On Saturday morning, scores of local and foreign reporters set up cameras, lights and umbrellas on the sunny stretch of sidewalk they had dubbed “DSK beach,” opposite Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s Tribeca townhouse in Manhattan. As they waited for the former chief of the International Monetary Fund to emerge on his first day of freedom from house arrest, the journalists occasionally updated their viewers by holding up the New York Post’s front page, which blared, “DSK MAID A HOOKER / Exclusive: ‘Took Care’ of Guests on the Side.”
“In New York, we laugh at the headline about the maid today, but we don’t necessarily believe it,” Nathan King, a half-French correspondent for channel France 24 who has lived in New York for a decade, explained as he accepted a spritz of sun block from a colleague calling herself the “cabana girl.” Back in France, King said, “they don’t understand.”
Lawyers in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case offer differing opinions about the latest developments in the case and what they may lead to. (July 1)
France is not entirely naive to tabloid culture, (France Soir, anyone?) but theirs is nothing like the tabloid wars in New York. In the story of Strauss-Kahn — a French player in global monetary policy and politics accused of raping a chambermaid in a luxury hotel — the competition was so fierce that it conflagrated into much of the broader coverage, destroying and then reviving the fortunes of the past and potential future French presidential contender along the way.
When police removed Strauss-Kahn from a plane at Kennedy airport, New York won ownership of the season’s biggest tabloid story. And the papers ran with it. As opposed to the French media’s frequent assertions of innocence and complaints about the incivility of the American police state, the gleefully francophobic tabloids here rushed to judgment in the opposite direction, casting the powerful, rich and randy politician as “Le Perv,” per the New York Daily News, or “Pepe le Pew,” as the New York Post preferred. Simply put, Strauss-Kahn was a gift from the tabloid gods, and he was sacrificed accordingly. Details of his alleged rape of the chambermaid, speculative stories about the accuser having HIV, and photos of the power broker’s perp walk, prison jumpsuit and $50,000-a-month house-arrest manse filled the front pages. The tabloids were fulfilling their primary mission of selling copies on the newsstand by providing eye-popping headlines and answers to the questions the broadsheets usually won’t touch. And they were doing a particularly fine job of it.
What made the Strauss-Kahn coverage so different to the Manhattan district attorney’s office was that the tabloids did what the always to, but their readership changed to include a foreign press corps decidedly not in on the joke: The city’s tabloids are most concerned delivering news that gets a rise out of their readers. The foreign press cited the New York Post as if it were the New York Times, and then the traditionally reserved business press and broadsheets, with their own stake in a highly competitive story, proved unwilling to forfeit the juicier details about semen samples and sex acts to the tabs. Add to that the frequent television appearances by the accuser’s lawyer, some indiscreet remarks by District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who characterized the alleged crime as “extremely serious,” leaks from the police department and the press tents erected outside the courthouse. The result was an unusually furious summertime media maelstrom.