Monday, August 13, 2007
Arnaud Lagardère, the son of Jean-Luc Lagardère and head of Lagardère Media, is selling the newspapers La Provence and Nice-Matin to Philippe Hersant, the son of Robert Hersant and head of Media Hersant. These important regional dailies will thus remain anchored on the right.
Tocqueville thought that a newspaper shared certain characteristics with a great aristocrat: the former, like the latter, could gather people of like mind, lead a movement, constitute a bulwark for or rampart against a regime, and follow a more or less fixed course in the face of shifting winds. Perhaps this affinity explains why families like to own them.
In the United States, there has been a certain wringing of hands since the Bancrofts decided to sell the Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch. Our great newspaper families--the Sulzbergers, the Grahams, the Bancrofts, the Chandlers--are sometimes praised for treating their family property as a public trust. I can't say that I take such a benign view, particularly of the Bancrofts and the Chandlers. But no one would ever entertain such a notion about the newspaper-owning families of France, perhaps because they have also been associated with arms-dealing or even, in the case of Hersant père, with fascism (Robert Hersant was convicted of collaboration in 1947 and sentenced to 10 years' loss of his civil rights, but he was amnestied in 1952, at which time he joined the SFIO and bought his first newspaper; in the 1970s he moved to the right and eventually bought Le Figaro).
Still, since Arnaud Lagardère still owned the paper this morning, and since he is the person supposedly responsible for having the editor of Match fired for printing a picture of Cécilia Sarkozy with her lover in New York, it's interesting to note that one of the nastier comments on the angine blanche that kept the First Lady away from the Bush picnic on Saturday appeared in La Provence. The paper minces no words in saying that Cécilia does as she pleases, accepted the Elysée as a "gift" from a husband eager to please, but will never allow it to become her "chain," as if no woman of taste and discernment would ever deign to share a hot dog with the Bushes unless dragged to it in irons. Which may well be an accurate appraisal of her (no doubt comprehensible) attitude, but few other newspapers have taken the liberty of saying so. If I were to indulge in the sort of lamentation that is almost de rigueur on the sale of a newspaper these days, I suppose this is the point at which I should express the hope that the liberty of tone cultivated under Lagardère should survive under Hersant. But that might be in poor taste.