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French press unimpressed by Strauss-Kahn interview

Reactions to ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s Sunday interview were eviscerating, with critics slamming a non-confrontational interview that yielded few details and fewer signs of genuine remorse.


It was a much-awaited TV moment across France. But the day after Dominique Strauss-Kahn gave his first TV interview since his May 14 arrest, the French press was eviscerating in its assessment of the disgraced former IMF chief’s Sunday night performance.

A whopping 12.5 million people across France tuned into the TF1 network Sunday for the 20:00 primetime spot, according to Mediametrie, the French audience measurement company.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn describes liason with NY hotel maid as a 'mistake'

The figure was a sharp jump from the 7.5 million viewers of the same show the previous Sunday.

For French viewers exposed to months of a high-profile scandal that saw one of the country’s most respected citizens facing sexual assault charges in a New York court before he finally returned home to Paris a free man two weeks ago, Sunday’s interview was a long-anticipated chance to hear Strauss-Kahn’s account of what happened on May 14 in a New York hotel suite.

“This is the first time this kind of thing has happened in France, this sort of public confession,” said Divina Frau-Meigs, a media specialist at Paris' Sorbonne University, in an interview with FRANCE 24. “But he failed on the confession front, because it was a full denial. We haven’t heard anything of what really happened.”

"A formidable media exercise"

At the end of Sunday’s 20-minute interview, most French viewers said they were no closer to knowing what transpired between Strauss-Kahn and hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo in the Sofitel Manhattan’s suite 2806.

In an editorial in Libération, the French left-leaning daily, editor Vincent Giret blasted what he called Strauss-Kahn’s “formidable media exercise”.

"His contrition was played out Sunday, on the whole, in a minor mode,” wrote Giret, noting that Strauss-Kahn did not succeed in dispelling speculations over what happened on May 14 in the hotel suite. Giret accused Strauss-Kahn of “hiding behind the New York prosecutor’s report” instead of addressing the issue.

Wearing a dark suit and white shirt with a sombre blue tie, Strauss-Kahn frequently brandished Cyrus Vance’s August report asking that criminal charges be dropped since Diallo’s past history of inconsistent testimonies made her an unreliable witness.

Strauss-Kahn did not go into detail about the incident, nor was he asked to. He simply maintained that "what happened involved neither violence nor constraint: no criminal act."

"A strange apology"

During his interview with TF1 anchorwoman Claire Chazal - a friend of his wife - Strauss-Kahn did admit to a “moral failing” in what the daily Le Parisien called “a strange apology”.

“DSK recognises ‘a moral failing,’” read the top Monday morning headline of Le Figaro, the more conservative of France’s two newspapers of record, using the familiar French abbreviation of his name.

The website of the left-leaning Le Monde, on the other hand, ran with the headline, “DSK bids goodbye to the political arena”.

While the English-language press has overwhelmingly focused on Strauss-Kahn’s admission of “a moral failing,” a number of French newspapers have highlighted the issue of the political future of the Socialist politician.

Before his arrest in New York, Strauss-Kahn was expected to be the top contender to challenge President Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential election.

“A trap? It’s possible,” says the banner headline of Libération, another left-leaning daily, using a quote from Strauss-Kahn’s Sunday night interview.

Following his arrest and the shock over the very public airing of Strauss-Kahn’s sexual assault charges in the US, questions were raised in some French circles, over whether the latest incident was a plot to derail his political career.

In the introduction to its top news story, Libération asserts that “having acknowledged a moral failing, Dominique Strauss-Kahn recognises that he has missed his ‘appointment with the French people’ but he does not rule out ‘a conspiracy.’”

Strauss-Kahn's polished PR strategy

In his interview, Strauss-Kahn said he could "obviously" no longer be a candidate and would play no part in the forthcoming Socialist primaries. But he left the question of his long term political career open, noting he would now "take time to reflect" on his future.

Media analyst Frau-Meigs was reluctant to call it the end of Strauss-Kahn’s political ambitions. “You can never say somebody won’t survive in politics, especially in France, where politics is very elitist, very classist and it's very hard to debunk men in power.”

‘Scripted responses to scripted questions’

During the 20-minute interview, the social microblogging site Twitter recorded a sharp spike in posts tagged “DSK” with most posts castigating Chazal for a non-combative interview during what was largely viewed as a staged performance.

“He clearly supplied a set of scripted responses to a set of scripted questions,” said Waddick Doyle, head of the global communications department at the American University of Paris, in an interview with FRANCE 24. “I think TF1 wasn’t severe on him. I think if he were in the English-speaking world, he would have has a much more aggressive interview process.”

The choice of Chazal, a friend of Strauss-Kahn’s wife Anne Sinclair, a former journalist who worked for TF1, raised eyebrows across the country and reopened a longstanding French debate on the close ties between French political and media circles.

Before the interview, Diallo’s lawyers had called on Chazal to vigorously interrogate Strauss-Kahn. In a statement following the interview, Thibault de Montbrial, Diallo's French lawyer, said the interview was "a public relations exercise, without any spontaneity, neither in the questions nor the replies - scripted down to each gesture".

In addition to the New York case, Mr Strauss-Kahn faces an allegation by French author Tristane Banon that he tried to rape her in 2003.

But the former IMF chief said that Banon's accusations were imaginary, adding that there was "no violence". He is suing for defamation.

In an interview with French channel BFM, Banon’s mother, Anne Mansouret - who has herself admitted to having consensual but “brutal” sex with Strauss-Kahn - said the former IMF chief “explained nothing” and dismissed his interview as “an exercise in drama.”

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