Nicolas Sarkozy, the law-and-order Interior Minister who wants to be France's next President, rarely passes up a chance to speak before an audience. So when Loïc Le Meur, one of the country's most widely read bloggers, approached him about doing a podcast interview, the answer was mais oui.
The Dec. 22 interview has created a sensation in the French blogosophere. It has attracted more than 50,000 views on Le Meur's blog, www.loiclemeur.com, and has been picked up by scores of other French blogs. True, that's a small audience compared with the millions that tune in to the nightly TV newscasts. But in France, the Sarkozy podcast -- the first ever by a French political leader -- qualified as a watershed event. Equally startling to the French, Sarkozy and Le Meur broke with customary etiquette by addressing each other with the familiar "tu" rather than "vous" during their meeting. Hundreds of viewers have posted messages on Le Meur's site in recent days, showing that French politicians can no longer ignore the growing importance of nontraditional media (BW -- July 11).
Still, the interview in the Interior Ministry's elegantly appointed drawing room didn't generate any headline news. Le Meur and Sarkozy chatted amiably about the Internet and podcasting, and Sarkozy described how, as head of the ruling Union for a Popular Majority, he has used e-mail appeals to boost party membership. On a more controversial subject, Sarkozy defended his handling of the recent rioting in the suburbs of Paris and other cities. Critics have said that Sarkozy's tough policing methods stirred unrest among minorities and that he spurred more violence when he referred to rioters as "rabble."
Le Meur says some journalists have criticized him for going too easy on Sarkozy. But, he says: "I didn't want to be confrontational. I did this mainly for my own enjoyment and to learn more myself." Le Meur is a longtime Internet entrepreneur who most recently headed the European operations of Six Apart, a supplier of software tools for bloggers. His blog, which has versions in English and French, largely focuses on the spread of blogging and other nontraditional media and has attracted a wide international readership. Although he admits he has little expertise in either journalism or politics, Le Meur says many French journalists have lost objectivity in their coverage of Sarkozy. A recent interview with him in the left-wing newspaper Libération, for example, included the question: "Weren't you ashamed of the way you responded to the riots?"
If the podcast interview was a coup for Le Meur, it also could boost Sarkozy's standing among younger voters. He could use the help. An Ipsos poll taken in mid-December, a month after the rioting ended, showed his approval rating had dipped 8%, to 53%. While that still puts him ahead of other potential presidential candidates, including Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, the poll showed a steep 18% decline in Sarkozy's support among young voters. Some of the most vocal criticism of Sarkozy has come from celebrities such as rapper Joey Starr and filmmaker Mathieu Kassovitz, who are popular among young French people.
Now, Sarkozy is mounting a counteroffensive among French bloggers, who are mainly 25 and under. He recently posted a sharp retort on Kassovitz' blog after the filmmaker called him a "little Napoleon." Sarkozy told Kassovitz that his remarks were "caricaturist" and invited the director to engage in a debate. In the Le Meur interview, Sarkozy said some celebrities had attacked him "because I am good advertising for them. They all have a film or a CD to sell."
Could other politicians follow Sarkozy's lead? Le Meur says he has already been contacted by other presidential hopefuls who are interested in being interviewed. If this keeps up, Le Meur's blog could soon become a must-read for France's political elite.
By Carol Matlack