Does Speaking Out Help DSK Accuser?
MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Now it's time for the Beauty Shop where we talk about a few topics that we think could use a woman's touch. Today we want to talk about a story that has captivated and appalled people on two continents, the alleged sexual assault of a hotel maid. The accused is the former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
He was considered to be a contender for the presidency of France. In a surprising development, the alleged victim in the case, Nafissatou Diallo, has decided to grant several interviews. One to "Good Morning America," that ABC News morning program and one to Newsweek, The Daily Beast. We'll continue a conversation we started last week about whether or not the names of alleged rape victims should be used in the mainstream media whether they give their consent or not.
And we also want to talk about the recent death of singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse, and we'd like to ask what role that illegal drugs still play in the entertainment industry. Here to talk about all that with us are Latoya Peterson, editor of Racialicious.com; Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and political writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Danielle Belton, author of the pop culture and politics blog The Black Snob; and Connie Schultz, who's also a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Welcome, ladies, thank you so much for joining us.
LATOYA PETERSON: Thank you.
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Thank you.
DANIELLE BELTON: Thank you, Michel.
CONNIE SCHULTZ: Thanks for having us.
MARTIN: Lot of fire power in this room today.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: So, first, I want to talk about the decision to grant this interview. Cynthia, I was wondering whether you - well, let me just play a short clip of it for people who may not have heard it. And I will just ask people to be aware that the subject is challenging. It may not be appropriate for all listeners. I'll just - with that being said - here's a clip of her interview with ABC's Robin Roberts.
(SOUNDBITE OF ABC NEWS SHOW)
ROBIN ROBERTS: When did you realize that he was one of the most powerful men in the world?
NAFISSATOU DIALLO: I was watching in the news. And then they say he's going to be the next president of France. Then I say, oh my god. And I was crying. I said, they're going to kill me. I said, they're going to kill me. I'm going to die.
ROBERTS: Why did you think that, Nafi?
DIALLO: Because I know if I was in my country - he's a powerful man like that, they're going to kill me before someone knows what happened to me.
MARTIN: Cynthia, what did you make of the interview? Were you surprised that she granted it? And did you find her persuasive?
TUCKER: I found her credible. It was a comfortable environment for her, of course, where she's getting to tell her version of events. There's not a defense attorney in the room, you know, shouting more hostile questions at her. So I found her credible. I was not terribly surprised by her decision to come forward because it seems that prosecutors in New York may be on the verge of making a decision about whether to drop the case altogether.
There are charges that have leaked from the prosecution side - her credibility is not all that they had hoped it to be. That she had lied before the grand jury. So I think at this point she and her lawyer believe that the only shot she has at seeing her day in court is to have a public relations campaign where viewers saw her, believe her credible and want the prosecution to go forward.
And let me say one more thing about her credibility. For Americans it may be very hard to understand why she would say oh my god, they're going to kill me. That's a very common reaction from immigrants from certain countries. Where those who have absolutely no status are - simply don't challenge the powerful. It's not done. And if you do that, you might very well fear for your life. It's not something Americans - Americans might say, what? She's lying. But that is very real for her.
BELTON: Well, I wasn't surprised that she went forward, considering that so much of her name and reputation is already been out there in the press. This was a really chance for her to get her story out there, to be able to speak for herself in her own words about what was going on in a way that Strauss-Kahn's defenders had already been talking and the way the press had already been talking.
So I thought it was good that she was able to get her side out there. To the larger question of whether or not victims should be named, I feel like there's such a stigma with sexual crimes in this country where character looms larger into play than with other crimes, I don't know how beneficial that would be. We don't live in a completely equal society where all victims are treated the same as their accused when it comes to sex crimes.
MARTIN: Now, Connie Schultz, why don't you pick up the ball here, 'cause we actually had started talking about this last week and we didn't have a chance to get very far with it. We were talking about this question of whether it is appropriate for the media to name victims. It has been a convention or alleged victims or complaining witness, we can put it that way. It's been a convention in the last, say, 20 years in American journalism not to name the not to name the alleged victims or complaining witnesses in sex crime cases. In France, we know the French media has been naming her a lot. So Connie, why don't you tell us what your thoughts are about that.
