French first lady tweet makes headlines for slighting Hollande's ex

French first lady tweet: Valerie Trierweiler, French President François Hollande's partner, has riled the political class with a tweet that she's backing the opponent of Hollande's ex-partner Segolene Royal.

Francois Mori/AP
This May 6 file photo shows French president-elect François Hollande reacting to supporters with his partner Valerie Trierweiler while celebrating his election victory in Bastille Square in Paris, France.

It’s being called “the First Gaffe” and “Tweet-gate.” 

Europe faces a deepening economic crisis, but in Paris the buzz is all about a tweet from the new first lady, Valerie Trierweiler. 

The story exploded yesterday after a Tweet-slap by Ms. Trierweiler at political figure Segolene Royal, who is the former romantic partner of Trierweiler's man, President François Hollande.

Trierweiler, the first unmarried French first lady and sometimes called the "first girlfriend," made headlines last week by saying she would remain a journalist for Paris Match, comparing her role to that of Eleanor Roosevelt

Now Trierweiler is back on Page 1 after supporting Ms. Royal’s opponent in June 17 parliamentary elections, even though Mr. Hollande and most of the big Socialist Party guns are going all out to support Royal. Trierweiler is causing a small storm both by backing Royal's opponent and for playing a de facto role in French politics as an unelected public figure. 

Trierweiler’s Tweet-heard-around-Paris read: “Good luck to Olivier Falorni who is a worthy candidate…For years he has been fighting with selfless commitment for the people of La Rochelle.” It was the No. 1 social media trend on the day.

“We thought politics would be boring with a normal presidency,” says the French editor of Elle, Valerie Toranian, alluding to Hollande’s characterization of himself as “Monsieur Normal.”  “But this is fun.”

Royal, mother of Hollande’s children and the 2007 French presidential candidate (before Hollande left her for Trierweiler), is in the political fight of her life. She wants to be the speaker of the French lower house, but for unknown reasons, Royal decided to leave a safe seat that she had held for 14 years and carpetbag into the La Rochelle district.

The local Socialist candidate, Olivier Falorni, is much-loved and respected in the district and has refused to follow party orders and step aside. He is running anyway as a dissident independent. In Round 1 of elections on June 10, Mr. Falorni scored 29 percent to Royal’s 32 percent. The Socialist party fears that French right voters will now switch to Falorni, possibly leaving Royal in political purgatory.

The party's all-out campaign to save her has been comically referred to as “Saving Private Royal.”

A common phrase in Paris, “mélange des genres,” signifies a mixture of public and private life in French politics. Notionally, the French would like to keep the two separate, but they aren’t always able to do so.

Trierweiler and Royal are known to be antipathetic. During the campaign, Trierweiler sent messages to journalists at Paris Match who didn’t use the phrase “ex-partner” to describe Royal’s relations with Hollande.

In confirming to Le Monde yesterday that the Trierweiler Tweet was not a hoax, one Elysees Palace advisor said, “I am completely stunned. I expected a governmental crisis, but not a conjugal crisis.”

“It’s a very French circumstance,” says Peter Gumbel at Sciences Po in Paris, “The French want private and public affairs to be regarded as separate issues. Look at how DSK [former IMF chief Dominique Strauss Kahn] first treated the sex scandals last year. But this proves difficult. Recent French presidents like [Nicolas] Sarkozy have had incredibly complicated private lives.”

Mr. Sarkozy was divorced and remarried while in office and his private affairs constantly spilled into the public realm in a way the French public was not used to. It ended up being a detriment to Sarkozy politically.

Add to this a proclivity of relationships and marriages between journalists and politicians – three Socialist ministers are married to members of the Fourth Estate – and Paris becomes a petri dish teeming with gossip and innuendo.

French media has gone into overdrive dissecting and deconstructing the meaning of the Tweet, asking if Trierweiler’s shot at Royal will have negative political consequences for Hollande and whether it is a case of female jealousy (Trierweiler gamely denied this yesterday) or an indirect way for Hollande to support Falorni, an old friend and ally who supported him during a period of political isolation a few years ago.

The format of a Tweet is being discussed as well, since it appears to allow Trierweiler to express her direct views without having to give an official interview as first lady or unofficially "leak" her views to the press in a way that would make it appear as merely rumor.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.