April 30, 2012

President of France gets really pissed off at Melville House book


Last Friday Melville House did the new-age version of something we first got a reputation for doing during the Bush administration — “crashing” a book (making it really fast) on a timely topic. We’ve always loved this. This country was partly inspired by a crashed book, after all — Tom Paine‘s Common Sense, telling it like it was about the then-current administration. This time, though, our crashed book was an ebook, and it was on the characters involved in another country’s presidential elections, those currently underway in France … although the story certainly had ramifications here in the U.S., too.

The book is Three Days in May: Sex, Surveillance and DSK, by one of the country’s leading investigative journalists, Edward Jay Epstein. It’s a gripping look not at whether Dominique Strauss-Kahn was guilty or innocent of the rape charges against him, but whether he’d been under surveillance by the man polls at that time said he was going to beat in a presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy.

We did the book as an ebook not just because it’s the fastest way to get a book tied to the news cycle into the marketplace, but also because an ebook allowed us to include some fascinating evidence we wouldn’t have been able to include in a print book: the video from security cameras at the scene of the alleged crime, the Sofitel Hotel in midtown Manhattan. (Over Ed’s narration, the videos show hotel personnel seeming to anticipate DSK’s arrival even though he didn’t tell them precisely when he was coming, then seeming to shadow him through the building; the check-in clerk switching his rooms; the maid being left to cool her heels in a back hallway after reporting the attack; and more.)

What’s more, we had a terrific scoop that made the book seem extra hot: Ed had somehow convinced DSK to grant him his first-ever interview about the case. This, despite the fact that it was our understanding that DSK wasn’t allowed to speak to journalists, because he is under indictment in yet another sex scandal in France. But he agreed to meet with Ed, and the result was an amazing interview, in which DSK did indeed discuss the notion that Sarkozy had been involved in his undoing. (“Perhaps I was naive,” he told Ed. “I didn’t believe they’d go that far.”)

This, in turn, got the Guardian newspaper interested in the project, and in return for front page coverage, we gave them exclusive access to the book and the interview. On Friday, the Guardian‘s story about the book, and Ed’s interview, went live on its website, and we simultaneously released the book.

Suffice it to say it was an interesting weekend.

The story shot around the world instantly, from the New York Post to the Oman Tribune. (My favorite headline was in the Sydney Morning Herald: “J’accuse: DSK blames Sarko.”)

And within hours, Sarkozy had responded, as this BBC wire story reports, snarling to reporters on the campaign trail that DSK should “spare the French his remarks.”

Then, DSK issued a statement saying he hadn’t spoken to the Guardian, he’d spoken to a guy writing a book — a fine-point having to do with his other indictment, as mentioned above?

We’re not sure, but it got Sarkozy cranked up again. At another stop, according to another Guardian report, “Sarkozy challenged Strauss-Kahn to take legal action”:

“I say to Mr Strauss-Kahn, explain yourself with judicial authorities and spare the French people your comments,” Sarkozy told supporters in the city of Clermont-Ferrand. “In the midst of an electoral campaign, Mr Strauss-Kahn starts to give morality lessons and indicate that I am the one responsible for what happened to him. It’s too much.”

By Sunday, there were  reports, such as this Reuters story, that the Socialists were shunning DSK, horrified no doubt to see their former leading candidate back in the news … but at the same time it’s hard not to imagine they were delighted to see Sarkozy rattled and having to discuss whether he’d abused his position as head of the country’s intelligence services.

In short, it was a revealing glimpse of French politics and the use of surveillance in modern society, and one that left both Sarkozy and Strauss-Kahn more exposed, and more uncomfortable.

Job done.


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives