Hacked Macron e-mails fail to make a dent in French polls

France has no equivalent to Britain's thriving tabloid culture or the US' robust right-wing broadcast media.
France has no equivalent to Britain's thriving tabloid culture or the US' robust right-wing broadcast media.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

PARIS • Maybe it was the suspect timing of the leaked documents. Or the staggering amount and possibility that some were fake. Or a feeling among the French that, having witnessed how hacking may have altered the American election, they would not fall for the same ploy.

Whatever the reasons, newspapers and broadcasters in France have so far conspicuously avoided reporting any details of what was described last Friday night as a "massive" pre-election hacking attack on Mr Emmanuel Macron's campaign.

The contrast with the US presidential campaign was sharp: Hacking of the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton that was traced to Russia may have played a role in her defeat by Mr Donald Trump, but news of the hacking in France was met with silence, disdain and scorn.

The contrast may have been amplified further by the absence of a French equivalent to the thriving tabloid culture in Britain or the robust right-wing broadcast media in the United States, where the Clinton hacking attack generated enormous negative coverage.

"We don't have a Fox News in France," said Mr Johan Hufnagel, managing editor of the leftist daily Liberation. "There's no broadcaster with a wide audience and personalities who build this up and try to use it for their own agendas."


He also said that French voters, with the benefit of hindsight, were suspicious of destabilising developments like the ones that may have affected the vote in the US presidential election and Britain's so-called Brexit vote last June to leave the European Union.

Some Macron supporters initially feared the e-mail leaks by hackers and his inability to respond could be devastating on the eve of voting.

On Election Day, the French-language version of Sputnik, the Russian news outlet, played up social media coverage of the leaks.

But the leaks did not get much traction in France, where news outlets respected a 44-hour legal ban on election reporting before the Sunday vote. The documents landed at the 11th hour, without time for journalists to scrutinise them before the ban went into effect.

The news media also heeded an admonition by the government's campaign regulatory body not to publish false news. Mr Macron's campaign said fake documents had been mixed in with authentic ones. The bereft coverage extended into Monday night, well after the media blackout had lifted.

By then, it was clear the hacked material had caused no ill effects on the campaign of Mr Macron, who won decisively over the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

Le Monde, the country's leading daily, in an article published last Saturday, said it would scrutinise the leaked material before writing.

"If those documents contain revelations, Le Monde, of course, will publish them, after having investigated in accordance with our journalistic and ethical rules, without letting ourselves be manipulated by the publishing agenda of anonymous actors," the newspaper said.

The National Front (FN), Ms Le Pen's party, does not have the equivalent of a Bill O'Reilly or a Sean Hannity, the right-wing commentators who helped shore up Mr Trump's presidential bid. While French commentators such as Eric Zemmour, a regular on radio and television who has a column in Le Figaro, have fed into a sense of decline and insecurity that the FN tried to capitalise on politically, neither he nor other so-called neo-reactionary commentators endorsed the far-right party.

In the US, reaction to the Macron leaks was more animated, and Mrs Clinton commented in a Twitter post: "Victory for Macron, for France, the EU, & the world. Defeat to those interfering w/democracy. (But the media says I can't talk about that)."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2017, with the headline 'Hacked Macron e-mails fail to make a dent in French polls'. Subscribe