Former L'Obs journalist Aude Lancelin describes how how the En Marche! candidate was utterly fabricated by media in capital’s hands. First published on Agoravox, 21 April, prior to the first round vote.
It was late last year, and I had just handed in the manuscript for Le Monde libre (on my eviction from L‘Obs). My gaze wandered to the 24 hour news channel BFM TV images, amidst what remained of a Paris heatwave that had just recently finished. That was when I suddenly understood that 2017 would be a terrible year, and that the coming presidential election would not resemble anything this country had ever seen before. The country’s leading rolling news channel, the flagship of Patrick Drahi’s Altice-SFR group,was certainly not cutting any corners that 30 August 2016. Everything was laid on to cover a quite considerable event, just imagine it: the resignation from the Economics Ministry of a young gun of Hollandism, who even two years previously had still been almost unknown to the public. A scoop of planetary importance, we could see, which certainly merited the general mobilisation of all the teams working for the channel owned by this French telecoms billionaire.
The strange spectacle playing out on the country’s television sets that day was a little cherub in a suit and tie escaping the ministry at Bercy in a water bus in order to hand in his resignation at the Elysée presidential palace, pursued by the BFM TV cameras. The whole thing was shot in the blurred and distant style characteristic of the paparazzi; the image, torn from its intimate setting, of a personality delivered up despite himself to the lust of the crowds. Like Racine’s Hippolytus, the future ex-minister in question — none other than Emmanuel Macron — thus seemed caught by surprise as he saw himself “enflaming all the hearts he passed” on the Seine, in this strange national giant-screen water-skiing show.
What the TV viewer did not know at this stage was that the hearts of the bosses of the leading big firms on the Stock Exchange (CAC 40) had already been beating like crazy for Macron for quite some time, and that they all had a plan for France: to lift this little cherub, so understanding of capital’s grievances, to the presidency. At this stage he was nothing, but that was no problem. His Geppettos, the pockets full of cash and the editorial teams full of journalists, were ready to make it all happen.
This totally surrealist scene has stuck in my memory. And so, too, the over-excitement of the commentators on the panel, charged with whipping up the non-event, making this derisory twist into an event able to break the history of the world in two. Yes, that day I had the foreboding that we were getting ready to experience a propaganda operation wholly out-of-the-ordinary in both its dimensions and its character. This would be a media blitzkrieg of which the steamy Le Monde editorials supporting Edouard Balladur in 1995 or the guilt-treatment editorials in L’Obs or Libération seeking a “Yes” victory in the European constitutional referendum in 2005 were but derisory and rather rudimentary forebears. To draw a military comparison, these latter were the equivalent of the telescope used by a Victorian admiral heading for India, as compared to the observation satellites used by the US Army in our own time.
Indeed, the situation in the media has worsened spectacularly since those years, with France falling to 45th place in the 2016 “Reporters without Borders” press freedom index, somewhere between Botswana and Romania. All this owes — and we can cite the international NGO on this point — to “a clutch of businessmen with interests outside the media, who have ended up as owners of the great majority of national private media.” Never since 1945 have we seen such a situation of near-total stranglehold over the press in France.
A dreadful memory, Hollande’s term will enter history as one in which capital scored a knock-out victory over press editors’ independence. The Parti Socialiste candidate got elected also on the back of his promise to harden the anti-concentration thresholds in the media. The dwarfish bill his reign delivered up in late 2016, the so-called “Loi Bloche,” hurried to bury the problem in favour of the implementation of derisory “ethical charters” meant to guarantee the freedom of journalists. Which was rather like providing builders’ helmets to protect workers in a radiated zone. Counter to the commitments he had made, François Hollande supported telecoms giant Patrick Drahi’s 2015 buy-out of historic titles like Libération and L’Express. Drahi is well-known for his leveraged buyouts, so destructive of jobs, and his inveterate contortionism in his tax affairs.
