Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I do not believe Roger Clemens

Henry Waxman's committee in the House held more steroid-in-baseball hearings today. To many voters, it is hard to understand why Congress is doing this. I would suggest that, at least, Congressmen relish being on the sports page and ESPN in an election year. There is also a bit of payback. Roger Clemens was a big Bush supporter and raised money for him and allied candidates. Naturally, Republicans defended him.

First, there's the obvious. Roger Clemens is a substantially bigger man in his 40s than he was in his 20s. That is not normal for an athlete, unless it's sumo.

There's also the curious pscyhology of Clemens' testimony. He began by saying that no matter what happens to him at the hearing, nothing will remove the stain on his name. He must have thought he was playing the victim card, a good strategy. No doubt, however, it felt good to say these words. Too god, really. They are part confesion, and all true. Nothing will remove the stain because he is guilty. His adamant denials also refledct that he is ashamed of what he has done and wishes he hadn't done it. Like a small child who states loudly "I didn't do it!" with a cookie in his hand, chocolate chip smears on his mouth, and a broken ceramic jar next to him. Marion Jones did the same thing, denying and denying. We see this over and over again with athletes. Clemens could probably pass a lie detector test. He's not a steroid user; he used steroids. These are very different statements. I've seen witnesses in court take similar paths. It's very hard, actually, for guilty people to be really figure out how to behave as if they were innocent.

The worst part was when Clemens was confronted with Pettite's testimony corroborating the story of Clemens' steroid use. Clemens defended Pettite as a friend, then said he must have "misremembered" what Clemens told him. Incredibly unlikely testimony. Defending Pettite's goodness is also a strange giveaway. Clemens has a hard time adding the false accusation, "Pettite's a liar" to the weight of an already guilty conscience.

There's a reason for putting this on a political blog, and not just because it's occupying Congress for some reason. In this political season, when we need to judge candidates and others based on their statements, it's worth thinking about how we tell lies from truth.

As a lawyer confronted with live witnesses sometimes and written testimony often, I feel like I have learned more about this task than your average bear. I have explained to my own witnesses that they should not be worried about being "tripped up" so long as they are truthful and don't try to say things to make their testimony sound better. The truth is that state of affairs that is consistent with reality; as the fabric of the evidence is laid out, truthful testimony will be woven into it.

The goal of lying, as I see it, is to find a statement varies from reality in such a way that its variance can be isolated and contained, rather than unraveling it all. This is can only be done by misdirection - by persuading the truthseeker not to investigate beyond a certain point, i.e., not to see where the fabric is torn. That is the art of the con artist. We all know that elaborate lies can work if they persuade the hearer not to question further - to carry on the metaphor, presenting such a large piece of apparently intact fabric that the hearer is satisfied it is connected with the fabric of reality. The elaborate lies can fall apart easily. Smaller, vaguer lies (e.g., "I have a family emergency...") are easier to contain (harder to falsify) but provoke more skepticism (they are known to be easier to contain and harder to falsify). The dead giveaway is the guilty conscience that communicates "I'm sorry I'm lying" at the same time as it lies.

Watching and listening to George W. Bush is all about observing various kinds of fascinating lying behavior. Mitt Romney was just ugly to watch. He could hardly say he was a conservative without seeming embarrassed. Obama, at least, knows how to contain his lies. I have been delighted on occasion to hear him tell the truth about embarrassing things. That's an example of political resilience. After the 2004 convention speech, he was asked by Tim Russert whether he agreed with John Kerry's vote in favor of the Iraq war. Obama lied. He said that he didn't know what he would have done if he were in the Senate and had the information that Kerry had, but from where he sat, the case was not made for war. The lie, of course, was twofold (1) that he would have made the decision based on the evidence rather than the politics; and (2) that he didn't know how he would have voted. When asked by Tim Russert, Obama explained very simply that he had just nominated Kerry and did not want to speak against him. Yes, I lied, he said. But it was expected of me. And everyone knew I was lying too. It was oddly satisfying.

See... baseball holds the keys to everything.

1 comment:

Lauri said...

The Freakonomics blog had a great analysis of Clemen's late-career statistics surge:

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/11/analyzing-roger-clemens-a-step-by-step-guide/#more-2314