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After Strauss-Kahn dismissal, French and US press reflect – and point fingers

5 min

The day after charges against former IMF chief and French presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss-Kahn were dropped, newspaper editorialists on both sides of the Atlantic were left to digest, assess, speculate, and assign blame.


The dismissal of sexual assault charges against former IMF chief and French presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Tuesday concluded a saga that made for splashy front-page news headlines over the past three months.

On Wednesday, editorialists on both sides of the Atlantic were left to digest it all, offering final musings, criticisms, and lessons to be given and gleaned from a case that dashed the reputation of one of France’s brightest political stars and brought old trans-Atlantic rivalries back to the surface.

The French press, which had initially reeled at seeing one of their political elite paraded in handcuffs before flashing cameras and jeering crowds, struck a cautious, occasionally scolding tone in assessing Strauss-Kahn. Centrist daily Le Monde noted that though “the media frenzy undeniably played a major role in Strauss-Kahn’s fall… he is, above all, a victim of his own recklessness”.

The Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace, a regional daily in the eastern Alsace region, came down even harder on Strauss-Kahn supporters who reacted to the dismissal of charges with relief and joy. “It is deeply shocking to hear people talk as if the New York case boiled down to an odious plot and a media lynching,” read the editorial. “The real indecency is wanting to make [Strauss-Kahn] appear whiter than white.”

‘The new pebble in the shoe of Socialists’

Right-leaning daily Le Figaro also emphasised how low Strauss-Kahn has been brought by the case. “Far from being cleared, DSK will now have to face another punishment, the suspicious glare of public opinion,” wrote Yves Thréard, a political blogger for the newspaper’s website. “Allusions to his return to French politics seem totally off-subject.”

For several editorialists in the French regional press, a hypothetical return to politics for Strauss-Kahn would, if anything, be bad news for Socialists hoping to unseat centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential election. “The return of DSK will disrupt the Socialist Party’s message”, wrote Patrice Chabanet in north-eastern newspaper Journal de la Haute-Marne. Midi Libre, a daily in the southern city of Montpellier, similarly qualified Sarkozy as “the new pebble in the shoe of Socialists”.

But other French editorialists continued to point to what they consider flaws in the US handling of the case. According to daily Catholic publication La Croix, one of the major “losers” in the case was “the image of justice”. A similar point was made by Dominique Garraud, writing for south-western newspaper Charente Libre. “Nothing can ever erase the image of DSK handcuffed, unshaven, looking defeated, accused of a sordid sexual crime,” he wrote. “He’s judicially cleared, but he comes out of this ordeal politically obliterated.”

Left-wing daily Libération singled out a potentially constructive effect of the case, as it “allowed us to shine a harsher light on the reality -- up until now mostly hidden -- of the imbalance in power between the sexes in politics, and in the bedroom, as well”.

‘France in its dominating arrogance’ or ‘America looking for scapegoats’?

Indeed, the Strauss-Kahn case resulted in a fair amount of French soul-searching regarding gender inequality and treatment of women in both professional and private spheres in France. That continued Wednesday, with French feminist Florence Montreynaud penning a fiery editorial in Le Monde. “Strauss-Kahn incarnated France in its dominating arrogance,” Montreynaud wrote. “But with the emperor having lost his clothes, the so-called seduction ‘à la française’ will now be seen for what it is: sexual violence.”

The idea that Strauss-Kahn represents a larger French problem is not shared by all commentators in France. Also in Le Monde Wednesday was an equally fiery opinion piece by writer Pascal Bruckner, who argued, to the contrary, that US puritanism and anti-French sentiment were responsible for much of the damage done in the Strauss-Kahn case. “Punishing France for Iraq, for Roman Polanski, for its laws on the headscarf and niqab, putting rebellious France, stubbornly attached to its loose values, in its place -- that is what the Strauss-Kahn case is ultimately about at a moment when America is biting the dust and looking for scapegoats,” Bruckner wrote.

Strauss-Kahn's nightmare 'not over'

Reactions in the US were somewhat more subdued, with The New York Times noting that the decision to dismiss charges was a wise one, considering that it would be legally and ethically wrong of the prosecutors to ask a jury to trust an accuser that they no longer trusted themselves.

The Oregonian, the biggest daily newspaper in the north-western city of Portland, similarly defended the decision, stating that “this is the rare celebrity case where the American justice system owes no apologies” and that accuser “Diallo let [prosecutors] down”.

But pointed criticism of the judicial handling of the case could be found in The Star Ledger, the largest newspaper in New Jersey (a state that neighbours New York); the paper’s editorial board slammed chief prosecutor Cyrus Vance for having “paraded his big catch before the media and wildly overstated the evidence against him”.

Still, the paper reserved its harshest words for Strauss-Kahn himself. “It is grating to watch him go free when there is a good possibility he is guilty of sexual assault. And it was annoying to hear him whine about what a ‘nightmare’ this ordeal has been for him and his family,” the editorial read. “But if it’s any comfort, his pathway to the French presidency is likely blocked now, he lost his job as head of the International Monetary Fund, and he still faces a rape charge in France. His nightmare is not over.”


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