Can we please calm down about DSK?
The world seems to have gone sex mad this week: the male libido dominates the news all across Europe and even in Tunisia – where there is some local news of interest — the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn was the lead on the evening news when we got there. It’s a terrible story but a juicy one and I don’t blame my fellow scribes for going to town on it. It’s also confusing with the narrative in constant flux as new details have emerged. If DSK is guilty of this serious accusation then he must be punished, of course. But I am afraid that by trivializing the story with gratuitous details we are losing sight of the main point. Rape is not the same as sexual harassment, and these problems are totally different from affairs in the work place.
Many organizations employ jerks who harass woman and –if they are senior enough—the jerks often get away with it. Sometimes these harassers are quietly forced to retire early but not always. Many organizations do not pay their women staffers on par with men and do not promote them into management jobs. Unfortunately these two problems persist all over the place (not just at the IMF) and are worthy of a broader investigation than we’ve been seeing.
The fact that DSK’s wife is wealthy and loyal is interesting but also off the point. Also irrelevant are the constant references to DSK’s $3,000 a night suite at the Sofitel and his first class flight on Air France. The NY Times pointed out on Tuesday that the suite was booked on travelocity.com and only cost $500 and that DSK used his own air miles to pay for an upgrade to first class. But these new facts have been missing from most of the stories I’ve seen, and don’t exactly erase the image left by the earlier reports.
Note to ADA Artie McConnell: departing from Times Square at about 1:30pm for a 5 pm flight is not a sign of haste, it’s a sign of wanting to catch your international flight. There are later planes to Paris but DSK was apparently willing to arrive at 5am Paris time in order to get a connection for a morning meeting with Chancellor Merkel. Nor is leaving your cell phone behind a sign of anything except foregetfulness. (Full disclosure: I have left my cell phone behind innumerable times even when I wasn’t rushing to get a plane. I’ve also dropped it and spilled things on it)
Much of the reporting has been done in haste and that’s too bad. One example was The New York Times’ piece on the sexist culture of the IMF which conflated rape, sexual harassment and work place discrimination against women with the mundane subject of affairs at the office.
By combining these four different subjects, the Times muddied the subject without adding much to our understanding. Many people in many organizations have affairs with people they work with. Sometimes it’s a problem but often it’s not—just provides more fodder for water cooler gossip and great enjoyment to the colleagues who snicker as they watch the furtive lovers try to arrive separately each morning and ignore each other during working hours. Sometimes these office affairs end in marriage. Sometimes they don’t.
Worse, dragging up every affair that sundry international officials have had over the last twenty years, distracts from other critical happenings at the IMF: its history of imposing austerity on developing nations, its recent gentle, edging away from some of its closely held economic orthodoxies and its long overdue reversal of its hard line against capital controls. The future leadership of the IMF, the undemocratic way its heads have been chosen, the fact that it’s time to open up the process to bring in someone from outside of Europe and the U.S. and the future of the Greek economy are all vital topics. Let’s talk more about these and less about office trysts.