Nicolas Hulot’s communication
By rushing to be interviewed by BFMTV the day before the broadcast by “Envoyé Spécial” of the investigation on him, Nicolas Hulot applied the No. 1 rule of crisis communicators: « speak first » in order to « defuse ».
This strategy had been particularly successful in 2018 when L’Ebdo published, for its first issue, an article on the complaint filed against him by Pascale Mitterrand. It was already BFMTV which interviewed him when he was Minister of State, Minister of Ecological Transition and Solidarity. He had expressed himself at that time and denied in block the accusations reported by two journalists. This was followed by a whole series of demonstrations of support at the highest level, from the President of the Republic to the Prime Minister, up to a long op-ed, published in Le Journal du Dimanche, by the junior minister for Women’s Affairs, who vouched for the innocence of Nicolas Hulot.
The rescue operation was successful: the minister remained in the government (for a few months) before leaving it in a shocking manner, live on a public service radio station, while L’Ebdo filed for bankruptcy shortly afterwards. Bernard Kouchner, questioned a few years earlier by Pierre Péan for his links with France-Africa, had followed exactly the same communication strategy with the same result.
The growing reactions to last Thursday’s broadcast of “Envoyé Spécial” tend to show that this new attempt at cover-up has not met with the same success, far from it. First of all, it should be noted that Nicolas Hulot, through his statements, has ensured a remarkable and very effective promotion of “Envoyé Spécial” which was followed by 3.35 million viewers, against 1.7 million for the previous issue, making France 2 the No. 1 channel of the evening (which happens very rarely).
Moreover, in 2018, Nicolas Hulot had contradicted the accusations against him with vigor. By focusing this time his communication on the refusal to defend himself (for 35 minutes by the way) on the grounds that « the words of women are holy », he was condemned in advance. The former television host wanted to avoid entering a discussion on each testimony, he wanted above all to give credence to the idea of a sort of “witch trial” or to appear as the scapegoat of a cause that has become worldwide. But the broadcasting of the very careful investigation by France 2, and in particular the emotion and pain so palpable in three of the « witnesses » testimonies, more than 30 years after the facts, have left no credibility to this defense system. And they only underlined the total lack of empathy and the egotism of Nicolas Hulot, to the point of triggering new denunciations. Finally, by declaring his definitive withdrawal from public life, he sent a message about his possible guilt, as Jean-Michel Blanquer, the Education Minister, very subtly pointed out in the France-Inter morning show, which was undoubtedly not the one he wanted to convey.
There are no good rules without exceptions and the media fiasco of Nicolas Hulot’s communication proves it. It also leads us to question the role of certain media and their acceptance to be instrumentalized, in the name of their own race for ratings. An instrumentalization which did not work in this case but which could have modified the perception of the opinion on a subject whose gravity would have deserved a true journalistic treatment.