Shorter Edward Jay Epstein: Dominique Strauss-Kahn was set by the forces of darkness, determined to derail his plans to take the French presidency away from Nikolas Sarkozy. That's the point of a piece in this week's New York Review of Books headlined "What Really Happened to Strauss-Kahn."
No, wait. There's a question mark at the end of that headline and Epstein never flat-out declares what I just flat-out declared above. What he does offer is an account of the fatal day at the Sofitel New York when DSK's career fell apart in the whirlwind around a sexual encounter at the Sofitel New York. But "account" is too weak. We have here the kind of agonizing frame-by-frame replay that Epstein presented to the world in his first book, the one about the assassination of JFK. If you like this sort of thing, it's a marvel of careful reconstruction. The real takeaway is that we 've got some meta-issues here, beyond the narrowly prurient question of what exactly happened in the six-seven minutes (six-seven minutes!) that DSK appears to have spent in the company of Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel maid who claims she was forced into sex. Broader issues include, one, what happened to the still-missing cell-phone; two, why that matters (if it does matter) and three, how, if it all, can you tie all this back to the Sarkozy regime? Flip quick to the last paragraph and you find Epstein beginning "All we know for sure is..." a giveaway that there is a lot he doesn't know for sure, and doesn't want to be caught seeming to assert.
Epstien's piece is a worthwhile read and I won't try to restate it here. But aside from Epstein's point, what impresses me is how he reminds us (if we need reminding) of how little of our life escapes scrutiny these days, perhaps especially if we are staying at a world-class Manhattan hotel. "At 10:07 AM he called his wife in Paris on his IMF BlackBerry...in a conversation that lasted about six minutes." "According to the hotel's electronic key records [Diallo] entered [room 2806] between 12:06 and 12:07 PM;" Epstein adds, perhaps apologetically, "such records are only accurate to the nearest minute." "Phone records show that by 12:13 PM he was speaking to his daughter Camille on his BlackBerry (which BlackBerry?--ed.). The call lasted for forty seconds." "At 12:28 PM the hotel security cameras show him departing the hotel," en route to lunch with Camille at McCormick and Schmick's restaurant, eight blocks away. "The restaurant camera shows that he arrived at 12:54." "[A]t 2:15 PM, according to the restaurant's surveillance cameras, DSK got into another taxi to go to the airport." He discovers his IMF BlackBerry is missing; he calls his daughter (on a spare BlackBerry) who had been with him at lunch. Later (apparently between 2:16 and 2:28 PM) restaurant security footage "shows her crawling under the table" at the restaurant, as if to look for the missing phone.
Get the picture? This is the first three columns; there are seven more to go. So if you value your privacy, it is perhaps best to stay away from the Sofitel New York, or McCormick and Schmick's. But then, maybe the real point is that for all this agonizing detail, Epstein still can't say with confidence what happened to the IMF BlackBerry, or what exactly happened in the six-seven minutes in room 2806, or whether he was set up, and if so, by whom.