The Odd French Reaction To The Arrest Of Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Some French politicians and intellectuals seem offended that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is being treated like a common criminal.

The weekend arrest of I.M.F. head Dominique Strauss-Kahn has prompted some odd reactions from some quarters of French politics and culture:

Many in France are embarrassed and  ashamed at the arrest of IMF big shot Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a prominent French socialist seen as the most likely candidate to defeat center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy.

But what’s got some French lefties really upset is that New York’s police put the accused sex offender through a traditional “perp walk” – paraded before TV cameras in handcuffs just like, well, a common criminal suspect!

Eva Joly, leader of the French Green Party, called the perp walk a “violent image.” And she had some harsh words for America’s justice system —  complaining it “doesn’t distinguish between the director of the I.M.F. and any other suspect.”

Of course, the “perp walk” is something that is almost totally unique to New York City, and perhaps some high-profile Federal cases. William Safire explained it back in 1986:

Perp walk burst into print in November 1986; Newsweek reported that Charles Hynes, the New York prosecutor, “refused to parade defendants before cameras in the now-traditional ‘perp walk’ that many prosecutors use to please the TV stations.” The columnist Nat Hentoff, journalism’s foremost defender of civil liberties, wrote that same month in criticism of publicity-seeking prosecutors who “put defendants through what is called in the trade a ‘perp walk'” after alerting camera crews of the parade of supposed malefactors. “Under such circumstances, even Mother Teresa would look extremely suspicious, especially if her hands were cuffed behind her back.”

Robert Morgenthau, Manhattan’s district attorney, informs me that the phrase dates back to the

mid-70’s, when he and the TV reporter Gabe Pressman often clashed over the interests of the press and the public versus the rights of the accused. “Gabe said, ‘We need pictures to report your cases,’ and I said, ‘You’re breaking my heart,'” recalls the crusty D.A. “But Rudy Giuliani, when he was a prosecutor, was the master of the perp walk.”

It is, in other words, as much a public relations stunt as anything else and, as Safire notes later in that piece, “has come under fire from a minority determined to defend the principle of the presumption of innocence and the rights of those indicted to a trial before an unprejudiced jury.”

So, perhaps the French commentators have a point here, although I’d say that Strauss-Kahn shouldn’t be treated any differently than any other criminal defendant. The truly odd part about the French reaction, though, are the people who seem to be defending DSK’s conduct, consider this piece from French journalist Bernard Henri-Levy:

I do not know—but, on the other hand, it would be nice to know, and without delay—how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most of New York’s grand hotels of sending a “cleaning brigade” of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet.

And I do not want to enter into considerations of dime-store psychology that claims to penetrate the mind of the subject, observing, for example, that the number of the room (2806) corresponds to the date of the opening of the Socialist Party primaries in France (06.28), in which he is the uncontested favorite, thereby concluding that this is all a Freudian slip, a subconsciously deliberate mistake, and blah blah blah.

(…)

What I know as well is that nothing, no earthly law, should also allow another woman, his wife, admirable in her love and courage, to be exposed to the slime of a public opinion drunk on salacious gossip and driven by who knows what obscure vengeance.

And what I know even more is that the Strauss-Kahn I know, who has been my friend for 20 years and who will remain my friend, bears no resemblance to this monster, this caveman, this insatiable and malevolent beast now being described nearly everywhere. Charming, seductive, yes, certainly; a friend to women and, first of all, to his own woman, naturally, but this brutal and violent individual, this wild animal, this primate, obviously no, it’s absurd.

This morning, I hold it against the American judge who, by delivering him to the crowd of photo hounds, pretended to take him for a subject of justice like any other.

Now Henri-Levy is certainly entitled to stand by his friend, but the mindless conspiracy theorizing he engages in is simply absurd, and the obvious outrage he has over the fact that the NYPD dared to treat Strauss-Kahn like they would treat a street-corner drug dealer (which I don’t believe is true, but more on that below) belies a sense of elitism that Americans would find troublesome to say the least. I don’t know about France, but here we’re all supposed to be equal before the law.

Finally, I would dare say that the idea that Henri-Levy was treated like any other Defendant is absurd. I would bet that the moment the NYPD and the Manhattan District Attorney realized who the accused attacker was, they made certain they had their evidence in a row in a manner they wouldn’t do for some street corner drug dealer. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there had been a few surreptitious phone calls traded with the Department of Justice and State Department because of the international political implications sure to follow from dragging off an airplane the head of the IMF and a likely candidate for the French Presidency (just imagine if something similar happened to a contender for the U.S. Presidency on a trip abroad). None of that would have happened if DSK wasn’t who he was.

