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World

Paris Mayoral Race Upended By Sexting Scandal

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A sexting scandal has upended the race for Paris mayor just a month before the election. The candidate supported by French President Emmanuel Macron has dropped out, and Macron has taken a political hit as a result. Moreover, as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, most French see it as a bigger blow to democracy.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Benjamin Griveaux's campaigned to become mayor of Paris abruptly ended Friday when excerpts of videos and texts he shared with a woman two years ago were published and shared on social media. The 42-year-old, who is a close ally of Macron, pulled out of the race, citing the need to protect his wife and children.

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BENJAMIN GRIVEAUX: (Through interpreter) A vicious attack was launched on my private life. No one should be subjected to such violence, where anything is permitted.

BEARDSLEY: The sexting with a consenting woman was revealed on the website of controversial Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky, who was given asylum in France three years ago. Pavlensky is known for performance art like sewing his mouth shut and nailing himself to Red Square. He told French TV his motivation in publishing the videos and texts was to reveal to voters that Griveaux is a hypocrite.

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PYOTR PAVLENSKY: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: "He's the only candidate who used his family for his political image," said Pavelensky. "His campaign was based on a big lie." It's illegal in France to attack someone's intimate private life, and Pavlensky could face fines or jail time. He is currently being held and questioned by police, alongside the 29-year-old student who was the recipient of Griveaux's texts. Pavlensky says he got the videos from her.

Though Griveaux allegedly sent the videos when he was government spokesman, the French public and politicians are decrying Pavlensky's actions rather than Griveaux's. There's been broad support for Griveaux's right to privacy and condemnation of a voyeuristic Internet era where careers can be destroyed in a social media post.

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ANNE HIDALGO: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who is running for a second term, said what happened is not worthy of the democratic debate Parisians deserve. Cedric O, France's digital affairs minister, spoke on the radio.

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CEDRIC O: (Through interpreter) It shows how fragile our democracy is. Someone with entirely unknown motives has been able to blow apart the most important municipal election in France. We need new laws to keep pace with the digital era.

BEARDSLEY: Parisian Claire Schneider (ph) paused to reflect on recent events while picking up some groceries.

CLAIRE SCHNEIDER: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "We're becoming an idiot society of videos and tweets," she says. "No one will remember Benjamin Griveaux; they'll only remember this. There's no substance anymore."

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.