SCHULTZ: Well, I'd like to draw our attention to the coverage in Newsweek, the story that was written in The Daily Beast and Newsweek, and I think this is, here's what happens when you have a name to a person and you can look at her, and we're almost immediately told that she's not glamorous. We're also, she's described as tall and sturdy. I'm not quite sure what we were supposed to assume from that, but I'm guessing. Her face is pockmarked. And that some of her tears were forced during the interview.
How would anyone know this? And I found that troubling. And this is my concern always with this kind of coverage, and yes, it is stigmatized. You're right. And I, and Cynthia, I have a lot of respect, as you know, for you personally and professionally.
TUCKER: Oh, thank you, Connie.
SCHULTZ: And your piece was certainly a challenge for me in this way, because I really do agree with almost everything.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SCHULTZ: But this one we're going to part company, because I - what I think is missing from this discussion too often are the voices of women who have been raped and how they feel about the policy not to be named or to be named.
And I understand to even get them to agree to talk to us anonymously is often such a challenge. But I think this story right now on Ms. Diallo illustrates exactly why.
MARTIN: Cynthia wrote a blog where she actually believes, she said - I'm going to ask you to hold on for a minute because I want to hear from Latoya. But Cynthia wrote a piece saying that she does believe that these complaining witnesses - alleged victims - ought to be named. But I'm going to let her make her case in a minute. But Latoya, what do you have to say about this? Well, first of all, were you surprised that she came forward? Do you think it was productive? What do you make of this?
PETERSON: I really hope that she feels that she made the right decision. Now, clearly that was her choice to come forward and I feel like, again, the naming question, it should always be the choice of the person who is accusing because the penalties that you pay are so high. You have people digging into your background. You have people pulling up your, you know, your request for asylum. You have people pulling through your background records, who you're associating with, what people you may know. And so her whole history has not been out in the public eye.
And luckily for her, Dominique Strauss-Kahn also has this very huge long-term public life, and so he's almost equally on trial as she is. They brought up a lot of his past indiscretions and things that, you know, there was another alleged rape case in France in 2003, all of these things that have happened.
However, I'm really cautious, particularly coming off of the Jamie Leigh Jones case, of what happens when you're putting something out there in the public sphere and...
MARTIN: Who is that?
PETERSON: Jamie Leigh Jones was the contractor for KBR, who alleged that she was sexually assaulted and then put in a secured shipping container. They wouldn't let her come home so one of the guards had given her a cell phone to let her call her father, who called their representative who got her out of the situation. And it's been six years, I want to say, a six-year-long battle at least. I might be a little off on the timing. But it's been a six-year-long battle to have her day in court.
And recently the day in court came. And before this point, the media attention had been really in favor of Jones. Like KBR was definitely covering things up, they weren't talking enough about the case, they didn't provide due diligence, they had this arbitration agreement where they didn't other people to come forward, all these things. But ultimately she lost the case, right? And that's part of the nature of sexual assault cases. They're so hard - sexual assault and rape cases, they're very hard to prove. They're very hard to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt. So she had both the civil trial and a criminal trial.
The civil trial, they decided that the sex was consensual and they were like we're not going to do anything else with it.
MARTIN: Well, Cynthia, tell us why - and first, if you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Beauty Shop. And with us are editor and writer Latoya Peterson, author and blogger Danielle Belton, and not one, but two Pulitzer Prize-winning columnists, Cynthia Tucker and Connie Schultz.
Connie's just saying she's very, you know, why can't you, why shouldn't you ask the witness's permission to use her name? So Cynthia, you think people should be named? Why?
TUCKER: Well, Michel, I agree with much of what Connie said, actually, except when we get to the part about naming names. I agree that there's a terrible stigma associated with sexual assault and rape. It is the - perhaps the only crime in which so much character assassination - if you will - is aimed at the accuser, The alleged victim, the complaining witness.