 

 

What I know as well is that nothing, no earthly law, should also allow another woman, his wife, admirable in her love and courage, to be exposed to the slime of a public opinion drunk on salacious gossip and driven by who knows what obscure vengeance.

And what I know even more is that the Strauss-Kahn I know, who has been my friend for 20 years and who will remain my friend, bears no resemblance to this monster, this caveman, this insatiable and malevolent beast now being described nearly everywhere. Charming, seductive, yes, certainly; a friend to women and, first of all, to his own woman, naturally, but this brutal and violent individual, this wild animal, this primate, obviously no, it’s absurd.

This morning, I hold it against the American judge who, by delivering him to the crowd of photo hounds, pretended to take him for a subject of justice like any other.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Europe, Law and the Courts, US Politics, World Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. ponce says:

    Maybe it’s time to withdraw our support of France’s campaign to exterminate Gaddafi’s grandchildren.

  2. MstrB says:

    NY learned the “never let the sex offender got back to France” lesson from LA.

  3. Andre Kenji says:

    It´s not a French reaction. It´s a reaction from part of the French Left, as one can see from this Le Figaro article:

    http://www.lefigaro.fr/politique/2011/05/17/01002-20110517ARTFIG00459-affaire-dsk-la-justice-americaine-cible-de-la-gauche.php

  4. JKB says:

    Ah, I see where the French are confused. See in America, being a Leftist doesn’t give you leave to rape individuals no matter how much you carry-on about the People.

    I do have to agree with Jon Stewart though regarding the IMF rapist being his own metaphor for “international” organizations. A connected European “aristocrat” trying to screw a poor African worker. I suppose the maid was lucky he wasn’t head of the UN, they bring a whole army to rape Africans.

  5. Stati says:

    JKB, does innocent until proven guilty means something to you?

    I’m not saying anything but it won’t be the first time someone gaining popularity is suddenly blasted by a dirty story to make him less credible. This guy could’ve buy himself the hottest escort with all money he has so allow me to doubt about what is happening.

    This is what the perp walk do, gives you the immediate impression that the guy is guilty. It works just fine, look at what you wrote.

    Another thing that comes to my mind is how sneaky Sarkozy could become since Strauss Kahn would gave him a hard time with presidential elections. I’m not saying anything, just think about it. Strauss Kahn is preparing for elections, dealing with few countries that the IMF will rip-off, and will risk his career with a rape attempt? I can’t be simple minded enough to accept that this easily.

    One thing that bothers me a lot is:

    And she had some harsh words for America’s justice system – complaining it “doesn’t distinguish between the director of the I.M.F. and any other suspect.”

    Why on earth would you treat someone differently because he’s someone important? The crime/accusations are the same aren’t they?

  6. Foobar says:

    Context is key. You’re missing part of the story. A young French lady journalist accused him of being a “primate on heat” on a TV show in 2007. She has accused him of groping her. This is part of the news story in France.

    One would assume the head of the IMF has some sort of security… What would prevent a fake Sofitel maid of taking him hostage for instance? (Think he’s rich. Think that would be coup for a terrorist organisation). So it’s odd.

  7. Vanessa says:

    Hearing more about this crime I am more appalled! Disgusting act and I hope he spends his life in jail.

  8. James Joyner says:

    The more interesting issue is whether DSK is entitled to diplomatic immunity.

  9. rodney dill says:

    The more interesting issue is whether DSK is entitled to diplomatic immunity

    Hmmm… wouldn’t that be known up front? Wouldn’t a diplomat arriving know if that was extended to them already? My initial thought was he blew it my not waiting until he had receive diplomatic status before partaking in any debauchery.

  10. Liberty60 says:

    Really, it is only the French who have this sort of reaction?

    That they reflexively defend a rich and powerful man who is accused of a terrrible crime, and are appalled that he is treated like a common criminal?

    Seriously? Just them?

    We here in America are reeling from the massive pattern of corruption, fraud and criminality that occured in the Wall Street mortgage markets, and yet no one has seen fit to bring any of the criminals to justice; instead we are given endless lists of reasons why it is all too complex to understand, how it isnt clear if it is really a crime, and oh, its all in the past and we should just “keep walking” (oh wait, that was the excuse for that other orgy of criminal behavior…nvm)

    Notice how even calling Wall Street bankers “criminals” causes many people here to recoil in horror, almost as vulgar and coarse as making the head of the IMF do the perp walk. yet we know that laws werre in fact broken, yet no one wants to use the phrase “what part of illegal don’t you understand?”

