An angry President François Hollande of France on Friday said he was considering legal action against a glossy tabloid that published an account of his purported affair with a 41-year-old comic actress who campaigned on his behalf in the presidential election of 2012.
In a statement to Agence France-Presse, Mr. Hollande, 59, said he “profoundly deplores the violations of the respect of private life, to which he has the right, like any citizen.” He condemned the magazine, Closer, but notably did not deny its assertions. The statement said he was weighing possible action, including via the courts.
Mr. Hollande is not married but is in a public relationship with another woman. Closer, a weekly tabloid that in 2012 drew the British royal family’s ire for publishing topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge, the former Kate Middleton, that it said documented Mr. Hollande’s late-night meetings with actress Julie Gayet in an apartment building in Paris. A woman who the publication said was Ms. Gayet is seen arriving at the apartment block at night.
The pictures then show the arrival of a man resembling Mr. Hollande’s bodyguard. A second man – which Closer said was Mr. Hollande, whose face is obscured by a helmet – then arrives on the back of a scooter.
Other pictures show the first man arriving in the morning with what Closer said was a bag of croissants, then the second man in a helmet emerging from the building and jumping on the back of a scooter. Another photograph shows a woman, allegedly Ms. Gayet, leaving the building and walking down the street.
In years past, when the belief in privacy rights for French public officials was a bit stronger and when the French news media was a bit more chaste, the rumours about a love affair involving the president might have remained the unwritten gossip of Parisian journalists and the well-connected.
The amorous lives of public officials were long considered off-limits for French journalists, many of whom have themselves become involved with politicians. This was the case, for instance, with Mr. Hollande’s current “official companion,” Valérie Trierweiler, who began a relationship with Mr. Hollande while covering French politics for the magazine Paris Match.
Mr. Hollande has four children from a previous relationship with Ségolène Royal, a senior member of his Socialist Party and a 2007 presidential candidate. The couple separated shortly after she lost the 2007 election to Nicolas Sarkozy.
But the expectation that journalists will protect the privacy of the powerful has eroded steadily, if by no means completely, over the past two decades. In 1994, Paris Match published photographs of president François Mitterrand with Mazarine Pingeot, his daughter from a long-running affair. Ms. Pingeot’s existence had been kept hidden from the public but was an open secret among French journalists.
More recently, the 2011 arrest on sexual assault charges of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then a prominent politician and likely presidential candidate, caused a broad debate among French news media and society at large. Journalists had long gossiped about Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s allegedly promiscuous and sometimes aggressive sexual behaviour, including at least one allegation of rape.
There were questions about whether those rumours should have been investigated and made public, given Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s prominent place in politics, but those questions have not been resolved. At the time, many French journalists defended the choice not to report on Strauss-Kahn’s behavior, arguing that to do so would have been voyeuristic and not in the public interest.