The Minister and the illiterates: as regards communication, it’s all relative.
The same word doesn’t have the same meaning, or at least the same impact, depending on the circumstances, the place and the personality of those who use it. What is important is not so much the words used but the way they are received and perceived. And most of the time it is a question of context
Emmanuel Macron, the new minister of the economy of Valls 2 Government has just learnt it the hard way.
During his first live radio interview on Europe 1 by Jean-Pierre Elkabbach, on Wednesday September 17, he used unfortunate words or more precisely one word, which immediately agitated the Web… Whilst he was questioned on French people purchasing power and on employment, Emmanuel Macron took as an example the Gad slaughterhouses in Brittany, placed under court receivership since September, 11th, by Rennes Commercial Court. He has then declared “there are in this company a majority of women, many of them are illiterate, for many of them they are told ‘You have no future at Gad or nearby. Go to work 50 or 60 km away…’. Those people do not have their driving license… »
Using the adjective « illiterate », Emmanuel Macron unleashed social networks and then provoked the beginning of a controversy.
However, if we refer to the summary record of the last February, 18th session at the Senate, Emmanuel Macron is not the only one to have qualified Gad’s employees this way.
On February, 18th, Michel Sapin, who was at that time Minister of Labor, had himself declared during the debates at the Senate: “In Brittany, I have discussed with some guys from Gad. Not easy, some of them are illiterate…” Few minutes later, he was supported by Maryvonne Blondin, Finistère socialist senator, who reported: “I also want to add my own personal testimony about Gad’s employees. Unfortunately, it was apparent that many of them couldn’t read neither write anymore. Security rules were created from pictograms…”
It was last February… and at that time nobody took offense of the use of the word “illiterate”.
Europe 1 is not the Palais du Luxembourg, nor is «the Jean-Pierre interview» a senatorial session considering draft legislation… and Emmanuel Macron not Michel Sapin.
On the one hand a novice minister, former banker at Rothschild, and on the other hand, a former minister under François Mitterrand and then under Lionel Jospin, elected as a depute for the first time … in 1981, and former regional council president.
A young gifted man, who studied at Normale and is an alumnus from ENA, the very portrait of a claimed and exercised young up and comer, who has succeed in establishing his reputation in the public opinion in 15 days and fascinates the media, opposed to a white-haired elected politician, who has a distinguished career in terms of longevity without ever being at the front stage or in the limelight. The irony is that because of their functions within the new government, the two men are inevitably led to a sort of rivalry.
As to symbolize better this opposition, when Sapin says “the guys from Gad”, Macron says “those people”. The result therefore cannot be surprising.
If he stumbled during his first interview, Emmanuel Macron then proved that he had a thorough knowledge of crisis communication. Faced to an indisputable error, instead of trying to justify himself and to comment his own words, he decided the only efficient strategy: apologies. The very afternoon, during question time with the government in the National Assembly, he offered “his humblest apologies to employees I might have offended by saying such words, and I will never apologize enough.” He then added: “My action as Minister of the Economy will be dedicated to them, and that is what I was saying this morning”. Doing this, he put a stop to the debate.
The press conference held by the President and then the formalization of Nicolas Sarkozy’s come back should do the rest and place this event among some of communication schools’ cases study.