December 23, 2012

Shame on the New York Daily News

Filed under: media & entertainment,personal liberty by Victoria Liberty @ 8:30 pm

New York Daily News

The New York Daily News‘s front page on Saturday (above) was possibly the most offensive newspaper cover I’ve ever seen. Apparently it wasn’t bad enough that they launched a petition last week demanding that Congress violate  Americans’ Second Amendment rights, or that they ran a cover with a picture of the Capitol building covered in blood behind the words “BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS.” On Saturday, the paper decided to run a cover calling Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, the “CRAZIEST MAN ON EARTH” and a “vile NRA nut.” The New York Post wasn’t much better, calling him a “GUN NUT!” and “NRA loon” and describing his press conference as a “bizarre rant.” It is a fundamental rule of journalism that except in opinion pieces, newspapers are supposed to be neutral and factual. It is an egregious violation of this rule for a newspaper to call a person “vile” in a front page headline simply because he expressed a different opinion on a policy issue than that of the editorial board of the newspaper.

New York Post

This brutal coverage of LaPierre almost makes the Post and Daily News seem nice to Dominique Strauss-Kahn in comparison. Almost.

March 28, 2012

DSK: Civil hearing and “aggravated pimping” charges

Filed under: world news by Victoria Liberty @ 10:59 pm

IMFC Presser

Photo via International Monetary Fund

This has been a busy week for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and not in a good way.

On Monday, he was put under preliminary investigation (basically the same as being charged) for “aggravated pimping in an organized gang.” DSK never made money off of prostitutes, as the word pimp would suggest, but he did attend “libertine soirees” where he enjoyed their company. These soirees were paid for by two businessmen who were friends of DSK, allegedly out of company funds. The big dispute in this case is just how involved DSK was with planning and organizing these parties, and how much he knew about their financing. He says he didn’t even know that any of the women were prostitutes, but investigators theorize that he was involved enough to be considered part of the conspiracy.  The good news is that he was not (knock on wood) charged with receiving embezzled funds.

His lawyer, Richard Malka, criticized the decision, saying:

No one could understand the application of the notion of pimping in his situation…On the basis of his behavior alone, which should concern only himself and those close to him, Monsieur Strauss-Kahn finds himself here in large part due to his renown, thrown on the pyre. Colossal police and judicial means were deployed to crack and dissect his private life to an infinite degree, with the only goal being to invent and then castigate what can be considered a crime of lust.”

Another lawyer for DSK, Henri Leclerc, added:

Certainly Dominique Strauss-Kahn has attended a certain number of parties with women, libertine parties with female friends and women who were friends of his friends…They are trying to ban a sort of crime of lust. He’s being attacked over his libertine behaviour.”

And Club DSK, a (semi-official?) group of Strauss-Kahn supporters, made a great point in their press release:

We are worried about the dangerous drift for public liberty of the unbelievable decision to want at any cost to inculpate a man on the sole grounds of having practiced free trade without asking for prior authorization from a judge. Since there is no shadow of a criminal infraction in the behavior of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in a private soiree between free and consenting adults, one can be astonished at the willingness of the judge to want to institute a police of morals and to advocate a return of the moral order which constitutes a dangerous slide in the protection of public liberties for each citizen! Liberties of morals and religion constitute one of the pillars of our secular and republican society.

Yesterday, DSK was supposed to give a speech at the European Parliament in Belgium, but he was forced to cancel it. At first I thought he had caved in to lawmakers who demanded that he be barred from speaking. But it turns out that he actually couldn’t go, as under his bail conditions, he is not allowed to leave France. I suspect DSK knew significantly in advance that the decision about whether to charge him was going to be announced Monday, and he probably had an inkling of what the decision was going to be.

Today, a motion hearing took place in DSK’s civil case in New York. As you may remember, hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo accused him of sexual assault last May, but the criminal case was dismissed because she lied numerous times and there wasn’t enough evidence. She is now suing him for damages. His legal team argued today that the case should be thrown out because, as the director of the International Monetary Fund at the time, he has diplomatic immunity. Unfortunately for him, according to news reports, the judge sounded skeptical of this argument, but he did not make a ruling yet. DSK’s lawyer, William Taylor, said that he was “in good spirits.” I hope that’s true, as he still has a long legal road ahead of him, and I hope he can emerge from it with some sort of vindication.

While his two legal cases wind through the courts, the media is being as merciless as ever to Strauss-Kahn. Le Monde released a transcript of DSK’s interrogation in the prostitution case last month, which purportedly show his “disrespect” for women. The transcripts also show that he and his legal team have a consistent defense to the charges, but the media, naturally, doesn’t devote too many lines to that. He is filing a complaint against Le Monde for selectively quoting him.

