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France After Strauss-Kahn: The Perils Of Politics, Sex And Rumors

Editorial: Without offering any hard details, Ex-Education Minister Luc Ferry went on television to say that a former cabinet minister took part in an orgy with young boys. Le Monde says Ferry is the one who's guilty here - either of not reportin

Luc Ferry (Medef)
Luc Ferry (Medef)

PARIS - You will always leave something behind when you slander. Appearing this week on the Canal Plus pay television channel, Luc Ferry, a prominent philosopher and former French education minister under Jacques Chirac, launched this accusation: a former French cabinet minister had once been "nabbed in an orgy with young boys in Marrakech, Morocco."

Mr Ferry launched his allegation at a particularly poisonous moment for French politics, which is already abuzz with the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair and the Georges Tron case. Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF chief, was arrested last month on charges of attempted rape in New York, while Tron, the French Civil Service undersecretary, had to step down following sexual assault allegations leveled against him. In both cases, the media have been criticized for past leniency towards some politicians' personal behavior.

Ferry's public declaration should be condemned for two fundamental reasons. If he had been sure of the facts for a long time, he would be guilty of failing to report a criminal act. As the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Alain Juppé rightly says: "if you have been convinced that an offense or even a crime has been committed, you complain to the Court of Justice. You don't blather on about it in the media."

Otherwise, if he has just been hawking some rumors, Ferry's words are slanderous. Of course, he can claim he has not given any name. But the Internet and Twitter have assisted on that front: various public figures have been cited online, with several forced into responding to the accusation despite the utter lack of evidence.

The media trap is closing. Some people may think that writing nothing about a problem inevitably means being party to it. On the contrary, writing something means lending credibility to accusations that could not be refuted, or that could leave lasting marks in people's minds.

There is a grave precedent for this scenario: In 2003, the former mayor of Toulouse, Dominique Baudis, was unfairly mentioned in the media as being linked to the case of accused serial killer Patrice Alègre.

The Ferry affair was set off by the May 28 issue of Le Figaro Magazine, which dusted off old rumors that have never been backed up. Names of imagined culprits quickly spread on Twitter.

Mr Ferry affirms that he does not have proof of what he has put forward. But at the same time he said he was happy about having opened the lid on the question. Such behavior is unworthy of a man who has until now been seen as an intellectual voice of reason on the political right. This attitude fuels a generally suspicious climate, which can only play into the hands of the far right. Ferry also gives free rein to conspiracy theories with allusions to evidence given by "high-ranking state authorities."

The Paris prosecutor's office has done what it had to: it has opened a preliminary inquiry into the philosopher's allegations. French government spokesman François Baroin says that Ferry has become "the protagonist" of the rumor. While it is good to see the justice system doing its part, that cannot undo all the noise that was made without revealing anything.

Read the original article in French.

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