Why is France Falling for Strauss-Kahn Conspiracy Talk?

May 19th, 2011 at 7:36 am | 11 Comments |

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According to a worrying CSA poll, it seems that 57% of the French believe that Strauss-Kahn’s arrest results from a conspiracy. The numbers have many Americans wondering: have the French lost their minds?

There are though many reasons to explain the polling result. As has been written about everywhere since last Sunday, French political culture is traditionally much more tolerant about sexual matters than America’s political culture.

French president Felix Faure (1841-99) famously died in a Paris brothel, and that didn’t cause much of a shock. Clemenceau quipped that the best part of love was the climb up the stairwell.  He meant: in a brothel. As far as French voters and the press are concerned, any legitimate act between consenting adults is fine and not much to worry about it.

Americans are of course more religious than the French, yet that doesn’t really explain the differing views.  The French were more religious in Faure or Clemenceau’s eras than Americans today. And in any case, the lack of interest in politicians’ private lives is could itself be compatible with a generally moral attitude regarding politics, at least in theory. The problem is that it just isn’t so.

In Strauss-Kahn’s case, as could be suspected, other stories are now emerging about previous incidents: one including Tristane Banon, a journalist Strauss-Kahn seems to have assaulted in 2001 or 2002 (reports differ), and a Mexican chambermaid during an official trip at a later date. Obviously, these incidents go much further than private life issues.

When Strauss-Kahn was appointed to run the IMF, Jean Quatremer, a journalist from the daily Libération, blogged about possible coming troubles due to DSK’s incapacity to control his urges, but the profession ignored him while Strauss-Kahn’s communication staff asked him to remove the post (which he refused to do).

What is emerging now is the realization that every political journalist in Paris was aware of the allegations surrounding Strauss-Kahn’s behavior and failed to reveal them.  No one was there to blow the whistle. Even if we put Strauss-Kahn aside, there’s a larger question: what other stories is the press holding their silence on?

The French understand that there is a sense of “omerta” at work, an implicit vow of silence on the part of the media that may very well cover much more than just sexual or intimate issues.

Most French papers couldn’t survive in the marketplace alone and are only still in business after having been bought out by a larger industrial group.  For their new owners, good relations with the government may be important.

Other players in the French media often rely on financial aid from the state. Public TV and radio are big players too and the news agency AFP is a public company. As a profession, journalists share various corporate interests, fiscal or otherwise. The bottom line is that French journalists depend heavily on the state and are strongly unionized as well.

Add to that the fact that politicians and journalists depend on each other for publicity and scoops and the general discretion about politicians’ intimate lives gets easier to understand.

What remains uncertain is whether the press does a better job when it comes to reporting on corruption in general. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the case.

Not long after Mitterrand’s death, the French public was surprised to discover an interview made by a Belgian TV channel in which Mitterrand dismissed a journalist for being too insistent about a recent scandal involving Mitterrand’s presidential staff illegally wiretapping various French public figures. The scandal was known in France, but the interview, which showed Mitterrand in a very bad light, wasn’t released until he was out of office.

The French public has been kept in an isolated news vacuum many times.  The near-complete consensus against the Iraq war in 2003 is partly explained by the almost compete absence of any dissenting points of view in the media during this period (in addition to some outright lies in reporting).

The current atmosphere, with politicians feigning “shock” about Strauss-Kahn’s attack allegations and more or less insinuating that he is in trouble because he’s an affluent and influential Frenchman, are reminiscent of this period.

All that makes it relatively unsurprising, but depressing, to discover that a majority of the French believe in a conspiracy against Strauss-Kahn (although there isn’t even a theory underpinning that belief).

Less than a week ago, Strauss-Kahn was thought to be not exactly a perfect family man, but still a respectable person, thanks to the media’s omerta — and now he is in jail. It may take some time for the French public to make sense of it all. Hopefully though the scandal will make the public open their eyes a little more.

Recent Posts by Jean Granville

11 Comments so far ↓

  • ottovbvs

    Granville who presumably is a conservative Frenchman is now telling us what Americans think. Perhaps he should focus on the thoughts of his compatriots. It seems to me unlikely it’s a set up but I don’t rule it out entirely. Remember the Duke team and the rape accusations that turned out to be total inventions, and perhaps Granville should remember the previous conservative French prime minister De Villepin who was recently found guilty of trying to frame the current French president Sarkozy, so conspiracies aren’t exactly unknown in France.

  • talkradiosucks.com

    “Many Americans are wondering: have the French lost their minds?”

    When it comes to believing conspiracy theories, the United States of America is one gigantic glass house from which stones should not be thrown.

  • nwahs

    Perhaps they followed the Duke Lacrosse team rape case?

  • Primrose

    While we must ,of course, treat these allegations with caution (though it is not looking good for him), the larger French culture of tolerating adultery in men is clearly guilty. While I feel that ones private life should be more private, all too often this translates into a belief that if men have a sexual urge , it is the duty of some women to fulfill it. Not unlike the military, while higher status women may defer this duty, lower status women rarely may. You see this attitude here as well. How many times perusing Ms. Darkbloom’s column do we read some man saying that men can’t(and shouldn’t be expected)to be faithful. Usually nature is the excuse, though that argument disappears when a women lies about the paternity of her child, surely just as strong, or stronger an instinct ( get the best DNA. And the best provider). Women are supposed to have complete control over that instinct, no matter how selfless it is. But men need not though it is a completely selfish motive.

    Even as liberal a commentator as Dan Savage thinks rape ia about sexual desire as if a women’s right to bodily integrity is too insignificant a principle to make a man pause.

  • joanna

    Primrose, but Dan Savage didn’t say it is ok to rape, or that woman should spread her legs because someone is hot for her. There is nothing liberal or conservative in his statement.

  • Infidel753

    As far as French voters and the press are concerned, any legitimate act between consenting adults is fine and not much to worry about it.

    What on Earth does that, or Strauss-Kahn’s previous womanizing, have to do with this case? The whole point is that what he was accused of was a sexual assault, not a consensual act.

    If he had merely engaged in consensual sex with the maid, the police would not have cared, even in the unlikely event that it had ever come to their attention.

    The inability to draw a hard line between consensual sex (however illicit) and attempted rape is far more disturbing than idiotic conspiracy theories.

  • Jamie

    “Women are supposed to have complete control over that instinct, no matter how selfless it is. But men need not though it is a completely selfish motive.”

    “this translates into a belief that if men have a sexual urge , it is the duty of some women to fulfill it”

    Ummm… really? Maybe in 1950…

    You gross over-simplification about both men and women is almost cartoonish.

  • Bebe99

    It’s not hard to understand the conspiracy theorists on this one. If it was an American conservative who was about to run against Pres. Obama who was charged with rape, there would be a 3-month non-stop media frenzy on this story. And, the timing on this was excellent for Sarkozy.

    • DirtyLibrul

      Aye, and just imagine if that candidate was was in France when it happened. The Tea Party might actually take up arms and hop the pond (only they’d probably cross the wrong ocean…in a 1700′s era ship…and probably die of scurvy and/or exposure…but still).

  • DirtyLibrul

    “Why is France Falling for Strauss-Kahn Conspiracy Talk?”
    Because they want to. Done.

    “Many Americans are wondering: have the French lost their minds?”
    The world has been thinking this about the US since Bush, and it’s only gotten worse with the Palin’s and Trumps.

  • Naming Names in Sexual Assault Cases | The Freeman | Ideas On Liberty

    [...] traditions account for the different reactions in the two countries. For one thing, the French are notoriously tolerant of their politicians’ sexual misdeeds, including criminal ones, which are rarely publicized. [...]