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French Sex Scandal Stirs Fears Of The 'Americanization' Of Political Life


Now to a story about something that never happens in France; a politician stepping aside because of something in his private life. The politician is Benjamin Griveaux. He was running for mayor of Paris until texts and videos he sent to a woman were leaked and shared on social media, a woman who is not the woman he is married to and with whom he has had three kids. In The Atlantic, writer Rachel Donadio makes the case that l'Affaire Griveaux might mark the end of an era in which French public figures were able to keep their private lives private. She joins us now from Paris.

Rachel Donadio, welcome.

RACHEL DONADIO: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: So what has people scandalized here? Is it that he had an affair? - that he got caught? What is it?

DONADIO: Well, first of all, we're not sure he had an affair. He definitely exchanged some quite racy images and texts with the woman who isn't his wife. But what really has people scandalized in France is the fact that these were published and it violated his private life.

KELLY: To give people some sense of what we're talking about here, I mean, is this kind of France's answer to the Anthony Weiner scandal that we all lived through here in the U.S.?

DONADIO: It's even stranger because the person who leaked these texts is a Russian performance artist. And he put these on a website, saying that Griveaux had been a hypocrite because he was married to someone else, and yet he had exchanged these texts with another woman. So there's a whole strange Russian element here, too.

KELLY: You mentioned that the people in France have long tended to believe that a politician's life should be private and that, in this case, they are denouncing what they see as the Americanization of French political life. Does that suggest that, for the most part, French people support his right to privacy - Griveaux's right to privacy?

DONADIO: I think that's definitely true. That might be eroding a little bit. But you just think that Francois Hollande, the president in 2014, of course, was the subject of a tabloid sting in which a tabloid magazine published pictures of a woman with whom he was having an affair. And that was kind of seen as the beginning of the violation of private life here. But what's different in this Griveaux case is that these were messages and videos exchanged online, so this all is happening in the context of big data, of the vulnerability of public figures to online threats.

KELLY: Well, it has also changed here that Griveaux actually dropped out of the race to be mayor of Paris. As you note, France had already started down that slippery slope of making politicians' private lives public with Francois Hollande and that sting where he was photographed on his moped, showing up to deliver croissant to the actress with whom he was having an affair. It happened. It was made public, but he didn't step down as president.

DONADIO: That's right. And that is exactly what is new in this case - that Griveaux stepped down. And I do think that many people in France think that it's stunning that he would step down. I also think that in the context of #MeToo, the world has changed dramatically in the last few years. And the kinds of things that politicians - even in France - think they're entitled to do, that has changed. There's this sense that there's this Americanization, that American morality made him do this, and people are resisting that. They think it's not a great idea, that he should still be entitled to his private life.

KELLY: In this #MeToo moment and on a somewhat related note, I wonder what has been the reaction in France to the guilty verdict on two counts for Harvey Weinstein?

DONADIO: France has not really had its full #MeToo moment. That hasn't come to France. I think there's this sense that no one has been brought to trial in France in the way Harvey Weinstein was brought to trial in the United States. There's a sense that America has gone too far. Some people believe that in France. I think it's a very much a generational divide. I think an older generation of cultural figures thinks, oh, Americans, they're - they've gone crazy, and they're too politically correct. And they do all these, you know, this - a witch hunt. And you definitely sense that among older, male French cultural figures. At the same time, there's a younger generation that, I think, is more in tune to the spirit of what's happening in the United States with #MeToo and that is waiting for it to come to France and make changes here.

KELLY: That is Rachel Donadio of The Atlantic speaking to us there from Paris.

Rachel, thanks so much.

DONADIO: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.