Europe

French media react to Strauss-Kahn interview

  • 19 September 2011
  • From the section Europe

Former IMF chief and one-time French presidential prospect Dominique Strauss-Kahn has spoken for the first time about his arrest in New York on charges of sexual assault and its fall-out. The BBC's Christian Fraser gauges initial French reaction to his television interview.

It was carefully orchestrated. At times, it felt almost rehearsed, and even Claire Chazal, the interviewer who was working within the boundaries set for her, looked a little uncomfortable.

She was not particularly aggressive in her questioning and at times her body language, pictured in the morning newspapers, gave away her frustration that she was not able to press him on the unanswered questions that remain.

That sense of frustration was also reflected in the commentary - all the papers led with the interview on their front pages.

In Le Parisien, former conservative Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, said: "Dominique Strauss Kahn found it easier to show off his talents (as a politician) than his sincerity." He was referring to the bizarre change of direction towards the end of the interview in which the former International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief was suddenly questioned about the state of the European economy.

Dominique Walton, an expert in political communication, said: "Regret, perhaps even remorse, but he is not giving up... this was not a man who appeared crestfallen.

"On the contrary," he wrote, "this is a man who still believes he can return to politics".

'Moral failing'

Before the interview, 53% of people polled said they hoped Mr Strauss-Kahn was about to announce his retirement.

And while they remain disappointed that he has "missed his appointment" with the French people, the first reactions in the newspapers suggest he still has a long way to go in the eyes of the public.

Le Parisien had interviews with a cross section of the public who had watched it.

"Anything but sincere," said 38-year-old researcher William Cohen.

"There were no surprises, it was a well planned communications operation," said 45-year-old insurance rep Olivier Etrillard.

"Dignified," said 41-year-old screenwriter Virginie Cady. "He didn't want to say too much or too little - what we did see was a man with real credentials to become president - what a waste."

"A moral failing" was the headline in the centre-right newspaper Le Figaro. But the paper placed more focus on two things that had previously gone unsaid.

First, he had intended to become the Socialist candidate for the presidential election - he had never confirmed that before.

And second, there was an agreement with the party leader Martine Aubry. Under that agreement, said the paper, the two had decided that either of them could be a candidate, but not both.

The paper believes that Ms Aubry's rival, Francois Hollande, has been placed in a much more favourable light by this interview, given that Ms Aubry is now cast "as the default candidate".

The left-leaning Liberation chose another angle. "A trap, it's possible?" was the quote on their front page, fixing on the conspiracy theories that would drag the president and the Elysee Palace into this sordid affair.

Mr Strauss-Kahn did not discount that the allegations could have been part of a "conspiracy theory" to discredit him ahead of the presidential elections. He also suggested that financial motives might have been behind the maid Nafissatou Diallo's accusations.

Inside, the paper's columnist Vincent Giret said there were two messages.

"First the humility, an acknowledgement of his personal flaws, and second the disappointment, the damage it has caused here in France when he realised his bid to become president was over.

"But as for "A trap? A conspiracy?" he said: "There is not one ounce of proof it was a trap."

"Dominique Strauss-Kahn has to look at himself. It is preposterous to suggest there was a conspiracy."

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