The following study is inclined to analyze and answer the question on how does a media scandal shape the representation of the powerful vs. powerless in Western society’s public opinion. The subject of this study is prosecution, but we are not talking about it in legal terms, rather how it is constructed through media coverage and to what extent media have the willingness to exercise a judgmental discourse concerning the actors involved in a media scandal.
We are going to bring evidence about how media can jeopardize the integrity of the status-quo of the actors by inflating a scandal which denounced certain behaviour as abnormal and contrary to the public opinion’s previous beliefs. The conflict shed an important light on cultural differences between American and French societies on what constitutes a victim and an abuser, what is the limit of the discourse in both cases, what was considered the most prominent violation of trust, was it the continuous flow of private into public (in France’s case) or the loose morals of a politician (in America’s version)? As in the centre of our analysis stands the concept of condemnation, we will try to demonstrate the inequality (in gender, position, reputation, ethnicity) that the press stress on when they charge someone of being guilty. We presume that the language used in the analyzed texts illustrates the relationship between text and society (Phillips & Jorgenson, 2002) and how a typical kind of discourse can contribute to reflecting what society through its representative, the media, thinks about the morals or the violation of them in the era of when the public and the private tend to intertwine more and more.
We think that our case is important because it will show that what started as a conviction of rape ended up being an ideological trial, partly invented by the media by throwing explicit constructed beliefs into this framework of unequal forces between social actors (Teo, 2000). We are particularly talking about rich men vs. poor women and how their representation in media is constructed. Finally, we will expose (Phillips & Jorgenson, 2002) the act of condemning someone because of media’s willingness to sell one version of the story or another, by taking sides.
Our chosen articles are 1) D.S.K: Is anyone innocent? (by Judith Thurman, in The New Yorker) and 2) Dominique Strauss-Kahn case shakes France’s macho culture (by Angelique Chrisafis, in The Guardian); they come from two major newspapers (the first one from America and the second one from U.K.) with high credibility among their readers. The New Yorker is well-known for its critical insight, cynicism, humour and scepticism, so the article is written in the same style and we can expect to find satire and irony. The Guardian is affiliated with the left liberal wing of British parties; it is still considered the newspaper for the middle class, the bourgeoisie, often addressing problems such as immigration, welfare, frauds (the article is written as a reflection of the opinion of middle class society upon the French personality of Dominique Strauss-Kahn).
We are looking to identify what constitutes guilt in the eyes of the media, and how someone who is perceived as being “guilty” can be manipulated by the language and tools of the media. The roles of the dominant and the victim are interchangeable, depending on the perspective taken by an article or other media text, and depend to a lesser extent on the legal status. We have chosen as our theoretical framework the analysis typology of Peter Teo in his article Racism in the news: a critical discourse analysis of news reporting in two Australian newspapers (2011), and Phillips & Jorgenson’s article Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method (2002), for providing us with a conceptual foundation for explaining our researched ideology.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn was considered until the 16th of May 2011 an illustrious politician with a very high chance to win the 2012 upcoming presidential elections. He was known for his sparkling economical capabilities, managerial qualities and a not so innocent personal life. The French press long ago depicted his loose behaviour in relationships with women, his notorious sexual life, countless mistresses, for his care-free spirit and a taste for luxury and wealth. This double reputation was partly forgiven by the French society and press because of his well situated position in the socialist party and for being, of course, the head of the IMF. He was accused in the past for corruption, sexual harassment and frivolity in manners, but for all he was cleared, despite the fact that his private life remained under a continuous criticism, while being a major political player. In May 2011, while he was on American soil, the maid of the hotel where he was accommodated accused him of violent assault and rape. He was immediately put under trial and forced to make the walk of shame in front of the international press in handcuffs. After 3 months of trial, the motion dropped charges because of lack of evidence and the conspicuous motives and troubled past of the accuser, Mrs. Diallo. Under the law they were both cleared, but under the needy eyes of the press in this witch hunt of finding someone guilty, they were both convicted to different degrees.
The press as well as society split into two sides: protesters (against the womanizer temperament of Strauss-Kahn, his belief that he can get away with anything because he is in a high position) and supporters (mostly French people who thought all this trial was a scam, a reason for the American justice and press to dig into the French morals and judge them for their “macho” society). The maid’s credibility and motifs were also questioned (since she was an immigrant, poor, with many inconsistencies in her story) while women found a voice in her, for speaking out loud about her trauma and putting an important public person to the test….continue reading