Unverified “revelations” from anonymous sources about Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s New York accuser have led to a torrent of self-recriminations from American commentators. Since, among other reasons, the New York Times reported that the accuser invoked Strauss-Kahn’s wealth during a recorded conversation in a Fulani dialect that she had with an African immigrant in a detention facility, the scales have apparently fallen from many Americans’ eyes. The French critics of America’s bad judicial manners had been proven correct, after all: In our “rush to judgment,” we had let our “prejudices” get the best of us and sullied the reputation of an innocent man whose only crime was to be powerful — and French.
But the problem is that it is not prejudice that created — and indeed still creates — the strongest presumption in favor of the Sofitel maid’s accusations against Strauss-Kahn, but rather familiarity. Those who rushed to judgment the most quickly when Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York were not American yahoos eager to see a French big-wig they’d never before heard of get his comeuppance, but rather those French insiders who best know Strauss-Kahn and his reputation.
Both rumors and explicit accusations concerning sexual predation and harassment on the part of Strauss-Kahn have been circulating among France’s political and media elite for years now. If they had not already given rise to scandal, then this is only thanks to the law of silence that binds the members of this exclusive caste not to rat on their own. Indeed, already in 2007, when French president Nicolas Sarkozy put forward Strauss-Kahn’s name to head the IMF, Jean Quatremer of the French left-wing daily Libération
, in effect, predicted the scandal that would become “L’Affaire DSK
.” Writing about the nomination on his Coulisses de Bruxelles blog
, Quatremer observed:
The only real problem with Strauss-Kahn is his relations with women. Overly insistent, he often comes close to harassment. The fault is well-known to members of the media, but nobody talks about it. (We are in France [after all].) Now, the IMF is an international institution where Anglo-Saxon morals apply. One inappropriate gesture, one overly precise allusion, and it will be a media frenzy.
In October 2008, less than a year after Strauss-Kahn became IMF chief, it appeared that Quatremer’s prediction might already be coming true. At the time, it was revealed that the organization was conducting an internal investigation of Strauss-Kahn on suspicions of harassment and abuse of power in connection with a sexual liaison with a subordinate. The episode occurred the previous January, i.e., just two months after Strauss-Kahn assumed the post. “Astonishing Strauss-Kahn,” Sylvie Pierre-Brossolette wrote in the French weekly Le Point when the news broke:
His whole career, he has never ceased to flirt with the red line. His escapades are legendary, but — as French tradition demands — there has been almost no mention of them in the press. His taste for the weaker sex has led him to take numerous risks. He has nearly been charged with sexual harassment many times.
In the same vein, after Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in New York, the French media-criticism website Arrêt sur images accused the French press of “having always kept quiet about the consistently similar rumors of sexual harassment of which Strauss-Kahn has been the object for many years.”
During a talk show on public-television station France 3, the site’s founder, Daniel Schneidermann, said that he personally knew two women who had met Strauss-Kahn for strictly professional reasons and been “victims” of persistent and unwanted advances on his part. Schneidermann emphasized that as a media critic, not a reporter, he does not figure among the “first circle of initiates.” His implication was that the journalists who are in direct contact with the French political scene must know more about the matter than he does.
Last week, just days after the supposed “revelations” concerning Strauss-Kahn’s New York accuser, the French author Tristane Banon filed attempted-rape charges against Strauss-Kahn in Paris. The charges stem from an incident that occurred in February 2003. Banon, then an aspiring 23-year-old journalist, met Strauss-Kahn in what she has described as a “nearly empty” Parisian apartment to interview him for a book she was preparing. Ironically enough, the subject of the book was the “biggest mistakes” of well-known public figures. On Banon’s account, the two ended up struggling on the floor, with Banon kicking Strauss-Kahn in order to get away from him.