It was also in Hollande’s term that billionaire Vincent Bolloré would take control of the Canal+ group, with the sinister consequences we already know. So, too, the 2015 buy-out of Le Parisien newspaper by billionaire Bernard Arnault, already the owner of Echos and leading press advertiser, also well known for his social progressivism, not to mention his sympathy for the plebs. But so too, after the 2010 absorption of the daily Le Monde by a trio of investors led by billionaire Xavier Niel — a monster competitor in telecoms — this same group’s swallowing up of almost all of the mainstream social-democratic press, with the 2014 purchase of L’Obs. The president of the Republic kept a close eye on this, too.
Thus in early 2016, despite his execrable popularity ratings, François Hollande still thought he had picked up as many cards as possible in the cause of reconquering his presidential seat. Alas, he had not counted on Emmanuel Macron, the Punchinello who had pocketed his new corporate friends. Yet he did this with Hollande’s consent — and that is the whole perfection of this farce. There is something biblical in the chastisement of a president, who after giving up on “making an enemy of finance” entrusted it with his own economic policy, and then found himself stabbed in the back by it — to the point of now having to publicly help along its ambitions for the presidency.
More precocious than his dupe in the Élysée, for years Macron has been placing his pawns among the media giants. Already when he was an investment banker at Rothschild’s, Alan Minc’s protégé advised the Lagardère group on the international sale of its newspapers. Also excellent were the relations Macron entertained with the sulphurous Canal+ boss Vincent Bolloré, whose passion for African democrats and editorial independence we already know so well. This ambitious young man kept absolutely none of this hidden from the journalist Marc Endeweld, author of L’Ambigu monsieur Macron (published by Flammarion). He also had very close relations with Bolloré’s son Yannick, CEO of global communications giant Havas.
With Patrick Drahi’s group, it has truly been an open-air love story, although the election period demanded the modesty of a Carmelite nun. Thus the BFM TV director-general is regularly obliged to defend himself from charges of broadcasting a “Macron channel,” though given the known elective affinities between the presidential candidate and the Altice-SFR Presse group this does not convince many. When Martin Bouygues and Patrick Drahi competed to buy up the SFR group, it was Macron himself — at that time secretary-general at the Elysée — who played a decisive role to the advantage of Drahi. And, in return, when Macron decided to launch himself into the race for the presidency in late 2016, it did not take long for the former banker Bernard Mourad — yesterday director of Altice Media Group, which is to say SFR Presse — to join his team.
In fact, it was Challenges that revealed this last piece of information — the magazine still today directed by Claude Perdriel, and itself another fervent organ of Macron-olatry. The kneeling down before him in public was both so stifling and so incontestable that even Challenges’ editors — hardly possible to suspect of any leftist deviation — complained about it in the form of a communiqué.
Yet it was with Xavier Niel — to whom Claude Perdriel sold L’Obs in 2014 — that the relations with the candidate Macron over time became a really torrid affair. It is not much to say that the avowed capitalists who desire that France become a “start up nation,” peopled with simpletons who dream of becoming billionaires, are getting along well. Yet when a TV report broadcast on France 2’s 20 heures programme announced that the boss of Free was preparing to finance Macron’s ambitions, Niel went quiet on this question. Indeed, it was difficult for the strong man of the Le Monde group to admit publicly how close he is to the En Marche! candidate, even when many already accuse the paper of being Macronism’s parish bulletin.
Questioned on LCP on 16 March, Niel only reluctantly admitted that two candidates could suit his liberal convictions, namely Emmanuel Macron and François Fillon. This second choice will only have surprised those unaware that in 2009 the Républicains’ candidate was the very man who granted him his fourth mobile network licence, in conditions that remain opaque still today.
Strangely, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s programme seems to have a much less favourable resonance in the ears of Xavier Niel, who in a recent interview for Le Temps even compared it to Marine Le Pen’s. Just like Le Monde editorial writers have been doing for weeks — a simple communion of views, the daily’s journalists will tell you. Alas their true level of perspicacity seems often little-related to their claimed function as a look-out post for democracy. A sort of “pre-established harmony” really suits all of them. To put it like Leibniz, the shareholder “substance” concerns only itself — that is, it never makes phone calls. Yet all the journalistic “substances” working under its orders seem causally inter-related to it — they are utterly in tune with it, as if enchanted by it. Here are we not dealing with quite a marvel, something wholly astonishing to contemplate?
