When the news of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn (“DSK”)’s arrest for attempted rape came out, many of the noises coming out of France was that it was a national embarrassment.
And of course it is. Tabloids are making great headlines out of DSK’s Frenchness and taste for women.
But the real national embarrassment for France is the response of its elites.
First came the two-faced appeals to the sacred “presumption of innocence” by French politicians on both sides of the aisle. DSK rival and self-proclaimed women’s advocate Ségolène Royal extended her thoughts to DSK and his family for going through a very hard time, but did not have a word for the maid, for whom one suspects the past few days haven’t been all roses.
The “presumption of innocence” was turned into a presumption of culpability of the accuser. Much ink was poured over how awful it is for DSK. And since DSK must be presumed innocent, not a word was spared to worry about the maid and her family, who are going through a hard time.
To the rescue came repeated fraudster and Roman Polanski defender Bernard-Henri Lévy (with friends like these, who needs enemies, Dominique?) who was shocked, shocked that in America “anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime” (mon Dieu!), and suggests that DSK shouldn’t be treated that way because, well, he’s a very important man.
And then came the outrage over the perp walk. Pictures of people in handcuffs who haven’t been convicted of a crime are illegal in France. “France Furious About Dominique Strauss-Kahn Perp Walk,” we headlined. In reality, “France” was glued to their TV sets and to Twitter. It was a small French elite that was mortified.
Former justice minister Elisabeth Guigou said that the images showed “a brutality, a violence, of an incredible cruelty, and I’m happy that we don’t have the same judiciary system.”
And yes, unlike getting sexually assaulted in a locked hotel room an internationally televised perp walk is brutal and humiliating.
But there is something even more “brutal” and “incredib[ly] cruel”, and that’s the law of silence that surrounds the affairs of important people in France.
When DSK allegedly tried to rape journalist Tristane Banon in 2002, she did not dare go public. And when she did, in 2007 on TV, she was bleeped out and uninvited from talk shows. The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik explains well (albeit with a handful of innacuracies) how France’s privacy and libel laws protect the private lives of the powerful. The Times has a long exposé of the decades-long “code of silence” by which the media protects the powerful.
Let’s assume for a second that Banon and the hotel maid are correct. Who knows how many more sexual assaults like this occured, or might have occured? Who knows how many might have been prevented if the French media had done its job? The brutality, violence and incredible cruelty on display here are against the women and the little people who are told that they’re alone, that they must shut up and move on. They are the brutality, violence and incredible cruelty of an elite that responds to democratic accountability as to a loud fart in a cocktail party.
And even if the accusations are false, there is simply no good case in a democracy that they shouldn’t have been publicized.
So yes. The US media coverage of DSK’s case can be lurid and nasty. But now the moral bankruptcy of the alternative is laid bare.
Transparency can be painful. It can be shocking. It’s also very, very good.
Note: The author of this article is a French citizen and lives in Paris.