Tuesday, May 24, 2011

DSK's Perp Walk

He’s baaaaaaack! No, not Jack Nicholson, but everyone’s favorite pseudo-philosophe, Bernard-Henri Levy. For future reference, we will follow customary usage and refer to him as: BHL.  Link here.

Wishing to wrap his thoughts in a worthy rhetorical flourish, and having discovered that “j’accuse”  has already been taken, BHL begins every paragraph with... “I maintain...”

If I had to guess, this translates the French, “je maintiens...” As opposed to Zola’s famous words, BHL has managed to draw attention to himself. Zola’s accusation aimed directly at to those who were framing Col. Dreyfus.

The litany of “I maintains...” also suggests that BHL is very high maintenance.

When last he weighed in on the topic, BHL was defending an accused rapist on the grounds that a man who had been his close personal friend for twenty years could not have done what Dominique Strauss-Kahn is accused of having done.

Since some people took him to mean that he was condoning criminal behavior, BHL returns to the Daily Beast to clarify his position.

In yet another impassioned screed, BHL makes every effort to resurrect his own tattered reputation. He declares that his true interest, his true concern, the passion motivating his impassioned defense, is his true love for truth and justice.

In his words: “I maintain that from now on, and more than ever, only one thing is urgent, faced with this drama: to make the howlers shut up; to protect the indicted with the same scrupulousness—and how far we are from that!—as that reserved for the alleged victim; to denounce those who are out for blood and moving in for the kill, like a punishment before the fact, a new episode of which we discover every day, as in a bad reality show. (Just hours ago, a New York hotel, and then a university campus, refused to rent rooms to Strauss-Kahn the pariah and his wife, Anne Sinclair.) And let justice serenely do the work of truth.

“Dominique Strauss-Kahn is my friend. But it’s not the friend that I am defending here; it is the principle.”

BHL is hardly alone in crying out against the American custom of the “perp walk.” In France, it is not done. No accused criminal is paraded in front of the cameras until he has been duly convicted.

So, the difference is cultural, but it is also major. One understands that different countries have different customs, but why do the French imagine that the American criminal justice system, to say nothing of the American press, should play by French rules.

And then, as if to remind us of why he is a pseudo-philosophe, BHL suggests that the perp walk is not customary in America because everyone is not subjected to it.

In truth, a custom can be applied universally if everyone might be subjected to it. Given the limitations on time and space in the media, only a perfect fool would proclaim the custom to be unequal because some criminal defendants did not suffer it.

When it comes to American jurisprudence, we should remind ourselves that the Supreme Court decided, in the case of Sullivan vs. the New York Times that famous people have very, very little recourse against slander and defamation.

Be that as it may, let’s examine BHL’s rhetoric more closely. He wants, fervently, even feverishly, to “make the howlers shut up.”

These “howlers” are the scribes of the American press corps. How would he make them shut up? Is he proposing censorship, a muzzle, or something more drastic?

Here we have moved beyond the supposed error of police procedure to the activities of a free press. (In passing one must note that the name of DSK’s accuser has been splashed across the Parisian press. The American press has kept her name secret.)

BHL is also appalled that a hotel and a campus refused to rent space to the accused. I am not aware of these slights, but we all know that the co-op board of the Bristol Plaza apartment building chose not to allow the “pariah” to spend his house arrest there. We in America call it "private property."

Apparently, the principle of private property has escaped BHL'a ken. The building’s residents did not want to have reporters camped outside its doors for the months preceding the trial.

A pariah has been shamed. And, despite protestations to the contrary, you can be shamed and humiliated without being put on trial. The court of public opinion does not function by the same rules as the criminal justice system.

It imposes a more harsh sanction, social ostracism, and does not have the same standards of proof.

I have suggested in the past that America was a shame culture. What better evidence of this fact could there be than the French outrage over the fact that in America we shame people who have been accused of serious crimes.

Why do we do this? Because shame is a very effective deterrent against crime.

As we all know, rich and famous people have found ways to game the criminal justice system. This gives them a feeling of immunity from prosecution and even from responsibility for their misdeeds.

Is this not one of the reasons why they feel that they can do what they please when they please and escape sanction?

When it comes to shaming, the court of public opinion imposes the strictest social sanctions.

Unfortunately, it also exercises some influence over the jury pool. This does not always work against the interests of the accused-- think O. J. Simpson-- but sometimes it does.

Allow BHL to express his outrage at the court of public opinion, something that, after all, is a mainstay of the marketplace of ideas: “I maintain that we have seen a tribunal of public opinion install itself around the presumably innocent Strauss-Kahn, one which, contrary to the other, doesn’t bother with evidence or proof or contradictory accounts. And I maintain that this pseudo-tribunal is too noisy, too spectacular, too powerful not to exercise a tremendous influence on the other one, the real one, the one that strives to establish the facts, just the facts, nothing but the facts, when the time comes. The United States dreads and sanctions any pressure on witnesses, and justly so; what can one say about this other pressure, none the less criminal, exercised on the judges by the self-styled DAs of the scandal sheets and, it unfortunately follows, the press in general?”

