Satirical mag laughs off slur on its integrity. Uproar as national favourite Le Canard enchaîné is accused of cosying up to Sarkozy's regime. Par Lizzy Davies, The Observer, à lire en ligne ici.
The French satirical newspaper Le Canard enchaîné is no stranger to investigations. Its tenacious journalists have, over the years, brought down politicians, exposed fraudsters and struck fear into the heart of even the most bumptious of Presidents. But the independent newspaper, with its columns and cartoons lampooning the rich and the famous, is rather less familiar with having the detective's inquiring eye cast on its own affairs.
Last week the Paris media landscape was shaken by an explosive row between Le Canard's editor and two senior reporters on other publications who have published a book claiming to reveal the dark side of what is a beloved national institution.
Accusing it of working hand-in-hand with the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy and using senior figures within his entourage as sources and supervisors of its articles, Le vrai Canard ('The real Canard'), is a no-holds-barred attack on the publication's ethical code and moral integrity.
Its authors, Karl Laske from the newspaper Libération and Laurent Valdiguié of Paris Match magazine, paint a picture of an ageing and misogynist staff whose reputation for crusading journalism has been compromised by a reliance on benevolent government informants and an often lazy attitude to the truth.
'The independence of the Canard has been undermined while we expect it to stand up to the powers that be,' concluded Laske last week.
The book's allegations were rejected in typically boisterous style by Le Canard's editor, Michel Gaillard, who devoted a sizeable chunk of last week's front page and a large part of the inside to chastising its authors. 'It is not looking to reveal the "hidden face" of our weekly but merely to damage it and besmirch it,' he wrote, in a reference to the 2003 book The Hidden Face of Le Monde, which revealed corrupt practices at the heart of France's most respected daily.
Le Canard had been the victim of previous attacks, Gaillard said. 'But none of them as nasty or as crude as this one.'
Among the book's most serious charges is that the paper's front-page spoof diary of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is largely informed by one of her husband's right-hand men, Pierre Charon, 'in order to send out the right message'.
Laske and Valdiguié also claim that Brice Hortefeux, France's hardline Immigration Minister, is one of the chief sources for its political scoops. According to them, a journalist 'goes to see Hortefeux every Sunday evening' to pick up titbits from the week's events.
Gaillard rejected what he acidly termed the book's 'worldwide scoops'. 'Hortefeux is one of the ministers who has been pilloried the most on our pages,' he wrote. 'Not a week goes by that he is not roasted because of his hunting of immigrants and sans-papiers.'
In reference to the 'Journal de Carla B' rumours, he said simply: 'Seriously, who could believe that Le Canard would entrust one of its most read columns to a colleague of Sarkozy? Even one line!'
In last week's diary, the protagonist herself ruminated solemnly on the affair. 'I did not know I was such a profound writer, capable of stringing together sentences with double meanings and maxims with triple meanings,' she wrote. 'Soon people will be talking more about this intimate diary than my CD. Ah!'
The 'vrai Canard' affair is bound to reverberate for some time to come, however. It has already caused some people to call into question the continuing merit of what President Charles de Gaulle used to refer to, with a mixture of intense loathing and grudging respect, as 'that damned bird'.
But many point out the importance of a publication which shuns advertising yet still makes a healthy profit.
Daniel Schneidermann, a veteran writer who was sacked from Le Monde after writing a book critical of France's media, said that, for all its alleged faults,
Le Canard was proof of survival outside the 'diabolic sphere' of advertising-dependent journalism. 'A totally independent newspaper, even if it has the occasional wobble, is more essential than ever,' he said.