A number of respected French and American newspapers have claimed, when discussing the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, that France and the United States had no extradition treaty — for instance,  Le Monde, May 18, 2011 "La détention de DSK, un échec pour la défense", the New York Times(Judge denies bail to I.M.F. Chief in Sexual Assault Case), and now the Chicago Tribune (Strauss-Kahn case raises issue of diplomat abuse in U.S.).

The problem is, they do.

It took me five minutes to find the French text of the extradition treaty between France and the United States; and a few more minutes to see that  18 U.S.C § 3181 lists France among the countries with which the United States has extradition treaties.

It is quite evident that none of the journalists reporting on the case, none of the editorialists commenting on it, bothered to run basic checks on this simple fact, nor did any of the staffers at their institutions. I've often read the claim that quality newspapers, contrary to, for instance, "Internet sources", have staff dedicated to fact-checking; then how could such a glaring error, detectable by a few minutes of Googling, get through?

On Tuesday, May 17, I emailed the New York Times. I got an automated answer and no further acknowledgement. The answer claimed that if I pointed to an error, a correction would be printed as soon as possible. So far, I've not seen a correction appear.

Note that this is an important case, with international repercussions, and that the erroneous fact can be checked within minutes ; one would therefore have expected some rigor. One can therefore have serious doubts that facts about less important individuals or organizations, which may be more difficult to check, are most probably not checked at all.

Now where did the confusion stem ? France and the United States do have an extradition treaty, but this treaty authorizes either country to refuse to extradite its own citizens. It is the policy of France not to extradite its own citizens, but instead to prosecute them for their (serious) crimes committed abroad, provided that enough information is provided by the authorities where the crime was committed. For some reason, the state of California did not avail itself of this possibility in the Polanski case; this does not imply that, had Mr Strauss-Kahn successfully landed in France, he would have evaded justice.