BHL is pleading for justice, for a fair trial, and for the truth. No one can find fault with his maintaining such a postion.

At the same time, some French friends of DSK have reportedly sought out the family of the victim in Guinea, basically in order to buy them off. Given their love of truth and justice they are more than happy to humiliate this poor woman by putting a price on her dignity.

I have no reason to believe that BHL is involved with this effort or condones it. That is not the point.

If there were no court of public opinion, it would surely be much easier to buy your way out of such charges.

As it happens, the prosecutor can try the case without a cooperating witness. But this makes the case more difficult to demonstrate and prove.

You might think that DSK will not be able to get a fair trial in New York. If so, I am confident that his superb legal team will request a change of venue.

I suspect, however, that the people who are attempting to silence the witness, or, to borrow BHL’s rhetoric, to shut up the most inconvenient howler-- that would be the victim-- are more interested in establishing the principle that some people are simply above the law.

[ See also James Taranto's analysis of the mind of BHL in his "Best of the Web" column in today's Wall Street Journal online. Link here.]


laura said...

With regards to BHL you are, as so often, right.
With regards to DSK, well, I continue to believe that powerful people can get away with almost anything, also in your country – as long they are not in the way of an even more powerful force. DSK in all probability was framed. He was on his way to becoming a candidate for the French presidency (some French group may have triggered it), but he has also been one of the only strong voices calling for abandoning of the dollar as a world reserve currency and replace it by a new neutral currency (the Americans therefore could also have had an interest in getting rid of him). In former times, political adversaries were assassinated, this is hardly practiced in the Western world nowadays, but it has been replaced with something just as deadly: “civil death”. DSK is dead whether or not he is going to be acquitted. I don't feel sorry for him though. He was hit where he could be hit. Laura Bertoni

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you, Laura. I suppose that it's possible that DSK was framed, but the stories that have been reported-- assuming that they are true-- don't support that judgment. At least, as of now they don't.

The woman in question does not seem to be sufficiently sophisticated to be reliable as a witness, either before the grand jury or before the criminal jury.

Other evidence suggests that DSK was trying to seduce any one of a number of other women before and after the alleged assault.

It feels like he just thought that he had a right to do what he pleased to women.

I agree with you on your larger point. The fall of DSK is as total as it would have been had he died. And this event certainly has important repercussions. The fate of the dollar is one of them, though I doubt that one man can have that much influence on the fate of the dollar-- I am not optimistic about its ability to survive as a reserve currency. But I would also add that, more importantly, DSK's role in managing the current European financial crisis was critically important... though I am not sure who profits from his being taken off the case.

laura said...

...or: he was not framed at all but fell into his own trap and nobody, for the reasons that occurred to me and others I do not know of, is in the least interested in getting him out. Happy everybody, French and Americans. Good riddance. Laura Bertoni

Susan said...

BHL wrote a book not so long ago called "American Vertigo" in which he evinces an interest in, and admiration for America, and Americans, if I'm not mistaken ( I only know the chapter called "Seattle Mon Amour" because I live in Seattle--his favorite US city-- and heard him read it aloud at a book signing). Now he expresses rage at our justice system which has humiliated his close friend DSK. ( I think that DSK will likely get a very fair trial.) A good part of BHL's angst comes from his close association with DSK and the fact that his crime--if convicted--throws egg on his face (BHL's), in some measure, as it does on all those who knew of DSK's behavior and refused to confront him with it (I would include his wife in this category.) Ultimately, one can question whether they were really very good friends, as they did him no favor by covering up for him; au contraire.

I wonder whether this ( I expect, though I may be wrong) conviction will prompt a re-evaluation of other infamous cover-ups, like that of Charles Enderlin at France 2, in his false reportage which has become known as the Al Dura affair. I certainly hope so!!!

Finally, I vastly prefer French "philosophers" Andre Glucksmann and Pascal Bruckner, for example, to BHL, but one unfortunately rarely reads about them in the US press, although Glucksmann, although he's lost a bit of his steam, IMO, every now and then has a good piece in the very serious "City Journal."

Susan said...

Forgot to add--I think that the DSK affair also particularly humiliates the Socialist party. The Socialists like to think of themselves as superior in their championing of the third world and the underdog, and yet here is their head honcho taking criminal advantage of a defenseless immigrant woman! The hypocrisy is breathtaking! Like DSK, Socialists may not soon recover from this no matter the outcome of the trial.

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