In 2023, on the occasion of our 70th anniversary, L’Express told you through a great story its history, that of the most famous and oldest French weekly. The opportunity, also, to pay tribute to the people who gave this magazine a reason to exist. Among them, Robert Badinter. The former Minister of Justice, died on the night of February 8 to 9 at the age of 95was the lawyer for L’Express from 1953 to 1979.
“Jean-Jacques [Servan-Schreiber] was the biggest repeat offender I have known, knowing the number of convictions he incurred as a writer and boss of L’Express.” In the mouth of Robert Badinter, that’s a fine compliment. D ‘as much as he added: “He was a man of great courage. He would not have been seized by the demon of politics, he would have become the king of the press.”
Young Robert was 27 years old when L’Express was born. But, as a specialist in press affairs, he has long been in contact with the Servan-Schreiber family, which owns The echoes. “I was the little hand of the lawyer Georges Izard. He took care of the important files. I took care of the rest. Jean-Jacques was a regular supplier to the 17th correctional chamber, especially when a multitude of texts arose repressive actions linked to the Algerian war and decolonization.”
L’Express is regularly seized in Algeria and sometimes in mainland France. Six times between May and August 1960. Each time, the incriminating texts had to be modified and hundreds of thousands of copies removed. Ruinous, but the publicity offered by the government boosts subscriptions. Robert Badinter, for his part, is called to the plate almost every closing night to read the risky copy. “At the request of Françoise Giroud, I went to the newspaper to examine the articles ready and warn her of the risks of defamation proceedings or seizure. She had the admirable talent of extirpating the judicial venom while retaining the political venom. The paper still came out as sharp and fierce.” Other famous writers came to support in the event of seizure, such as, in 1958, Mendès France, Sartre and Mitterrand. “As for François Mauriac, he knew how to use unassailable formulas to be very cruel.” One day, at an editorial conference, the young lawyer heard him explain: “It’s not my fault, I’m bad.”
There is no question of outrageously attenuating the point. No question of going to bed under the threat of prosecution deemed imbecile. Jean-Jacques exceeded the limits with ardor. “If there had been palms of daring, he would have collected them,” summarized Robert Badinter. The newspaper denounced exceptional legislation, the horrors of torture, violations of freedoms. “It was an extremely brilliant editorial team led by an exceptional man and woman who had this newspaper as a baby.” The former Minister of Justice, however, insisted: “L’Express was born from the desire to bring Pierre Mendès France to power, and not to offer a platform to the pen of a man.”