DC Week in Review: DSK and the Presumption of Guilt


As I reported last week, Daniel Dayan and I had a nice lunch in Paris on the terrace of a little restaurant at the Palais Royal. He ate blood sausage. My wife, Naomi, and I had couscous with chicken. I followed Daniel’s recommendation and ordered mine with olives, a dish that was his grandmother’s specialty back in Morocco. We discussed what proved to be the theme of last week, looking at North Africa and the Middle East from the point of view of Europe. But of course, we couldn’t and didn’t ignore the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal, then raging in Paris. The following evening, he extended his side of the conversation in a crisp essay, which we posted on Monday. Here I continue my side of the conversation.

My first response came in the form of an email I wrote him upon receiving his piece:

I don’t agree with you on all points, centered on two issues: the way the distinction between private and public moves (the most general issue), and how the presumption of innocence necessarily varies from one institutional sphere to the next, from the judiciary to the police to the press, for example. Consider the case of a child molester and how the presumption is enacted or not by different people placed differently in the society. This is an empirical and normative issue. More soon. Again it was great seeing you and great receiving the post.

In the case of a child molester, the police look for a suspect and attempt to confirm guilt, while in court there must be a presumption of innocence. Before, during and after a trial, the press and the general public judges, independently of formal legalities, and explores whether they think justice is done by the police and the courts, sometimes in a sensational way. The spheres of public activity and the press are different from the professional activities of the police and the courts. And quite clearly, when the issue is child molestation, the public and the press are predisposed, often without regard to the solidity of the evidence, to believe the police, given the nature of the crime . . .

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