So here we are: More than a week after the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 30 French journalists, exhausted and bored, camped out in front of 153 Franklin Street, the Tribeca townhouse where DSK is on house arrest. (Previously, he had been staying in an apartment at 71 Broadway in lower Manhattan.) We wait for him to walk outside. We wait for his wife, Anne Sinclair, to go shopping. We wait for his lawyers to chat with us. And we wait some more. Most of us haven’t slept much since May 14. At 7:35 PM that day, a marathon began. And we don’t see the end yet.
I was in a cab that Saturday night, on my way to DC’s E Street Cinema with my husband and a friend. Just before the end of the ride, I received an e-mail on my iPhone. New York Times breaking news: “The head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, got arrested on an Air France plane. He is suspected of sexual assault.” I shouted a very bad word in French that I wish I could translate as “OMG” . . . though it’s probably closest to “WTF.”
I had just written a profile of DSK for The Washingtonian, explaining how this man who was relatively unknown in Washington was a hero in France. Many on the left hoped he would return and run for president in 2012. It’s hard to overstate how much excitement there was about that possibility—people saw him as a savior for France, a proven leader on the world stage. The French knew he’d had extramarital affairs, but that hadn’t hurt his reputation as a political leader.
It was too late to update my Washingtonian story to reflect Strauss-Kahn’s arrest; the magazine had already been printed. But while the piece was out of date by the time it arrived on newsstands—he was suddenly no longer unknown here, nor was he the likely next French president—I have heard from many people that the profile adds perspective to the news. It shows how much Strauss-Kahn lost and helps explain why the French were so shaken by his arrest.
Immediately after the news broke, I called the headquarters of BFMTV in Paris, the news channel I work for. It was 1:35 AM in France, and there was only one journalist on duty. Thanks to Twitter, he had heard about the arrest a few minutes before my call. In a little more than three hours, a dozen of our reporters had been woken up and called into work. By 10:30 PM (4:30 AM in France) we were ready. From my Washington studio on M Street, I taped the first account of the story. I worked through all of the next day and night, delivering live updates. And I haven’t stopped working since, first from Washington, now from New York.
Sunday, May 15, was a day of total shock. Everyone in France, no matter his or her political leanings, was stunned. All anyone could say was, “Oh, my God!”
The next day was the day of denial. “It can’t be true! It has to be a plot!” A plot? Designed by whom? By his political enemies! Detractors of the IMF! Anybody! It had to be a plot.
By Tuesday, the French had to find someone to blame. So they blamed the American justice system. This reaction wasn’t too big of a surprise thanks to the differences in the law between France and the United States. In France, it’s illegal to show pictures of someone in handcuffs who has yet to be convicted of a crime. That sort of practice is considered disrespectful of the notion of “innocent until proven guilty.” Not only had the world seen images of a man who had yet to come to trial, but he was unshaven and wore a wrinkled shirt, his hands bound. And this man was Dominique Strauss-Kahn, supposed future president of France, champion of the left wing. Here in the States, people were shocked by the allegations. In France, the shock came from the fact that it was DSK. Emotions ran high.
Now, ten days later, the initial shock has worn off. But we’re bracing for the inevitable aftershocks. French elites—journalists, politicians, intellectuals—have been shaken up by this scandal. Questions now being raised in France go deep into the nature of our culture. How private is the private life of a politician? Should French journalists dig deeper into rumors of infidelity and sexual harassment?
I wish I had time to think more deeply about those questions. But for now, I’m stuck on the sidewalk, waiting like a paparazza for a sign, waiting from Strauss-Kahn to come out of the building. I’ve been waiting for so long that I don’t even remember what I’m waiting for.
I decided to go to the movie anyway that Saturday night at the E Street Cinema. I’m glad I did. It’s my last memory of a quiet time, of a moment with my family before I plunged into this whole crazy news, before I got absorbed by this whirl.