With the 4 million listeners of France Inter every morning, Léa Salamé intends to cultivate her neutrality.
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Léa Salamé made an appointment with us in a small Parisian bar where she obviously has her habits. She settles down, orders a lying down, crosses her arms. “Why a portrait on me? I’m still not a partridge of the year.” We jabber at the start of an answer, she gently repeats: “Another article? What for?” Difficult to contradict her. Since her entry into the audiovisual landscape, many articles have been written about the journalist, unfolding a personal mythology that returns like a ritornello. In these “chestnut trees-Salamé”, which she develops with the mechanics of habit, we can count: the flight of her family from Lebanon in 1984, before settling in the 16th arrondissement of Paris; the 2001 attacks in New York, where she saw, while a student, “people fall”; the one his father escapes two years later, at the UN headquarters in Baghdad. “Get them out quickly,” she advises. Yes, but once the imposed figures have passed, the Salamé mystery remains intact. The French know her, and they will have even more opportunity to meet her at the start of the school year, since she joins Laurent Ruquier at the presentation of his show On est en direct, on France 2, in addition to Vous ont la parole and the morning of France Inter. However, his convictions, his affiliations, the public knows little or nothing. Maybe that was the point?
Obviously: Léa Salamé is not comfortable with the register of opinion. Asking her for her opinion causes a perceptible tension in her. A very singular positioning in an era which blasts ideologized excesses to the skies. She prefers to talk about professionalism, a theme that comes back like a song in her mouth. While she tells herself, to illustrate her point, she takes as an example the first question we asked her, without saying what she thought – according to our interpretation, not good. An interview is built, it’s a craft job, she insists. Here she is on a ground that suits her better. “She really has a love for art,” greets Nicolas Demorand, her morning friend.
Over the years, it has all the same sowed ideological stones in its path. At Ruquier, she opposed the “sovereignist patriotism” of Natacha Polony to her “cosmopolitan patriotism”. “I have been able to change a bit since then,” she argues. With her show from France Inter Femmes Powers, she explains having adhered to feminism. Who ? “Not one in particular”, she assures, hammering: “I am not an activist.” Her relatives, who ensure “do not know for whom she votes”, unroll the same portrait: a “hard worker”, “determined”, who “attracts the light”. “A star who loves the stars”, summarizes Nathalie Saint-Cricq, columnist on France 2 and columnist of You have the floor.
The first who will help him achieve this destiny is called Jean-Pierre Elkabbach. Salamé begins her career with what she describes as “a stroke of the piston”. “During a lunch, her father told me that his daughter had just finished her studies and wanted to do journalism. When she left the restaurant, she came to pick him up with an old two-horse, says the person concerned. I told her: “Come to Public Senate.” “After a few weeks of internship, the young woman is propelled to the presentation of a news flash. “It was catastrophic, but Elkabbach called me two days later to tell me that I was ‘eye-catching’, even though my look was wrong, and that I needed a … landscaper! “, she recalls with a burst of laughter. She learns with him the basics of the trade, the importance of short questions.
After Public Senate, she continued on France 24 for four years, then the next four on iTélé, where she notably frames the debates between Eric Zemmour and Nicolas Domenach in the program Ça se dispute. Rather to arbitrate ideologues than to be one. It is already starting to catch the light there. “She knows how to forge a bond of intelligence with her interlocutor and she has a real TV face. I told her very quickly that she had” star quality “. She laughed every time”, laughs Pascal Praud, his former colleague on the channel, who sees another feature in his journey. “In this profession, a bit like in tennis, the most important thing is not so much to score superb points as not to make a mistake, he philosophizes. Lea does not. She does not have any mistakes. of “bad buzz”. ”
Charisma, responsiveness and a flawless reputation: the cocktail is enough to be spotted by Laurent Ruquier and Catherine Barma, the producer of On is not lying. A big leap into the unknown for those used to news channels. “We wanted to give her the political interview in the morning at the start of the school year, says Céline Pigalle, then managing editor. I struggled, but she had a proposal to do the 7:50 am on Inter, which cannot be refused.”
At 34, she goes from 200,000 spectators on big evenings on iTélé to 1.8 million listeners in the morning on Inter, not to mention the 2 million pairs of eyes riveted on her on France 2. Before entering The arena of On is not lying, Salamé warns that she does not want to play the woman on the right, that she is a journalist above all. His mantra. “We quickly see that she is neither a columnist nor a polemicist, she does not seem to lean towards one extreme or another”, analyzes Laurent Ruquier. The lukewarm water of neutrality? “At the time, I made fun of her because she was obsessed with Matteo Renzi. He came back to all the questions!” laughs Ruquier. An interest that still says a little about his ideals.
The ride to success continues. In 2016, the eve of the presidential campaign, she inherited the Thursday evening political box alongside David Pujadas, in L’Emission politique. Here again, it imposes itself by its desire to create “moments” on the air. “When she prepares, she will not only say to herself: ‘I have to ask such and such a question’, she knows where the interview is leading,” comments Pujadas. Insurance that is not flawless. “After each show, she goes to social networks, sometimes a little too much, to find out what people are thinking,” says Saint-Cricq. After the departure of Pujadas from France 2, L’Emission politique is replaced by You have the floor and its audience in half-tone. “She said:” I do not understand that the programs do not work, normally everything I touch turns to gold, “” describes a past collaborator.
“She knows the fragility of all that, assures Thomas Sotto, alongside whom she animates VALP. But being in the heart of the reactor, that pleases her. She repeats to me” I love it, you can not imagine how I love it! “” Since then 2019, she also “loves” with her podcast Powerful Women, produced on the occasion of her withdrawal from the antenna of France Inter and France 2, due to the candidacy of her companion, Raphaël Glucksmann, in the European elections. In the preface to the book transcribing the interviews, Salamé assures us that “at 30, (she) would never have called herself a feminist”. Like the times, things have changed. Feminist, but not radical. “I don’t want to be associated with a chapel. I can just as easily be transcended by the feminism of Virginie Despentes as by that of Elisabeth Badinter,” she says. Those who know her give some additional indications. “I would say that she rather adheres to a” reasonable “feminism, which does not oppose each other”, decrypts Muriel Pleynet, editor in chief of VALP.
Elusive Salamé, who makes a point of never giving his opinion on the radio. With the 4 million listeners of France Inter every morning, it intends to cultivate its neutrality. “If we are illegible, that’s good, assures Nicolas Demorand. It’s not the easiest position, but it’s the best for interviewing.” Salamé admits, however, that he is not infallible: “I am not kidding myself. I think that the listener who listens in the morning can have fun guessing the sensitivities that I have.” As long as his career as a journalist is not over, “it doesn’t matter what his ideas are.” “One day, who knows, maybe I’ll be a columnist and give my opinion.”
This is what seems to be the key to the “character” Salamé: a devouring hunger and a desire to “get there”, no matter what. “When she was 10, we were asked what we wanted to become when we are grown up, remembers Dalya Mitri, a childhood friend. She said: “Political journalist, like Anne Sinclair.” “At the heart of this ambition, there is obviously the torments of Lebanon, in which the two women evolved in childhood. The legacy of an ultra-cultured family, open to the world, belonging to the very best of the intelligentsia. Enough to shape a personality and a way of thinking. But the last few years have changed it, she says. Taught her to “think against herself”. “I don’t deny myself, but maybe today’s world makes me run away from a word like ‘sovereignty’ less than it was four or five years ago, when I was defending something more liberal “, she concedes. For her, this analysis is that of a simple observer of the world around her. The stars say no more.