Himself also a shareholder in the Le Monde groupe, the luxury-goods billionaire Pierre Bergé was not able to hold back from tweeting out his own Macronian ardour during the campaign: “I offer my unrestricted support to Emmanuel Macron, to be the president who takes us toward a social democracy,” we thus read on 30 January. There again, the daily’s journalists settled for averting their gaze. Some are too busy to scrutinize the oligarchical attacks on freedom of expression among our fellow press. An imprudence owing to old age, we hear it said mezza voce at Le Monde, with no evidence — alas — that such an evaluation is simply an effect of the terror to which they are subject.
A simple reading — and indeed good sense as well — would drive us to think that journalists under the yoke of their financial backers do not dare to do anything about this. Sadly, the reality is more complex. Some of them really are dying of fear — that’s a fact. Conversely, a lot of others do not feel the weight of their chains. Between finance with a cherubic face and Le Pen-ism with a feminine visage, they really think that there is no longer anything to choose, to think, to try. They have, besides, often been selected for this very aptitude, this astonishing faculty of making their own what they are commanded to think — this pre-emptive submission to the shareholders’ desiderata. Indeed, it would be unseemly if it was openly stated.
In any event, the press has hardly hurried to supply the Map of Tender allowing us to work our way through the relations between Macron and France’s tycoons. Thus throughout the campaign even truly stubborn readers will have had to settle for piecing together scattered little fragments. In early April a particularly well-informed Vanity Fair inquiry into the queen of the “media people” — Michèle Marchand, known as “Mimi” — lifted up a corner of the veil covering the private dinners between Xavier Niel and the Macrons a year before the presidential contest. “When during a dinner with the Macrons I heard Brigitte complaining about the paparazzi,” Niel serenely told Vanity Fair, “I naturally advised that she speak to Mimi.” And the journalist Sophie des Déserts specifies that it was the Le Monde group boss who organised this meeting, at his own home; a private mansion near Ranelagh [a Paris metro station] where he lives with the daughter of Bernard Arnault, who is himself the boss of LVMH [Louis Vuitton] and another big fan of the little prince Macron, whom the CAC 40 wanted to make into its loyal manager at the Elysée.
Why has no major press title thought it worth inquiring into this kind of dangerous connivance? Why, on the contrary, do we get the strange impression that throughout this campaign we have been witnesses to a slow-motion democratic putsch, with a terrible feeling of powerlessness? More than an intuition, this is a certainty; if Emmanuel Macron is elected present, we will wake up in May with another night at Fouquet’s [flash restaurant where Sarkozy gaudily fêted his presidential success in 2007, to much criticism; Macron did indeed already imitate this after the first round on 23 April, at La Rotonde], a series of revelations on all sorts of big donors, inner circles recalling the worst moments of Sarkozyism, and an unprecedented scale of collusion between the biggest industrial, media and financial interests.
Money is prowling around this candidacy everywhere — and everyone knows it. When the concrete conditions that allowed Macron to be put into orbit do finally come out in the press, post festum — and they will do so, as these things always ultimately do — the French will have nothing left but their tears. In the meantime, the “Solidarity Tax on Wealth” on the big financial assets will have been abandoned, the labour code ravaged by the blows of a series of decrees, public services severely amputated, and dividends paid all the more handsomely. Here again, a veritable oligarchic continent lies half-under the surface, ready to rise up before our eyes on 8 May. And no one thus far has thought it worth revealing it to the citizens, least of all those whose job it is — in theory — to do so, namely the journalists. As these lines go down on paper I realise the absurdity of the demand implicit within them: how can the press in these gentlemen’s hands inquire into its own — or still less, these men’s own — toxicity?
