Sunday, February 10, 2008


Having posted in recent days a few comments on Ségolène Royal's visit to Cambridge, I have been surprised to discover the depths of hostility that she arouses in certain quarters. Of course, since I follow French politics closely, I saw the way she was treated in the campaign by both her supposed friends and her avowed enemies. But Sarkozy, too, was and continues to be demonized. Certain excesses are inevitable in democratic politics. Still, I was not quite prepared for the abuse that could be unleashed by taking positions that Royal's detractors regard as approving or even insufficiently critical of her. Read the comments to several of the threads below. I am taken to task for failing to recognize that the former candidate is a "fake socialist," a "moron," a "Tartuffe," et j'en passe. The only possible excuse that my critics see is that I am a "naïf" and of course "a foreigner" who cannot possibly understand the complexities and subtleties or for that matter the plain and obvious truths of French political life, known to one and all of the bien-pensant. The fact that in a substantial number of the nearly 1,000 posts that make up this blog I have been rather severely critical of both Ségolène Royal and the left in general is of no moment to the critics who believe that I am at best a dupe and at worst an accomplice of "Saint Ségolène's" nefarious maneuvers.

I will not try to explain the vehemence of this outburst of negative commentary, but I think it's worth noting that, if anything, it inclines me to be a little more patient with certain past statements of Royal's that I once found exasperating. I didn't fully appreciate what she was up against.

Still, I will resist the temptation to compare myself to Joan of Arc. Saint Sebastian, perhaps. Masculinité oblige. Lucky me. I do believe that misogyny has something to do with the virulence of the attacks on Ségo, and I can't help noting that several if not all of the more outspoken negative commenters here have been women--something worth trying to understand, perhaps.

Circulation of Major Media

Re Kirk's comment to the preceding post, here are circulation figures for major French media. Here are comparable figures for the UK. Kirk's point is well taken.

The Frugal French

The New York Times this morning reports on an interesting new economic metric: paper consumption per capita per dollar of GDP per capita. Click the graphic accompanying the article and you'll discover that, by this measure, France uses significantly less paper than comparable countries such as Germany, Canada, Belgium, UK, and Netherlands--roughly 20 percent less. And consumption has decreased over the period 2000-2005, while it has increased in the UK and Netherlands.

The article relates decreased paper use to increased use of computers and networking. France, after lagging in this department for some time, has now caught up with its rivals. But I wonder if that is the whole explanation. France is clearly an outlier (along with Norway, even more extreme) in this regard.

I have a tentative (and partly, but only partly, facetious) explanation. Ils s'écoutent parler. The French love to talk so much that writing only slows them down. Why put anything on paper, when you can bend your colleague's ear over lunch? L'art de bien dire, as Marc Fumaroli might say, is alive and well in France. L'art de bien écrire is withering, as countless studies of the failings of the educational system have shown.

Media Run Amok

My defense of Ségolène Royal against a perfidious attack by Le Figaro has been translated into French and taken up by several pro-Ségo Web sites (e.g., here and here). Having attacked a newspaper of the right, I now turn my attention to a magazine of the left, whose journalistic standards in one recent article strike me as equally deplorable.

I already mentioned yesterday my astonishment that Le Nouvel Observateur had stooped to publishing what purports to be an SMS message from Sarkozy to his ex-wife. I am still more astonished, indeed dismayed, to hear the explanation offered by the journalist responsible, the editor-in-chief of Le Nouvel Obs, Airy Routier, which can be viewed here. Routier concedes that the content of the texto was entirely of a private nature, yet he claims to have served the public good in publishing it because "the President has his finger on the nuclear button." He goes on to say that since the president has made a point of mingling his public and private life, anything goes.

I find this explanation absolutely flabbergasting. To be sure, the president has commoditized his private life, and the media have found it to be a product that sells well. How they handle the transaction between supplier and retailer is up to them. But if I have a garage sale and sell you the shirt I wore yesterday, I'm not authorizing you to break into my house and steal all my suits.

As for Sarkozy's nuclear powers, apparently Carla Bruni found them attractive. She said that after Jagger and Clapton, she "wanted a man with a nuclear bomb." But the tangles of Sarkozy's love life have nothing to do with the privacy he is due, and the fact that he chooses from time to time to compromise that privacy in ways that one may find regrettable has no moral force against his right to defend the privacy of his personal communications. Yesterday a commenter remarked that Sarkozy is probably enhancing the credibility of the story by filing a criminal complaint against the reporter. That may well be, but the reporter deserves to be prosecuted, because his justification for his decision is vacuous, and the principle he has violated is one worth defending: even public figures are entitled to respect of their private lives.

Municipals Claim First Casualty

The municipal elections have claimed their first casualty on the right: David Martinon, spokesman for the Élysée, had been tapped by Sarkozy himself to continue the Sarkozyan dynasty in Neuilly, where it all began. But Le Figaro yesterday published a poll indicating that Martinon was almost certain to lose, despite campaign assistance from Sarko personally and other government personalities such as André Santini, the civil service minister, who appeared in Neuilly and said, rather maladroitly, that "a vote for David is a vote for Nicolas." Since the predicted 60-40 loss could then be interpreted as a vote against Nicolas in his own fief, the die was cast. The executioner was not the president himself but his son, Jean Sarkozy, who announced today that he was no longer supporting Martinon and would join a new "unity list" in the wealthy Parisian suburb.

Martinon ran a remarkably inept campaign. A video of him trying to ingratiate himself with les jeunes by appearing hip and anti-parent circulated on the Internet and became the butt of ridicule. Sarkozy evidently decided to cut his losses.