October 29, 2007

Sarkozy Vs. 60 Minutes: Not Exactly The French Revolution



Not since June of ’04 was I prepared to get as much pleasure out of a TV interview.  (That was when Washington correspondent for Irish television, Carole Coleman, put Bush between Iraq and a hard place.)

In this incident, what appeared to have happened (in the most delicious way) is that French President Sarkozy stood up to Leslie Stahl and a 60 Minutes film crew for being grilled over his personal life.  The look on Stahl’s (reconstructed) face when Sarko walks out is worth a million dollars for the comeuppance.  (Video here.)  And, in a second clip with the original audio, after Sarkozy walks, there’s Leslie from Page Six calling out: “What was unfair?!”

But then, studying the first clip, it doesn’t quite make sense what caused Sarko’s eyebrows to hit the ceiling when they did, and what set him off so.  Certainly, he was expecting to be asked, even leaned on, about his wife’s walking out on him.  So, what was the problem? 

What I believe happened was a misunderstanding (partly due to Stahl’s phrasing, or gesturing? or Sarko’s dependence on a translator? or, mostly, the sensitivity of the subject?) based on what Sarkozy heard.  (Notice, in the sequence above, first Sarko seems completely surprised, then Stahl — rather than pleased for cutting his jugular — seems genuinely confused why he’s storming off.)

Here’s how I understand it…

When Stahl pressed Sarkozy about people wanting to know about his relationship, he answered that even if he had something to say, he wouldn’t share it with 60 Minutes.  Stahl then persisted, emphasizing how everybody keeps asking about it.  Pointing off camera toward Sarkozy’s staff, Stahl then said:  “Even your press secretary was asked at your press briefing today about it.”  What I believe happened at that point, however, is that Sarko thought she said: “Even your press secretary was asking about it.“  At least, that’s what the eyebrows that nearly dented the ceiling seemed to indicate.  Apparently, Sarko heard “mutiny.”

This account seems more understandable when we hear Stahl, in a voice-over in the second clip, note how Sarkozy lambasted his press secretary before he walked off.  In the first clip, you can also see how Sarkozy turns and goes on a rant while glaring at the poor guy, who is standing (as seen in clip two) against the far wall.

Before examining more closely, I was ready to wrap up this story with the declaration:

It’s about time somebody told one of these invasive Bab-wa Walters cheap-ratings infotainment clones to take a leap.

But alas, I think the incident was more inadvertent than that.  Rather than standing up to a shallow media, Sarkozy — prideful and green on the international stage — simply lost it.


(Update 12:25 EST: Slightly revised for content. Also, the second clip is now accurate.)

(screen shots. CBS Video via You Tube.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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