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The French Reaction To The Strauss-Kahn Acquittal

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Dominique Strauss-Kahn walked out of a courtroom in Lille yesterday after years of legal scrutiny of his private life. Mr. Strauss-Kahn was acquitted, but he may also now be seen in a different light in France, where polls once showed him to be a leading potential candidate for president. We're joined now by Elaine Sciolino, former New York Times correspondent in Paris and author of "La Seduction: How The French Play The Game Of Life." She joins us now from Paris.

Elaine, thanks for being with us.

ELAINE SCIOLINO: Thanks for having me on your show again, Scott.

SIMON: Has this entire D.S.K. saga, which for Americans begins with his arrest at Kennedy Airport in 2011 - and those charges were dismissed - contributed to changing how French now view the boundary between public and private lives of a public figure?

SCIOLINO: The boundary between public and private life is moving in contradictory directions. On the one hand, you've got really tough laws against the invasion of anyone's private life. That's never going to change. That means that you can't write a whole lot of details about what goes on in the bedroom in the press, in the media, without running the risk of prosecution. You also have the absence of a tradition of investigative journalism here, to a large part, so that journalists are not hungry in general for all those prurient details that we in America like so much. But the right to know about political behavior is something that people are much more interested now than before. And what happened with the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case is that you had an abuse of power, and you had a man who maybe is not convicted for doing something criminal, but for doing things that mainstream France might not necessarily approve of.

SIMON: Does he have a political future?

SCIOLINO: I would argue that he and the French have moved on. For the French, they respect his competence, but they have been repelled by his personal behavior. And on the eve of the trial, there was a poll that concluded that 67 percent of the French thought he was misogynist. Eighty percent thought he was intelligent. And almost 80 percent thought he would make a better president than Francois Hollande, the current sitting president. But more than 50 percent did not want him back in public life.

SIMON: A number of women who testified in court seemed to feel truly attacked and victimized, and I wonder how this testimony sits with the public?

SCIOLINO: The trial laid bare the ugly underside of prostitution in France. These women who got up there to testify, testified with their identities made public. It sounds bizarre, but these were and are normal women. One of them said, look, I've moved on. I have a real job now, but I have no idea how this trial and my testimony is going to affect my future. The trial underscored the powerlessness of these women in the face of what certainly could be described as abusive behavior if not criminal behavior. I mean, one of them testified, called it repulsive that there was an incident of group sex involving eight women where no condoms or no protection was used. This affected the attitude of the French towards the abuse of these women. It also comes at a time where there is a debate in the National Assembly right now about whether to criminalize the client. And there was a demonstration just on Thursday of about 50 prostitutes saying, wait a second, don't make our job more difficult than it already is.

SIMON: Elaine Sciolino in Paris. Her new book, coming out in November, "The Only Street In Paris." Thanks very much for being with us.

SCIOLINO: Well, thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.