Abusing Anonymity

The sexual assault case against former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn is famously falling apart; the alleged victim faces credibility problems from lying on her asylum application, among other things. Here in New York City, the district attorney, Cy Vance, is under considerable scrutiny for his decision to charge Strauss-Kahn in the first place. Unsurprisingly, the prosecution is likely to drop the charges. Equally unsurprisingly, they are laying the groundwork for doing so by throwing the victim under the bus: pointing out her inconsistencies, calling her a prostitute, and so forth. I hold no brief for the woman, who looks increasingly like an extortionist, but I’m quite troubled by how the prosecution is behaving. While these types of leaks are legion, they are, at best, in tension with a lawyer’s ethical duties under New York’s Code of Professional Responsibility.

And, I am increasingly appalled that journalists (that’s you, Laura Italiano) are willing to give “prosecution sources” – almost certainly the DA – a cloak of anonymity behind which to fling mud. Anonymity has a distinct purpose: it operates to protect sources against retribution, and to enable journalists (along with the rest of us) to have access to information that would otherwise be chilled. It is implausible to think that Vance and the prosecution team wouldn’t release this information without anonymity – on the contrary, they’re desperate to do so. This isn’t just unseemly behavior by the press. It’s an invitation, an excuse, for judges to push back against anonymity for whistleblowers and others who really need protection. We lose the moral and practical justification for keeping sources’ identities confidential when journalists let politicians protect themselves from an angry electorate via anonymity.

3 Responses to “Abusing Anonymity”

  1. I’m writing to ask you about this sentence: “I hold no brief for the woman, who looks increasingly like an extortionist .. ” What is the basis for this? Can you point me to a link?

    The NY Post says she is a “hooker.” She says she isn’t. CNN reported: “A source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN that so far, “no evidence has been found that she is a prostitute.” See http://www.cnn.com/2011/CRIME/07/05/new.york.libel.dsk.accuser/

    The NY Post previous reported that she was likely HIV positive: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/imf_accuser_in_apt_for_hiv_vics_oZmUkbtouJ14RHw1434HvJ/0

    I don’t know what happened in this particular situation. But I haven’t seen a credible report that she asked anybody for money.

  2. It’s in the New York Times. I may not like it, but that is by definition credible:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/02/nyregion/one-revelation-after-another-undercut-strauss-kahn-accusers-credibility.html

    “Twenty-eight hours after a housekeeper at the Sofitel New York said she was sexually assaulted by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, she spoke by phone to a boyfriend in an immigration jail in Arizona.

    Investigators with the Manhattan district attorney’s office learned the call had been recorded and had it translated from a “unique dialect of Fulani,” a language from the woman’s native country, Guinea, according to a well-placed law enforcement official.

    When the conversation was translated — a job completed only this Wednesday — investigators were alarmed: “She says words to the effect of, ‘Don’t worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing,’ ” the official said.”

  3. That’s not extortion, and it doesn’t mean she wasn’t raped. She may have been reassuring the man that despite the fact that DSK was rich, she was okay, she knew what she was doing in the sense that the police seemed to believe her and she would get justice. I’d want to see the whole transcript before concluding she was an extortionist.