Le Président Doth Protest Too Much
A thin-skinned Nicolas Sarkozy takes on the press.
Apr 26, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 30 • By ANNE-ELISABETH MOUTET
By this time Sarko, having first dismissed at length a Sky news interviewer during a visit to London (“I don’t have even half a second to consider these absurdities . . . ”), found himself reduced to sending his wife onto the morning radio talk shows and such friendly venues as Madame Figaro, the women’s supplement of Paris’s most respectful daily, to decry, in pained but restrained tones, the vulgarity and cheapening nature of it all. Bruni, who has more experience of the foreign celebrity media than her husband, laughed off any suggestion of conspiracy, protested that Dati was “a friend,” and denied that any police investigations had been ordered. (Unfortunately for her, Bernard Squarcini, the head of DCRI, French homeland security, contradicted her hours later.)
L’Affaire is by no means over. Last week Sarko, in Washington, was again quizzed, this time in a Katie Couric interview on Iran’s nuclear program. (Couric gave him a much easier time than she did, say, Sarah Palin: “It must get slightly annoying?” she commiserated about the coverage of his private life.) Even austere newspapers like Le Monde have run many column inches on the consequences for Sarkozy’s reelection in two years. “Can the president keep his cool?” is the implicit question.
As with every ailing regime, leaks now gush out, in print, of every instance of Sarkozy weakness—how he was nearly incapacitated by his 2007 divorce; how he has surrounded himself with courtiers who daren’t warn him of obvious mistakes. (Pierre Charon was described to me by an Elysée aide as “un amuseur, someone who, 500 years ago, would have worn a parti-colored costume and a hat with bells on around the king.”) What makes all this unfortunate is that Sarkozy is still sensible in his political decisions—reforming France’s cum-ber-some state pension system and, abroad, pushing for tougher sanctions on Iran, to cite just two. But unlike most of his predecessors (recall Mitterrand who for 14 years hid the existence of two parallel families, in addition to his legal one, from the public, using the vast resources of the French state), Sarkozy is no cynic. If you prick him, he does bleed. And if you wrong him, he shall want revenge.
Anne-Elisabeth Moutet is a political journalist in Paris and a frequent contributor to the London Sunday Telegraph and the BBC.