Shades Of O.J. Case In Casey Anthony Verdict?
MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, "Push," the controversial novel that inspired the equally provocative movie "Precious" told the story of a teenage mother and her struggle to overcome abuse and illiteracy. Now, the author of the novel, she's known as Sapphire, is back with a new one that follows the story of Precious' son. Sapphire is with us in just a few minutes.
But, first, we go to the Beauty Shop, where we tackle stories that we think could use a woman's touch. We have a lot to talk about this week. We'll talk about the stunning verdict in the trial of Casey Anthony, who was acquitted yesterday on charges that she murdered her two-year-old daughter. This is a case that was a central preoccupation of the cable news in this country.
There's also the dramatic turnaround in a sexual assault case against former International Monetary Fund director Dominique Strauss-Kahn. That's been a central preoccupation of two countries. And we'll also talk about why America's largest medical association has taken a stand against Photoshopping or altering the pictures that appear in magazines.
With us to make sense of these stories and more are Melissa Harris-Perry. She's a professor of political science at Tulane University in New Orleans. She's also a frequent media commentator. She's the author of the book "Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes and Black Women in America."
Also with us, Eleanor Beardsley. She's a veteran journalist and NPR correspondent reporting from Paris.
And we're also joined by Anita Malik. She's the founder and former editor-in-chief of East/West Magazine. That's a lifestyle publication aimed at Asian-American women and she's also the founder of BrideRush.com, a wedding planning site. Welcome everybody. Thanks so much for joining us.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks.
ANITA MALIK: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: And this is probably a good time to remind listeners that perhaps some parts of this conversation might not be appropriate for all listeners, due to the content. So with that being said, I want to start off with the latest news around Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF chief who stands accused of sexually assaulting a New York hotel made in May.
Melissa Harris-Perry, the case and public opinion seem to have swung from one extreme to the other. Here's a person who was taken off an airplane, very dramatic, as he was about to leave to go back to Paris. But now the accuser's credibility has been under assault. And in another turn, she is suing the New York Post for libel for referring to her as a prostitute in some of its covers on a big front page headline.
So I'm just interested in your take on this. You've been overseas as well and you follow these issues closely. What do you make of this?
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, in a certain way, we almost could've written this before it actually happened. This seems to be a standard storyline around the assault of women, or the alleged assault of women. And, you know, men who are very powerful and in the public eye. This storyline in certain ways follows aspects of the Kobe Bryant storyline, where you have powerful NBA star accused of sexual assault and then the potential victim or the alleged victim, her sort of identity coming out. And then all of it being cast into doubt based on that.
The same thing happened very similarly around the Duke Lacrosse case, where you had again, young men of privileged, accused of sexual assault. And then the young woman who did the accusing, her identity comes out. And so over and over again, as we see this happen, I think, we have to start asking about the ways in which we are making judgments and how all of this then impacts sexual assault victims or those who might choose never to speak out, in part because this has become such a common way that these stories seem to go.
MARTIN: You know, Eleanor, isn't it also the case that this is something that African-Americans in this country complain about, too, the rush to judgment. You know, the perp walk and things of that - that people who have not been convicted of any crime displayed before the public. This is something that I've written about. It happens, frankly, more often to poor people and minorities than it tends to happen to wealthy white people. That's a documented fact. But, Eleanor, isn't that something that the French are very upset about?
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Oh, yeah. They were so shocked to see Dominique Strauss-Kahn unshaven, haggard looking and just paraded in handcuffs with, you know, police around him because here in Paris, if you're not convicted, you cannot be shown in handcuffs because of the presumption of innocence, which we supposedly have, too. But I have to say, maybe I've been living here too long, but it was kind of shocking. And it really did condemn him - he was convicted there in the eyes of the world before, you know, anything even went to trial, people were very critical about that.
MARTIN: Yeah, but some French media also named the accuser, which is something that American media don't do in sexual assault cases. What was the justification for that? I mean, this is before questions about her credibility were raised. What's the justification for that?
BEARDSLEY: Well, actually, they're not supposed to either. And I don't know if it was the fact that she was in another country and so she wasn't in this country. So I would always point that out and, like, you know, you are shocked by what we did with the handcuffs or what the American justice system did. But we are shocked - Americans are - that you're naming the person.
But, yeah, you're right. They have named her and maybe - but maybe because she's not here. But that didn't seem to shock anybody. No, in fact, I mean, I had seen her house so many times 'cause the French press and media was just all over her, her building where she lived, place where she used to work in a restaurant. So, yeah, you saw it all - all that from here.
MARTIN: One of the things that was interesting to me is that in the wake of these allegations, there are French women who came forward, a young French journalist, in fact, came forward, whose mother is a prominent sort of Socialist politician, saying that Dominique Strauss-Kahn had attempted to rape her. That she fought him off and that she did not come forward with these allegations because she was concerned for her career.
