The Press: Fools & Opposition

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Praised by these, blamed by those—mocking fools, heckling the opposition I hasten to laugh at everything for fear of being obliged to weep.

—Figaro in The Barber of Seville.

As Paris' oldest and one of its best-written newspapers, Le Figaro, which was named and modeled after Beaumarchais' roguish hero, has spent much time heckling the opposition in its 124 years. Because Le Figaro is the chief spokesman for the Roman Catholic middle class (it considers itself "further left than right-wing papers, and further right than left-wing papers"), its major, opposition now is Communism—not only in Moscow but in its own backyard.

Not long ago, when Le Figaro published a long government memorandum calling the French Communist Party the "camouflaged fifth column of Moscow," the Communists seized copies of Le Figaro from Paris newsstands and burned them. Last month the morning paper had to barricade its doors and windows as 1,500 Communists rioted outside. They had made the most of the opportunity to protest against publication of the memoirs of Nazi Storm Trooper Otto ("Scarface") Skorzeny, who led the paratroop raid to release Mussolini.

Slim, elegant Managing Director Pierre Brisson, 54, who joined Le Figaro in 1934 after a stint as drama critic for Le Temps, has found it easy to laugh off such attacks by the opposition. Since 1945 Le Figaro's circulation has doubled to 400,000. Not so funny, however, has been the opposition from another source—Le Figaro's owner, Mme. Yvonne Cotnareanu, former wife of the late Perfumer François Coty.

Sponge in the Ring. Like many another anti-German paper, Le Figaro closed its doors when the Vichy government took over unoccupied France in 1942. Two years later, the liberation government licensed Director Brisson to start publication again—virtually ignoring Mme. Cotnareanu and her 97% stock control. In & out of the French courts, Mme. Cotnareanu fought to get editorial control as well. Since she lived in New York City, she wanted Brisson to adopt what she termed "an American policy," reflecting the views of the U.S. State Department. Brisson refused, continued what he called his France-first policy that sometimes seemed to put the U.S. in the same category as

Russia. In a recent Le Figaro editorial, for example. Novelist François Mauriac wrote: It is not that which separates the U.S.S.R. from the U.S.A. which should frighten us, but rather what they have in common." Mme. Cotnareanu tried to fire Brisson, but Brisson, with the publishing license from the government safely in his pocket, stayed on.

Last week Mme. Cotnareanu threw in the sponge. After selling half her stock to a pro-Brisson group headed by Jean Prouvost, onetime Minister of Information and prewar publishing king of France, she signed a management contract entitling Brisson and his top editors to run the paper for the next 19 years.

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