MARTIN: Well, so, why then would you name people...
TUCKER: Because not naming helps to carry that stigma forward. What is the - if you were raped, if you were sexually assaulted, if that has actually happened to you, you are a victim - just as you are a victim if your house was robbed, if you were beaten by a stranger in an alley, if you were the victim of a car-jacking. You have done nothing wrong.
We help to keep the stigma alive when we don't name you. We act as though...
MARTIN: Or maybe we have to preserve people's privacy.
TUCKER: We act as though there is something that you have done wrong. Now, having said that, I don't think that this is a practice that should be ended overnight. I think we should work very hard to get the complaining witness to agree.
MARTIN: Cynthia, I have to ask, if they happened to you, if this happened to you, would you want everybody to know about it without your having to say anything about it?
TUCKER: You know, it is very hard for me to speculate. But I would like to think - I spend a lot of my time in the public eye anyway, Michel, so I'm sort of used to the complaints and...
MARTIN: But what about people who don't? That's the question.
TUCKER: Well, yeah. It is very, very difficult. But, you know, Casey Anthony might well argue that she did nothing wrong either.
MARTIN: But that's a different - but she's...
TUCKER: No, she has been many, many people believe that she murdered her child.
MARTIN: But that's different. But she's been a court - she is the person being accused in that case. I mean, Danielle?
BELTON: I can understand Cynthia's point, but I feel like it puts the burden of creating progress on the people who are the most weakest in this fight. It's basically putting the burden on the victim to be the one to say, look, we're going to change the system, we're going to take away the stigma, so you're putting the burden on the person who's the most weakest (unintelligible)
MARTIN: I have a different question, though, which is why do we name many of these victims, given what we know about the way victims are harassed? In some case they are targeted, they are stalked. I mean people who are victims in other crimes, like you know, murder is stigmatizing, let me tell you. So why do we name victims in these other crimes as well?
TUCKER: Let me point out one more thing that I meant to say earlier, and that is let's not think that we in the traditional media are any longer gatekeepers over this anyway. Not only was she named in France, she was named on many, many blogs in the United States. And so we're increasingly coming to the place where the privacy of the complaining witness will be greatly eroded anyway. Like...
MARTIN: Yeah, but just because some people scream at each, other does that mean that's what we should be doing?
TUCKER: I absolutely think we only add to the stigma...
MARTIN: Go ahead.
TUCKER: ...when we don't name them.
MARTIN: Okay, Connie?
SCHULTZ: We may no longer be the gatekeepers but we should still be the standard-bearers. And I think that there's a reason we in the traditional media hold dear to our ethical practices, because they actually matter, they mean something. And I also want us to take into consideration what has happened with online capabilities now and how newspapers, news organizations across the country do not adequately moderate their comments.
And when you see what happens online to people period - and I analogize this to how I used to always name hourly wage earners if I could, you know, people who are being discriminated against in various ways and advocating for them, and my practice changed after the online vitriol picked up. And that's why I feel so strongly about rape victims, because unless I can promise that woman that we are going to monitor everything that's being said about her online, 24 hours a day, for weeks, maybe months, we have no business trying to convince her - especially if she's really reticent to do this, convince her to go public with her name, because we will not live with the consequences. The woman who was raped, the woman who is alleging rape is the one who lives with the consequences.
MARTIN: Well, clearly this is a rich debate. It's interesting that there are such - it's interesting that there are such strongly held views on all sides with particularly people who are both in the main - the so-called mainstream media. Interesting. Obviously to be continued.
One more thing I wanted to ask you all about before we let you go is this very sad story. And I hate to sort of end on a sad note, but Amy Winehouse, Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, just 27. The autopsy was inconclusive, but she had a well-reported history of alcoholism and drug abuse. In fact, it was center to one of her hit songs, you know, "Rehab."
