” Fressoz wrote.

Regional daily Le Parisien was among several newspapers reporting that Trierweiler failed to inform Hollande before publishing her unilateral endorsement and that his administration was reeling from the affair. “The president was very upset. He took to the news very badly. He is a modest man and she crossed the line. This could hurt his image,” the daily quoted a presidential advisor as saying.

Not just an election hurdle

Le Parisien also emphasized the stunned reactions from the Socialist Party, whose leaders have been forced to answer embarrassing questions just four days before a parliamentary election that could see them win a majority after ten years as the opposition.

“The only thing that matters to us is that François Hollande backs Ségolène Royal,” the daily quotes a startled Socialist Party chief Martine Aubry as saying. Royal herself avoided taking questions from the press after finding out about Trierweiler’s message, the daily reported.

Many publications decided to publish opposing photos of Trierweiler and Royal and highlighted the potentially poisoned ties between the Elysée Presidential Palace and the Socialist Party.

“[Trierweiler and Royal], each woman with her own status, must now share a single terrain – the Socialist Party – and a single man – François Hollande,” the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur wrote in its online version.

The incident was also the opportunity for many anaylsts to comment on Trierweiler’s previously underreported intense jealousy of Hollande’s former partner, and question if the first lady was not a long-term liability for both the Socialist Party and Hollande himself.

The L'Express weekly wrote a rare article about the rivalry between Trierweiler and Royal on May 19, and rehashed the story on Thursday in light of the Twitter incident.

Writing in the Marianne weekly, Christine Clerc said she was finding it difficult to continue to defend Trierweiler’s independent spirit: “[Trierweiler] should have made the choice a long time ago. She should have refused to grace the red carpet at the Elysée Palace on inauguration day, then climb the steps of the White House. You cannot be first lady, as well as a critical journalist, as well as jealous woman, without disappointing the French people and destabilizing your partner’s presidency.”


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