Opinion | Vincent Bolloré, the Mogul Behind Marine Le Pen and the French Right

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This was only a matter of time. The three major candidates to Mr. Macron’s right have marinated in a common culture of grievance and paranoia. The most moderate of the three, Ms. Pécresse, has spoken of the need to “eradicate zones of non-France,” part of an attempt to ape the language of the hard right as in a Feb. 13 speech in which she also complained about the “great replacement.” This is the groundwork for an eventual marriage between supporters of the Le Pen family’s national populism and the more polite conservatism of the Republicans.

Mr. Bolloré portrays himself as above the partisan fray, yet by building an integrated media apparatus for a hysteric, inflamed conservatism, he has reshaped French political life. France, according to CNews, is on the cusp of a breakdown of order and civility, one spark away from civil war. American-inspired “wokistes” and “islamo-leftists” — terms wantonly used as synonyms for progressive activists, intellectuals and politicians — are concocting a plot to emasculate France and its republican traditions. Immigrants are the massed bearers of collapse.

It is obviously tempting to view Mr. Bolloré as a Gallic Rupert Murdoch, an oligarch gone rogue who is dragging the whole country into the abyss because of ingrained ideological convictions. This has become the common narrative in the ceaseless press coverage of the multibillionaire.

The reality is more complicated, however — and perhaps even more worrisome. According to ratings estimates, CNews viewership and audience tallies for Europe 1 radio are relatively low: Mr. Bolloré’s media influence lies not in sheer numbers but in how sharply his press holdings articulate far-right talking points that the rest of the media and political class are only too happy to relay.

And Mr. Bolloré himself is more opportunist than reactionary. Throughout his career, he was known for cultivating ties across France’s ideological spectrum — a necessity for someone invested in the high-stakes game of international development and commerce. Before CNews, Mr. Bolloré’s media possessions were appendages to his harder investments, not pawns in a coherent ideological project. His role as sponsor of the new right is quite recent.

In 2017, Mr. Macron’s victory was trumpeted as the end of France’s left-versus-right divide. And in a speech to supporters outside Paris over the weekend, he again vowed to resist “those who try to sow the poison of division, to fragment, to fracture men.”

But his government’s opportunistic borrowing from the far right says otherwise. In January, to cite just one recent example, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer gave the introductory speech at a two-day colloquium at the Sorbonne on the perils of “wokisme” and progressive identity politics. A representative of a government that claims to be a bulwark against reactionary nationalism, Mr. Blanquer was followed by Mathieu Bock-Côté, a polemicist currently filling Mr. Zemmour’s prime-time slot on CNews.

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