Over the last few days, much ink has been spilled over the affair the French President François Hollande is alleged to have had with the French actress Julie Gayet. What I find interesting about this story is its timing. On 31 December, for his New Year greetings to the French nation, France’s President had hinted that he would be shifting course as it were on several issues, for instance by proposing a ‘responsibility pact’ with big business, [based on] ‘fewer burdens on work, fewer constraints on their activities and, in exchange, more recruitment and more industrial dialogue’ and by announcing his determination to cut public spending (his speech is available here). Yesterday, François Hollande, in his third major televised conference to the press of his presidential mandate, in response to a journalist querying him with regard to the almost radical overhaul of the programme that had got him elected, even acknowledged that he could be described as a social-democrat, in other words, that he would be pursuing the paths of Clinton, Blair, Schröder … and Obama, of course [although, strangely, I had forgotten him at first].

What a change of course and what a better way of deflecting the attention of the French people from such a radical shift in policy than to have some celebrity gossip associated with one’s name in the headlines at around the same time (rumours about the affair had been swirling around already in March 2013 and in early December of last year the affair was strongly hinted at by the director of a film in which Julie Gayet had played in her very presence during a televised show).

The strange thing is that it seems to be working, as the story seems to have gained centre stage, even in so-called leftist newspapers like Libération

Most viewed news stories on Liberation_15 January 2014_5 57 am

… and even more so in mainstream media like the BBC:

BBC Europe frontpage 6 37 am CET_15 January 2014

Although the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo seems to have jumped on the ‘affair’ bandwagon as its front cover for this week’s edition (15 January) is a cartoon featuring François Hollande with his fly open, interestingly its cartoon editor justified his decision as having been supported by the weekly’s intention to condemn the hypocrisy of the mainstream media, which, according to him, were only waiting for a pretext to bring this story to the fore and almost had their articles ready to be published:

Vous dénoncez donc l’attitude des grands médias dans le suivi de cette affaire ?

– “Charlie Hebdo” fait la une que n’ont pas osé faire les autres journaux qui traitent pourtant le sujet depuis plusieurs jours. On dénonce donc leur hypocrisie. Je sais d’ailleurs que tous les journalistes étaient à l’affut en attendant que l’affaire Gayet sorte pour pouvoir embrayer dessus. J’ai l’impression que dans certains médias, les dossiers sur cette relation présumée de François Hollande étaient même quasiment prêts.

Une de “Charlie Hebdo” sur Hollande : “Pour dédramatiser le sujet”,  interview of Charb [Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon editor] with Guillaume Stoll, le nouvel Observateur, 14 January 2014

As we say in French, « c’est une affaire à suivre » …