WASHINGTON -- The facts keep changing. Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK to the cognoscenti), the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, is nabbed by New York police Saturday, having just boarded an Air France flight to Paris. Accused of sexually assaulting a maid at the Sofitel Hotel back in Manhattan hours earlier, he is hustled off the plane. DSK, also the leading candidate against France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, is taken into custody, identified by his alleged victim in a police lineup, and lingers in a Manhattan holding cell. He undergoes some sort of tests wherein DNA samples are taken from his fingernails and skin -- he volunteers for this.
In a matter of hours he is a fallen man. He got up Saturday morning the head of the respected International Monetary Fund. He goes to sleep that night convicted in the eyes of the vast majority of the public as sex offender.
He is subjected to that peculiar American institution of justice, the Perp Walk, and the pictures are grim. He is not the dapper Frenchman anymore, but a guy in a trench coat looking disheveled and woebegone. Judge Melissa Jackson denies him bail, though his wife is on her way from Paris with a million dollars. He may spend the rest of his life behind bars. He is sent to Riker's Island, a brutal place.
Yet the facts keep changing to those who follow the story with care. He booked the seat on the plane at least a week before, so he did not hightail it to the airport after the alleged assault took place. In fact, he had lunch with his daughter in a Manhattan restaurant about a half hour after the alleged assault. The personal cell phone that he allegedly forgot in his hasty exit to the airport and called the hotel about, tipping the cops to his whereabouts, has completely slipped from sight. Still, he is jailed with no hope of bail and charged with several felony counts for chasing a maid around his hotel room and forcing her into various humiliating positions.
The news accounts echo with tales of earlier sexual assaults and behavior that suggests he suffers from the Clinton Syndrome. At least one woman in France is opening up a case against him from years before. My hunch is that he will never be elected president of France. In fact, he might not ever get out of jail.
Now DSK is claiming that there was indeed sexual activity in that hotel room, but it was consensual. Someone close to the defense tells the New York Post, "There may well have been consent." After all it was midday, and the hotel was busy. How did he manage to chase the maid from room to room in his $3,000 a night hotel suite as she claimed without raising a commotion, and did he secure the outer door to the hallway? Oh, and by the way, he got the hotel suite on a discount. He paid between $500 and $800. So it is not a $3,000 suite.
In France opinion is in conflict. Some say DSK, head of the International Monetary Fund and leading candidate for the presidency of France, was set up. Others are embarrassed and some blame the French press. As for the French journalists, there seems to be an awakening that the English-speaking people are not so puritanical after all. "We felt that we were superior to the Americans and the British by upholding the principle of protecting private life," Pierre Haski, co-founder of the website Rue89, told the New York Times. Well, hang on, Pierre. You did not have it so wrong. Public figures have a right to a private life. Yet when they draw attention to their private lives, they go too far. Or when their behavior in private affects the public life of the nation, they have gone too far.
When Bill Clinton continually held up his private life as exemplary he played the public for fools and he got just what he deserved, exposure. When he disported with an intern in the Oval Office, he went too far. When he engaged in "phone sex" on unsecured lines that were open to foreign intelligence agencies, he went too far. Who knows what foreign nations have done with those embarrassing tapes of him and Monica Lewinsky? When indiscretions committed in private affect the commonweal, a public figure has gone to far.
In the case of DSK we have the presumption of innocence in this country until he is proven guilty. He has not been proven guilty. He can wear a bracelet and be bailed out. He should not have been forced to make the Perp Walk. This is not one of our justice system's finest hours.