The French are shocked—shocked!—at the “undignified” way that American courts and media are treating the former head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who recently pled not-guilty to rape charges. The DSK story exhibits a large gulf between French and American culture (you might call it an “ocean” rather than a “gulf” if you prefer the pun).
Each country has two court systems for celebrities/politicians: the legal courts and the court of public opinion. In France, the legal courts attempt to protect celebrities/politicians from public scrutiny until they can be tried. In America, that is not the case. If the government has credible evidence that a man raped a woman, that man is considered dangerous to society, placed in handcuffs, walked into a courtroom and told to enter a plea. If CNN wants to broadcast that process, it is free to do so. The process is a great testament to America’s enduring aspiration to support the equality of its people. Rich or poor, suspects have the same rights and are judged by courts in the same manner.
The French might defend their system by saying that people are innocent until proven guilty. The court of public opinion does not wait for proof. It comes to immediate judgments.
That may be true. However, celebrities/politicians have every right to defend themselves in America’s court of public opinion. When former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, was accused of corruption he proclaimed his innocence to anyone who would listen. That gamble did not pay off. His statements were later used against him in court and he was convicted of lying to authorities.
In America, famous people accused of crimes have a choice. They have a right to remain silent. In most circumstances, their (legally speaking) best bet is to exercise that right. However, doing so usually means the loss of their reputation and career. So, they can waive that right and defend their reputation. It is a difficult choice. O.J. kept his mouth shut. He lost his reputation but retained his freedom. Blagojevich rolled the dice and lost.
To become a public figure means to voluntarily subject oneself to the scrutiny of public opinion. These people tend to have access to the best attorneys and to seemingly unlimited bail money. For that reason, it is difficult to understand why we should feel sorry for DSK. The only thing the media can take away is his reputation. If he is willing to risk his liberty to save his reputation, then so be it. Those who live by the microphone, die by the microphone.