World

Will French Media Stop Shielding Politicians Who Cheat?

A French tabloid's story about President Francois Hollande's alleged affair suggests French politicians' personal lives are no longer off-limits.

Will French Media Stop Shielding Politicians Who Cheat?
Flickr / European Union 2012 - European Parliament

​In the U.S., when a politician gets caught cheating, it makes headlines.

"His most emphatic denial yet in the sex and lies in the Monica Lewinsky case." (Via CBS)

"Shocking revelations from Arnold Schwarzenegger." (Via ABC)

"Anthony Weiner is turning into a political punching bag." (Via CBS)

But in France, it's usually a non-story, which makes this magazine article about President Francois Hollande's alleged affair all the more surprising. (Via Closer

Hollande lives with his partner, former journalist Valérie Trierweiler. She acts as France's first lady. But for about a year and a half, there'd been rumors he'd been in a relationship with French film actress Julie Gayet. (Via Wikimedia Commons / Jackolan1 / Georges Biard / Jean-Marc Ayrault​)

But they stayed as rumors and largely out of the press until a French tabloid published an article and photos detailing meetings between the two. Hollande then threatened legal action, and the magazine backed off the story. (Via The Telegraph, Euronews

Perhaps because the law works in Hollande's favor. France has strict privacy and libel laws — laws that can impose major fines on media outlets which expose the private lives of citizens. And for years, that's kept French media at a distance.

Not to mention, as a a political commentator in Paris explains to Time"There was a sort of gentleman's code most of the time not to publish politician's private affairs."

Take former French President Francois Mitterrand, whose extramarital affair led to a child born out of wedlock — something French media knew about but never reported on until the end of his second term. (Via Institut National de  l'Audiovisuel)

​And ex-President Jacques Chirac is said to have had many affairs — well-known among French journalists, but also kept secret. (Via BFM-TV)

Matthew Fraser, a professor at American University in Paris, says the reason the French turn a blind eye on philandering politicians is pretty simple: "The standard explanation is ... the French simply don't care about the personal vices of their leaders." (Via CNN

And while printing photos of Hollande's alleged love affair is a first, French media have been pushing the envelope in recent years.

As France 24 notes, it began when Hollande's predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, made his personal life very public with his high-profile remarriage to model and singer Carla Bruni.

But it wasn't until the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape charges that the media taboo was truly broken. (Via Liberation, Le Figaro, Le Monde)

Before then, The Guardian notes, "Everyone in French political and media circles knew Strauss-Kahn's achilles heel was his attitude to women" but kept quiet. 

It's enough for some pundits to declare the days of a political figure's right to privacy in France are over, writes Hugh Schofield for the BBC.

 

"The fact is that the limits of what constitutes privacy in France are being tested as never before. Technology is changing, the press is changing, and people's expectations are changing too."