The DSK Circus Is Nothing to Be Proud Of

Like Ruth Marcus I'm surprised and puzzled by the arguments of William Saletan and Peter Beinart, who find much to admire in the conduct of the DSK prosecution. One reason I'm puzzled is that we still don't know the truth of what happened--any more than we knew the truth when the "perp" was first shown to the cameras for his ritual pre-trial punishment. It's a little early to declare, "Truth will out. Didn't our system do well?"

"What the collapse of this case proves is that it's possible to distinguish true rape accusations from false ones..." says Saletan. So now we know what's true and false about the accusations? Who needs an actual trial? Think of the savings.

Perhaps the media were a little over-excited, but let's not get carried away here. "The New York tabloids acted like the New York tabloids," says Beinart, so what's the problem? This is the problem. If it had been only the tabloids, they would still have been wrong, but it wasn't just them. The full spectrum of US media, from top to bottom, sank with them to the gutter. Some were more salacious than others, but almost everybody presumed and luxuriated in DSK's guilt.

Beinart is also impressed that the DSK prosecutors disclosed their findings about the accuser. Only in America! He says the usual thing in other countries is for police and prosecution to suppress such evidence. News to me. Name me a developed country where failure to disclose exculpatory evidence is tolerated, even tacitly.

Marcus rightly complains that the prosecution's tactics were needlessly aggressive--but I'd go further and say this issue is systemic in high-profile US cases. These are often political events. Political ambitions are on the line (I'm talking about the ambitions of the prosecutor). The politicization of criminal justice may not be a uniquely American phenomenon, but it is far from the norm in Europe, for instance. Cases like DSK's underline the dangers. Prosecutors aim to make a name for themselves, and strengthen their hand at trial into the bargain, by manipulating public opinion outside the courtroom. The defense does what it can in response. The media are delighted to publish or broadcast it all.

In Britain, much of this would be contempt of court and against the law. Even if the demands of free speech override the presumption of innocence--not a position I would want to defend--the DSK circus was nothing to be proud of.