Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Managing the Press

Read Bernard Girard's commentary linked in the previous post, listen to Sarkozy's off-the-record remarks to the press in Lisbon (a link to which can be found in Bernard's post), and then read this comment on Sarkozy's management of the press. It seems that Sarkozy, unlike other heads of state, has formalized the off-the-record briefing as a tool of press management. His impromptu appearances are virtually scheduled. He seems to want to use these occasions to develop a sort of complicity with the reporters who cover him, as if the formality of the office were somehow an impediment to his natural style, which is to try to inveigle those who should be monitoring his actions to see things from his point of view. This is what he was attempting to do when he called upon reporters to imagine what it would be like if he were to accuse one of them of being a pedophile on the basis of unnamed secret documents.

He has a point, of course, and one can indeed appreciate and even sympathize with the difficulty of his position. But what he does not see is that a chief of state cannot behave this way. Unfair coverage is part of the job. He pretends to be unfazed by what mere "commentators" say about him, but clearly, somewhere deep in his personality, it rankles. But heads of state are supposed to dismiss their merely personal travails. Try for a moment to imagine de Gaulle blubbering in front of the press as Sarkozy did in Lisbon.

When Sarkozy was first elected, I thought that his efforts to ingratiate himself with the public and the press were legitimate. He wanted to change the style of the presidency, to reduce its august majesty, to create an aura of proximity in the wielding of power that would bring it closer to the people. This might not have been a bad thing, given the abuses of presidential majesty by past presidents. A less regal, more popular and democratic presidency might have marked a certain progress. But Sarkozy, evidently frustrated by his inability to connect with the public, has been unable to strike a proper balance. At times, as in his televised discussion with 3 journalists the other day, he tries desperately to put himself back on the pedestal that he earlier smashed, referring to himself in the third person as the chef de l'État, challenging his interlocutors to imagine his solitary burdens, etc. But at other times, as in Lisbon, he cannot prevent himself from displaying his wounded ego and from pouring out his woes like a tedious passenger in the next airplane seat or a woebegone drinker on the next barstool.

It's unseemly, yes, but worse, it's counterproductive. Such demonstrations of weakness, of ego, of sniveling sensitivity, only invite further attack. And the alarming thing is that Sarkozy surely knows this but cannot help himself. I am increasingly reminded of Richard Nixon and moved to wonder whether Sarko has begun talking to the paintings on the wall in the Élysée, as Nixon reportedly soliloquized to the paintings in the White House. Where is Yasmina Reza when we need her?

"Soliloque pitoyable"

Bernard Girard on Sarkozy's outburst against a journalist questioning him about Karachigate:

Dans son ressassement qui n'en finit pas, cette espèce de geignardise violente sonne bizarrement juste. On a l'impression qu'il s'est toute sa vie comporté comme cela face à l'adversité, que c'est sa nature profonde qui parle.