DSK, Claire Chazal and The Triumph of Style Over Substance.
Sep 19 2011
The French electorate was treated to a well-rehearsed, well-orchestrated piece of political theatre last night in the form of the the long-awaited television interview of disgraced former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn by lead TF1 anchor Claire Chazal. No doubt chosen for her "polite" interviewing style (more Katie Couric than Chistiane Amanpour) and her long-standing friendship with DSK's wealthy, politically connected wife Anne Sinclair, her questions were pointed enough to be uncomfortable but stopped well short of making him squirm.
A number of DSK's answers merited tough follow up questions or at the very least further clarification, especially regarding the significance of the U.S. prosecutor's report which he brandished about several times throughout the interview. There is a world of difference for instance between being exonerated of all sexual assault charges and having those charges dropped because a prosecutor believes he is unable to meet the exacting burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt) in a criminal proceeding yet the issue was not even discussed. His statements and answers to her questions were clearly calculated to take advantage of French ignorence of the U.S. criminal justice system and she largely let him get away with it. To hear DSK describe it, he was the innocent victim of a grave injustice even going so far as to suggest (without elaborating of course) the possibility of a "set up" (complot).
DSK's most egregious statement however was in answer to Ms. Chazal's question regarding the physical evidence of rape collected by an experienced medical team a few hours after the alleged attack. DSK summarily dismissed this evidence as insignificant arguing that it was merely a hospital admission report based on the victim's account of the alleged incident (une fiche d'entrée à l'hôpital). That was at best a mischaracterization by DSK of a standard police investigatory procedure in sexual assault cases yet, once again, Ms. Chazal let him off the hook. A well-prepared interviewer would have known that the results of the so-called "rape kit" which corroborated key elements of the victim's account is not just another hospital admission report but rather a significant piece of corroborative evidence that generally carries a good deal of weight in sexual assault cases. In fact, the term "rape kit" is shorthand for "sexual assault forensic evidence collection". It is forensic biological evidence for which hospital medical staff receive specific training to collect. Ms. Chazal either didn't know this or she knew and simply chose to ignore it. Neither scenario inspires confidence in her journalistic integrity.
Ms. Chazal's interview, probably the most coveted "get" of the political season, would have merited a deeper probe into these issues yet she let them slide with little or no follow up. Instead, she let DSK steer the conversation to the Euro crisis and the current state of the global economy because of course, that was the real reason French voters tuned in to TF1 last night. Ms. Chazal's performance was a far cry from the tough interview of French culture minister Frederic Mitterand administered by her network rival Laurence Ferrari following allegations that Mitterand had engaged in sex tourism in Thailand prior to taking office.
Given the significance of the DSK scandal for France's political and journalistic classes not to mention the image of France's political leaders abroad, one would have expected a far tougher exchange. While the interview was more than a fluff piece, it stopped well short of providing the French electorate a probing interview with a man who until a few short months ago was considered a serious contender in the upcoming French presidential race. Instead, French voters were served a cynical piece of political theatre, carefully choreographed down to the coordinated attire (he in a sombre black suit, white shirt and navy tie; she in a black jacket with navy trim). In other words, a triumph of style over substance. I would have thought the French electorate deserved better.
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