The Problem With the DSK Libel Lawsuit

The hotel housemaid who lobbed sexual assault charges against former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn is suing the New York Post for libel over its claim that she was a prostitute.

Accusations against Strauss-Kahn have riveted NY tabloids ever since he was forcibly taken from a plane on the JFK runway into custody to answer charges he assaulted a hotel maid.

Initially, the local NY press came down extremely hard on the Frenchie, but then rushed to judgement in the opposite direction after law enforcement noted terribly inconsistent statements by the accuser. The New York Post ran hardest with salacious details about the Strauss-Kahn accuser, 

In a story that was headlined, "Maid cleaning up as 'hooker'," the newspaper reported she was "doing double duty as a prostitute, collecting cash on the side from male guests" at the Sofitel hotel where she worked.

According to the lawsuit filed on Tuesday in New York Superior Court, the plaintiff claims such reporting was false and "knowing, malicious, willful, and wanton and/or showed a reckless disregard for the Plaintiff's rights."

One possibly wrinkle: The woman has been in the press for several weeks and would therefore seem to be a "public figure," which would mean that should would have to prove actual malice on the newspaper's part.

However, the woman's name was withheld by the New York Post and other American newspapers -- (the French were less shy) -- in keeping with the practice of reporting on sexual assault cases. The newspaper showed her photo, but still refrained from printing her name even after her credibility was under some doubt. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff is only listed by her initials. Still identifiable, but is she a public figure?

Nevertheless, the New York Post now has a legal battle on its hands. It's also worth noting that the paper's owner, News Corp. is under assault in Britain for a quickly developing hacking scandal, Regulators there may examine whether the media giant is "fit and proper" to hold a broadcast license and advertisers are pulling away. Not a good time to have the news organization's credibility tested further.


Twitter: @eriqgardner