Also on the topic of media, a special mention must go to Beatrice Legrain and Dominique Alderweireld, the reputed bosses of a prostitution ring that DSK is accused of patronizing. They recently gave one of the trashiest interviews I have ever seen or read (which I am not going to dignify by linking to it) in which they disparaged DSK and shared intimate details of his sex life. Shame on them for gratuitously insulting and invading the privacy of a man whose reputation is already in tatters.

My take on DSK’s latest legal developments:

First of all, the laws about prostitution in France are confusing and conflicted. Prostitution itself is legal, as is being a customer, but soliciting, directing prostitutes in an organized enterprise, and making money off of prostitutes are all illegal. It seems that by banning so many prostitution-related activities, the legal system is trying to get rid of prostitution, but without criminalizing it per se. Personally, I support legalizing all of these activities, as long as they are consensual, but in any case, the laws as they are now seem to be too unclear, to have too many gray areas, and to make it  too difficult to tell whether a given action is legal or not. It certainly seems to be a stretch to call DSK a “pimp” when he was nothing more than a client, and possibly an unknowing one at that.

Ultimately, it seems that DSK is being persecuted for his sexuality by the media, by protesters at Cambridge University and the European Parliament who have tried to use intimidation to prevent him from speaking, by former allies who turned their backs, and by the legal systems of both the United States and France. There is no evidence that DSK sexually coerced anyone into doing anything they did not want to do – the New York case was (correctly) thrown out, and a separate case in France was thrown out due to the statute of limitations (although as I explained in an earlier post, there was really no evidence in that case either). He hasn’t been charged with corruption or embezzlement. So all that he has done is engaged in various consensual sexual encounters (some possibly paid, some not) with various women. And because of that, the majority of people seem to consider him unfit for any type of political, economic, or public speaking career.

That is un-libertarian. As long as no acts of aggression are committed, a person’s private sexual life is not anyone’s business. It’s wrong to discriminate against gay people for their sexual orientation, so why is it considered any better to discriminate against a person who chooses a libertine lifestyle instead of being monogamous? DSK’s critics are also anti-feminist. Those who condemn the practice of “slut-shaming” are often the very same people who actively condemn DSK for being…well…a slut. (Or whatever the male equivalent of that is.) Feminism is about equal treatment of men and women, and this double standard is the opposite of feminism. If you want to help the cause of women’s rights, it would make a lot more sense to actually advocate against sexist policies than to bully men whose sexual behavior you happen to disapprove of.

It saddens me that, if his legal woes had ended with the New York criminal case, DSK’s story could have been the perfect victory for defendants’ rights, and the perfect example of a wrongful conviction in the court of public opinion. But alas, his trials and tribulations go on. Good luck, DSK; I have a feeling you’re going to need it.

July 13, 2011

DSK and the tabloid press

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 10:47 am

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Photo by Philippe Grangeaud, via the Socialist Party on Flickr

I was delighted at the news that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was released on his own recognizance last Friday due to problems with the sexual assault case against him. But I didn’t want to give my full opinion on it until events had finished unfolding. Sadly, however, it seems that public opinion is, to some extent, turning back against DSK as he awaits the next hearing in his New York case and the result of an investigation of another attempted rape claim in France. The New York Post has been harshly criticized and slapped with a libel lawsuit because it printed a story in which an anonymous source accused DSK’s accuser of being a hooker. This criticism is so hypocritical that it demands a response.

For a month and a half, starting immediately when he was arrested on May 14, nearly every media outlet in the world has brutally attacked Strauss-Kahn. The New York Daily News branded him “Le Perv.” The Post called him “Sleazy Money” and called his townhouse “Chez Perv.” Maureen Dowd of the New York Times described him as a “crazed, rutting, wrinkly old satyr.” Even after doubts in the case surfaced, people have trashed his character, calling him an “old lecher,” and bashing him for going out to dinner the night he was released from house arrest. I could keep giving examples until this blog post became the size of a book, but I won’t.

Once the doubts about the maid’s credibility were revealed, the New York Post ran a few stories that were critical of her. One recapped the lies she has told, one was about her possibly working as a prostitute (even on taxpayers’ dime), and another presented the theory that the maid demanded money from Strauss-Kahn but he refused to pay.

Now, people are writing things like, “I don’t know how the New York Post reporters, editors, copy editors and graphic designers responsible for this hack job can sleep soundly at night” and “it’s extremely f**ked up if a major newspaper is allowed to print smears like this and get away with it.” Alex DiBranco at Change.org went so far as to call the “hooker” claim “completely unsubstantiated, not to mention irrelevant, sexist, and offensive.” The petition at that site even says, “Not only is this abhorrently sexist, but it takes on a grossly racist tone.”

