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France: The Fall of Dominique Strauss-Kahn?

On Sunday 15 May, 2011, France awoke to a political earthquake: a sex scandal involving the (now former) French president of the IMF (International Monetary Fund), Dominique Strauss-Kahn, arrested for an alleged sexual assault against a chambermaid in a New York hotel.

On day three after the revelation, French bloggers are still struggling to grasp the implications of this global scandal on French politics.

From “Don Juan” to “pervert”

Front page of the french daily newspaper "liberation".

Front page of the French daily newspaper "Liberation".

The political fallout in France will be enormous. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, known as ‘DSK', was the only politician thought to be able to defeat the incumbent President Sarkozy in next year's presidential election. He was even ahead in recent polls.

Romain, blogging on Lyonitude [fr] is in shock:

Moi qui suis un strauss-kahnien des plus convaincus depuis des années, par beau temps et par orage, je suis effondré si les choses se confirment.

As one who has been a fervent supporter of Strauss-Kahn for years, in good and stormy weather, I will be shattered if this is confirmed.

Dorham1er is aghast [fr] at the magnitude of the scandal striking France:

L'affaire Bill Clinton, à coté de tout ce foutoir, c'est le chapitre guimauve d'un mauvais roman de la bibliothèque rose. Il faut sans doute remonter plus loin pour trouver trace d'une affaire aussi grave  […] au tout début des années 80 et à la candidature d'Edward Kennedy à l'investiture démocrate

The Bill Clinton scandal, compared to this mess, is a cheesy chapter in a cheap novel for kids. One must probably go long way back to find such a damaging scandal […] to the early 1980s and Edward Kennedy's candidature to the Democrat ticket.

A few DSK supporters in denial are still sporting “Yes We Khan” banners [fr] and T-shirts on their blogs. One commenter quips:

Yes, we kahn forget (the election)

Focus on media coverage

On day one of the scandal, Sunday, cartoonist Dadou caught the general opinion on the charges facing Strauss Kahn with this sketch: that it could not be true.

The arrest of DSK was written off as harsh local United States laws and as a smear campaign. On Monday, a poll showed that 57%  were still convinced DSK was innocent [fr]. Agnès, on Le Monolecte, commented wryly [fr]:

Après le too big to fail, voici le too powerfull [sic] to rape.

After Too big to fail, here comes too powerful to rape.

On day three of the scandal, in full media frenzy (with 19 million entries related to DSK on Google France), reality is slowy sinking in - that it could be true.

The testimony of Tristane Banon, a young writer who told in 2007 [fr] how she had been sexually assaulted by Strauss-Kahn in 2001, is now world famous, and she gave another interview [fr] on 18 May, 2011, to citizen media outlet Agora Vox to confirm it. Testimonies are now surfacing daily in France about DSK's alleged passes [fr].

Top French blog Partageons mon avis coins the obvious question [fr] in the post ‘Je le savais' (I knew it):

Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, if you knew that [about] DSK… Why did you boost his polls and market him as the providential man?

The pressure is now on French journalists who “knew” about DSK's attitude towards women but kept quiet, save for one journalist, Jean Quatremer, a veteran French European affairs journalist and blogger, who had written on his blog [fr] as early as 2007:

Le seul vrai problème de Strauss-Kahn est son rapport aux femmes. Trop pressant, il frôle souvent le harcèlement. Un travers connu des médias, mais dont personne ne parle (on est en France)

The single serious problem with Strauss-Kahn is his attitude with women. Too ‘heavy', he’s a border-line harasser. A problem well known to the media, but nobody mentions it (we are in France).

Sebastien Rochat pleads not guilty for DSK on the website Arret sur Images, invoking a stringent French law, article 9 of the Civil Code [fr], on the protection of private life:

Comment rester élégant et ne pas être attaqué en justice, tout en évoquant des sujets graveleux qui relèvent de la vie privée ? C'est le dilemme des journalistes dès qu'il s'agit de parler de la vie sexuelle des politiques.

How can you remain elegant and avoid being sued, while evoking lewd topics protected by [French laws on] private life?  It's the journalists' dilemma whenever a politician's sex life is concerned.

Kerbraz [fr] slams back in a comment:

This debate has got nothing to do with today's topic. What we are talking about today is a rape, it is a crime…

Rue89 information site co-founder, Pierre Haski, has opened an online debate with a frank post, ‘Why journalists didn't talk about Strauss-Kahn's private life‘ [fr], admitting he should have broken this law more than once:

Je savais que Roland Dumas, alors qu'il était ministre des Affaires étrangères, était l'amant de Nahed Ojjeh, la fille du ministre syrien de la défense Mustafa Tlass. Fallait-il l'écrire ? Je ne l'ai pas fait, en rangeant cette information dans le domaine de la vie privée, alors que, s'agissant du chef de la diplomatie, je ne pense pas que c'était anodin. J'ai sans doute eu tort.

I knew that Roland Dumas, then French Minister of Foreign Affairs, had an affair with Nahed Ojjeh, daughter of the Syrian Minister of Defence Mustafa Tlass. Should it have been exposed? I did not, classifying this information under private life, even though it involved the top level of the Foreign Office and was no menial thing. I was probably wrong.

karlsquell [fr] does not buy it:

Et pourquoi se taire ? Pour pas perdre les interviews, parce que DSK pouvait accéder à la plus haute marche, par peur, par connivence, par lâcheté, par prudence.

Why keep silent? Not to lose interviews, because DSK could have climbed to the highest step, because of fear, connivence, cautiousness.

A side debate raging about the French press involve the pictures showing a manacled DSK coming out of the police station in New York. The law in France forbids the press to publish pictures of manacled suspects  until they are proven guilty, but they were nevertheless published.

Comments on a thread on newspaper Le Monde's website [fr] show a divided opinion on this law:

Henriette: Et dire que Sarkozy veut introduire le système américain. Cela donne des frissons dans le dos.

Henriette: And to think that Sarkozy wants to introduce the American system. This sends shivers down your spine.

Irca: Les Français, qui ont guillotiné Louis XVI en public et en sont fiers, ont été choqués par la vue du roi des sondages menotté.

Irca: The French who beheaded king Louis XVIII  in public, and are proud of it, are shocked by the sight of the ‘king of the polls' in manacles.
Thumbnail of Dominique Strauss-Kahn by International Monetary Fund on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
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