* France has tradition of ignoring political peccadillos
* DSK case shines light on tolerance of sexual harassment
* Anglo-Saxon tabloid culture not seen welcome in France
By Catherine Bremer
PARIS, May 18 Attempted rape charges against IMF
chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn have unleashed a debate in France
over a long tradition of ignoring philandering, and occasional
sexual harassment of female subordinates, by men of power.
The French take pride in the fact that their media do not
snoop into the private lives or sexual peccadillos of public
figures, who are protected by tough privacy laws. Some even say
politicians' womanising is just a sign of a healthy libido.
But some journalists are having second thoughts.
"Protecting private lives should not be a pretext for hiding
entire chunks of the personalities of politicians who are
candidates to lead the country," commentator Pierre Haski,
founder of the Rue 89 news website, wrote in a blog.
"That should be the lesson of the DSK affair."
Strauss-Kahn, seen in opinion polls until this week as
France's likely next president, was widely known among media
insiders for propositioning female journalists and enjoying an
unbridled extramarital sex life.
The serious charges against him of trying to rape a New York
chambermaid, which he denies, have prompted soul-searching among
some journalists who kept silent about his behaviour.
The case has raised wider questions about whether allowing
flirting and unwanted advances to go unreported may create an
environment in which sexual predators can rise to within reach
of France's top job.
But some editors reject accusations of having failed to do
Nicholas Demorand, editor of the left-wing daily Liberation,
said his newspaper would continue to respect politicians'
"It's a democratic principle, hypocritical in some people's
eyes, but fundamental... Ditching this principle would lead to
encouraging short-term buzz and trash over quality news," he
wrote in an editorial.
Laurent Joffrin, editor of the weekly Nouvel Obs, asked
whether France really wanted to import a culture of tabloid
newspapers that spy on public figures to get sleazy stories.
"We have to be sure that's what we want," he said on LCI
STOP APPLAUDING TESTOSTERONE
Strauss-Kahn's penchant for ladies was so well known in
political and media circles that many on the inside had said it
was the one thing that could bring him down before the 2012
presidential election he was seen winning for the French left.
Back in 2009, political satirist Stephane Guillon aired a
sketch on France Inter radio about preparations being made for a
Strauss-Kahn interview so as "not to awaken the beast".
Bromide would be put in his coffee, the female interviewer
would wear a burqa and if necessary an alarm would go off to
warn all women employees to leave the building, Guillon joked.
Strauss-Kahn, who was in the studio, was not amused,
retorting that humour ceased to be funny when it was nasty.
Guillon was eventually fired.
That sketch came after allegations by writer Tristane Banon
that the former finance minister tried to force himself on her
in 2002 after inviting her to interview him in an empty flat.
While she did not file a complaint -- though her lawyer said
this week she may still do so -- she discussed the incident in a
2007 television show and it was considered an open secret.
Christophe Barbier, editor of the weekly L'Express, wrote
that it was time to stop applauding high testosterone levels in
politicians. "France must ditch its spineless tradition of
electoral Don Juanism," he said.
One reason cited for hushing up politicians' sex lives is
that journalists fear for the jobs. Another is that many French
journalists enjoy close personal relationships with leading
politicians of all political stripes.
Christophe Deloire, author of a 2006 book called "Sexus
Politicus" on the aphrodisiac nature of power in France that
included an entire chapter on Strauss-Kahn, based on anonymous
sources, said the events of the last few days showed there was a
problem in France.
"The news obliges us to ask ourselves about the usefulness
of journalists. What are they for?" he wrote in the daily Le
Monde. "Journalists, who contribute to the public debate, should
reflect on this before it's too late."
The International Monetary Fund held an inquiry into a 2008
Strauss-Kahn's 2008 affair with a junior colleague at the IMF's
Washington headquarters, but it was largely shrugged off back
home, including by his wife, former television interviewer Anne
If convicted, Strauss-Kahn risks a lengthy prison term, when
he might have been settling into the Elysee presidential palace.
Feminist lawyer Gisele Halimi, interviewed by Liberation,
praised a U.S. justice system she said protected women's
dignity. "I am convinced that if this affair had taken place in
France, we would never have heard anything about it."
(Editing by Jon Boyle and Paul Taylor)