Monday, July 25, 2011

Justice? A Quaint Idea in Our Brave New World

DSK's alleged victim, Nafissatou Diallo (I can now use her name, since she has chosen to reveal her identity to the public), appeared for the first time on American television this morning. The quaint idea that guilt or innocence in a criminal case should be decided on the basis of evidence presented in a court of law in accordance with rules of procedure and under the supervision of a judge apparently belongs to another era. In both France and the United States, alleged victims have hired attorneys versed in the ways of the media, who have advised their clients to seek retribution (I don't think the word "justice" can apply without due process of law) in the media. Both lawyers know that their clients stand little chance of prevailing in criminal court: in New York because the witness's integrity is open to challenge, in Paris because the allegation is too old, the only corroborating evidence comes from the account that the alleged victim herself offered to others, and the allegation will probably be reclassified from attempted rape to sexual assault, on which the statute of limitations has run.

So as a matter of law, DSK will probably emerge unscathed, though still subject to civil suits for damages. His reputation is in tatters, but as numerous precedents (Clinton, Spitzer, Vitter, etc.) show, careers can flourish even without reputation. Initially, one might have hoped that the DSK affair would change attitudes in France about sexual harassment and relations between men and women in general, but that may be wishful thinking.

Perhaps the willingness of the alleged victims to publicize their grievances marks a step forward for women: Why should we hide? they may be saying. There is no shame in what (allegedly) happened to us; the shame is that the (alleged) perpetrator may get away with it. And yet, and yet ... the impatience with the inevitably slow process of justice, the procedural obstacles in the way of a full hearing, and the inherent difficulty of proof in this kind of case have driven these women to heed the advice of attorneys whose motives are certainly not unmixed, and this inevitably raises suspicions about the potential for manipulation.

Neither case is over yet, but both have already left a decidedly unpleasant taste. The false immediacy and transparency of television will have drawn yet another veil over already murky details, and in the absence of a trial to impose some kind of order on the facts and accountability on the witnesses, we are now left with a simulacrum of justice in which PoMo theorists will find confirmation of their darkest suspicions. Truth beyond a reasonable doubt has become a myth in which only the credulous believe--an ancestral memory, like the story of Romulus and Remus, or Washington and the cherry tree. Vengeance via media is so much more satisfying, and potentially lucrative.