When the news first broke about Dominique Strauss-Kahn being charged with sexual assault, all of the U.S. newspapers reported the story as though the man’s guilt was a foregone conclusion. And just about every American I spoke to (although there were exceptions) also took it as a certainty that he must be guilty.
I remember telling people at the time “Yes, but we don’t yet know the facts. He might be innocent.” And I was surprised by how many people couldn’t even hear what I was saying. They seemed to think I was declaring him to be innocent.
In fact I did not think he was innocent, and I didn’t think he was guilty. I just didn’t know.
My reason for reminding people that he might be innocent actually had little to do with DSK himself, but rather with a worry I have about the current state of our Media, and the effect it has on our collective thinking. When certain types of events happen, the Media seems to move en masse into a kind of collective hysteria, often lining up behind one particular viewpoint with a fervid, perhaps even religious, certainty.
And this tainted way of thinking then seems to infect all the people who read the newspapers and watch the news reports. Pretty soon everyone has caught the same bug, and the idea that there could be two sides to the issue at hand becomes widely seen to be absurd.
Now that the prosecution of this case is swiftly unraveling, I suspect people will wake up from their collective certainty as from a dream. Everyone will forget that they were ever caught up in this particular wave of hysteria, and it will be as though it never happened.
Until the next time it happens.