In CovertAction Magazine’s prior Paris Dispatches, we explained that the “union of the rights” (UoR) project was a political venture aimed at blurring the barriers between the right and far right.
It is based on the premise that we are currently experiencing a redistribution of the political forces in France, the ever-growing market-friendly “center” pushing the traditional left and right toward the exit. This redistribution has been seen by self-appointed apostles on the far right as an opportunity to cook up a new political force.
Step one of our analysis (dated April 12, 2020) comprised identifying the cooks: a team led by Marion Maréchal, the niece of leader of the Rassemblement National Marine Le Pen. Their role is to emphasize these favorable circumstances and the niche to be exploited to a strategically chosen partner, the temporarily weakened liberal-conservative party Les Républicains. Les Republicains had been led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy who changed the name of the party from Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) to Les Republicains in May 2015.
In step two (dated June 1, 2020), our goal was to show that the recipe itself — the “union of the rights” narrative, which aims to create a revamped political force that would sweep the whole right-wing spectrum, from conservatives to fascists – is an old artifice, being called back from limbo every so often, when the left is weakening.
In today’s dispatch, we will tackle the last step in implementing the “union of the rights” project. After assigning the cooks and coming up with a recipe, step three is making the new product known to the public by advertising it in the media.
The first media one ought to tackle is the most popular and effective of them all: television. As a visual medium, the way to do it is to have a recognizable human face that embodies the product one is trying to advertise.
In marketing, this is called “brand anthropomorphization,” i.e., the act of relating to an object — here, a brand – as if it were a human being. The goal here is for the consumer to visualize the brand’s narrative as the thoughts of another human just like him. The result of this process is called “self-brand integration” and is a cognitive merging of the brand and the individual’s self so that the brand’s narrative is experienced as the individual’s own thoughts.
To summarize, the narrative on which the brand is built becomes an integrated part of the consumer’s worldview. In the case of the “union of the rights” project, ideas with racist undertones, e.g., the Manichean opposition between the hard-working people who rise early and the lazy who indulge in unemployment, will not only be considered like “food for thought” but more likely as “what one really thinks deep down.” Moreover, when this narrative is presented as the only political alternative to an overbearing power, as in the case of the UoR project, those racist ideas tend to grow into “what one has been waiting for all along.” And when it comes time to vote, who would not be seduced by this knight in shining armor?
One of the recognizable human faces of the UoR project is the far-right political journalist Eric Zemmour. He started his career in the written press in the late 1990s, working notably for the right-wing newspaper Le Figaro. Since 2003, he has also been a regular guest on TV sets in late-night shows, where he has been known to systematically end his exchanges with guests in clashes. He made a name for himself in 2010, when he was fired from Le Figaro newspaper after saying on national television that “most drug traffickers are black and Arab.” Oddly enough, he was offered the same year the opportunity to be head of his first radio show, and a year later, in 2011, his very own TV show.
In addition to his visibly flourishing career in the audio-visual industry, Zemmour is also the owner of a well-stocked rolodex. He maintains privileged relations with the most popular figures on the extreme right, including its godfather, Jean Marie Le Pen. Notably, Zemmour was also offered the head of Marine Le Pen’s European elections list last year. Why did he decline, leaving his place to young prodigy Jordan Bardella? Because it ’is the other branch of the Le Pen family tree that Zemmour is after: Marion Maréchal and her UoR project. They know each other, they like each other, and they know they can help each other out: He provides her with air time and, in return, she gives him legitimacy in far-right circles. He helps her to prepare for her TV appearances, she invites him to speak at her far-right school; he gets her invited to speak on his colleague’s TV show, she invites him to her CPAC-style right-wing convention.
To summarize, Eric Zemmour is both one of the most popular figures of the extreme right, and one of the most popular figures on TV — the two not being mutually exclusive. Indeed, it does not seem to bother the channel that is airing Zemmour’s show that the man in charge was found guilty of provocation to racial discrimination in 2011 and religious hatred in 2018, and that he intervenes on the very subjects for which he has been condemned by the court.
So why do they give space to those types of harmful discourses?
First and foremost, because polemics are good for ratings.
Every news channel features the same images, the same headlines. What could make them stand out are the political views they convey. Therefore, some channels are tempted by the national-conservative niche, because it is “to the right of the right” that the buzz is made. However, it is forbidden in France to create a Fox News-style television channel, because the law requires that the balance of opinion be respected on the air. Yet, faced with the advertising revenue generated by such buzz, the financial risks (fines or withdrawal of advertising slots) represented by Zemmour’s racist outbursts are not necessarily a deterrent for those media groups. On the contrary, the money must be good as, last October, Zemmour was offered yet another TV show on one of the main 24/7 national news channels.
Secondly, they give space to racist discourses in the name of some misinterpreted version of freedom of speech.
When asked about the xenophobic nature of Zemmour’s outbursts, the news channel that employs him responded that they “bring pluralism to life, without being afraid of polemics.” The myth of the “free speech crisis” has been the far-right’s favorite battle horse lately. The purpose of the myth is not to secure freedom of speech – that is, the right to express one’s opinions without censorship or restraint – but rather to allow people to speak with impunity. Not freedom of expression, but rather freedom from the consequences of that expression. It is a version of freedom of speech cynically manipulated to make it mean freedom from objection, to guilt-trip people into giving up their right to respond and to destigmatize racism and prejudice.
