A preliminary investigation is underway in France to find the origin of Internet rumors that claimed President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy were having affairs.
So far two reporters have lost their jobs. Both worked for a subsidiary of the Internet edition of France's Sunday newspaper "Journal du Dimanche," which repeated the rumors in a blog and started the media frenzy.
The probe was launched after the publisher of the "Journal du Dimanche," Hachette Filipacchi, lodged a formal complaint last week alleging someone fraudulently planted the story on one of its blogs. Hachette Filipacchi is controlled by one of President Sarkozy's close friends, Arnaud Lagardère
The investigation will look at "whether those creating rumors for these blogs did it for themselves or whether they were manipulated (by those) who might want to destabilize the life of the Sarkozy couple," Thierry Herzog, Sarkozy's lawyer, told RTL radio Tuesday.
Herzog added that the reports of "liaisons" by the French first couple were "totally unfounded." Herzog suggested that the rumors might have been started in an attempt to destabilize Sarkozy's position at a time when he is seeking to regulate global capitalism and France is preparing to assume the G20 presidency in 2011.
"We want to get to the bottom of this so that it doesn't happen again," Sarkozy's communications adviser Pierre Charon said last week, talking to the website of the newsweekly magazine "Le Nouvel Observateur."
Early last month, rumors that both Sarkozy and Bruni were having extramarital affairs were started by a single tweet suggesting the former-supermodel-turned-singer was cheating with an award-winning French singer six years her junior. Sarkozy, meanwhile, was said to have found comfort in the arms of his ecology minister Chantal Jouanno, 40, who is married and a karate champion.
The speculation grabbed headlines in foreign media, but major French media were wavering between silence, allusion and backpedaling. A blog on the website of the "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."
The Sunday newspaper was often cited as the source of the allegations in the international press, but the blog was quickly 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 her singer when he won a music award a few days before, and wondered whether Sarkozy had found the time to applaud Jouanno on her new karate title.
A couple of days after the rumor made international headlines, Sarkozy was forced into an angry denial at a London press conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
"I certainly don't have any time to deal with these ridiculous rumors, not even half a fraction of a second. I don't even know why you have used your speaking time to put such an idiotic question" Sarkozy replied to a question about his private life.