Those who know won't tell and those who tell don't know, as the saying goes. And those who tell in France are liable to have their blog posts taken down or be sued. But when the rumor is that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his ultraglamorous wife, Carla Bruni, are having affairs, and when that gossip starts flitting back and forth across the Channel at hyper Web speed, then in Switzerland, India, Australia—literally on front pages around the world—the gossip starts to take on a life all of its own.
The rumors paint a celebrity-rich picture. Bruni is thought to be spending an awful lot of time with Benjamin Biolay, a famous singer in France, and Sarko is supposedly finding comfort in the companionship of Chantal Jouanno, a junior minister in his government—and a married karate champion, no less!
We are, of course, seeking comment from all concerned, and we are waiting, and waiting, for responses. Meanwhile, those who got to the French presidential palace before us were told there'd be no comment whatsoever—which, of course, only makes the gossip mill grind harder.
The best analysis of this irresistible nonstory that we've seen so far is on a French subscription site, Arrêt sur Images, which follows the media closely and, in this case, chronicles the verrrrrry thin—actually, nonexistent—sourcing that has turned a few random tweets into global headlines.
According to Arrêt sur Images's pieced-together "itinerary" of the rumor, it first hit Twitter the last week of February and steadily snowballed, sometimes taken seriously, sometimes not: "Stop this Biolay/Bruni thing! It's false," said one tweet. "It's me who's doing Biolay. (Carla didn't want me ... )." One of the earliest posts clearly anticipated the storm, suggesting that the arrival of the rumor on Twitter would offer everyone "un beau bulls--t bingo." (Pardon his French.) By last week, the story was creeping into the francophone blogosphere—still all innuendo, no facts.
Then, last weekend, both Biolay and Jouanno got a lot of media coverage for other reasons. He was the big winner at the Victoires de la Musique, the French Grammys, on Saturday night. Jouanno, 40, made a comeback in team karate competitions and won another French championship.
A news site called LePost.fr ran a video montage suggestively stitching together a cable news station's report on Jouanno's karate victory, an i-Télé channel anchor wondering aloud whether Sarkozy had a chance to congratulate his minister, Biolay's prize win, and another i-Télé report that Carla Bruni was the first to congratulate the singer. Then a blogger hosted by leJDD.fr, the site of the weekly Journal du Dimanche, boldly declared in the typically French conditional tense: "the presidential couple would seem to be on the point of breaking up. In effect, Carla Bruni would seem to have fallen for the charm of Benjamin Biolay, elected best male artist at the Victoires … And at the same time, Nicolas Sarkozy would seem to have found comfort with our new champion of France in karate and secretary of State for Ecology, Chantal Jouanno."
There wasn't a word of this in the print edition of the Journal du Dimanche on Sunday. Go to the JDD Web site now and there's a notice saying the editors took down the post because it was deemed "gravely prejudicial to the private life" of the parties involved—a legal concept taken very seriously by French courts.
Alas, by yesterday the Brits had gotten a hold of the rumor, and with the whiff of legitimacy that came from its having appeared on a site run by a mainstream French publication, The Daily Telegraph fired the Web article heard round the world: "Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni ‘both having affairs.' " Essentially, the same story is splashed all over the front page of the Telegraph that's available at Paris newsstands this morning, but with much more glamorous pictures of Bruni and Jouanno, and with the added note that Jouanno's spokesman said she was "scandalized by this rumor" and was prepared to sue anyone propagating "slanderous comments."
Alas, again: French satirists, taking advantage of the global reach the rumors have attained already, are having a field day. Les Guignols, the French version of the Spitting Image puppet parody, had a Jouanno figure on its fake news show last night. The identifying title written beneath her face was "1ère dan de France," a play on the karate term "dan" and an obvious allusion to "1ère dame," or first lady, of France.
This morning's Le Canard Enchainé, the satirical and investigative weekly, is even more coy. In its regular parody "The Diary of Carla B.," it has her musing about why storms like Xynthia, which battered France badly last week, are always given the names of women. Why not Marcel? Why not Dédé? And then the imaginary Carla goes on:
"And if it were 'Chantal'? I am jealous of Super-Jouanno, at once minister, mother of a family, head of the list in the regional elections, and France's champion of artistic karate. To my mind, she's cheating somehow. But even so, I want to send her a congratulatory telegram: 'Les tatamis de mes amis sont mes amis.' " The usual saying is that the friends of my friends are my friends, but tatamis are the mats on the floor used in karate. Make of that what you will.
How much longer can these rumors go on? Probably until the lawsuits begin.