The accusations brought against Dominique Strauss-Kahn are extremely serious. At this stage of the judicial process, there is no public proof that the charges are true. Regardless, the IMF chief has already been put on trial, at least from a media and political perspective. And he has been mercilessly condemned.
When one of the world’s most powerful people is photographed coming out of a police station, his hands cuffed behind his back, he is already given the sentence usually reserved for people like him.
A very serious question thus arises: should anyone be denied their presumption of innocence in front of the media because of their celebrity? Because if all men are equal in front of the law, the same does certainly not apply when it comes to the press.
Charged with “a criminal sexual act, attempted rape, and unlawful imprisonment in connection with a sexual assault,” the head of the International Monetary Fund was called to appear before a New York judge Monday, who ordered him held without bail. Mr. Strauss-Kahn has already announced, through one of his lawyers, that he denies all charges. He also agreed to a police request that he submit himself to forensic tests. The actual trial – which will decide, after close examination, whether the accusations made against him are founded – will come only much later.
The pace of justice can drag out for quite a while. And it may be that at the end of the legal process, Mr. Strauss-Kahn will be declared completely innocent. This happened before, when he was caught up in a corruption scandal involving the MNEF, a student mutual health insurance, and then cleared by a court in 1999.
Then there are the rhythms of the modern media, which operates at lighting speed. For today’s media, the sole unit of measurement is the nanosecond. Thanks to Twitter and other instantaneous electronic communication marvels, the story is always told as it happens. Some may rejoice over this, and others may see it as the beginning of a nightmare, but in practice there is very little that anyone can do about it.
As a result, news of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest has the power to make the euro drop on Asian markets – as it did Monday morning – or complicate ongoing negotiations over Greek debt. It can also, as we’ve experienced ad nauseam since the story first broke Sunday morning, turn the perspective of the next presidential elections upside down.
That’s because the passage of political time, which tries to keep pace with the media, does not wait for judicial time to catch up. That Strauss-Kahn might eventually be cleared over this affair has almost no consequences on his political future.
The current procedure against him, which is undoubtedly going to take some time, will prevent him from running as a candidate in the Socialist Party’s primaries. The magnitude of the bombshell – or “thunderbolt” as Martine Aubry, the leader of the Socialist Party, put it – delivered by this affair is such that it forced Strauss-Kahn out of the political arena. Regardless of whether he is guilty or not.
photo - Ben Witte