The French Sex Scandal

Historically, French voters have declined to look into the private lives of their politicians. Which, for the most part, has been just as well. But politics in France are currently being roiled by the withdrawal of Benjamin Griveaux, a close ally of President Macron, from his campaign for Mayor of Paris. [Adult content alert] Griveaux’s withdrawal was prompted by publication of a video of him masturbating. The London Times reports:

The roots of the scandal lie in 2018, when Griveaux, who was then a government spokesman, encountered [Alexandra] de Taddeo, a student, online and sent her a video of him masturbating.

Let’s stop right here. Anyone dumb enough to send such a video to a young woman he recently “met” online has no business being the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, let alone Paris.

Alexandra de Taddeo

Ms. Taddeo is now under arrest–the French know how to protect their politicians–but it turns out that she isn’t the real culprit. Rather, there is a Russian angle. Her boyfriend Pyotr Pavlensky, “a [Russian] performance artist who made his name with stunts such as nailing his scrotum to Red Square and setting fire to the front door of the Lubyanka, the headquarters of Russia’s security services,” took the video from their shared computer and posted it online:

In interviews last week, [Pyotr Pavlensky] said that after de Taddeo had told him about the video, he suggested last October that she put it online but she refused. He then waited until she had gone out and copied it from their shared computer to a USB stick.

On February 13, with the mayoral campaign in full swing, he posted it on Pornopolitique, a website he set up last November. A link to the site was retweeted and the images spread.

Pavlensky, who was also questioned by police over allegations that he had stabbed someone at a party, claimed he wanted to expose the hypocrisy of a politician who put his happy family life at the heart of his campaign. It may also have been an attempt to discredit Macron, with whom Griveaux had been close for years.

Conspiracy theorists see a Kremlin plot, an idea encouraged by the French president. In a speech last weekend to a security conference in Munich, a day after Griveaux resigned, he attacked Russia for its online efforts to destabilise France and western democracy.

That doesn’t seem likely, given that Pavlensky fled Russia in 2017 after his various stunts there. Another question is whether the French are getting puritanical:

Griveaux’s fall also prompted debate about the extent to which France, traditionally respectful of the private lives — and peccadillos — of its leaders, is adopting the moralising ways of the puritanical Anglo-Saxons.

How puritanical can you get? Can’t a married guy send a woman he “met” online a video of himself masturbating without his political career crashing down around his ears? This was exactly the kind of thing the Puritans tried to crack down on.

There are several morals that might be drawn from this episode. One practical lesson might be, master the freaking technology if you are going to use it:

[Griveaux] reportedly used a function of Facebook Messenger meant to make images disappear soon after they have been received, but de Taddeo stored them on her computer.

Shockingly, this is possible. Those who don’t understand this shouldn’t seek high political office. Or, alternatively, they might not want to share obscene videos.