DAVID GREENE, host: In France, the former head of the International Monetary Fund gave his version of events last night. It was the first time Dominique Strauss-Kahn has spoken publicly since he was arrested in New York last May on sexual assault charges. Before a huge French television audience, he admitted to major moral shortcomings, but denied committing any act of violence. Eleanor Beardsley reports.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Last night's interview with Strauss-Kahn attracted one of the largest television audiences in French history. Nearly half those watching TV were tuned in to hear the former IMF chief tell his version of what happened in that New York hotel room.
DOMINIQUE STRAUSS-KAHN: (Foreign language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: What happened involved no aggression or violence, said Strauss-Kahn, but I admit it was more than inappropriate. It was a moral shortcoming on my part, towards my wife, my family and the French people who placed their faith in me.
Throughout the 20-minute interview, Strauss-Kahn appeared nervous and even humbled at times. He said he had suffered and learned many lessons and understood why people, especially women, were angry at his behavior. Jean-Marc Illouz, a senior correspondent with France 2 Television, says Strauss-Kahn hit all the right notes.
JEAN-MARC ILLOUZ: Overall, he came across as somebody who was sorry for his wife, for the French people, for his missed appointment with French history - not necessarily the perv or the ruthless pol that he was described to be.
BEARDSLEY: But others were more critical, saying the French still didn't know what happened in that hotel room and that Strauss-Kahn never actually apologized. At times, the former IMF chief even seemed defiant, brandishing the prosecutor's report and saying it cleared him, and evoking his accuser's financial motives. Strauss-Kahn even played to French fears of the brutality of American justice.
STRAUSS-KAHN: (Foreign language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: I was very, very scared, he said. When you're in the jaws of the machine, you feel like it could grind you up, he said, his fist shaking.
Many also criticized the fact that his interviewer, Claire Chazall, is a friend of the Strauss-Kahn couple. And while Chazall did ask the right questions, she never pushed Strauss-Kahn. And she even allowed him to showcase his economic prowess by asking him a question about the eurozone crisis. Divina Frau Meigs is a professor of media and sociology at the Sorbonne. She says the whole exercise was insincere.
DIVINA FRAU MEIGS: We did see somebody who was sorry. But sorry for himself? Certainly not sorry for the women whose reputation and whose lives he has damaged. And there's not just one.
GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language)
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BEARDSLEY: A group of feminists chanted angry slogans outside the television channel as Strauss-Kahn arrived for his interview. Despite everything that's happened, a poll out over the weekend shows the French are still divided over Strauss-Kahn. About half the French say they want him to completely withdraw from politics, but a slightly larger proportion say they still hope Strauss-Kahn will be able to offer advice about the economic crisis.
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BEARDSLEY: But this morning, on the streets of Paris, there is the feeling that his performance last night was staged. Fifty-five-year-old Claude Marchand calls it a charade that most people saw right through.
CLAUDE MARCHAND: It's a comedy. It's awful. It's indecent. I'm not proud about what happened yesterday night. The journalist, the man, all was prepared, very well-prepared
BEARDSLEY: Last night, DSK turned the page. But the story is far from over.
For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.
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GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.