BEARDSLEY: It's very interesting. Well, this woman filed charges yesterday in court here against Dominique Strauss-Kahn for attempted rape. So what is interesting is, yeah, this whole thing sort of woke women up here, like, why are we putting up with this? And a lot of women, you know, at first, the people who rushed to defend him, everyone was shocked at first. Oh, god, he's this esteemed politician, how could - this couldn't be happening.
Then after a couple of days, women started saying, hold on, yes, it could be happening because men do this kind of thing and he had a reputation that wasn't so clean. I actually heard a lot of women here saying, oh great, this is exactly, you know, what we were saying in the beginning. This is just so stereotypical that the victim lied in her life so now she's a liar and we can't prove anything. And he's going to be let off the hook and all the progress on women, you know, opening up a dialogue about what women suffer is going to be lost.
So there was that kind of feeling. I don't think it's all out yet. It's going to be interesting to see how it plays out because there's of course his network of men of his age generation that are completely incensed and they're saying now, you see the really brutal and the too-quick-to-judge American justice system, you know, wronged him and he's been humiliated and victimized and he's a martyr now.
Even, you know, we don't know what happened in that hotel room in New York. But we do know that as one editor of a prominent newspaper here said, we do know that he had a sexual act with, you know, the housekeeper in a luxury hotel before meeting his daughter for lunch and flying home to his wife. And that's says something about the man.
And, you know, now there's this new case by this French woman. She's not, you know, a foreigner and this is in France, so we're going to see how that's, you know, what people think about it as that evolves.
MARTIN: Anita, what do you say? You were telling us earlier that you think the real story's getting lost in cases like this. What do you mean by that?
MALIK: You know, I just hope - it's definitely a question of credibility on both sides now. You know, they're going to look at his track record as well and look at his history with the new cases that will come forward. And to me, in these type of cases and the ones that Melissa pointed out earlier, you know, these are two people perhaps with questionable pasts, but what's the real story, you know? And hopefully we can get to that truth and justice be served.
And to me that's the real concern in this and I think it's definitely media driven, sadly to say. But I think a lot of it is things we pick up. The New York Post example is a huge red flag to me. I think it was anonymous sources. To me this is not a story of national security that we need to be relying so heavily on, on anonymous sources. And are we just attacking the victim and creating more of a back and forth, who has a worse track record? And going further away from the real issue here.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
We're visiting the Beauty Shop, getting women's perspective on the news of the day. With us are Eleanor Beardsley, an NPR correspondent reporting from Paris; Melissa Harris-Perry, political science professor and author. She's at Tulane University, Anita Malik is the founder and the editor of East/West Magazine and she's also the founder of BrideRush.com. That's a wedding planning site.
Couldn't this DSK case, Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, be an example of the fact that this system does work? The fact is that investigators uncovered the information. They brought it to the defense. They didn't hide it. They didn't pretend, because it made the DA's office look bad. And in a similar case, I'm wondering whether - how people will evaluate the Casey Anthony case. Casey Anthony's this young woman in Florida who was accused of killing her two-year-old daughter, Caylee.
This case has dominated cable news coverage. She was convicted to lying to police about her daughter's disappearance, but she was acquitted on the much more serious murder charges. This is one of the prosecutors, Jeff Ashton, talking with "The Today Show" this morning.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV PROGRAM, "THE TODAY SHOW")
JEFF ASHTON: I think I mouthed the word wow about five times. We were all that shocked. I mean, you pour your three years of your life into a case - as a prosecutor, you know, you don't take a case unless you believe in it. We have great respect for the jury system and the rule of law. And you can't do what we do and not respect jury's verdicts.
MARTIN: I'm interested in your reaction to this, Melissa Harris-Perry, because one of the things that you've written a lot about is the criminal justice system. One of the things I'm fascinated by is now, are people going to be criticizing this jury the way they criticize the jury in the O.J. case for acquitting him? Saying, oh, these people are stupid, how could they and so forth. So far, I don't hear people criticizing the jury.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. The O.J. case was - were the very first comparisons that I heard people saying. But what they were saying is I haven't been this shocked since the O.J. Simpson verdict. But, you know, there are big differences, here. There's no clear social lines along which our opinions about this verdict cut. So unlike the racial division in the O.J. Simpson case, it's not as though mothers clearly thought that Alexander(ph) did it, and people who aren't parents didn't or something.
That said, look. It's clear - from my understanding of following this case and the evidence presented - there's a lot of sort of weird behavior post the daughter's disappearance. There was not the kind of evidence required for an American jury system to find beyond a reasonable doubt. And that is the standard for an adjudication, particularly something that was potentially a capital crime, here.
I think it's very painful, because there is a dead child, a young child whose image we have all seen so much now, that we take on a kind of empathetic and sympathetic role towards her. But it doesn't seem to be the wrong verdict, kind of clearly the wrong verdict based on the evidence presented.
MARTIN: One of the alternate jurors spoke out saying the government just didn't prove its case. And I wonder if that is the issue here, whether the system really did work, as painful as the outcome. Maybe. Finally, before we let you go, I wanted to talk to you about the American Medical Association. They just adopted a new policy to encourage advertisers to develop guidelines around Photoshopping their ads, especially ones aimed at teens.
