Old-School Satirical Paper Upends French Presidential Race

THOMAS ADAMSON, AP

PARIS (AP) — For a small duck it packs one hell of a peck.

One-time French presidential front-runner Francois Fillon is slowly finding his dream of winning the Elysee Palace under water.

And it’s because of the revelations of one old-school, eight-page satirical newspaper with ink that comes off on your hands: “Le Canard Enchaine,” or “The Chained Duck.”

The dirt-digging weekly’s claims that Fillon’s political clout helped secure handsomely paid jobs for his wife, Penelope, and two of their children are the just the latest scoops from the 102-year-old newspaper which is showing that traditional gumshoe reporting and the ink-and-paper format still have value in the increasingly online world.

With its old-school typography, puns on every page and thick, rough paper, “Le Canard” may seem like an unlikely source of hard-nosed political journalism.

But the controversy has seriously hurt the conservative Fillon and has upended the race for France’s spring presidential election. It has pecked away at his popularity as his critics cry foul.

Fillon, who was France’s prime minister from 2007 to 2012, has denied any wrongdoing. On Wednesday, he said he was the victim of an “institutional coup” and would fight “to the end” the newspaper’s accusations that he paid his wife for an allegedly fake job.

Speaking on the sidelines of a Paris event, Fillon said he has “always respected the law” and vowed to remain “a candidate in this presidential election.”

The paper first published the allegations against Fillon on Jan. 25, and then came out with a second report containing further accusations on Wednesday. Copies of the latest edition were hard to come by in Paris.

Financial prosecutors are investigating whether Penelope Fillon actually worked, as he claims, as her husband’s parliamentary aide or whether her job was fake, which would be an illegal use of public funds.

“Le Canard Enchaine,” available in kiosks and proudly not online, is a modern anachronism that flies in the face of claims that old-school newspapers are relics of the past.

The weekly, costing 1.20 euros ($1.29), continues to be an influential player in the French media landscape, and a go-to for whistle-blowers — despite dwindling newspaper sales across the world. The paper, which has no advertisements, is mainly financed through newsstand sales and subscriptions.

Editor Louis-Marie Horeau recently revealed his paper’s winning journalistic methods for exposing the so-called Penelope-gate scandal.

“I’m going to tell you a secret that you can tell no one: All we did was do our work. There was a team of three journalists that worked on the contradictions that we noticed in Francois Fillon’s own declarations,” Horeau said on BFM-TV.

Founded as a satirical newspaper in 1915 to ease the horrors of World War I, the name “Canard Enchaine” was chosen to reference the censorship of the era.

“Canard” or “duck” was taken from French slang for “newspaper.”

The publication branched out into investigative journalism in the 1960s.

It soon left its indelible mark on French politics and showed it could punch above its weight.

Former President Charles de Gaulle was often the butt of stories leaked to the paper by its government sources. France’s president from 1959 to 1969 was reportedly known to ask each Wednesday: “What does the fowl have to say?”

The paper is also known to end political careers.

Many credit “Le Canard Enchaine” for single-handedly dashing the re-election bid of former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing in 1981. The paper caused a political scandal by revealing in 1979 that Giscard d’Estaing had been offered two diamonds from controversial African dictator Bokassa I.

The newspaper has often been compared to Britain’s “Private Eye.”

The “Canard” revelations that former French Finance Minister Herve Gaymard maintained a huge, lavish apartment all funded with tax-payer’s money led to his resignation in 2005.

French commentators have claimed that the newspaper’s reporting has landed an irreversible blow on Fillon’s image after winning the party’s primary on a squeaky-clean image and pledges to cut public spending and to keep scandals out of politics.

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Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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