The General and the Journalist
Tobias Grey meets the journalist who was at Charles de Gaulle’s side for twenty-six years.
Never short of a bon mot, Charles de Gaulle was particularly creative when it came to journalists, especially French ones. ‘Mr It’s-got-to-go-wrong’ was his pet name for Hubert Beuve-Méry, the journalist who founded Le Monde, the French newspaper of reference after the Second World War. Raymond Aron, an influential columnist at the right-wing Le Figaro, didn’t fare much better: ‘A journalist at the College of France and a professor at Le Figaro’, de Gaulle grumbled.
Admiration must therefore go to Jean Mauriac, who spent twenty-six years (from August 1944 to de Gaulle's death in November 1970) reporting the general's every move for the French news agency, Agence France Presse (AFP). At the grand age of eighty-four, Mauriac has become the talk of Paris with Le Général el le journaliste, a book of conversations with the historian JeanLuc Barré which brings de Gaulle vividly to life in all his curmudgeonly splendour.
Mauriac’s luck was to have been in the right place at the right time. AFP had just been created as a public corporation in the months that followed the Liberation. De Gaulle’s aim was to provide France with a news agency to rival its anglocentric competitors on the world stage.
Only twenty, Mauriac was offered and immediately accepted a post at AFP after his older brother Claude, who had intended to take up the position, was appointed de Gaulle’s personal secretary, a position he held until 1949. It was only a matter of weeks before Mauriac was assigned to cover the General.
In Mauriac’s favour was his pronounced Gaullism, which even at that early date was at odds with most of his profession. He was also the youngest son of François Mauriac, a writer de Gaulle held in such esteem that he was moved to quote him in one of his famous radio addresses from London.