Head to Head / Journalist Michel Taubmann, should you have warned about DSK's behavior?
Michel Taubmann, a journalist and author, recently published a biography on former IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, under investigation for sexual assault.
Michel Taubmann is a French journalist with the French-German television channel Arte and the director of the journal Le Meilleur des Mondes. He is also the author of several books, most recently a biography of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. "Le Roman vrai de Dominique Strauss-Kahn" (Le Moment, France ) was published a week before the now-former head of the International Monetary Fund chief was arrested in New York and charged with the sexual assault of a housekeeper at his hotel.
Strauss-Kahn's next court date is scheduled for tomorrow, three weeks after his arrest.
How long did you work on this book, and why did you write it?
"I decided to write this biography because Strauss-Kahn was spoken of as the possible next president of France, and he is arguably, after President Nicolas Sarkozy, the most important living French politician on the international scene. For the last 25 years he has been the brains of the Socialist Party, and of course he was the head of the International Monetary Fund.
"He was a man with a romantic life, a sort of Indiana Jones figure, with a Ukrainian and Tunisian background and a childhood in Morocco. He speaks French, German, Spanish, English and a little Arabic, and he is a friend of Israel. He is also a sort of comeback kid, who is always falling down and getting back up."
Did Strauss-Kahn cooperate with you on this book? To whom did you speak while researching it?
"The book was not authorized; I am independent. But over two years I spoke with Strauss-Kahn himself as well as with 65 others - political friends and enemies, family, collaborators, his sister; his first wife, Helen Dumas; former girlfriends and his wife Anne Sinclair."
Tell me about his background. Where did being Jewish fit in?
"Strauss-Kahn's mother was from Tunisia, but her family had moved there from Ukraine. His father is from an old Jewish family from Alsace, so he is half Ashkenazi, half Sephardi. He is from a very socialist family and as such was educated both as a socialist, but also as Jew. He had a Jewish education and learned Talmud and of course had a bar mitzvah. And while I would not say he goes to synagogue much, he does participate in Jewish holidays and events and of course does not eat on Yom Kippur.
"His family was assimilated but as an adult, in the 1970s, affected by the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, he began feeling more connected to being Jewish. It was then that he changed his name to Strauss-Kahn, from just Strauss, taking on and adding his adopted grandfather's name to his own. He wanted to assert his Jewish identity. He told me that at this time his father told him that there were many Strausses - it was not necessarily only a Jewish name. But with the name Strauss-Kahn everyone would know he was a Jew. No 'goy' has that name.
"Meanwhile, while his first two wives were Catholic and he married them in civil marriages, his third wife, Sinclair, was Jewish, and they were married in a Jewish ceremony by the chief rabbi of Sarcelles, the city suburb of Paris where [Strauss-Kahn] was mayor.
Did you foresee this scandal or a similar one? Did you realize that Strauss-Kahn had what now seems like such a grave problem with his behavior toward women?
"I will tell you this: I am sure he is not a rapist. I think he is a man who had a lot of adventures. He loves his wife Anne, but at the same time had lots of girlfriends and adventures. But everyone who I spoke to told me that he is incapable of violence. And this was my position, at least until three weeks ago. As to what happened at the hotel that day, I cannot say."
But it seems you don't believe the allegations?
"Strauss-Kahn has a very liberal sex life. His father, likewise, loved his wife but had a lot of other women. It's not Mitterrand, with a double life. He would be seen in street with girlfriends. But this was all totally legal.
"If he is found guilty in this case, he is not the person I know. This is a very bizarre story. The New York authorities have changed their story several times. It's all very bizarre and I am skeptical that he is guilty.
"He is being described as a savage animal now. But thousands of people who knew him - from those who worked for him, to those who were his students - never even considered describing him thus. I know this man. A seducer is one thing. A rapist is something totally different."
Did you speak with Tristane Banon, the young journalist who has accused Strauss-Kahn of attempting to rape her years ago?
"Of course I spoke with her and her lawyer as well as with Strauss-Kahn about the story. When I say I am convinced Strauss-Kahn does not practice violence with women, I mean in this case as well. I investigated this case. My thesis in that case is that there was something, but not an aggression. If you read my book you will see many inconsistencies in her story. For example, it must be pointed out that she never reported this story and no one can properly explain why. I know a lot of women don't complain because they are ashamed, but she has gone on TV to talk about her ordeal so I don't think it's a question of shame."
There is a lot of talk now about how in France, including and perhaps especially the media, people covered for Strauss-Kahn. That is, a lot of people knew about his predatory and inappropriate behavior and no one said anything. Do you think someone - maybe even you - should have sounded an alarm?
"That is stupid. Everyone knew Strauss-Kahn was a seducer. Every day on the radio you heard reporters talking about his women. But no one imagined he could rape a girl. In my book I wrote about his psychology and his relations with women, and his divorces. I asked the question about violence, and I got my response. I do not think he is violent.
"If he is a rapist, it's terrible. But nothing about what has happened so far authorizes us to engage in big discussions about whether France accepts this sort of behavior."
What is it about France that gives politicians and other powerful public figures such privacy when it comes to their personal lives? Do you think that is necessarily a good thing?
"My philosophy is very clear. I don't have to talk about the private life of anyone. I would not want anyone to talk about my private life. I know Strauss-Kahn had girlfriend and I know their names. One is very famous, but it's not my right to say who he is having affairs with. I don't have to give names.
"Is there a border? Yes. When the private matter becomes a political problem, as in the example of his affair at the IMF. That would be different."
What will come next for Strauss-Kahn? Do you believe there is any chance he could be rehabilitated?
"It's very difficult to speak about the future because no one knows for sure what will come next. But if this transpires as a setup, it is a horror and a shock and a disgrace.
"I am surprised by the police and the legal system in New York. They have acted bizarrely and it has been very troubling."