18 February 2008

Clemens Controversy out of Control, Credibility Questionable

The steroid controversy surrounding Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, their former trainer Brian McNamee and others has spiraled way out of control.

Originally, there was The Mitchell Report. Everyone had something to say about it. Some of them had even read it. Or, you know, some of it.

That was almost two months ago. At the time, Roger Clemens said he was "...shocked, SHOCKED, to find that his name was going on in there." He said that he had no idea that he was named until the report was issued. He said that he would have spoken to the Mitchell investigators if they had let him know that he was going to be named. Well, that was a load of crap.

Last week it came to light that Brian McNamee had tried to warn both Pettitte and Clemens that they were going to be named in the Mitchell Report, and that he had been the one to finger them, even though federal investigators had warned McNamee not to talk to anyone before the report came out. McNamee spoke to one of Clemens' many lawyers, and Clemens even heard a taped recording of the conversation, as much as a week before the Mitchell Report was released. Now, he says, he didn't talk to the Mitchell people because he didn't think they'd want to talk to him. These are the same people, it should be noted, who had repeatedly tried to get in touch with Clemens while they were researching the report, just like they had everyone else who might have had any tied to steroids and the like. So that, too, is a load of crap.

In the last two months, Roger Clemens has tried just about everything to deal with this situation, short of taking any actual responsibility and/or telling the truth. He's tried:

1) Righteous Indignation
This tactic rarely works, even when it's appropriate. It didn't work for the Hollywood Ten, half a century ago when the Red Scare had everyone hunting for Communists under their couch cushions. It didn't work 35 years ago when Richard Nixon and some of his top aides were found to been complicit in the burglary of their political opposition's headquarters. It didn't work 14 years ago when both sides of the pending MLB strike kept insisting that the other side was already getting too much of the profits and should not be entitled to any more than that. It didn't work a decade ago when President Clinton told us that he "...did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

It didn't work then, and it doesn't work now. Usually, this is because the person exhibiting the righteous indignation is not, well, righteous. But even if they are completely innocent, the approach generally proves ineffective, if only because nobody likes to see someone act like that. The public likes humility and contrition and a perspective outside oneself, which the Righteous Indignation approach typically makes you look like a pompous jerk.

2) Discrediting the Witness:
Brian McNamee's been called a "drug dealer" and his criminal history has been brought to the forefront, even things of which he was accused but never convicted. In addition, there are indications that he was pressured into helping the Mitchell investigation, though it's not clear that they had any authority to get him convicted of anything, given that this was, in fact, a private investigation. He was not, however, offered immunity.

A standard legal defense, this one actually has some merit. If you can make your accuser look like something less than a fine, upstanding citizen, or if you can demonstrate that they had some reason to make up lies about you, you can gain some ground. In the court of public opinion, where this fight has mostly been staged to this point, this will win you some supporters, or it will at least give the people who already wanted to support you an excuse to do so. In criminal court, painting your accuser in such a bad light can be just enough to establish a reasonable doubt, and therefore get you off the hook. In a government hearing, however, especially one in which a report written by a formerly high-ranking member of that governing body is being discussed, it's unclear how much this does to help you, other than force people to take sides. Which brings us to tactic #3...

3) Divided We Conquer
If you can't beat 'em...get 'em to beat each other! A lot has been made of the apparent situation that has Republicans generally believing, or at least supporting Roger Clemens, and disparaging the name of Brian McNamee, while Democrats tended to believe McNamee more and regard Clemens' statements with greater skepticism. Though there are various possibilities as to why this might be the case, I think Occam's Razor will help us a lot here, i.e. the simplest answer is usually also the correct one:

The Democrats who run the committee brought Clemens in because they're concerned about this whole Steroid Thing and Clemens has publicly stated that the allegations made against him in the Mitchell Report are not true. They want to know why he thinks that (or at least says it). And the Republicans? Well, they're Republicans. So if the Democrats are going to bring in Roger Clemens and accuse him of doing something wrong, then he MUST be innocent, and by golly, they're going to defend him. It's their duty to the Fox News Channel! Or America! Or something.

If the Democrats were going to haul the sky into a congressional committee hearing and accuse it of being blue, the Republicans would line up to scoff at them and tell any reporter they saw that the sky is so obviously green that they can't even believe they're still talking about this. And naturally, it works the other way around, too. It just happens that the Dems are in charge of Congress right now.

