Le Monde is considered one of France's most prestigious newspapers
A book criticising the French daily Le Monde - one of the country's most prestigious newspapers - has been published amid much controversy and threats of legal action.
The Hidden Face of Le Monde accuses the paper's editorial team of bias, hypocrisy and abuse of political power.
Journalists Philippe Cohen and Pierre Pean say the paper has become a "modern-day Pravda" run in a "climate of fear" by an unscrupulous triumvirate.
After holding back when extracts were published last week by news magazine L'Express, Le Monde let rip in its latest edition, devoting four pages to a hard-hitting counter-offensive.
It says it will take libel proceedings against the authors, their publishers and L'Express magazine.
The authors accuse managing director Jean-Marie Colombani, editor Edwy Plenel and board chairman Alain Minc of distorting information in an attempt to shape French politics and society and covering up scandals.
Criticism is one thing, passion is another. For Spinoza, the most disastrous of 'sad passions'... was hatred... A hatred which, alas, lives in
this book devoted to us
Some 50,000 copies of the 630-page book were printed under tight security in Spain to prevent leaks.
In its Wednesday edition, Le Monde hits back, accusing the authors of being inspired by hate.
"Their book accumulates mistakes, lies, defamations and calumnies, and the courts will obviously be asked to deal with
them," it said.
Le Monde also denied the book's claims that an "atmosphere of fear" hangs over its newsroom and that it has sought to portray
France in its worst possible light over the last decade.
Centre-left publication, considered highbrow
Famed for austere layout and authoritative reporting
Evening paper - appears at lunchtime in Paris, dated the following day
Founded at time of the liberation from German occupation in 1944 on General Charles de Gaulle's orders
Daily circulation of about 400,000 copies
The controversy has been fuelled by claims of public enmity between Mr Colombani and the managing editor of L'Express, Denis Jeambar, since the failed attempt by the weekly to acquire the newspaper two years ago.
Another newspaper and rival to Le Monde, the left-leaning Liberation, joined the fray with a piece in its Wednesday edition, remarking that in spite of its searing rebuttal, Le Monde failed to address some of the specific accusations levelled in the book.
These include the campaign allegedly conducted by the newspaper in favour of
the 1995 presidential candidate Edouard Balladur or the defeated Socialist challenger in the 2002 race Lionel Jospin, whom Le Monde supported "like the rope
supports the hanged man".
Le Monde editors are due to meet the journalists this afternoon to discuss the situation at the paper, in which journalists have much of the daily control.