Historically the French press has become an active participant in the political system rather than just a means of reporting it. An example of such an involvement came at the end of the nineteenth Century with what is known as the " Dreyfus Affair-, a scandal that lasted over a hundred years.
The affair centres on captain Alfred Dreyfus, an artillery officer in the French army, and his wrongful imprisonment for treason in 1894. The reaction of this was a divide in public opinion between those who said he was guilty and those who wanted him freed. The press echoed and perhaps induced this feeling with many prominent newspapers taking sides.
Alfred Dreyfus came from a Jewish family that had left Alsace for Paris when Germany invaded in1871 during the Franco-Prussian war. In 1894 papers discovered in a wastebasket in the office of a German military attaché made it appear that a French military officer was providing secret information to the German government. Dreyfus came under suspicion, probably because he was a Jew and also because he had access to the type of information that had been supplied to the German agent. The army authorities declared that Dreyfus' handwriting was similar to that on the papers. Despite his protestations of innocence he is sent to prison.
The press would play a role from the start of the Dreyfus Affair, from the time of Dreyfus's arrest to the time of his first trial. On October 29, 1894, Edouard Drumont, publisher of the anti-Semitic newspaper La Libre Parole was notified by French Headquarters that an act of treason was being investigated, which was exactly two weeks after Dreyfus's arrest. By November 1, the name of the traitor was leaked and the press campaign against Dreyfus began. Most of the conservative newspapers on the right participated in exposing Dreyfus as a traitor including La Libre Parole, L'Autorite, Le Journal and Le Temps. Within the articles were recurring themes such as hatred for Jews and Germany as well as the love of the homeland and army which were stirring national pride and alienation.