And then, as if this were not enough, we get to hear one of Clemens' 5,237 lawyers telling a reporter that he's convinced that Clemens will get a Presidential pardon for anything he's done wrong, because he's such good friends with the Bush family. That's not wholly implausible, since Roger apparently knows G.H.W. Bush (i.e. Bush-41) from all the time that the the former president spent at Houston Astros games whil Roger was one of those. Bush-43 (the one everyone hates) is a huge baseball fan, and surely appreciates Roger Clemens' legacy to the game, even if he couldn't appreciate Sammy Sosa's potential when he was the GM of the Texas Rangers. (I'll bet he gets tired of hearing about that.) Of course, this Bush is presumably a Rangers fan, and Clemens never pitched for them. In fact, he beat them 18 times in his career, so George Junior may just let him fry. Revenge, served cold. Another problem with this approach is, rightly or not, if Bush were to pardon Clemens, he would essentially HAVE to pardon Barry Bonds. Their cases are so eerily similar: Both were world-class athletes, winning the highest award for their positions three times in their younger days, and both had a late-career resurgence allegedly fueled by performance-enhancing drugs. Both won 4 more awards in that timeframe, played well into their 40's, and then got slammed with drug allegations. Whether we like it or not, whether it's appropriate or not, the Public will see them as the same, and for Bush to pardon one and not the other would be unforgivable. And because one of them is white and one of them is Barry Bonds, at least some of the public will have a reason to call President Bush a racist. I mean, someone other than Kanye West. Of course, if Clemens' lawyers had any brains at all, they would not count on that. Rob Neyer, whose job it is NOT to figure out these kinds of things, pointed out that by the time the dust settles on this case, there won't be a Bush in the White House any longer, and therefore nobody with any reason to pardon him. Well, if the Yankees are in the Series next year and Hillary Clinton decides to be a Yankee fan that week, she might do it. On the other hand, if John McCain gets elected, Jason Grimsley might have a shot at getting off the hook. 4) Try to Look Cooperative Even if you're not going to be helpful, it's helpful to look like your being helpful, you know? So Clemens goes to the hearings, he meets privately with committee members, he answers questions at a public hearing. He even holds his own press conferences and brings tape-recorded phone calls PROVING that he didn't do anything wrong, because, you know, in any 15-minute telephone conversation he has, if he's done something wrong, either he or the other party would definitely mention it, right?

5) Weapons of Mass Distraction

If you can't beat 'em...get 'em to focus on something else!

This is slightly different from tactic #3 in that instead of making your accusers focus their energies on someone else, you make them focus on something else. Like, for example, you take a 400+ page report with dozens of witnesses and pages of references and volumes full of appendices...and you use the questionable nature of one little statement in that report (namely, whether or not Roger Clemens actually went to a party at Jose Canseco's house one day ten years ago) to call the veracity of the entire report into question. This is basically the same approach that got O.J. Simpson acquitted in his criminal trial, and we don't have anywhere near as much evidence that the Rocket's a Juicer as we did that the Juice was a killer.

In the same vein, there was also a so-called statistical analysis report demonstrating that Clemens' late-career success was not so unusual. Of course, when you actually looked at it intelligently, this wasn't really true, but in any case, it gave people something else on which to focus for a while.

With that said, we do have plenty of evidence. Proof? Proof doesn't really exist, not in a scientific sense. All you have is evidence for and against something, and you have to figure out which weighs more. What it comes down to is this:

In order to believe that Clemens was clean all those years, you have to believe:

A) That Brian McNamee, Kirk Radomski, Andy Pettitte, Jose Canseco, and several other people are lying or that they "mis-spoke" or "misremember" the facts. (Personally, I find it easier to believe that Clemens is full of "mis-malarkey".)

B) That, whether he suggested it himself or not, Roger Clemens would allow his wife to take HGH in order to get her in shape for a photo shoot, but that he would never consider taking it to improve his own game.

C) That Clemens played a whole season with Jose Canseco in 1998, watched Canseco have one of the best years of his career, but never asked him how he did it, never heard him when he talked about steroids (which, if you read Juiced, you know he did all the time) and never tried the same things himself.

D) That George Mitchell and all of his investigators, professionals whose job it is to root out the truth, were all duped by a amatuer like McNamee.

E) That Andy Pettitte, a self-avowed devout Christian, who therefore values the truth, would either lie about his good friend Roger Clemens or would risk telling a falsehood based on sketchy recollections and/or misunderstandings. You'd have to believe that Pettitte would risk pissing off both Clemens and Jesus by doing something like that.

F) That Clemens' resurgence late in his career was either the result of his maniacal workout regime, which in itself shouldn't even be possible for a man in his late 30's or early 40's without a little chemical help, or that it was a fluke.

There are probably a few other intellectual gymnastics you need to do to buy the Clemens party Line, but those are the big ones.

On the other hand, if you want to believe the opposition, all you really need to believe is that

A) Clemens is lying, and

2) He's getting others to lie for him. People like his wife, and highly-compensated lawyer-types.

That's not so hard to believe, is it?

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