An affaire d'état? Two affaires de tit for tat? Or just an affaire de twitter which proves to be tat?
The French first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, said last night that she "trusted" her presidential husband "never" to have affairs. Good for her. And for him. But why is that news?
France is allegedly awash with rumours that both Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla are involved in liaisons dangereuses. France is, in truth, not awash with such rumours. The reports have spread, unverified, from Twitter to the blogosphere to some parts of the international press, without ever being given credence by the French mainstream media.
Are they true? According to one French magazine, L'Express, the rumour began as a hoax by a French trainee journalist. He wanted to see how easy it was to get an unverified assertion from the chat website Twitter on to random blogs and into the mainstream media. If so, he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. The Carla and Sarko "rumours" have appeared in newspapers in Britain and Italy and websites in the United States.
The L'Express report of a hoax cannot be verified either. No one has yet come forward to claim the credit for starting the rumour rolling. Readers of The Independent will have to make up their own minds. Or at least listen to Ms Bruni-Sarkozy. As a result of the rumours, Sky News last night brought forward the release of an interview with her which was recorded this week but was to have been broadcast later this month. She was not asked directly about the rumours. But she was asked whether she feared that he might have affairs.
"Do you trust him?" the interviewer, Anna Botting, asked. "Oh yes – very much," Ms Bruni-Sarkozy replied.
"I mean the rumours are that he had many affairs [during previous marriages] – but you trust him ... ?" "Oh yes – very much. He would never have affairs ... and have you ever seen a picture of him having an affair?"
Ms Botting went on: "I was just wondering if Nicolas Sarkozy is a keeper as we say in the UK, is he for keeps – is he forever?" Carla: (long pause):"I guess marriage should be forever but who knows what happens. I wish it was forever, that's my hope ... but we could be dead tomorrow."
Asked about being in the public eye – and the many rumours that swirl around about her – Ms Bruni-Sarkozy said: "I must say that maybe 99 per cent of things that people are saying are wrong ... .but it was always like that, even before my marriage ... Some people invent, I guess. I don't really care, I don't really pay attention to it, I must say."
The Elysée Palace last night refused to comment on the rumours.
President Sarkozy and Ms Bruni-Sarkozy, a top model turned pop singer, were married in February 2008 after a whirlwind romance following the collapse of the President's second marriage.
The President is to make a visit to Britain without Carla on Friday. Her absence has been interpreted as "further evidence" of a rift. However, the President is on a brief working visit – not a state visit like the two-day jamboree in the summer of 2008 when Carla's presence dominated coverage in the British media. It was never intended that Ms Bruni-Sarkozy would join him this week.
The rumours that both the Sarkozys were having affairs began on Twitter and spread from blog to blog in France in recent days. They appeared, somewhat dismissively, in a blog on the site of the Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, but have never appeared in print in France.
The news magazine L'Express said on its website last night that the rumours had been started by a "journalist intern" or trainee as an exercise to test the gullibility of the media. It said that the reports had been picked up by the blogs of "respected" web journalists but only as a "running gag". The blogs had, inadvertently, given credence to the rumours and allowed them to make the leap into Italian and British newspapers, which reported this week that "all of France" was chattering about the alleged affairs.
A modern media morality tale?