France is atwitter with rumors that President Nicolas Sarkozy and first lady Carla Bruni are having extramarital affairs -- a whirlwind of buzz started by a single tweet.
"Carla Bruni couche avec Biolay #rumeur # Sarkococu" said the Twitter post a couple of weeks ago. Translation: "Carla Bruni sleeps with Biolay," suggesting the former-supermodel-turned-singer is cheating with Benjamin Biolay, an award-winning French singer six years her junior.
Sarkozy, meanwhile, is said to have found comfort in the arms of his ecology minister, Chantal Jouanno, 40, who is married and a karate champion, capturing her 13th national title last weekend. The French presidential palace, the Elysee, has refused to comment.
The speculation grabbed headlines in foreign media, mainly British, but major French media are wavering between silence, allusion and backpedaling. A blog last weekend in France's Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche said, "It's the gossip of the moment that could become the story of the year. ... The presidential marriage is breathing its last breaths." But the blog has since been suppressed, a move the newspaper attributed to the "seriously prejudicial nature to the private life of the remarks made."
On television, the 24-hour news channel i-tele referred more or less directly to the speculation that France's first couple is engaged in extramarital activity when a commentator remarked that Bruni was the first to congratulate Biolay when he won a music award last Saturday, and wondered whether Sarkozy had found the time to applaud Jouanno on her karate title.
Historically, the French press avoids commenting on the private lives of its presidents. For years, the French media knew about the existence of President Francois Mitterand's daughter from an extramarital affair, but it was not until shortly before Mitterand's death that the French public learned about his secret daughter.
In France, the media is bound by strict privacy laws. French publications are often heavily fined for divulging information about the private lives of public figures. But more than the legal ramifications of such commentary is a long-standing journalistic consensus that what goes on in the private lives of public figures remains private. Some say that extramarital affairs are so common in France, they aren't considered news and, instead, fall more in the category of "C'est la vie." Translation: That's life.