Strauss-Kahn was released without bail and, despite the acknowledged “unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter,” public and media attention quickly swung against the anonymous accuser. She quickly lost her quiet life of Nigerian comedies, and became characterized as conniving, an immigrant working the system who pals around with crooks and drug dealers. The stories proliferated and the New York Post went one step more and suggested she had worked as a prostitute, drawing a libel suit from Diallo’s legal team.
Last week, on the heels of Diallo’s exclusive interviews with Newsweek and ABC—which were rated by observers as anything from somewhat redeeming to desperate—her lawyer spent hours with the DA listening to the recorded phone calls. He claims his client’s conversation was mistranslated and misrepresented by prosecutors in their leaks to the media. He says she was merely telling her fiancé what had happened to her—that Strauss-Kahn was a big and powerful man, or even a man with a lot of money, is not a detail that many people in her situation would have left out. His claims were reported by the media—and, indeed, in The New York Times. The DA’s office refused to comment, and the lawyer’s claims received less attention.
And so that’s where the story was on August 1, when The New York Times e-mailed subscribers the “Story Behind The Story.” If you’d think the Times might take this opportunity to provide some explanation or clarification about the recording, you’d be wrong. The story behind the story is kept to the events—and the “relentless reporting” of “wonderful reporter” William K. Rashbaum and “ever-relentless” John Eligon—of June 30. To be fair, this odd little piece of Times back-patting is not a formally published piece, but it gives insights into how the paper came to initially report Diallo’s call to Arizona.
Ryan reveals Metro Desk reporters had become aware the DA’s case against Strauss-Kahn was unraveling:
After spending much of the week pressing sources, a few facts seemed clear: the prosecutors’ body language had shifted dramatically from the opening days of the case, when they declared emphatically that Mr. Strauss-Kahn had sexually assaulted the housekeeper. They now seemed less confident about the victim making the accusation. Additionally, both sides were planning to be in court the next day. And there seemed to be a possibility that the case might never come to trial.
Her narrative picks up later in the day:
It was getting close to 6 p.m., and we were still drafting the piece, debating how strongly we could signal to readers that the case was in trouble.
That’s when Jim Dwyer, our Pulitzer Prize-winning Metro columnist, a remarkably plugged-in New York newspaperman, came forward with crucial—and potentially explosive—details.
A trusted law enforcement source of Jim’s, who had once believed the victim was a devout and truthful woman, now said there were major problems with her credibility. The housekeeper had lied on her taxes and on her immigration asylum application, where she falsely claimed she had been raped. And she had ties to people involved in criminal activities, including an incarcerated man she had a conversation with the day after the encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn.
Jim’s breakthrough seemed to loosen John and Willy’s sources, so they confirmed the account and gathered other details. And Jim kept turning up more.
This was evidently not a time to exercise restraint. They were on deadline and breaking a big story that, Ryan notes, they went to extraordinary measures to keep secret from their “ferocious tabloid rivals.” The sources were trusted and they ran with it.
Ryan’s account ends oddly several hours later, with her team eating guacamole and one reporter being whisked off to talk about the scoop on a morning talk show. And that’s it.
While the account (available in PDF form here) mentions the phone call (“a conversation” with an “incarcerated man”) that figured prominently in that night’s big story, and was at the center of the next day’s follow-up, it says nothing about its now-disputed content, which, the Times’s reporting clearly suggested, indicated Diallo might be pursuing the case for financial benefit. The e-mailed account merely notes it as an example of Diallo’s ties to unsavory characters. It does not defend the reporting against the lawyer’s recent challenge or even acknowledge that a challenge has been made. This omission is striking, mostly because of the importance of the call’s content, but also because the e-mail, which promised to chronicle “the twisting case,” leaves out any discussion of this most recent and dramatic twist.