Celebrity, scandal and new media converged in Paris Monday as shamed IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s wife returned to the spotlight to launch Le Huffington Post, a French take on the US news website.
Anne Sinclair insisted her private life would not in any way affect news coverage in the first foreign-language edition of the influential American site that gets 37 million visitors a month.
“I do not mix private and professional life,” she said, sitting next to Arianna Huffington, the founder of the original US site and like her a fabulously wealthy left-leaning commentator.
Monday’s packed press conference for the launch focused on how the new site — www.huffingtonpost.fr — would adapt its gossipy mix of celebrity, politics and lifestyle for French readers.
But reporters’ questions repeatedly returned to whether Sinclair, 63, could remain impartial as the wife of a Socialist politician who had once been tipped to trounce President Nicolas Sarkozy in elections three months from now.
Eyebrows were raised when Huffington chose Sinclair to head the French site, after her prominent role in last year’s sensational political scandal that made lurid headlines across the globe.
Strauss-Kahn was forced to resign from the International Monetary Fund in May after he was charged with sexually assaulting a New York hotel maid. Charges were later dropped, but he remains dogged by sexual scandal in France.
Sinclair, a former television anchor and the multi-millionaire heiress to an art fortune, has stood by her husband throughout — funding his exorbitant defence costs — and is now making her own return to public life.
“(There is) no conflict of interest,” she told reporters. “I do not think that this (the Strauss-Kahn affair) will be at the core of news in 2012 but if it is then we will handle it as such.”
Sinclair and her husband recently sued several French media outlets over reports speculating on the state of their marriage.
Le Huffington Post’s inaugural front-page splash hailed Sunday’s launch of Socialist candidate Francois Hollande’s presidential campaign as a “successful lift-off”.
Hollande is Sarkozy’s main challenger and Sinclair’s site is expected to lean left, despite employing both left- and right-wing pundits as unpaid columnists on the site, which consists largely of links to other news outlets.
The first edition carried no news about Strauss-Kahn, who is enjoying a rare period away from the front pages but may soon be forced to testify to a French judicial investigation into an alleged prostitution ring.
Reader comments under Sinclair’s first leading article appeared to have been carefully moderated, with dozens of congratulatory messages, little criticism and no insults nor direct references to her husband.
Huffington said Sinclair “was at the top of my list” to edit the French version of the site, which has a staff of only eight young journalists and which is planning later launches in Italy, Spain, Brazil and Germany.
“Every woman in her private life if not her public life has been through setbacks, ordeals, problems, and so when we see a woman who comes into the arena again and gets engaged in what’s happening in the world it sort of gives hope and courage to every other woman,” she said.
But US media gossip website Gawker was scathing about Sinclair’s appointment.
“She was hired because she is rich and famous and well-connected and has a prominent name, all things that Arianna Huffington values far more than ‘journalism,’, it said.
The French site’s layout is closely modelled on its US parent, with the same design and logo but with a distinctly French flavour to its mix of opinion columns, aggregated news content and interactive news features.
Already dubbed “Le HuffPo,” it is a partnership between leading French daily Le Monde, the US parent firm and banker Matthieu Pigasse. It replaces a former French interactive news website, Le Post, owned by Le Monde.
Greek-born Huffington launched her original American website in 2005 and sold it to Internet giant AOL in 2011 for $315 million (246 million euros). It now also has British and Canadian editions.