In light of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair, everybody is taking polls nowadays.There are polls on who will now lead the Socialists, polls on whether people think DSK is guilty or whether it’s a setup; polls on whether the French press should pry more into the private lives of politicians. There’s even a poll gauging who’s more persona non grata at Cannes; DSK or Lars von Trier.

The one poll that’s lacking and which might explain a lot of the incredulity the French are feeling right now over DSK’s arrest, his humiliating perp walk, the initial refusal of his bail, and his subsequent incarceration at Rikers Island Prison is that until his arrest last Sunday, not many Americans actually knew who DSK was.

The morning of his arrest a friend of mine shot me this email.

“Sorry but I think you’re friend IMF is guilty.”
“You mean DSK?”
“Yeah, whoever.”

And this person was a New Yorker.

Undoubtedly, the French are in shock. Shocked obviously by the charges DSK (not IMF) is facing, but shocked also by the way he’s been treated – not just as a criminal accused of rape, but as a common criminal, no different than the crack dealer arraigned ahead of him, who claimed the glass containers he possessed were for holding buttons. (True story).

I too admit I was a bit surprised to see DSK originally denied bail and sent to Rikers directly in his five o’clock shadow, because, let’s be honest, America usually, treats its criminals differently. Hell, if America knew who DSK was last Sunday, he most likely would have been freed immediately just like other VIPS before him, just like Bernard Maddoff (who too was a flight risk), just like rapper Tupac Shakur (who too was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a hotel room.) Tupac would later be shot in a studio, while on bail.

Ironically it wasn’t until later in the week, after all the press attention, that DSK was “VIP enough” to get bail. In fact, if you asked most Americans what they knew about DSK at the time of his arrest, they’d tell you he was French and that he was the same age as Roman Polanski, kind of. And Roman Polanski, we all know what he did when charged.

Perhaps the analogy to make is Oprah Winfrey, the renowned American talk show host, who wasn’t allowed in the Paris Hermes store after hours. Different situation yes, different gravity, sure, but the outrage in the States, the cries of double standards, the cries of anti-Americanism were the same I heard in my living room Monday evening from my French wife and French father in law. Americans couldn’t imagine Oprah being treated so commonly, so rudely. Hell, she’s Oprah for crying out loud, the queen of daytime TV! Not just another customer knocking on the door after eight.

The slight humiliation the French are feeling right now isn’t just in the salacious details of the arrest, but also in the apparent disdain the Americans have for the former front-runner. The tabloid headlines on the front page of the New York Post (Le Perv) and (He DID sleep with the maid) have made the French realize what the fans of Oprah did. DSK isn’t a VIP.

And while the French TV pundits spew night after night that a spectacle like this could never happen in France and that DSK should be treated differently, I can’t help but wonder if Mitt Romney would be accorded much special treatment within the first 24 hours of his arrest had he been suspected of rape at the Ritz. Mitt who you ask? Yes, Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and potential Republican front-runner for the 2012 presidential election.

OK fine. Romney probably wouldn’t be photographed outside of the commissariat, and no he wouldn’t be handcuffed or put on the cover of Voici, but he wouldn’t get the same treatment as someone like Johnny I believe. And he wouldn’t have a lawyer within the first 24 hours, that’s for sure.

DSK does have a lawyer and has had one since the beginning. Unfortunately, the lawyer in question, Ben Branfman, who’s represented the late Michael Jackson (in a sex scandal), the rapper Puff Daddy (on gun possession), Jay-Z (on aggression) and Plaxico Burress (a football player who fired a gun in a NYC disco), not to mention Vincent “the Chin” Gigante (a famous NYC Mafioso) doesn’t give DSK a very, shall we say, distinguished statesman image.

In fact, the image a lot of Americans had of DSK that fateful Monday was the following. A French guy going by the letters DSK, (similar to rapper DMX or like EPMD, NWA, or BDP.) is accused of rape in a New York hotel, where he was staying in a 3K per night suite. He’s now being held in Rykers and is represented by the notorious Ben Branfman. It’s DSK, a French rap thug from the group FMI.

I’m exaggerating yes, but what’s also exaggerated is the importance the French assumed this man had in the eyes of most Americans, who sadly didn’t know he was, nor cared. Now a week has passed and the TV news cycle has made DSK an NYC celebrity, and because of that, he’s no longer in Rykers but under house arrest and preparing his defense with his celebrity defending attorney.

I’ve explained to my French peers, that Branfman’s defense will most likely be similar to that of Kobe Bryant’s. Who? Kobe Bryant, probably the top five most visible athletes/personalities in the US, probably the best basketball player since Michael Jordan, who was charged with rape at the top of his career in 2003 by a hotel employee, and who was ultimately acquitted (the case was dismissed) thanks to a consensual sex defense. That Kobe Bryant, who, I point out, was accorded bail immediately and was never seen in handcuffs.

Watching people watch the courtroom drama this week, reminded me a lot of the OJ Simpson affair, a case that was so remarkable, most Americans can still tell you where they were when he fled away in that white jeep. Yet if I asked a French person what they were doing when OJ was arrested, they probably couldn’t’ tell me. Because to them, OJ Simpson wasn’t a hero or a leader of a generation, but a Hollywood murderer on the run.

It’s shocking when a national icon falls. It sucks worse when we realize they’re somebody else’s nobody.

The poll in the US that should have been taken this week?

“Name a politician who’s European, who was involved this week in a sex scandal.”

The overwhelming response I bet..……….Arnold Schwarzenegger.

click here to read the published version in Mediapart (in French)