Sarkozy's office tampers with interview on insult
Sarkozy's office altered an interview published Tuesday in which the French president admits he erred when he called a man who refused to shake his hand a "stupid bastard".
PARIS, Feb 26, 2008 - Nicolas Sarkozy's office altered an interview published Tuesday in which the French president admits he erred when he called
a man who refused to shake his hand a "stupid bastard," the editor said.
In the amended version of the interview to Le Parisien daily, Sarkozy said
he should have ignored the man instead of trading insults during his visit at
the annual farm show in Paris on Saturday.
"I should have not responded to him," Le Parisien quoted him as saying.
According to a transcript of the original interview, Sarkozy told a reader
panel from the paper: "I should not have told him to 'get lost'," without
directly mentioning his use of swear words.
Editor Dominique de Montvalon said in a television interview the changed
sentence was added at the last minute by the Elysee palace.
"At 11:45 pm, moments before we went to press, we found ourselves with a
sentence that was not pronounced, a sentence that became the headline because
it was very interesting and very striking," Montvalon said.
"That sentence was never uttered," he told Canal Plus. "This does create a
problem and we will provide an explanation to our readers."
Sarkozy held a question-and-answer session with a panel of eight readers of
Le Parisien at the Elysee on Monday, during which he was asked about the clash
caught on video at the hugely popular farm show.
In footage posted on several popular websites, Sarkozy is seen moving
through the crowd at the fair when a man tells him: "Oh no, don't touch me."
The president, still smiling, responds: "Get lost, then."
"You disgust me," the man says.
"Get lost, you stupid bastard," Sarkozy fires back.
Sarkozy's outburst came at a time when he is struggling with a steep drop
in his approval ratings, which have plummeted to an all-time low of 38
percent, a drop of nine points in a month.
Municipal elections next month are shaping up as a test of Sarkozy's
popularity with his rightwing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party
expected to fare badly against the opposition Socialists.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon and Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier on
Monday defended the president, saying he had been insulted and had merely
responded in kind.
"It is difficult when you are the president not to respond to an insult,"
Sarkozy told the reader panel.
"Just because you're the president it doesn't mean you become someone that
people can just wipe their feet on," he said.
Le Parisien's editor said that during the interview the president had
portrayed himself as the "victim of a provocation", suggesting a decision was
made later at the Elysee that "there should be some expression of regret" in
the published version.
But Sarkozy's communications advisor Frank Louvrier insisted that in the
amended version, "We are saying the same thing, the state of mind is the same."
"We went from a two hour 15 minute interview down to three pages" of a
newspaper, he said. "The text was sent to us late yesterday (Monday) evening
and we amended and corrected it as is common practice."
One of the readers, businessman Philippe Laratte, told AFP that "even if it
was not his exact words, it was the same thing in spirit. I recognise what he
told us and what I felt. It's really just a detail."
Francois Malye, the head of the Journalists' Society Forum, said the case
raised wider questions about the French practice of submitting interviews for
checking by politicians and businesses.
"French newspapers, including Le Monde, Les Echos, very respectable titles,
have a policy of submitting interviews for editing, which I find highly