The story of the French president’s mistresses is “fit to print” in the New York Times.
As expected, the Times approach is more serious and more sober than what you read in the tabloids. In some ways, that makes it a more damning indictment.
Elaine Sciolino and her co-authors begin by observing that, après tout, and for all his sins, President Francois Hollande is not even a man of his word:
As a candidate for the French presidency in 2012, François Hollande promised to be more boring spouse than flamboyant seducer.
Determined to set himself apart from the man he was seeking to unseat — Nicolas Sarkozy, whose marriage to the former supermodel Carla Bruni had helped make him tabloid fodder — Mr. Hollande proclaimed, “I, president of the republic, will make sure that my behavior is exemplary at every moment.”
Twenty months into his presidency, Mr. Hollande’s campaign pledge is faring even less well than the unemployment-cursed French economy.
Yes, indeed, but at least Nicolas Sarkozy had enough respect to marry Carla Bruni. Only the French know what Hollande meant when he promised that his behavior would be exemplary.
As though that were not bad enough, the Hollande drama feels more like a “bedroom farce” than Shakespeare. In France, the question would be: does it rise to the level of Moliere?
Sciolino et al. write:
Caught in a clandestine affair that is more bedroom farce than Shakespearean drama — a beautiful actress, a scorned woman at home, surreptitious comings and goings on a most unpresidential scooter — Mr. Hollande is testing the limits of France’s tolerance for private indiscretion and leaving himself vulnerable to ridicule.
This has distracted from the more important affairs of state:
Mr. Hollande’s personal drama was playing out over the past two weeks as he was making one of the most substantive decisions of his term so far, proposing to cut corporate taxes and reduce public spending, moves that unnerved the left wing of his Socialist Party but also drew plaudits from the business world.
Hollande’s supporters are assuming, as Mme Trierweiler is, that she and Francois can get through it just like the Clintons did. Apparently, Hollande has another idea. Rumors have it that he is going to dump Trierweiler for his younger mistress.
To his supporters, this is the start of a new chapter for Mr. Hollande in which he is emerging as a more mature and pragmatic leader who may be freed from what had become a complicated relationship with Ms. Trierweiler.
They are banking on the assumption that what would be a media circus to an American president will be treated as a sideshow by the French, and that the story will die down.
For now it is not dying down.
The Times offers the best explanation for Hollande’s actions:
Mr. Hollande long seems to have assumed that he could live by his own rules.
Some have suggested, despite my urgings to the contrary, that this has nothing to do with age. For the second time in his life Hollande has abandoned a fiftyish woman for a fortyish woman. To be clearer, he abandoned menopausal women for women who are not menopausal.
Even in the Times, I find no real awareness of the fact that Valerie Trierweiler attempted suicide by taking an overdose of pills. Perhaps it’s an abundance of discretion. Perhaps the Times is covering up the truth:
Members of the French public at first took the revelations in their usual sexually sophisticated stride, but not Ms. Trierweiler. People who know her well said she was so devastated by the news that she checked herself into a hospital.
Obviously, people who know her well would say that she just checked herself into a hospital. In fact, she checked into a psychiatric hospital where her psychiatrists refused to allow President Hollande to see her for six days.
Do the math.
As the story drags on, the sophisticated French are becoming alarmed. Sciolino et al. report:
“This makes the French look like idiots,” said Arlette da Rocha, who runs the restaurant Le Pressoir in Tulle, where Mr. Hollande started his political career. “He has to tell the truth. This unconventional behavior in his private life doesn’t give a clean image of the president.”
Of course, the story is made all the more salient by the fact that Hollande never bothered to marry Trierweiler.
His comments on the subject, duly reported by the Times, are damning:
Mr. Hollande never married Ms. Trierweiler, even though he described her in an interview with Gala magazine in October 2010 as “the woman of my life.” By the following February, he had curbed his enthusiasm. “The sentence was maladroit,” he said. “I should have said, ‘She is the woman of my life today.’ ”
Credit the French with savoir faire. Credit Hollande with knowing how to appeal to women voters.
The sophisticated Frenchman knows what women really, really want: to be the women of a man’s life… today.