The media team camped all night outside the ritzy apartment building, waiting for a prominent politician to visit his presumed paramour. The photographer snapped the alleged cheater arriving in the evening and exiting in the morning.
Gotcha! In the US, it’d be a great stakeout, maybe ignite a classic sex scandal.
But the target this time was in Paris, and happened to be the president of France, Francois Hollande.
A celebrity magazine called Closer photographed him visiting an actress’s borrowed apartment less than 152m from the presidential palace. He got there on the back of a moped driven by a security guard, using a helmet to hide his identity.
But sex scandal? Mais non. This is France!
The Hollande affair is a national talker, but moral outrage appears absent. The president and the first lady, Valerie Trierweiler, pictured above, aren’t married to begin with.
At a news conference in Paris on Tuesday, none of the hundreds of reporters on hand raised the question of whether Hollande would, say, quit.
Instead, the journalists diffidently inquired whether Trierweiler, Hollande’s partner since 2007, was still the first lady, given that there is evidently another lady in the mix. Trierweiler checked into a hospital last week after learning Closer would be publishing an exposé on Hollande’s alleged trysts; her office said she was suffering from shock and needed to rest.
“Everyone has a private life and goes through difficult times,” said Hollande, who has not denied having a girlfriend.
“This is a private matter and must be dealt with privately and respectfully. This is neither the time nor the place to address it.”
At some point he will have to address it, though. He and Trierweiler were invited by US President Barack Obama in November to attend a state dinner honouring France on February 11.
The stakeout scenario has played out much differently in the US, claiming important political careers in its various permutations. After the media lay in wait attempting to prove that they had mistresses, Democratic senators Gary Hart, pictured top right, in 1987 and John Edwards, pictured bottom right, in 2008 saw their presidential aspirations consumed by infidelity scandals.
A stakeout on Clinton White House adviser Dick Morris in 1996, showing his consorting with a prostitute, led to his resignation.
Today, though, stakeouts usually involve celebrities. Some are phony, set up in advance and orchestrated by publicity agents, says Barry Levine, executive editor of the National Enquirer.
“Overall with news organisations, the stakeout, even though it’s routine in Hollywood, in terms of real scandal reporting, it’s become a lost art,” says Levine.
“That’s because it takes a lot of money and a lot of effort and organisation to mount these operations.”
For more than two months, he said, the Enquirer staked out the gated community in North Carolina where Edwards’s pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, was living; Levine was convinced the tabloid had a story that the national media essentially ignored. The Enquirer also staked out the Beverly Hilton Hotel to get the clincher photo of Edwards visiting his and Hunter’s child.
The Closer stakeout was risky, given the possibility of armed presidential security officers taking aim at the magazine’s sleuths.
The photographer on the scene, Sebastien Valiela, said he was surprised by the lack of security. “I think the president is not well protected,” he told a French radio network.
“Hats off to the magazine,” Levine said of its scoop.
Closer’s stakeout appears to be unprecedented in France, where several presidents have taken mistresses. The magazine’s tactics were not well received by either the public or other news organisations.
“Closer broke the rules,” says Laura Haim, White House correspondent for Canal + I tele, the French TV channel. “The final frontier is the private life. You cannot touch someone’s private life.”
The gossip magazine’s cover story linking the 59-year-old president to Julie Gayet, 41, may have actually stirred some support for the hugely unpopular Hollande, whom many blame for unemployment, high taxes and a general economic implosion.
“It’s making a mountain of a molehill,” said Peggy Sejourne, 40, who works for an insurance firm in Paris.
“For me, the real problem is the devolution of the comportment of the press in its dealings with the private lives of politicians.”
Some who watched the president’s lengthy, traditional new-year news conference on Tuesday said Hollande acquitted himself well.
“I think he did a good job by simply refusing to engage in a debate on private matters,” said political scientist Dominique Moisi.
“In the end people were able to listen to his message” on matters of state.
As for the looming state dinner, a White House official offered this statement: “The president looks forward to welcoming President Hollande in February.”
No mention of whether Holland will bring a date. – Washington Post