Yes, he lied (Eisenhower update below…You’ll see)

The Mueller report, released yesterday, exonerated Commissioner Roger Goodell of the most serious charge in his handling of the Ray Rice assault, saying it found no evidence that Goodell viewed the so-called second tape from inside the elevator that showed Ray Rice knocking his now-wife Janay unconscious. That is all very fishy. The tape was sent to the head of NFL security at league headquarters and receipt was acknowledged. If Goodell really didn’t watch the tape, my guess would be that a *decision* was made not to view it. Perhaps, at the commissioner’s or his security chief’s direction, someone else did, and then when the powers-that-be were informed that the tape was every bit as bad as the league’s already existing information indicated, the league’s top dogs decided not to watch it to give themselves plausible deniability.

But Ian O’Connor rightly says that the key point remains – that the league, including Goodell – already knew how bad the assault was, despite Goodell’s earlier protestations to the contrary. Further, Goodell was – there is no other way to say this – lying when he said in September that the league made every effort to get all the information it could:

Even though Goodell wrote in a Sept. 10 memo to the 32 teams that the league had “asked the proper law enforcement authorities to share with us all relevant information, including any video of the incident,” Mueller’s report says Goodell’s security team never contacted any police officers who investigated Rice’s assault, never contacted Atlantic City prosecutors, and never contacted the casino, Revel, where the assault occurred. Even though Goodell wrote in that same memo that the league followed up with authorities after Rice entered a pre-trial intervention program in May, Mueller’s report says that never happened.

Or put a better way – either Goodell is lying when he says he didn’t see the tape, or lying when he says he made every effort to get all the information he could. There’s really no way around that conclusion.

Making mistakes, even serious ones, is not a crime. As I wrote last year, I strongly suspect that when the league handed down the initial two-game suspension, its braintrust believed it was sending a reasonably strong message, insofar as the two-game suspension for partner assault did exceed previous punishments. If the subsequent outcry demonstrated that public opinion and awareness of the issue of domestic violence has shifted and the commissioner had acknowledged a new day had dawned, that would be one thing.

But the gross dishonesty on display here is something else entirely. The league engaged in a partial coverup of its own investigatory process and that – not sending a really resolute message about domestic violence – became its priority. In that context – and this is far from the only such instance – it’s just exasperating to listen to these guys prattle on about their “values,” and “integrity” and codes of “good conduct” when their own behavior is so transparently lacking in these.

Update: I am currently reading “The Brothers,” Stephen Kinzer’s book about John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen, who was CIA director when John was Secretary of State under Eisenhower. It’s a chronicle of the interconnected machinations of American political and corporate elites – embodied in the steeped-in-privilege Dulles brothers – at the dawn of the modern national security state.

For all of the easy cynicism of the age in which we live, there remains in American political discourse (and sports commentary) a profound naivete about the nature of power and how people in positions of substantial institutional authority might behave. It would be simplistic, silly and not very useful to say that people in power lie all the time. But what is often missed in analyses of the public positions of institutional leaders – whether they are public office holders, league commissioners, corporate CEOs or yes, even university presidents and chancellors – is that when they are speaking publicly, they aren’t really speaking for themselves. They are, instead, trying to represent at all times, the interests, as they and their advisers conceive of them, of the institutions they lead. So, when a commissioner, for example, tells you he’s determined to get to the bottom of problem, he’s saying that in part because, strategically, he and his inner circle know it’s good for the institution to be perceived to be doing so. It shouldn’t take very much imagination to understand that this means that leaders will say sometimes say things for public consumption that, at best, obscure some messier and uglier realities. And that they can do so while still believing that they are doing what is “best.”

Leaders also have, as already noted, teams of people helping them to craft their positions and to protect them from possible threats to their own positions. When you are in a position of power, you command certain loyalties, for obvious reasons. Beyond whatever personal benefits people derive from working close to the seat of power, there is also the not very difficult leap to blurring the line between the image and position of the leader and the well-being of the larger organization, which redounds directly to the well-being of the leader’s inner circle.

Which is why, for example, while some lower and mid-level schmoes might leave careless paper trails documenting their own malfeasance, those at the heads of organizations often have more finely manicured records.

In that spirit, here’s Kinzer quoting the eminent historian Stephen Ambrose, Eisenhower’s biographer, describing how President Eisenhower was kept “discreetly informed” about covert operations, including the overthrow of democratically elected foreign governments (operation Ajax, carried out in 1953, overthrew the popular Iranian leader Mohammed Mossadegh):
“Eisenhower participated in none of the meetings that up Ajax (the plot to overthrow the Iranian leader Mossadegh); he received only oral reports on the plan; and he did not discuss it with his cabinet or the National Security Council. Establishing a pattern he would hold to throughout his presidency, he kept his distance and left no documents behind that could implicate the President in any proposed coup. But in the privacy of the Oval Office, he was kept informed by Foster Dulles, and he maintained a tight control over the activities of the CIA.”
To finish the thought, the lack of a paper trail implicating Goodell may not be all that meaningful, given other evidence. A former FBI director undoubtedly knows this.
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