No subject on earth excites the reading public or engages the international press quite as avidly as the report of conjugal misbehavior on the part of some notable individual of high station — the higher the better.
Hence the attention now directed at Francois Hollande, the president of France, whose domestic partner — shattered by the revelation that Hollande is engaged in an affair with an actress — admitted herself to a hospital to be treated for shock.
The French are widely thought to be rather more tolerant of such straying. That may or may not be. For verification, one would need to poll French wives.
In any event, interest in the matter has metastasized far beyond the French republic. The New York Times published a recent report on a session at the Elysee Palace, where Monsieur Hollande was to deliver an address on domestic policy to some 600 journalists but where the agenda soon lurched into a discussion of his not-so-private life.
Is the wronged partner still France’s first lady, he was asked. Or has she been replaced by a first sweetie?
That issue, he replied, would be clarified at a later time.
For us Americans, regrettable conduct by men of great power and prominence is a fairly predictable feature of political life. The roster of sugar daddies and their comfort ladies is a virtual political who’s who.
For Thomas Jefferson, it was Sally Hemmings, a slave and house servant.
For Dwight Eisenhower, it was Kay Summersby, his driver.
For General Patton, his niece, Jean Gordon.
For FDR, Lucy Page Mercer, his wife’s personal secretary.
For Strom Thurmond, Carrie Butler.
For JFK, Miss Marilyn Monroe (among others).
For John Edwards, Rielle Hunter.
For Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky.
For Gary Hart, Donna Rice.
For Gen. David Petraeus, Paula Broadwell.
Private missteps such as these, when discovered, are discussed in the press with ill-concealed relish. The implication is that the men who own, manage and write for newspapers are individuals of unyielding propriety, for whom such conduct is absolutely unthinkable.
And that, of course, is hogwash. Anyone who has spent time in the news business has known, and in some cases has worked for, dedicated lotharios. But we tend not to discuss their misbehavior in print.
Call it cowardice if you like, but sensible journalists would much rather write exposés about lecherous politicians than about men who buy advertising or the one who writes their check.