As DSK accuser presses her case through media, complexity of rape confounds instant media culture
The hotel maid who has accused former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of raping her has created a media blitz of her own, revealing her identity and telling her story to ABC News and Newsweek in a pair of emotional interviews.
But 32-year-old Guinean immigrant Nafissatou Diallo has also kicked off a bit of a crisis in big media, which has bounced from vilifying Strauss-Kahn to criticizing her in its rush for instant answers to a complex issue.
Namely, how do you judge an accusation of rape when only two people know definitively what happened: The accuser and the accused?
This is a reality investigators know all too well. Rape is a crime which often happens in secret amid a host of conflicting circumstances. The most believed account sometimes comes down to the most believable narrative, presented by the most credible individual.
Which is why the Strauss-Kahn incident has been such a hot potato for today's American-made, tabloid-fed, instant media culture.
Given the country's shameful history of disregarding sexual assaults -- and a not-too-secret glee at catching a seemingly entitled Frenchman acting awfully -- early accounts of the rape accusation were filled with the powerful banker's past indiscretions and a heavy-handed flavor of disapproval. Stories on the misogyny of modern French society on fueled that fire.
Then, as facts about past lies told by the accuser began to surface -- could they have come from Strauss-Kahn's army of lawyers and investigators? Perish the thought -- media sympathy began to tilt toward the accused. Even late as this morning, ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams insisted New York prosecutors were likely to drop the case against the banker amid accusations Diallo lied to them and the grand jury.
By revealing her identity and providing new details on the alleged assault, Diallo earns a fresh round of attention from media outlets which seemed to be waiting for prosecutors to give up. Doesn't hurt that her story helps ABC News offer another of its "women in peril" stories that I wrote about last week.
(a spokeswoman maintained in an email that neither Diallo nor her representatives have been paid any licensing fees for her participation in the network's stories)
It is possible that the woman lied about her past, particularly her entry into the country if illegal, while telling the truth about her assault. And now that she has given her story exclusively to a big TV network and newsmagazine, Diallo now has two powerful media entities with a vested interest in suggesting her account has merit. With a prime time special centered around her story on ABC and the cover of Newsweek detailing her side, this may be the Hail Mary pass her attorney has concocted to push prosecutors into pressing the case.
“I want justice. I want him to go to jail,” Diallo told anchor Robin Roberts in an interview aired Monday on Good Morning America; clips will also air on World News with Diane Sawyer and Nightline. “I want him to know that there is some places you cannot use your money, you cannot use your power when you do something like this,” she said.
Stuck in the middle, is a ravenous news media with little patience for subtle stories or lengthy investigations.
This, apparently, is how you press a case in our modern media environment.