One doctor associated with the policy talked about an image where a model's waist was so altered in Photoshop that it appeared that it was slimmer than her head. And Anita, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you about this is that you founded a lifestyle magazine, a lot of fashion. Were most of the ads Photoshopped? And did you every worry that you were kind of promoting just an impossible beauty ideal that could actually be dangerous?
MALIK: You know, I think with advertising, it's a tricky thing for publishers to work with. You know, that funds your business, and you're looking to find out what you can do to protect your consumer at the same time. And for us, thankfully, because we did focus on image market of Asian-Americans, we didn't have too much of that high-gloss fashion in our advertisements. It was more consumer products, such as cars and things like that.
But what we found was that just the question within our own team: What about publishers that are actually putting together fashion spreads? They do it, as well. And that was something that we struggled with from time to time, touching up the cover model, touching up inside on the fashion spread. How much is too far? A little bit of Photoshopping goes a long way for a lot of people, and that's acceptable.
But when you do significantly alter to an unrealistic body image, I think that's where the problem is. And that's what, you know - I applaud the AMA for their statement. I think now it does need to go further. I think advertising agencies and industry associations, as well as publishers. They didn't address publishers, but I think that we have a huge responsibility to the consumer. If we're altering images, it's the same thing as altering somebody's quote, in my opinion. And so that's really not a journalistic-editorial approach to things.
MARTIN: Eleanor, you live in a land of fashion, and I'm really - wasn't it that the World Health Organization a couple of years ago actually talked about this as well, that they were worried that the models on the runways were becoming so thin?
BEARDSLEY: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, super thin.
MARTIN: And is there a similar conversation in France - which is of course is a center of fashion - around this...
BEARDSLEY: Yeah. This is - I absolutely agree with, you know, this. That Ralph Lauren ad where her waist is thinner than her head is grotesque. But I don't - it is disgusting. And, actually, no, we're not having - the French are not having this conversation like they need to be. There are certain feminist groups having it. But here, you know, it's even, you know, the message out for young women is beauty, your body, it's how you look.
And I think it's even more than in America. And the French always talk about - they think that America has - is putting out images of sex, and this and that, but they're worse. And you see so many, you know, billboards and ads about sexy women, sexy, sexy, sexy, and nobody's discussing it. And their ads, to me, they're just disgusting here. And I'm not talking about being Photoshopped, but they're just over the limit. They're just too much.
And, you know, nobody's talking about it. It's not a general public conversation. I've only heard it brought up a few times. You know, feminist groups make complaints or this and that. So it's a huge issue and I don't think - yeah, I think the French are a little bit behind on that, as they were about the sexual harassment stuff. So I think it's - you definitely feel it here, but it's a bad message to - you know, telling all these young women, the only thing that matters is how you look, and you have to look perfect. And people don't look like the way they're making these pictures look and, no, it's not really talked about here like that I feel that it should be. But I'm always irritated by this.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: You tell them, Eleanor. Maybe they'll listen to this and wise up at some point. Professor Perry, you know, you are around young people a lot because, obviously, you're a college professor. And I'm wondering if you think that young women - I'm sure they think that maybe they're too smart to be affected by these kinds of images, but do you think that they are? Do you think that this kind of guideline by the AMA is meaningful and important?
HARRIS-PERRY: Undoubtedly. Look, first of all, I'm raising a young daughter. She's nine years old, and she's really just starting to hit that stage of life where she notices what she looks like and is impacted by the images that she says and asks about everything from her hair to her height to, you know, just sort of is this like this person I'm seeing on television, who I like and respect and seems to be talented.
So, for example, my daughter's an African-American girl. She wears braids. She loves Willow Smith, because Willow Smith is about the same age and also has, you know, these braids in her hair. But look, even in teaching my college students, we just did a course on women in media and politics. And we discussed, for example, a great deal about Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton in the last election.
And for these young women, many of them respected Hillary Clinton, felt good about her political accomplishments, but also really appreciated just how adorable - this is the word often used - Sarah Palin was and how much, as they become successful women, they want to be as beautiful, as desirable as a Sarah Palin.
So it's only to say that, look, these are - the images I'm talking about right now aren't touched-up images. They are just what we're even putting a camera lens on. And I do think that there are incredible messages, really, since the mid-century that encourage us to believe that in addition to having it all - a career, a family and everything else - you also have to have a perfect size, whatever, body.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: I couldn't meet that standard.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: Melissa Harris-Perry is a professor of political science at Tulane University in New Orleans. She's author of the book "Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America." She was kind enough to stop by our Washington, D.C. studio. Also with us, Eleanor Beardsley. She's a journalist who reports for NPR from Paris. She joined us on the line from her office there. And Anita Malik is the former editor-in-chief and the founder of East/West Magazine - that's a lifestyle magazine aimed at Asian-American women - and the founder of BrideRush.com. She joined us from member station KJZZ in Tempe, Arizona.
Ladies, I thank you all so much for joining us.
BEARDSLEY: Thank you.
MALIK: Great to be with you, Michel.
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