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Thursday, 14 June 2012

Politicians' private lives - are there limits to the questions journalists should ask?

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (often referred to in the French media as NKM), the former minister of ecology and spokesperson for Nicolas Sarkozy during his presidential election campaign, was the guest on Jean-Jacques Bourdin's programme on RMC radio BFM-TV on Wednesday morning.

It's a daily programme in which Bourdin poses questions to his guests (usually, but not always politicians) on their views of some of the stories making the headlines.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and Jean-Jacques Bourdin
(BFM TV screenshot)

No prizes for guessing how he began the interview with NKM: that infamous Valérie Trieweiler Tweet which seems to have overshadowed any real news stories that might have been around over the past couple of days.

NKM began her reply by saying that mixing private and political matters was never a good idea.

She expanded on her reasoning for a couple of minutes adding that, although a very public figure, she had kept her husband and children out of the usual media glare, refusing requests from glossy magazines (Paris Match) for photo shoots and keeping her private life exactly that.

While admitting that some politicians thrived on the sort of exposure they received and journalists often chased those sorts of stories, NKM said it was a mistake..

She cited an opponent in the constituency she's contesting in Sunday's parliamentary elections, mentioning that he had talked about her family.

And that's where the interview became tricky and decidedly uncomfortable- for Bourdin, NKM and anyone watching.

"You mean your brother's suicide?" Bourdin asked, forcing NKM to respond to something she has not spoken about publicly; the death of her younger brother, Etienne, in May after he took an overdose.

Clearly shocked, NKM hesitated a moment before replying, criticising Bourdin for having asked the question in such an abrupt manner.

"I am a public figure and I have another brother (Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet, one of the founders of the online electronic commerce website who is a public figure," she said.

"But that's not the case for everyone in the family and most definitely not my brother who died," she continued.

"I was shocked when I saw that one of my opponents had posted the information of my brother's suicide on his blog. I found it outrageous for my brother and for my mother."

The real issue though surely has to be whether Bourdin was right to ask such a personal question not just in the manner in which he did, but also in a way which required NKM to reply.

Aren't there or shouldn't there be limits?

NKM could hardly have sat there and said nothing, could she?

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