French media reluctant to quiz Hollande over 'affair' with actress

Britain's newspapers were on Wednesday left mystified by their French counterparts' reluctance to quiz President Francois Hollande during his press conference on Jan 14, 2014, over claims of an affair, concluding "they do things differently" across t
Britain's newspapers were on Wednesday left mystified by their French counterparts' reluctance to quiz President Francois Hollande during his press conference on Jan 14, 2014, over claims of an affair, concluding "they do things differently" across the Channel. -- PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Britain's newspapers were on Wednesday left mystified by their French counterparts' reluctance to quiz President Francois Hollande over claims of an affair, concluding "they do things differently" across the Channel.

Britain's rowdy media was gleefully awaiting an inquisition over his reported affair with actress Julie Gayet as he arrived to deliver a press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

But they were left disappointed when "deferent" journalists largely left Mr Hollande free to explain a series of economic reforms.

"How odd it all felt," said the Daily Telegraph's Michael Deacon.

"For centuries we had mockingly stereotyped the French as sex-mad. When, in reality, these spotlessly abstemious souls have so little interest in sex that when their own head of state is caught up in the juiciest scandal to hit politics since Clinton-Lewinsky, they only want to ask about social security," he joked.

He asked whether the French "were mad, or are we?"

The left-wing Guardian, generally supportive of Mr Hollande's claims to a private life, admitted that "they do things differently in France".

"Would he get away with this in Britain or America? Possibly not," said the paper's columnist Jon Henley.

"But, outraged tweets by Anglo-Saxon hacks notwithstanding, this was France."

He praised the general quality of French journalism, but argued "there is a certain undeniable deference to the president, the living embodiment of the republic."

The paper carried a front-page photograph of the beleaguered leader under the headline "A very French affair".

The Times compared the developing story to the Profumo Affair, the 1963 British sex-scandal that forced the resignation of secretary for war John Profumo.

The Rupert Murdoch-owned paper said it was "clear that the big topic of the day would be treated with kid gloves by the French press corps."

"When Mr Hollande's speech ended, Alain Barluet, a political correspondent for Le Figaro and the chairman of the Presidential Press Association, seized the microphone and rose to his feet with the look of a man facing a firing squad," wrote the paper's Adam Sage.

"A couple of other French journalists did broach the issue again, but that was pretty much that. In short, they ensured that the peace had been safeguarded in the republic once again."

Mr Quentin Letts from the centre-right Daily Mail mocked those charged with quizzing Mr Hollande, who he called the "most unlikely swordsman since Inspector Clouseau".

"Before him sat a salon of oyster munchers, the powdered, poodling, truth-smothering trusties of polite Parisian opinion," he wrote.

"They are aghast that the peasants should be told about presidential legeauver (sic). No wonder they never tell their people the truth about the European Commission," he added.

Popular tabloid the Sun slammed Hollande's performance as "the dullest hour of anyone's life".

It also said his insistence on privacy was a technique used "by elites worldwide since the dawn of democracy" to "let them be seen as they want to be seen - not as they are".