The New York Times just published online a lengthy, detailed profile of the village in Guinea where the maid accusing former International Monetary Fund director Dominique Strauss-Kahn of attempted rape was born and raised. In doing so, the paper became the first U.S.-based international news organization to name the hometown of the accuser. Many have written about the village, but most U.S. publications haven't named it, out of respect for the anonymity of the accusing witness. The New York Daily News also named the village in passing in a report on Strauss-Kahn's townhouse, while many in the French-language press published the name of the village, as did the UK Telegraph and a Agence France-Presse wire story.
Some of the first U.S. reporting to come out of the Guinean village appeared in the New York Post, which ran a story claiming that Strauss-Kahn's allies had tried to bribe the maid's family back home. That story didn't name the village, nor did a follow-up by Reuters, which referred to, "a village in the Labe region of Guinea." But worldwide, it was the AFP that first ventured to the village to find the maid's accuser.
While naming the woman's hometown is a far cry from naming her or giving her address, it brings up the ethical division between the U.S. and French press. In France, the scandal of the Strauss-Kahn coverage was the fact that the one-time presidential favorite had been shown wearing handcuffs before he had been proved guilty of a crime, and media watchers there raised a fuss when the New York Police Department conducted its famous "perp walk." In the U.S., less attention is given to protecting the accused from media scrutiny, although it's common to shield the identity of a victim or alleged victim of a sexual crime, for privacy reasons and to protect their safety. Most news organizations won't name them out of policy, and most law enforcement agencies won't reveal the name anyway. Naming her family members and hometown would normally be a case-by-case judgment call, and in this case, it was obviously deemed acceptable.
As the Atlantic Wire pointed out last month, many in the French media, including Slate.fr, have actually gone so far as to name the accuser. Slate.fr co-founder Eric Leser told the Wire, "We have done this... just [to stop] the conspiracy theory in France about this case and to stop the false accusation against the victim that she's doing [this] for money or she's a prostitute and things like that. The story that we have published is proving that all of [these] theories are false. That's our main reason."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.