The Media and Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Last month I was contacted by the Italian newspaper Il Foglio and interviewed regarding criminal proceedings against Dominique Strauss-Kahn.  A French banker and head of the International Monetary Fund, Strauss-Kahn has been charged with sexually assaulting a maid for the $3000-a- night hotel suite in which he was staying in New York City.  To my surprise, the reporter was not interested in the legal proceedings themselves but rather in the way the case was being presented in the American mass media.

The case is still another example of the way the prosecution of a rich and/or famous person can be and frequently is presented to the public as a type of contemporary morality play, that is, as a dramatic allegory about temptation, sin, and – in the end – either damnation of salvation.  Comparable media packaging of cases involving O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, and Eliot Spitzer spring to mind.

The added twist in the Strauss-Kahn drama is that the featured player in the morality play is a wealthy and worldly European who found out the hard way about down-to-earth American norms and values.  The best comparison might be to the mass media’s packaging of the attempt to extradite the Polish filmmaker Roman Polansky, who allegedly raped a teenager in California.  Lionized by the French artistic community, Polansky squirreled himself away in Switzerland and in the end avoided the grasp of the American authorities.  Strauss-Kahn, meanwhile is under house arrest in Manhattan and waiting trial.  Might Attica be his hellish fate?

The Il Foglio article appears on the front page of the “Martedo, 24 Maggio 2011” edition, but since the article is in Italian, most of us will require the good services of colleague Irene Calboli in order to read it . . . .

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What? Pay to Get the News?

So what’s the New York Times worth to me? And how high are the stakes attached to the answers that I and millions others will give in coming weeks?

Are people ready and willing to pay to get stories from the Times? How about from other news organizations – the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, CNN, or whoever you turn to for information?

A long-awaited major moment is at hand for the news industry: The Times’ Web site is the premier American site for world and national news. And they’re about to start charging serious users for access. .

This is, in some ways, a great period to be a reporter for a major news organization. Readership is very strong, if you include both Internet readers and traditional print readers. The reach of a story is fabulous – a piece published in Milwaukee can be (and often is) read immediately on the other side of the globe.

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The Morning After: Lessons From the Wisconsin Budget Battle

At last the end game has arrived for the budget bill, after more than three weeks of deadlock in Madison.  Indeed, it was obvious to everyone that the impasse could not persist, and that the only two options available were either a compromise (unlikely) or the eventual adoption of Governor Walker’s bill intact.

Wisconsin’s largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has largely failed to take a coherent editorial position on the budget debate.  In fact, the entire local media, both print and television, seem to have bent over backwards in order to appear sympathetic to the arguments of both sides.  In this regard, the local media seems to see its role as something akin to the role of an arms dealer during a civil war: issue statements generally supportive of both sides and hope to sell your product to the widest possible audience. 

However, I believe that there are larger lessons to be learned from the budget battle, and that the issues raised over the last three weeks transcend partisanship. 

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