News next: a journalism teacher's diary

July 7, 2011

Sex and the New York Post

Filed under: None — Bernard L. Stein @ 6:04 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Strauss-Kahn's mug shot

When the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn collapsed, the New York Post piled on with a bombshell claiming that the hotel chambermaid who accused the former head of the International Monetary Fund of raping her was a prostitute.

The story begins in textbook fashion:

Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s accuser wasn’t just a girl working at a hotel — she was a working girl.
The Sofitel housekeeper who claims the former IMF boss sexually assaulted her in his room was doing double duty as a prostitute, collecting cash on the side from male guests, The Post has learned.

Leads make promises. This one asserts categorically that the housekeeper was a whore. Does it keep the promise? Does the Post really know what it says it knows?

Here’s what follows:

“There is information . . . of her getting extraordinary tips, if you know what I mean. And it’s not for bringing extra f–king towels,” a source close to the defense investigation said yesterday. (The ellipsis is in the original.)

The woman was allegedly purposely assigned to the Midtown hotel by her union because it knew she would bring in big bucks.

“When you’re a chambermaid at Local 6, when you first get to the US, you start at the motels at JFK [Airport]. You don’t start at the Sofitel,” the source said. “There’s a whole squad of people who saw her as an earner.”

The woman also had “a lot of her expenses — hair braiding, salon expenses — paid for by men not related to her,” the source said.

Allegations that she worked as a hotel hooker may explain why Strauss-Kahn insists their encounter was consensual. His defense attorneys refused yesterday to comment on the damning evidence — or say whether he paid her for sex.

Do you trust this information? Let’s look at the sourcing. There are three quotes, all from the same person, identified as a “source close to the defense investigation.” The attribution suggests that the information comes from an investigator hired by Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers.

Investigating a complainant is standard operating procedure, and investigators come up with plenty of tips that turns out to be bogus once they’re tested. (When I got the FBI files related to the bombing of The Riverdale Press in 1989, I found an excited wire back to headquarters that suggested that my brother and I had bombed the building ourselves because we were in a dispute with the building’s owner. A few days later came the embarrassed retraction when the FBI learned that my brother and I were the building’s owners.)

In any case, someone working for Strauss-Kahn clearly has an interest in tarnishing the image of his accuser, and a reader should at the very least be skeptical about taking the word of a single source who is self-interested and protected by a grant of anonymity.

Let’s look further:

Sources also told The Post Strauss-Kahn’s probers uncovered evidence that she was part of a pyramid scheme that targeted immigrants from her native Guinea.

“We have people who have been victimized, who have claimed she ripped them off. Nice working people from her neighborhood,” a source said.

As if anticipating the complaint that this is a one-source story, suddenly we get the plural–“Sources told the Post.” The attribution in the quote that follows is particularly fuzzy, offering no clue as to whether it comes from the same person as the earlier quotes or from someone else. My hunch? It all comes from one person.

Following these sensational allegations, the tone of the story changes dramatically. The prose becomes more formal, less colloquial. How come? Because everything else in the story is a rehash of public information contained in the court proceedings that led to Strauss-Kahn’s release without bail.

Here the Post found itself lagging. This story was published on June 2. The Times broke the story that the prosecution had collapsed on June 30. It published a story on the court proceedings on June 1.

Does getting scooped explain the Post story, or is this just the New York Post being the New York Post?

By the way, the maid has filed a libel suit.

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