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French weekly magazines review 20 November 2016

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The usual suspects show up on this week's front pages - Trump, Le Pen, Fillon, Juppé and Sarkozy. Is it any wonder magazine sales are on a slide into oblivion?


This week's magazine covers could give sensitive readers nightmares . . .

L'Express has a smiling picture of the US president-elect and the headline "Trump and us". In this case the "us" means everybody, notably the Chinese who look like a lot of dollars to The Donald, then the Russians whose businesslike dishonesty is probably Trump's second language, and finally Europe, a dark place of ruins, confusion and something called culture, better left to collapse under its own dead weight.

Le Nouvel Observateur goes for a double whammy, pairing Trump with French far right leader Marine Le Pen on the front page and asking a range of political and cultural icons to explain how we can avoid the horrors inherent in the current wave of victories by yobbo candidates. The simple, chilling, answer is we can't.

A glimpse of the America that elected Trump

I can't resist a passage from an article by Dave Eggers in the Guardian, which is neither French nor a weekly. Still.

Eggers tells the story of two Clinton campaign workers doing door-to-door canvassing in Milan, Michigan, an overwhelmingly white town 50 miles south-west of Detroit. It’s spelled like the Italian city but locals call it "My-lan". Milan voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, so it was an important place for Hillary Clinton.

The homes the Democrat campaigners visited were rundown, with “No Soliciting” placards on every door. They saw no Clinton signs on anyone’s lawn. There were Trump signs scattered around town but most of the residents they met were disgusted by the entire election. “One woman said, ‘I hate them both, including that guy of yours.’ When her told that Clinton was, in fact, a woman, she said, ‘Whatever’ and slammed the door.”

Meanwhile, here in France . . .

Le Point prints the mugshots of the three likely lads - François Fillon, Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy - the leading contenders in today's French right-wing primary . . . and asks the question "Can anyone get elected by telling the simple truth?"

The answer, in the wake of Brexit and Trump, would seem to be simply no, it implies. So, where does that leave French voters called upon to help the right and centre choose the best man or woman to contest next year's presidential election?

The philosopher Cynthia Fleury, one of the experts asked by Le Point to explain what's wrong with modern politics, puts it very simply: "Democracy," she says, "is not a regime based on truth." Especially in the age of internet and instant access. Every voter creates his own "truth zone" based on a personal selection from the megatonnes of lies, damned lies and statistics made available on the web every nanosecond.

Conspiracy to get Sarko reelected?

The weekly magazine Marianne gives the cover to Nicolas Sarkozy, not because they like the former president but because they believe there's a dark conspiracy involving the finacial world, the media and the big bosses to make sure Sarko gets back to the top job.

In fact, like all the best conspiracy theories, there's not a shred of serious evidence inside the magazine to support the claim made on the cover.

The unhappy lot of the opinion pollster

What the magazine does offer, however, is a glimpse of the nightmare world of the opinion pollster. The credibility of popular polls has never been great. In the wake of Brexit and Trumpit, most people would rather believe in Santa Claus than in a predicted outcome.

The problems of this contested profession are many and deep:

  • People don't always tell the truth when being interviewed by strangers, especially about something as intimate as their political beliefs.
  • The editors who pay for the polls want something dramatic to tell their readers, so the results have to be adjusted to produce headlines which are compelling but probably untrue.
  • The 2.5 percent margin of error used by French pollsters means that any difference of less than five percent between two candidates is no difference at all.
  • And the polling companies keep a close eye on the results of their competitors, meaning that any shock outcome will probably be considered an error and be normalised to fall into line with the results of polls already published.

After which Marianne warns that Sarkozy can still win this primary and become the French president for a second time.

That, says the left-wing magazine, would be a catastrophe, not in political or ideological terms but in moral and patriotic ones.

They really don't like him at all.