French affair: The private turns public for President Hollande

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A two-hour press conference Tuesday by French President Francois Hollande was a performance that highlighted some cultural and political differences between the United States and his country.

Although President Barack Obama gets challenged by the American press when he seems to deny them sufficient access, France’s president normally holds only two major press conferences a year. They are held in the Elysee Palace and can last for hours.

This one was dominated by the report that Mr. Hollande, 59, has been having an affair with actress Julie Gayet, 41, while his unmarried partner, Valerie Trierweiler, 48, the official first lady of France, has been living in the palace. When news of the affair broke, she retreated into a hospital to recover.

There is no suggestion in the French media that Mr. Hollande should resign. Americans can only imagine what the reaction in the United States would be if a U.S. president were photographed, as Mr. Hollande was, on a motor scooter in a helmet and visor sneaking out of the White House for a tryst.

During the press conference Mr. Hollande proclaimed “total indignation” at the reports on his personal life and said he will sort out Ms. Trierweiler’s status before visiting the United States on Feb. 11.

Mr. Hollande had intended to use the meeting with reporters to focus on the economy. France’s jobless rate is 11 percent and confidence has been sapped by rising prices and taxes. Despite all the personal questions, the president did manage to announce plans to improve matters for French companies.

Mr. Hollande’s approval rating has hovered between 20 percent and 30 percent. Since his term extends to 2017, however, he need not make plans to move out of the palace himself.

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