Strauss-Kahn's Earlier Affair at the IMF Called Coercive

His French defenders, including Bernard-Henri Lévy, argue cultural differences

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Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former International Monetary Fund managing director arrested on Saturday night, was painted as a frequent philanderer in Tuesday morning reports about his past behavior with women. An affair he had in early 2008, which he has acknowledged and apologized for, with Piroska Nagy, a Hungarian-born economist, was put back into the spotlight when a source told The New York Times that she felt that he had abused his authority. "A person with direct knowledge of Ms. Nagy’s version of what happened and her view of the I.M.F. investigation said that the affair — which was conducted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — was consensual, but that she had felt coerced because Mr. Strauss-Kahn was so forceful and so senior to her, making it hard for her to, in effect, say no."  Though the affair spurred an internal investigation at the organization, it concluded that the relationship was consensual.

Meanwhile, Strauss-Kahn's defenders are speaking out loudly. Bernard-Henri Lévy, one of France's most famous philosophers, penned a full-throated defense of Strauss-Kahn (and translated to English in the Daily Beast) on Tuesday. He shamed the New York tabloids, shamed Tristane Banon (another woman who's since come forward with allegations of rape) and shamed Strauss-Kahn's detractors in France. "I am angry with all those in France who jumped at the occasion to settle old scores or further their own little affairs," he wrote. "And I hold it against the commentators, pundits, and other minor figures of a French political class overjoyed at this divine surprise."

Gilles Savary, who's a member of the European Parliament and Strauss-Kahn’s Socialist Party also defended him while dismissing the American press.  “Everyone knows that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a libertine, and that he is distinguished from others by the fact that he doesn’t try and hide it,” he wrote in a blog post. “In puritanical American, infiltrated by rigorous Protestantism, financial misdeeds are far more tolerated than pleasures of the flesh.”

In a nice return volley from The New York Times, Elaine Sciolino explains how the reaction in France speaks to the country's code of silence and reluctance to peer into the private lives of public figures. "The French have been complicit in accepting this sort of secret-keeping," she writes. "They do not enjoy ugly revelations that could tear apart the social fabric."

Sciolino says France's libel laws also reinforce this cultural preference for privacy. "The French media’s fear of retribution by the powerful inhibits American-style investigative journalism," she writes. "Rumors about Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s behavior have swirled through France for years. In a kind of French parlor game, journalists and authors quoted one another as a way to avoid lawsuits."

The policy also protects France's many politicians who have relaxed notions of monogamy. "So many powerful figures in France — particularly men — are believed to have strayed from their marital vows that to begin publicizing them might transform the political landscape of France."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.