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Posts Tagged ‘scandal’

Rumors have been flying that both France President Nicholas Sarkozy and his wife, singer/model Carla Bruni, have strayed. By American standards, things are pretty far along: Bruni is said to have fallen in love and moved in with popular French singer Benjamin Biolay. Meanwhile Sarkozy has supposedly taken up with right-wing politician (and former karate champion) Chantal Jouanno.

But between strict national privacy laws and the notorious French indifference to the personal pecadillos of political figures, no one seems inclined to confirm these rumors, least of all, the French mainstream press.

The whispering, such as it is, is taking place in — where else — the blogosphere. Three French-language blogs are reporting on the supposed affairs, though the one I read did not seem to constitute confirmable information. Besides, why would a mainstream editor risk angering public figures to follow a story that does not, in the French version of politics, relate to the political? As the French themselves might say,  “Ca ne fait rien.”

Contrast this attitude with the United States, whose tabloid culture permits pusuit of almost any public figure. Ever since Presidential candidate Gary Hart challenged journalists to “catch him in the act” with  model Donna Rice, the personal lives of politicians have become fair game for former celebrity-chasing papparrazzi. The National Enquirer is being considered for a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the John Edwards affair, a turn of events which must have mainstream editors of old spinning in their graves.

The cultural difference is clear. The French, as one reporter noted, believe public figures should be judged not on their “sentimental lives” but on their work. He observed that former presidents Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac both had mistresses without suffering any political fallout. Sarkozy is different: a highly public and flamboyant figure whose apparent need for the spotlight and lack of discretion might lead voters to conclude his private life has impeded his ability to fulfill his public duty.

Then again, it depends on how public he chooses to make his supposed affair, because this is not a story that will be printed (or confirmed) without Sarkozy’s tacit approval. Not so in this country, where our journalists feel an almost sacred obligation to follow the rumor and pull the story out into the light of day. Their reasoning, which we have frankly provided for them, is that the private doings of public officials become our business when they take an oath to serve us.

Clearly, we have cultural differences with the French. A “man on the street” interview in Paris found that most people, whether disappointed or not (no one seemed particularly shocked), didn’t automatically see a worrisome connection between the private activities of the first couple and the political necessities of the job. That view is anathema to many Americans, who hold that knowing how public (or spiritual) leaders conduct their private lives will tell us how honestly and effectively they will conduct their public ones. Viva la difference, one might say.

Of equal interest is what publishers, editors, and journalists feel needs to be reported. In France, the press tends to be in a laissez faire mode when it comes to covering the personal comings and goings and doings of the ruling class, a frame of mind not usually challenged by its readership. In the United States, scandal sells, especially scandals involving elected officials.

In the end, we may all agree that politicians are scoundrels but in France, that non-newsworthy item is greeted with a shrug; here, it’s greeted with both righteous indignation and the sort of pruient interest that can earn a tabloid a top journalism prize.

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Five rabbis, three mayors, and two state Assemblymen walk into a bar…wait, you’ve heard that one? Okay, how about: a councilman and a businessman meet in a diner? That too? What about the one about the developer, the adulterous brother-in-law and the hit-man or the governor and the boyfriend he put in charge of Homeland Security, or the Senator and the Korean entrepreneur or the union official and the…never mind. You’ve obviously heard them all. If you haven’t, read “The Soprano State, New Jersey’s Culture of Corruption” by Bob Ingel and Sandy McClure. The book never goes out of date; they just keep releasing new versions.   

The Soprano State

As anyone who is paying attention knows (and if you aren’t, New Jersey will grab you by the lapels and get all up in your face until you are), 44 people were indicted on bank fraud and corruption that involved land, body parts, and wads of cash stuffed in pockets, envelopes, and even a box of Apple Jacks. As New Jersey’s acting US attorney Ralph J. Marra, Jr. noted, “They existed in an ethics-free zone” which New Jersey apparently provides without the onerous taxes imposed on the rest of its citizens. No matter, btw, that some of the leading figures were from Brooklyn; Jersey will take the hit. arrest

I live in New Jersey and I’m not alone in wishing my home state would stop supplying fodder for late-night comedians (although I’m secretly hoping Andy Borowitz takes it up). But seriously, the culture of corruption is so entrenched in the Garden State, that, as Mr. Marra pointed out, the good citizens “don’t have a chance…”

I have a good friend who, though not by nature a paranoid person, pointed out something else perhaps  no one is going to address, at least not publicly: the perpetrators of this scheme appear to be Jewish. They were devout, but their devotion seems to be to the Almighty dollar. On top of madoffMadoff, this is, to my friend’s way of thinking, a disaster for anyone identified as a Jew, which would include me, notwithstanding I am thoroughly lapsed.

It hadn’t occurred to me that this could at all be tied to me. Who stereotypes like that? People stereotype in other ways (“Oh, that explains your sense of humor”) but that can’t be all bad. And yet, looking at the picture in the Times, I felt a familiar tightening of the stomach. (I also thought for some reason of a busload of elderly New York Jews heading to Atlantic City but never mind). Here we go again: Jews and money. Money and Jews. Fraud and deceit and manipulation and money laundering and Jews. Evil Empire, economic manipulation, Zionist plot, world domination. Shylock. Shylock

I know, paranoid, right? This kind of scandal hurts lots of people. Italians who are sick of being caricatured as characters out of an HBO series. Women who don’t have big hair and lots of jewelry. Long-time residents who love the state. Politicians who are just trying to do their jobs honestly. It’s about assumptions and greed and entitlement and perhaps an environment that makes it far too easy to take the money and run. I can always move to North Carolina or wherever fed-up New Jersey residents are flocking these days.

My friend is blunt: “These guys are perpetrating an image that infuriates people. And let’s not forget what happens when people become infuriated with Jews and blame them for their problems.”  Paranoid? It is. Still, one hates to feed the beast.

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