Let’s go over that description word by word. First, the accusation that the maid is a hooker is “unsubstantiated.” Well, given the fact that defendants are supposed to be presumed innocent, calling DSK “Le Perv” is equally unsubstantiated. It is also irrelevant, because DSK’s reputation as a womanizer has nothing to do with whether he is guilty of attempted rape and sexual assault. I submit that it is also sexist, as I cannot imagine a tabloid calling a woman a perv. It is also highly offensive. And finally, the accusation of racism is utterly baseless. No racist language whatsoever was used in the Post article. Calling someone a prostitute, while insulting, has absolutely nothing to do with that person’s race. On the other hand, calling Strauss-Kahn, “Le Perv,” is a deliberate attempt to ridicule him because of his nationality, making it quite racist, or at least anti-French.

This reaction reminds me of when Democrats threw a fit when Scott Brown was elected because Massachusetts went from having 12 Democrat representatives in Congress to having 11 Democrats and one Republican. For one and a half months, nearly 100% of the publicity about this case has ripped Strauss-Kahn to shreds and praised the accuser as a saint. Now I’d say the balance is about 90% to 10%, or at least 80% to 20%. If these people are up in arms about negative tabloid coverage of the maid, how the heck do they think Strauss-Kahn feels? And where were they to defend him against sexist, racist, unsubstantiated, irrelevant, offensive attacks? By being critical of the maid for once, the Post is beginning to undo the gross injustice that it, and media all over the world, perpetuated by presuming Strauss-Kahn guilty. Given that they didn’t object to the abuse that Strauss-Kahn suffered at the hands of the media, the maid’s supporters have no right to complain now.

May 27, 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn: presumed guilty?

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 8:07 am

Photo © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.5

When Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former chief of the International Monetary Fund, was arrested on allegations of attempted rape, he was paraded in handcuffs in front of mobs of reporters and photographers. To defend this decision, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “If you don’t want to do the perp walk, don’t do the crime.” The New York Post and New York Daily News blared incendiary headlines. Countless writers, columnists, bloggers, and anonymous Internet commenters denounced him and trashed his reputation. Worst of all, law enforcement officials forced him to be photographed naked, and the police commissioner apparently bragged, when he was initially denied bail and held in solitary confinement, that he was strip-searched multiple times a day.

It seems to be lost on New York City’s law enforcement and much of the media that Strauss-Kahn did not necessarily do the crime. This is not the way that a defendant should be treated in a system that, in theory at least, presumes people to be innocent unless proven guilty.

First of all, it is more than a little hypocritical for law enforcement to be so outraged about Strauss-Kahn’s alleged sexual assault on a hotel maid that they immediately hunted him down and dragged him off of a plane, but then bragged about how often they sexually assaulted him.

Second of all, being publicly eviscerated, having one’s reputation destroyed, and being subjected to strip searches, are all serious punishments that should not be inflicted on people unless and until they are found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (if even then). As Edward Wasserman eloquently wrote in the Boston Herald, “Publicity itself constitutes an extralegal intensification of punishment,” which is “far less accountable than [punishments] pronounced by judges.”

Third, it defeats the purpose of a trial if the world assumes that a defendant is guilty no matter what the eventual outcome is. The media’s purpose should be to hold the court system accountable, not to be the servant of the prosecution. Often, a defendant’s acquittal receives far less attention in the press than the initial accusations, and the public generally thinks of them as guilty forever more.

Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers filed papers yesterday condemning the leaks from the New York Police Department and suggesting that the case against their client is not as strong as the District Attorney’s office has proclaimed. A prosecutor responded, “If you really do possess the kind of information you suggest that you do, we trust you will forward it immediately to the District Attorney’s Office.” An interesting thing to say, given that many of the details about the case that have been leaked to the media have not even been shared with the defense team.

February 11, 2011

Because ruining a Congressman’s career wasn’t enough…

Filed under: politics,world news by Victoria Liberty @ 11:23 pm

On Wednesday, the “news” and gossip site Gawker.com decided to run an article in which an anonymous woman accused Congressman Christopher Lee (R-NY) of sending her a shirtless picture of himself via Craigslist. As basically the whole world knows, he then resigned within hours. The anonymous woman then gave another flippant and obnoxious interview to Gawker. So to sum up, in addition to taking obvious delight in destroying Rep. Lee’s career, Gawker also thinks it is perfectly appropriate to allow someone to publicly drag a person’s private life through the mud while remaining completely free of scrutiny herself.