  11. Liberty60 says:

    and lets not even get started on the “diplomatic immunity” enjoyed by American security contractors in the Bosnian war in the 90’s, and the Iraq war, both of whom were the subject of well-documented rapes and murders.

    So yeah, lets get outraged over this rich and powerful man who may have gotten away with rape…but could we also direct a bit towards his fellow criminals who are still walking free?

  12. The Q says:

    Bravo Liberty 60.

  13. Murray says:

    BHL isn’t a journalist but a poseur and one of France’s richest heirs. He has become such a laughingstock in his native country that he has embarked on a new career: bloging in America.

    I leave it in the capable rhetorical hands of Matt Welch to further let loose on the “narcissist millionaire shirt-unbuttoner.” (http://reason.com/blog/2011/05/16/bhl-frances-national-disgrace)

    As for press coverage. I find that liberation.fr and lemonde.fr, two lefty news outlets, were definitively NOT defending DSK and didn’t hesitate to dig out some dirt surrounding him.

    The reaction of the general public had more to do with the media exposure which is unheard of in European courts for both VIPs and “commoners” (typically, cameras are banned in courtrooms and suspects are shielded from the press while entering and leaving courthouses.)

  14. Hegetarian says:

    I knew Bernard Henri-Levy was an arrogant prick and a racist – not surprised that he is also sexist. French fake leftists make me want to dégueuler.

  15. Hegetarian says:

    //Notice how even calling Wall Street bankers “criminals” causes many people here to recoil in horror, //

    Well, we DO call them “banksters.”

  16. JKB says:

    Stati, detectives of the NYPD investigated and determined there was evidence to seek an arrest warrant against DSK. Then, I have no doubt that someone very high up in the DA’s office reviewed that evidence before seeking that warrant. Then they arrested him. He has appeared at arraignment where a judge has reviewed the evidence and determined that it is sufficient not only to proceed to trial but also to hold him without bail. I do not know the status of the Grand Jury indictment, but that indictment has probably been true billed.

    So, yes, there is innocent till proven guilty but even the head of the IMF can’t avoid the ride in the US when the evidence supports an arrest. The French reaction seems to be that such an individual wouldn’t be handled like anyone else. Which might be true in the haven for privileged rapists that is France. Or do you forget they’ve sheltered Roman Polanski for decades.

    In any case, the French just might have their own problems since it appears this was a French speaking maid from Africa who is a devout Muslim. As Jammiewearingfool puts it, there’ll be carbeques scheduled soon enough.

    By the way, if France starts one more world war, I say we bomb them first.

  17. Stati says:

    JKB, true, I also believe a judge wouldn’t keep him in jail without any good reason, but I really find this whole situatuon surreal.

    Could you elaborate with France starting one more WW?

    As far as I know USA is bombing all over the world for decades, doesn’t this bothers you? Or maybe only Americans can bomb where they want to?

    Sounded totally off-topic. Have you got some personnal feelings against France?

  18. André Kenji says:

    There is one thing that I admire and respect on the French peopel: if there is a Frenchmen facing some problem overseas he has the solidarity of his country. The French fought for Ingrid Betancourt, any French that´s hijacked in Africa gets national attention.

    The French would never allow something like what the Italians did to Amanda Knox. Besides that, I think that´s there is a bigger problem here: the fact that even among academics and pundits very few Americans manage to read any other language than English.

  19. Stati

    He is in jail right now because he is a flight risk.

  20. Stati says:

    I saw his attorney desperatly trying to prove he has no intention to leave the country didn’t quite made it with the judge indeed. Even the huge bail amount proposal didn’t worked out.

    I don’t know if someone presumingly innocent would fly away and presents himself afterward for French presidentials. Or arrange a meeting with Greece to discuss about bancrupcy.

    This is a weird story. I really can’t understand, he had some serious chances to be the next French president, how can someone risk his career that much is beyond me.

  21. wr says:

    Gosh, I wonder what kind of “odd” reaction Doug would have if, say, Dick Cheney were arrested for war crimes should he ever dare set foot outside this country.

  22. Janis Gore says:

    I don’t like perp walks and I don’t like these crime report lists in local papers that mention names. At least the disposition of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s case will be made public.

  23. Joseph says:

    The “perp’ walk is a disgusting breach of our dearest precept, “innocent till proven guilty’. It is incumbent upon civilised society to protect the innocence of all peopel until they are found guilty.

    What the NY cops did was gutless and foul.. might as well just chuck him in leg irons and throw vegetables at him, dispense with the trial altogether… you bloody animals.

    …and that goes for jaywalkers to the head of the IMF.

  24. tom p says:

    If only August Busch III was treated with an equal eye to “justice”….