So Latoya, I'm wondering, you know, what does this, every generation has - recent generation - we all have had our kind of pop culture singer, hero or - that we followed and then has been fell by drug abuse or addiction, if indeed, that is the issue here. But what do you make of this? I mean is this - do we never learn?
PETERSON: Do we ever learn? That's a great question. I mean I feel like there is, there's a few different things that are happening. One is the glamorization of that kind of like whole rock 'n' roll lifestyle which includes, you know, the sex and the drugs and the different things you're doing. But at the same time there's also this weird kind of like public love to see people self-destruct.
MARTIN: You think so?
PETERSON: I think that there is, because, you know, you start (unintelligible)
MARTIN: Why do you say that?
PETERSON: Well, because, one - again, drug use is really glamorized, this whole idea of these artists who are so tortured having to cope with their art in these various ways. And at the same time like you have things like, you know, Lil Wayne recently entered rehab for his addictions. And you're hearing so many people going well, you know, I liked, you know, I like Weezy now but I really liked him when he was on drugs. I felt like he made purer music, it made more sense. Like you hear people actually saying things like that.
MARTIN: They say that?
PETERSON: Yeah. Even critics will say it. And you're going, whoa, whoa, whoa. So you're telling me that you want drug era Weezy, like this person, you know, this person who putting himself in danger. But there's this idea of glamorize, this idea, oh, of course, he's so creative. He's, you know, Jimi Hendrix is tying the bandana on his head that's full of ecstasy before he dropped acid. Right, that's what it was? Sorry.
MARTIN: Why you looking at me?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
PETERSON: A little young. But, yeah, putting, you know, the acid on his bandana in order to...
PETERSON: ...really channel his creative energies. And so I feel like people have accepted this as like part and parcel of the creative process and that's really damaging. Because artists feel like they have to live up to that.
MARTIN: Mm. Danielle?
SCHULTZ: May I point out also
MARTIN: Go ahead, Connie. Quickly. Mm-hmm.
SCHULTZ: I just want to quickly point out that she also talked about having an eating disorder. And I don't want to us to ignore how we also glamorize that and how that could have contributed to her death.
MARTIN: Danielle, what do you think?
BELTON: Well, I think it's just really, I agree with Latoya about the glamorization aspect of it. A lot of cases these are individuals who are in pain and they've turned to drugs and alcohol and self harm and abuse in order to deal with that pain. Sometimes pain can create beautiful music. The fact that she was able to make music in spite of that pain is what should be celebrated, not the pain itself.
MARTIN: I was going to ask you,what do you think we should learn from this? What do you think we should learn from this?
BELTON: That we should celebrate her work and not the pain she went through.
MARTIN: Hmm. Cynthia, what about you? We're the resident fogies here. What should we learn from this?
TUCKER: We are. We are. and the Jimi Hendrix reference...
MARTIN: We're trying (unintelligible)...
TUCKER: ...was funny to me. Latoya
MARTIN: And Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain.
TUCKER: Surely you remember these people, as do I.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
TUCKER: But I'm at the age now where I thought about Amy Winehouse's family members and close friends a lot. Watching a young woman who was clearly self-destructive, killing herself, understanding that there was very little that they could do to help her, and I just felt great sadness, not just for her, but for them as well.
MARTIN: I think we all do. I think certainly our condolences go out to her family and all those who were fans of her work and certainly, you know, we'll miss her. And I don't really, what else can one say? But thank you all.
Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and political writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio, along with Danielle Belton, author of the blog The Black Snob. And Latoya Peterson, the editor of Racialicious.com. Connie Schultz was also with us from Cleveland. She's also a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. She was with us from member station WCPN in Cleveland, Ohio. Ladies, thank you all so much.
PETERSON: Thank you.
BELTON: Thank you, Michel.
SCHULTZ: Thank you.
TUCKER: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU KNOW, IM NO GOOD")
AMY WINEHOUSE: (Singing) ..like I knew I would. I told, I was trouble...
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.