If the first lady is a pop star, French media melt like Boursin
A new CD from Carla Bruni may produce another boost for Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency. Meanwhile, the French media struggle with objectivity.
Some sticklers in the French press have a problem: How much attention is appropriate when the president's wife is about to release the country's first first lady album?Skip to next paragraph
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Since Carla Bruni married French president Nicolas Sarkozy in February, the aristocratic former Italian fashion model has traveled and spoken so well that the initial French skepticism about her has melted.
Ms. Bruni is taking on an almost Jackie Kennedy-like aura in Europe – just as France takes over the rotating EU presidency. The "Carla factor" has proved a boon for Mr. Sarkozy, whose approval ratings had sunk to 25 percent in May.
But as Bruni, a singer-songwriter, prepares to release a CD, "Comme si de rien n'était" ["As if nothing happened"], French editors are struggling to draw a line between her pop-star celebrity and her role as a first lady. The 14-song album is her third: her first reportedly sold nearly 2 million copies, and made her France's top selling female singer in 2003.
Yet the very frenzy to book Bruni to "exclusive" interviews and front-page photos has editors and reporters here asking: Can the French fourth estate stay objective – or at least avoid the appearance of favoritism in covering a president – if the photogenic first lady is sashaying from newsroom love fests to bubbly broadcast studio sessions?
"Nobody disputes the interpreter's talent. But her status has changed. As the President of the Republic's wife, she is no longer a singer like another," stated Société Journalisme – a professional journalists' group within France Inter, a public radio network – responding to a deal the management struck with Bruni.
Bruni's album, to be sure, has been the talk of Paris at a time when Sarkozy's popularity ratings are rebounding, polls show. In the lyrics of one song, "Tu es ma came," Bruni edifies her husband and his masculinity by comparing him to a drug, "More lethal than Afghan heroin, more dangerous than Colombian white [cocaine]… My guy, I roll him up and smoke him."
In Paris, such lyrics have media owners wrestling to capture and profit from the Bruni mystique. French weekly magazines Le Point and VSD put her on the cover. Le Figaro, a center-right daily newspaper, also did a cover shot. The daily Liberation, a traditional bastion of the left, put Bruni on page 1 and ran a five-page interview in news space. France 1 TV will air a prime-time interview on July 11 – the day the album goes on sale in Europe.
The timing helps as Sarkozy assumes the six-month European Union presidency, outlining his plans in an hour-long TV interview Monday. He said he will concentrate on immigration, defense, energy, the environment, agriculture, and his most ambitious project: the July 13 launch of a new Union for the Mediterranean.
Sarkozy's ratings plummeted this winter. A series of publicized gaffes, culminating in a widely watched YouTube of the oft-explosive president spitting out an epithet at a farm show, contributed to French doubts about whether his reforms were doable. The first French president to be divorced in office, and remarried in office, was also embarrassed by press about his ex-wife. France was growing tired of the public soap opera from a politician the media sometimes compared to Napoleon because he demanded center stage attention at every event.