A Manhattan Supreme Court judge dismissed all criminal charges against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn today after the District Attorney’s office made official their doubts about the creditability of his accuser, Nafissatou Diallo. Since May 14, the sexual assault case has captivated the world and especially the media, but none more than the New York Post, which devoted nineteen covers, in full or in part, to the charges against the man once thought to be a shoe-in for the French presidency.
This morning, the Post screams “Fraud!” at Diallo, but back on May 15, they told a different story, damning Strauss-Kahn out of the gate before circling back and slamming his accuser, too. Diallo is now suing the tabloid for libel. And although her pending civil case against DSK means the headline puns probably aren’t over, it’s quite a roller coaster to remember the saga through the lens of Post covers.
When the story first broke on a Saturday in spring, Strauss-Kahn was the only character. Come Sunday morning, with the accuser still anonymous, the obvious choice was to cast the man as a villain: He was the foreign head of an international financial organization (from France, of all places!), a scenario that lent itself equally well to xenophobia and class warfare, and he had a well-documented history as a womanizer. His grand presidential ambitions only put his pedestal higher, and there’s nothing a tabloid loves more than a good fall. (Little did they know it would only be a few short weeks until Weinergate.)
The accuser, on the other hand, was an underdog at first — “a hardworking African immigrant,” the Post wrote, quoting a coworker who called her “a good person, very nice, very friendly.” And so the first set of covers set forth with that story in mind — a fall from grace for a greedy, horny Frenchman, a classic and neat narrative.
Setting off a string of nine anti-DSK covers in a row, the Post calls the defendant “sleazy” and uses the classic tabloid dodge of putting quotes around “sex crime” to give themselves a bit of wiggle room on that whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing.
The French puns begin on day two with the much-discussed “perp walk” photo
, highlighting DSK
’s high-status position and alluding to an above-the-law attitude.
With little room for nuance, the introduction of DNA evidence gets the italics and underline treatment. Although DSK’s defenders initially floated the idea that no sex occurred, the assurance of physical contact allows the Post to let loose with more salacious stories.
Shifting the focus for the first time to Diallo, who had yet to be named in the U.S. press, the Post makes its first major misstep in the case, leveling still-unconfirmed allegations that contributed to the libel suit.
Whereas she was once a hardworking woman to the tabloid, the accuser is now painted as a low-class scammer, and it is insinuated that she has HIV or AIDS. An unnamed lawyer is quoted, “She could make $6 million, maybe more, just by shutting her mouth.” But despite the seeds of doubt about the accuser, the paper keeps running with DSK as the primary villain.
The Post’s fabled headline writers stretch their Francophobic wings.
A French villain: the rhetorical gift that keeps on giving.
That’s three straight days of wordplay at the expense of the French. They could do this. All. Day.
The maid’s family gets the spotlight this time, as DSK’s cronies are accused of attempting to pay them off. This thinly sourced account of a possible settlement shows the paper’s thirst for exclusives.
This time the Post comes right out and says it: “PERV.” The fact that DSK’s house arrest will be served in a fancy townhouse lets the tabloid further demonize the defendant as an out-of-touch elitist, while still leaving open the possibility that his accuser is out for money.
DSK’s release from jail was met with more gossip meant to show the defendant as sexually insatiable, which seemed to be the theme until …
A smirking cover photo of DSK marks the turning point, not only in the case, but in the Post’s position, as the maid’s alleged “lies” and “drug links” become the news.
Caught short by the New York Times scoop about Diallo’s crumbling credibility, the Post pulls an abrupt 180 and goes full-bore against DSK’s accuser. Not that the Post regrets its demonization of DSK, of course …
At their most brash, the Post charges the accuser outright with having sex for money, another “exclusive” allegation that has never been corroborated.
It’s out with the Francophobia and in with the misogyny, as paper-thin allegations about Diallo’s sex life open up a whole new world of prurient phrases: “working girl, “double duty as a prostitute,” “big bucks,” “hooker,” “pathological liar,” and “scam artist.”
For a second straight day, the paper runs with the “hooker” claims, this time with a more creative headline, alleging that the sexual abuse allegations came only after Strauss-Kahn “refused to pay.” Here, the lecherous Frenchman and eager call girl can coexist.
A light at the end of the tunnel for the defense is met with a cheery photo op.
More accounts of DSK
the weekend of the alleged assault are pushed to the side by the royal couple in cowboy gear. Having overplayed his libidinous nature once before, the story no longer gets top billing.
Although the “DSK as pervert” programming continues, when it comes to his sex troubles at home, the women still bear the brunt.
With Diallo going public, there’s little room for editorializing — the photo takes precedent.
By the next day, the maid’s case is “blabber” and the whole thing begins winding to a close.
After almost a month without a DSK cover, the Post returns today with an eyes-closed photo of the accuser, citing her “lies” and “teary tantrum act” as the nails in the coffin of the case. Strauss-Kahn appears smaller on the cover, shoved from the spotlight by a more attractive tabloid target.