Presidential communications : when the love affair puts the political outing on the back burner
Would he talk about it at his long-planned press conference schuduled on January 14 and if he did, how would he manage to do so without affecting the rest of his speech? Conversely, if he chose to remain silent, how would he deal with the charges of contempt for citizens’ questions that silence would inevitably generate?
Since the revelations published in Closer magazine on Friday, January 10 claiming that the President François Hollande was having an affair with the actress Julie Gayet, these questions were asked over and over again on TV and radio information channels. On Tuesday morning, they made the headlines of major newpapers, calling for at least a “clarification”, if not a justification.
Yet this third press conference of his five-years term, postponed from November to January, had another purpose: to explain the government policy guidelines and put the action of the President into perspective. It has carefully been prepared as part of a fine-tuned communication plan : after a first ” teasing” at his New-Year’s address on December 31 where he announced the implementation of his responsability pact, he went into more details ten days later during a field visit to Toulouse. If he had always refused to do so in the past, everything was now set in motion for the Head of State to do his political “outing “. To all those who still doubted his political line, he would be able to assert his belief in social democracy. Reduction in unemployment will come from the creation of new jobs by firms, and not from the creation of new positions for civil servants. Supply-oriented socialism would serve as the offical creed for Hollandism.
Faced with this unexpected challenge, the President who – despite what many commentators advised him to do on the Friday already – had not « cleared the ground » prior to the press conference, had three options : to refuse to comment on private matters, to explain everything once and for all, to speak about it while refusing to answer any questions and postpone the expected clarification.
Unsurprisingly, he chose the third option that could be described as the middle-way. Using words that showed that he was hardly surprised by the first question asked by the president of the Elysee Press Association, he provided a considered question: “I understand your question. And I am sure you will understand my answer. But I have one principle. Private affairs are dealt with in private, with due respect to all parties. Therefore it is neither the time nor the place to do so. But if I will not answer any question on this subject today, I will do so by the deadline you have mentioned [the planned visit to the United States next month].
The reference made to the principle of respect for the privacy of individuals, quoted at the same time as the painful moments experienced in ones private lives, as it had already been the case when Nicolas Sarkozy spoke of his separation from Cecilia: “I have never talked about it because I think that is part of my privacy. And among the millions of people that are watching us tonight, many have probably experienced what I experienced (…). ”
Thus, the language elements used by the politician going through marital difficulties are now bi -partisan , ” trans-political currents” would have said a younger Francois Hollande.
The strategy has proven partially successful only as it has not prevented a series of questions on the incidental aspects of the Closer case. And even if since the end of the press conference, the so-called serious media are striving to equally treat the love affair and the political outing, there is a sense that both subjects are cancelling each other out : the political issue reduces the share of the personal one, but limits the effect and impact of the first topic.
And most importantly, the President has only saved a brief respite. By postponing the clarification to the right time, before to the meeting planned with Barack and Michelle Obama, he immediately opened a new period of doubts, uncertainties, assumptions, and questioning, while the implementation of the responsibility Pact is a medium and long term matter.
No doubts that the love affair will take precedence over it within the next 15 days or 3 weeks.