A complete picture of the stunning Macronian in-breeding of the French media would of course have to finish by mentioning the dozen front pages my former magazine L’Obs has devoted to Macron over the last two and a half years. This historic title of the “deuxième gauche” [former Socialist prime minister Michel Rocard’s idea of a post-Marxist Left] also fell into the hands of Niel and his associates, not least thanks to the collapse in the value of the media since the late 2000s. During this time there has been a single front page devoted to Mélenchon, even though he is a candidate support for whom is over-represented among young people and intellectuals, which this magazine so terribly needs to survive in this period and recover a bit of its past lustre. Just one further front page was devoted to Hamon even though he was the official Socialist candidate. A staggering editorial published four days before the first round clearly called for a Macron vote, flagrantly contravening the left-wing pluralism the magazine’s editorial team has always identified itself with.
We certainly will not be able to say that the work was not done, manu militari, to open the way to Macron. We will not be able to say that all the billionaire helpers did not get moving [en marche] — even with their zimmerframes — for this dandy with his listless flights of oratory. We will not be able to say that all the telecoms moguls who now block the free circulation of opinions did not try everything to build up this dandy, greatly strengthened by the panegyrics in their press, as well as by and inquiries never conducted.
How is it that we cannot identify any press pack member in the big editorial teams like L’Obs or Le Monde openly laying claim to the ideas of Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise, when so many of their confrères shamelessly shout out their Macronism on social media? Is it not incredible that in papers that still claim to be on the Left we cannot find any expression — leaving aside the space dedicated to outside columnists — in favour of a Mitterrandian former senator who, all in all, is doing nothing more than laying claim to the historic fundaments of socialism?
Alas, I do know the reasons for this. They are the same reasons I already explained in Le Monde libre. All ideas are tolerated in these editorial teams where, for example, in early 2016 I could hear — not without a certain astonishment — a managing editor defending François Fillon’s as the best economic programme. All ideas, that is, except those of the Left that stands up against neoliberalism. All ideas, except those today carried forth by a consistent social democrat like Jean-Luc Mélenchon, repainted by the current president of the Republic as a dictator and enemy of the West. Indeed, it is ironic that these words come from none other than François Hollande, self-proclaimed friend of the “Free World” — as the so-called West was until recently called — and who spent so much of his term visiting the oligarchs of the national press in order to try and buy an election in advance. Although even this ultimately proved a bid too far.
Entirely back in capital’s grasp — a situation unprecedented since the wake of Liberation [from German Occupation] the media will have in fewer than two years succeeded in transforming an ex-investment banker, barely out of the egg, into a possible president, without him ever having landest the slightest elected mandate. It is not saying much to point out that in the case of masters’ cherub — as in Sartrean philosophy — the passage to media existence long precedes political essence. And besides, it takes some contempt for the French people to attempt such a coup de force.
Macron is not only the continuation of used-up policies — the same ones that have Le Pen-ised the popular classes over three decades and re-established a near-slavery for certain European peoples. Macron is the return of atomized drudgery under the cover of modernity. Macron is the nineteenth century across the ages, together with its complete indifference to the suffering of the popular classes, now slightly spattered with bright colours and shades of the Silicon Valley. Macron is in reality nothing more or less than the return of the Comité des Forges [steel bosses’ union, powerful in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries] and its famous press, entirely enslaved by money from high finance and big industry. The Resistance fighters of old had once allowed the French to dream of freeing the country of all this forever, once the “Happy days” had come.
But, you will tell me, a number of the past media “operations” designed to weigh on the presidential election did ultimately fail. A spectacular breakthrough for Jacques Chirac in spring 1995 thus won out over the expected coronation of Edouard Balladur, the candidate the caste had chosen for itself. The same was true in 2005, even though a literally terrorist campaign of intimidation waged by the “circle of reason” had clattered down on the partisans of the “No” vote. All this is absolutely true. The media may sometimes miss their target in their game of pedagogy via truncheon blows, but as against the occasional mistake we can count many more successes that went unnoticed.
That is why I did not think that writing this text was entirely in vain, a few days away from the first round of a presidential contest like no other. As long as the wrong is not yet done, everything can still be undone. French people, do not let this election be stolen from you.