Thusly, step three of the UoR project is attained: Not only did they find a prime advertising spot on TV for their xenophobic narrative, but they also found a form of unmediated legitimacy just by having been given access to the public space. The problem here is not so much the expression as it is the context in which it is uttered, i.e., without any safeguard, without any counterweight, and on national TV. This type of sounding board allows xenophobic views to enter the unconscious thoughts of thousands of viewers.
A recent example of this mechanism is Zemmour’s statement concerning the George Floyd murder, uttered recklessly in his brand-new TV show, saying that “80% of white people are killed by black people.” If those numbers are unfamiliar, recall that they were the same counterfeit statistics used by Donald Trump in his 2015 campaign, a falsehood that was soon noted by other French news channels. Unfortunately, the damage had been done, and once retweeted by far-right personalities like identitarian leader Damien Rieu, this small piece of misinformation had already turned into a giant snowball, having been read by more than 150,000 people.
The problem here comes from the way we consume information today: at high rate and superficially. And this is something that the far right has very ingeniously understood, as they sell shock phrases, not in-depth analyses; they play on the emotional, and not the rational. They therefore give little importance to accuracy, because they know people do not take the time to fact-check. This allows the snowball to continue rolling down and growing, building an even bigger lie on top of already inaccurate information, like former Rassemblement national MEP Aymeric Chauprade, and his unashamed assertion that the Black Lives Matter movement was waging a disinformation campaign.
Indeed, once one drops the need to rely on factual evidence, anything is possible, to the point of flipping the situation upside down. This is what Marion Maréchal tried to do when, still on the subject of the George Floyd murder, she denounced an “attempt to subvert the minds” on the part of “left-wing militant groups, so-called anti-racist Black Lives Matter,” which, according to her, “ask not only to bring us to our knees, but also to smear the memory of our ancestors, to spit on our history, to purge our heritage, to tear down our statues.” It is precisely that distance from reality that enables the far right’s discourse that fluidity, which allows an aggressor to become a victim in the course of a sentence, according to one’s rhetorical needs.
 The investment of the far right in social media is also a phenomenon that should be noted. As it is a phenomenon with its own particular mechanics, it will not be developed here and will be discussed extensively in a future dispatch.
 See : Elena Delgado-Ballester, Mariola Palazón, Jenny Peláez, “Anthropomorphized vs objectified brands: which brand version is more loved?” European Journal of Management and Business Economics, November 14, 2019, https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/EJMBE-04-2019-0063/full/pdf?title=anthropomorphized-vs-objectified-brands-which-brand-version-is-more-loved
 See dispatch dated June 1, 2020: https://covertactionmagazine.com/index.php/2020/06/01/linking-the-right-and-the-far-right-a-tale-of-french-opportunism/
 A radio show called “Z pour Zemmour” (Z for Zemmour), which aired from 2010 to 2019 on the radio network “RTL” (owned by the digital media group “RTL Group,” owned by the German multinational conglomerate Bertelsmann) See: https://www.lesinrocks.com/2019/10/03/medias/radio/eric-zemmour-sur-rtl-cest-fini/
 A TV show called “Zemmour et Naulleau” (Zemmour and Naulleau), airing since September 2011 on “Paris Première” (channel of the “Groupe M6” media holding company, 3rd biggest TV group with 15% of national audience shares, majority owned by the same digital media group “RTL Group”). See: https://www.programme-tv.net/news/tv/60771-paris-premiere-conserve-eric-zemmour-au-nom-de-la-liberte-d-expression/
 Marion Maréchal is Marine Le Pen’s niece and Jean-Marie Le Pen’s granddaughter.
 The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is a conservative rally of the U.S. right wing, held every year in or near Washington, D.C., since 1973. See: https://covertactionmagazine.com/index.php/2020/04/12/linking-the-right-and-the-far-right-marion-marechals-plan-for-france/
 Since October 2019, two groups of activists, the French “Le Mouvement” and the U.S.-based “Sleeping Giants,” have been trying to cut off funding for Zemmour’s TV shows, to force the channels to deprogram them. Those activist groups practice what is called “name and shame,” which comprises denouncing the advertisers who fund the show on social media, underlying the discrepancy between the values those brands are allegedly promoting and the xenophobia of Zemmour’s show. Sleeping Giants is known in the U.S. to have applied the same strategy to Breitbart, the nationalist site founded by Steve Bannon, and Fox News, Rupert Murdoch’s conservative news station. See: https://www.lemonde.fr/economie/article/2019/11/21/contre-la-haine-ces-militants-qui-s-attaquent-a-la-pub_6020009_3234.html
 A TV show called “Face à l’info” (In front of the news) has aired since October 2019 on “CNews” (owned by the digital media group “Groupe Canal+” itself a group subsidiary of Vincent Bolloré’s “Vivendi”).
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About the Author
Masha P. Davis is a Ph.D. student working on the French and European Far Right in Paris, France.