It’s a criminal accusation that has sparked an international blame game.
Concerning the accusation, there is one plaintiff – a 32-year-old New York hotel chambermaid – and one defendant, the now former head of the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn who, it is alleged, raped her. One of the two is a victim and an American jury will decide which one.
But the criminal accusation has provoked a heated round of finger pointing between the French and American media and political class. France was stunned by the arrest because Strauss-Kahn was the man the French left-wing had been counting on to unseat Nicolas Sarkozy from the presidency. French socialists simply did not want to believe what they were hearing so instead they chose to believe that the allegation was a conspiracy designed to discredit their man and keep Sarko – the bogey-man of ‘la gauche’ – in the Elysée for five more years. The backlash was immediate.
Many of France’s so-called (and sometimes self-appointed) ‘intellectuals’ wasted no time in leaping to the defence of Strauss-Kahn. First among them was Bernard-Henri Lévy who rushed out an article in The Daily Beast describing his friend of 20 years as “Charming, seductive, yes, certainly; a friend to women and, first of all, to his own woman, naturally, but this brutal and violent individual, this wild animal, this primate, obviously no, it’s absurd.” Lévy slams the New York tabloids as “a disgrace to the profession” and extends his criticism not just to “the American judge who, by delivering him to the crowd of photo hounds, pretended to take him for a subject of justice like any other” but also the entire US justice system in which “anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime.”
Those Americans. How dare they?
Footage of an unshaven and handcuffed Strauss-Kahn being hauled before a judge also caused uproar among the French left (strangely the French right has been much less vocal). Former Justice Minister Robert Badinter denounced a “death by media”, “organised by the American police” in which a “powerful man” was “machine-gunned down by photographers”.
Those Americans. Shame on them!
Cue the American counter-attack and it was as shock-and-awe as you might expect. Matt Welch, writing for reason.com and with Bernard-Henri Lévy in his sights, went straight for the jugular. This “narcissist millionaire shirt-unbuttoner” BHL is “10 times the national embarrassment to France than Jerry Lewis or even Johnny Hallyday ever was.”
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, cheese-eater!
Next up for the American press came the allusions to a perceived seediness among French men. In an opinion piece in Time, Judith Warner takes a shot at Strauss-Kahn’s nickname in France: Le Grand Séducteur, the Great Seducer. She blames “the pervasive sexism” of “a culture that takes a complacent, even complicit attitude toward inappropriate, sometimes predatory sexual action on the part of powerful men, normalizing it, even occasionally romanticizing it, under the catchall cliché of Gallic seduction.”
Warner gets back up from Rachel Marsden in the New York Daily News, an expert in French society since she “moved to Paris from New York nearly two years ago.” “The French response has been subtly condescending, as if we Americans can’t understand their sophisticated sexual practices and arrest a refined individual like DSK instead of simply tolerating him with a c’est la vie, as the French for so long have,” she writes.
Take that Gallic male pride!
The arguments get sillier and more heated on both sides of the Atlantic. The French, not content with arguing with the Americans, have taken to pointing the finger at each other. Socialist MP Manuel Valls works himself up into a frenzy on public television, criticising those who criticise those who apparently knew of unflattering rumours of Strauss-Kahn’s past comportment with women. The fact that people are even talking about the case is “absurd” he argues.
In some quarters it is worse than absurd. It is irresponsible. The US justice system has the right to function as it deems fit but elements of the American tabloid press seem to be a law unto themselves. The Daily News headline ‘Le Perv’ and the byline ‘French big busted in sex attack on hotel maid’ are wrong. And as the First Post remarks, so is New York mayor Michael Bloomberg who, commenting on the NYPD parading Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs’, said “If you don’t want to do the perp walk, don’t do the crime.” Did somebody decide to do away with the ‘presumption of innocence’ while we weren’t looking? And what happens if the Strauss-Kahn case gets thrown out because his (presumably well-paid) lawyers successfully argue that he will never get a fair trial, having been presented to the American public as Le Perv?
What will happen is that the French left-wing press and ‘intellectual elite’ will sit back, fold its arms, shrug its shoulders, smile and say ‘we told you so.’
by Mark Davis