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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.

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Yet of late the Sarkozy-Bruni team is taking on a royal, Camelot-like glam. The first lady wowed them in London; the album hype (all profits will go to charity) adds to the aura. "This album will have important repercussions," says Franck Louvrier, a counsellor at the Elysée, about the artistic achievement and political impact of his boss's wife.

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But not all of the repercussions to date have been positive. Commenting on the lyric about Colombian cocaine, the foreign minister of Colombia, Fernando Araújo, said that "In the mouth of the wife of the president of the republic, this is very painful for Colombia.... These things happen when you mix politics and show business."

The first-lady versus pop-star celebrity dilemma may have surfaced most clearly in a newsroom uproar at Liberation. In mid-June editor Laurent Joffrin announced that Bruni would become "editor for a day" on June 21, the day of an annual "Fete de la musique" in France. The news surprised, if not shocked, the staff, which protested that a Bruni editorship crossed the line of editorial independence at a paper that sees itself as a voice of liberal opposition, and that the enterprise can't be "neutral" if it aids the Sarkozy image-creation machinery, already a sensitive subject.

The political desk at Liberation took a middle position, with one editor stating, "We have never had a first lady singer with such an influence on the political image of her husband. We need to appropriate the topic," Liberation sources say.

After a serious and open debate, a compromise was announced: Bruni would come to the newsroom for a three-hour interview.

In the June 21 interview, Bruni distances herself from some conservative positions taken by her husband's administration, especially a controversial DNA test for immigrants that is part of a new policy inaugurated last fall.

Bruni said her basic political instincts are on the left, "But I am not a militant, I've never been one. I have the feeling that people who are completely on one side or on the other are thinking only with one part of their brain."

When asked if she had "lost left-wing friends" after becoming first lady, Bruni shot back, "No, I have real friends."

On Liberation's website, Paris media consultant Daniel Schneidermann stated that "The haziness between [Bruni's] two roles has been deliberately perpetuated by the newspaper.... You might like Bruni's songs. But then, you have to cover them in the 'Culture' pages of the paper."

On June 23, the staff voted not to write any more about the Bruni album.

Most Liberation readers seem to agree with that decision. In a deluge of 1,300 reader responses to the Bruni cover, 80 percent were negative, with one reader stating that the "phenomenon" of Liberation giving Bruni such a platform is "greater than that of the CD."

But Liberation newsstand sales on June 21 were 43 percent higher than on an average Saturday.