More than 13 million people watched Sunday’s 24-minute supposed act of contrition following allegations he tried to rape a hotel maid in May, the largest audience since rioting in French suburbs peaked on November 7th, 2005.
Strauss-Kahn’s admission of “a moral failing” rather than attempted rape of Nafissatou Diallo failed to convince feminist lawyer Gisele Halimi, who said: “He tried to play the role of someone who is pugnacious and incisive.”
“What’s serious is that every time women’s dignity is questioned, as here, women who are complete victims are made to look like liars,” Halimi said, after Strauss-Kahn implied his New York accuser was dishonest and after money.
On Sunday, Strauss-Kahn also denied attacking Tristane Banon, a young French author who is the daughter of a family friend, is 30 years his junior and who has lodged a complaint alleging he tried to rape her in a Paris flat in 2003.
Thalia Breton of feminist group Dare Feminism said she was “disgusted” by the interview of the 62-year-old Socialist politician by Claire Chazal, a friend of his loyal wife, during which he adopted a combative tone.
Strauss-Kahn’s interview with Chazal lasted more than twice as long as his encounter with Diallo, but she chose not to press him on what it was that had happened in the suite that he now sees as having been a mistake.
“What happened involved neither violence nor constraint: no criminal act,” he told Chazal sternly when asked what had happened in Sofitel Manhattan’s suite 2806 on May 14th, shortly before his arrest on sex assault charges.
Many politicians and commentators mocked or attacked Strauss-Kahn’s suggestion that he may have been the victim of a trap or a plot. The former finance minister did not produce a shred of evidence for the claim.
“A trap? It’s possible. A plot? We’ll see,” Strauss-Kahn said, prompting the head of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, Jean-Francois Cope, to say he was “shocked.”
“I cannot accept innuendo,” Cope said. “It’s extremely shocking that the idea of a plot is being added on top of everything else we’ve been through.”
The head of the centre-right New Centre party, former defence minister Herve Morin, lamented what he said was a “totally prefabricated” event, a “journalist who interviews a friend’s husband.”
“The emotion was buried under the public relations,” Morin said on radio. “Everything was so formatted, constructed, the sincerity disappeared.”
Would-be Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal took note of Strauss-Kahn’s desire to “turn the page” on the matter — and said she would therefore exclude his presence in her eventual government.
The right-leaning Figaro newspaper was most interested by Strauss-Kahn’s declaration that he and Socialist party leader Martine Aubry had a pact whereby they would not both have stood in the upcoming Socialist primary.
Before the scandal, polls tipped Strauss-Kahn as the candidate most likely to beat Sarkozy in next year’s presidential election.
An editorial in the left-leaning Liberation said there were two things that France expected from Strauss-Kahn during the interview.
“The human lucidity to recognise his role and his personal weaknesses… and the political lucidity to put in words the disappointment and damage” he caused to those who saw in him as a future president.”
But “the malaise was not dissipated,” with his “Sunday contrition being played, after all, in a minor key,” Liberation wrote, dismissing the plot allegation as “bizarre.”
After Strauss-Kahn’s lengthy defence of himself, the journalist asked him for his analysis of Europe’s current economic crisis, as if finally to turn the page on the sex assault allegations.
The fallen economist became animated as he explained how to cure Europe’s financial ills, but the change in tone and mood was “as displaced as it was anachronistic,” Liberation wrote.
The head of the far-right, anti-immigration National Front party, Marine le Pen, said that “this man has the biggest contempt for women, whom he sees as things to be used.”
Le Pen also accused Strauss-Kahn of lying about the New York prosecutor’s report, which he brandished several times during the interview as proving his innocence, but which “in no way clears Mr Strauss-Kahn.”