The main reason for the difference is the timing: While late-breaking election news has certainly played a role in defining the final days of U.S. campaigns—think the FBI’s decision to re-open its Clinton emails probe in late October of 2016, for example, or the coverage of Hurricane Sandy during the 2012 campaign—French law actively prevents new developments in the final days of an election from occupying the headlines in such a way.
Here, the pre-election ban on active campaigning, which begins at midnight the Friday night before an election, and ends only when the polls close Sunday night, is practically sacred. The pause is seen as a time when French voters can sit back, gather their information and reflect on their choice before heading to the voting booth on Sunday. It’s also the law: According to French election rules, the blackout includes not just candidate events but anything that could theoretically sway the course of the election: media commentary, interviews, and candidate postings on social media are not just illegal, but taboo. (This is the reason Macron’s campaign sought to get its statement on the hacks out when it did: It arrived in journalists’ inboxes at 11:56 p.m. Friday night local time, just four minutes before the blackout began.)
French election officials made it abundantly clear Saturday morning that the hacked emails fall under the purview of things that could affect the outcome of the race, particularly since Macron’s campaign alleged that fake missives were mixed in with the real ones posted online Friday night. In a release to reporters, the Commission Nationale de Contrôle de la Campagne Électorale encouraged journalists to “remember their sense of responsibility” and “not report on the content” of the hacked emails—and even warned that an organization disseminating information that turned out to be false could face criminal penalties.
As a result, most major French media organizations reported the existence of the hacked emails but steered clear of the content. On the Le Monde website, for example, the lead story Saturday evening was a summary of the second-round battle between Macron and Le Pen; a story about the hack did not appear until further down the page, far less visible. And even the French far-right website Fdesouche, the closest thing to Breitbart French-language media has, appeared to link to just one set of screenshots out of the Macron campaign emails as of Saturday evening. That’s not to say that some people haven’t spent the day digging through email after email: A quick search for the hashtag #MacronLeaks on Twitter shows an active group of users posting quotes or screenshots from the hacked files. Still, dissemination of the emails themselves seems largely confined to far-right social media.
Had this news broken a week or even a few days earlier, it’s likely that Le Pen’s campaign would have had a field day. After all, when news of the hack came out on Friday night, top Le Pen confidant and National Front Vice President Florian Philippot suggested on Twitter that maybe it was a good thing: “Will the #MacronLeaks teach us something that investigative journalism deliberately buried?” he asked on Twitter. Under the media blackout, however, Philippot’s tweet was the last thing Le Pen’s team was able to say on the matter.