But trashing only one high-profile figure’s love life in two days was not enough. On Thursday, Gawker ran the following lovely front page story, this time choosing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as their victim:

“Julian Assange Has at Least Four Love Children” – at least according to two anonymous (of course) sources. This story and the one before it exemplify the distinction between WikiLeaks, which allows anonymous whistleblowers to expose the secrets of powerful governments and corporations, and trashy tabloids, which delight in victimizing individuals.

Admittedly, my opinion of Assange went down a little after reading this article. While my opinion of WikiLeaks as an organization doesn’t change, I don’t know what I think of him as a person now. But I do know what I think about Gawker: it is trashy, mean-spirited, and classless, and the people in charge of it should be ashamed of themselves.

Speaking of Assange, his lawyers gave closing arguments today in his extradition hearing, which you can read more about here. They also criticized comments that the Swedish prime minister made about Assange earlier this week. The judge will make a decision about his extradition on February 24.

December 22, 2010

Leave Julian’s love life alone!

Filed under: law & crime,world news by Victoria Liberty @ 8:07 am

Illustration by Robbespierre on Wikipedia, C.C.A. 3.0.

Whenever there’s a high-profile criminal case, it seems that the press tries as hard as it can to trash the defendant’s sex life in order to make them look bad and take away their right to a fair trial. Scott Peterson, Neil Entwistle, Gary Zerola, Casey Anthony, Phil Markoff, and countless others have been victims of this…and so has Julian Assange of WikiLeaks fame.

On Friday, the Guardian published all the graphic details of the rape and sexual assault accusations against him, writing in an editorial, “It is unusual for a sex offence case to be presented outside of the judicial process in such a manner, but then it is unheard of for a defendant, his legal team and supporters to so vehemently and publicly attack women at the heart of a rape case.”

Then, the Daily Mail wrote about how Assange “stole” another reporter’s girlfriend, complete with disparaging quotes by the Swedish coordinator of WikiLeaks, who seems to be a bit of a traitor. They also wrote about “the secret son Assange fathered with a girl of 17,” failing to mention that he was all of 18 at the time, as anyone who has read his Wikipedia article would know. Numerous media outlets have been mercilessly ragging on his OKCupid profile, and Gawker mockingly detailed a series of emails he sent a few years ago to a girl he had a crush on.

This puts Assange in a tough situation. He called it “disgusting” for a senior reporter and former friend at the Guardian to “selectively” publish the most incriminating details of the rape allegations, and his Swedish lawyer has called for an investigation into who leaked the documents. But because Assange has basically dedicated his life to releasing secret documents, some people have called this hypocritical.

First of all, I don’t think Assange is a hypocrite. There is a vast difference between releasing government secrets, which the public arguably has a right to know since government is supposed to serve the people, and releasing graphic details about someone’s sex life in order to make them look bad. (Assange explains this brilliantly in an interview with the BBC: “We are an organisation that does not promote leaking. We’re an organisation that promotes justice.”) Second of all, nothing in his love life is particularly incriminating, and the online dating profile and emails, if anything, show that he is intelligent and a good writer. And finally, I believe that Assange is not a rapist. It is very difficult to read such a graphic account of the charges, but nothing contained in it, in my opinion, shows that Assange forced anyone to have sex against their will.

I want to keep my blog basically G-rated, but let me give a few facts. Both women who accused Assange of rape admit that they had consensual sex with him shortly before they say they were raped. The first accuser appeared perfectly happy in public with him, continued to let him stay in her apartment, and held a party in his honor, all after the alleged crime occurred. She also blogged about ways to take legal revenge on cheating boyfriends. The second accuser actively pursued Assange by attending the seminar that he spoke at and hanging around outside in hopes of getting invited to lunch with him. The accusers initially went to the police in order to force him to take an STD test, not to claim that they were raped, and it is alleged that they sent text messages indicating that they planned to sell their story to tabloids. The two women didn’t make the accusations until they met each other and discovered that they had both slept with Assange. And finally, a senior Swedish prosecutor threw out the allegations because she believed that they would not constitute rape even if they were all true, and they were only brought up again once WikiLeaks began its controversial publishing of diplomatic cables.

At the risk of being called extremely politically incorrect, I believe that what makes rape a horrific crime is that it takes away a person’s sexual innocence and forces sex upon them against their will. Given that neither complainant, from what I can gather, objected to having sex with Assange, but just disagreed with him about whether a condom should be used, these conditions simply aren’t true in this case.

Many people have noted that one can support WikiLeaks as an organization without supporting Assange as an individual, and that’s certainly true. But I support both. Let me be on the record as saying that I have read all of the aforementioned trashy articles, and I like Julian Assange. It shows class that he doesn’t like to talk about his sex life in public…a lot more class than the reporters who keep asking him about it. Although obviously not the most pure and chaste person in the world, he is brave, intelligent, principled, and honorable…and not a rapist.