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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Contra Bonnie Goldstein at Slate.com, Gov. Palin has never "admitted publicly" that any communications with Monegan were intended to "urge Wooten's firing"

Yes, I know, the titles are too, too long, but I have another early-morning guest-post about Sarah Palin up at HughHewitt.com.

Although of course most of it's unrelated to my guest posts there, yesterday Hugh's site got close to 120k visits or page views according to Sitemeter. That tells me folks are increasingly engaging in nitty-gritty details before the election. And that's a good thing for America, whatever happens.


[Copied here for archival purposes on November 5, 2008, from the post linked above at HughHewitt.com.]

(Guest Post by Bill Dyer a/k/a Beldar)

I've been a courtroom lawyer, an advocate in mostly civil but occasionally criminal trials, since 1981. Even before I started actually practicing, I learned that one way for the unscrupulous to railroad someone — to unfairly convict their target of something, to deny the target even a fair hearing — is simply to phrase all of the discussion in a way that presumes the target's guilt.

Because of that danger, the rules of evidence give defenders the right and the duty to object to the form of questions and accusations. And one very good ground for objection is that a question lacks an appropriate predicate — prior proof of the assumptions on which it's premised. Typically, the statement or question being objected to presumes something that's not only unproved, but actively being disputed.

In the court of public opinion, in which Hard Left opponents of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin are trying to convict her of an abuse of power in the supposed "Tasergate" (a/k/a "Troopergate") scandal, I therefore object to the form of this accusation by Slate's Bonnie Goldstein in an article entitled Todd to Juneau: Drop Dead" (links in original):

Since July, the Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee has been looking into whether Gov. Sarah Palin fired Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan because he refused to fire her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper named Mike Wooten. (Wooten's marriage to Palin's sister, Molly McCann, ended in an ugly divorce.) Two weeks before John McCain declared Palin his running mate, Palin admitted publicly that her husband, Todd, and members of Palin's staff had contacted Monegan and other public-safety officials about two dozen times to urge Wooten's firing.

The first sentence describes unproven allegations, and I have no quibble with it: It's not unfair or misleading to simply state what the allegations are in the course of discussing them. Nor do I quibble with the parenthetical sentence that follows.

But the final sentence — about the purported "public admission" as to the intention of anyone "to urge Wooten's firing" — is thoroughly objectionable. It's something that is not supported in any way by the source Ms. Goldstein linked (an article from the Anchorage Daily News). Nor has that intention been proved yet in any formal proceeding. And rather than having been "admitted publicly" by Gov. Palin, that intention is something that she has actually flatly denied repeatedly from the first days this dispute was fomented in the Alaska press by the blog speculations of the distant third-place finisher in the 2006 gubernatorial election, Andrew Halcro.

In fact, Bonnie Goldstein and Slate.com just made this so-called "admission" up out of thin air. And she and Slate.com have refused to correct it, notwithstanding my polite email to them on Monday evening pointing out her error. At that point, what could originally have been defended as an egregious but innocent mistake on their part became, at best, a knowing and continuing misrepresentation of objective fact — that being as to what's "admitted" and what's instead vigorously disputed.

I've written before on my own blog (here, here, and here, for example) at greater length about Tasergate, with gobs of hyperlinks and many direct quotes from original source documents. You may think you know what kind of misbehavior has been alleged, and what's been proved, about Trooper Wooten, but you probably don't yet know more than a fraction of it. But in any event, I assure you that with respect to Ms. Goldstein's and Slate.com's false description of a "public admission" by Gov. Palin, this isn't just quibbling about semantics. It's absolutely central to the charges against Gov. Palin.

Monegan himself has repeatedly admitted, in vivid language, that neither Gov. Palin, nor First Dude Todd Palin, nor anyone else ever told him, in so many words, that he (Monegan) should fire Wooten (boldface mine):

"For the record, no one ever said fire Wooten. Not the governor. Not Todd. Not any of the other staff," Monegan said Friday from Portland. "What they said directly was more along the lines of 'This isn't a person that we would want to be representing our state troopers.'"

Rather, at best, Monegan, child-abusing (but still employed) Trooper Wooten, and their backers are arguing that there was an implied order for Monegan to fire Wooten, ultimately backed up by an implied threat that if he didn't, Palin would fire Monegan.

In courtrooms, we generally call these sorts of implications "guessing," and judges regularly refuse to let witnesses even begin to travel down that path.

Oh, there may be exceptions. If the crime charged involves an alleged organized crime boss conveying a death threat to a juror, and the evidence is that he told the juror, "Vote to acquit or you'll sleep with the fishes," the courts would probably permit that testimony as tending to show that a death threat was actually conveyed and not just imagined by the juror — if, but only if, the prosecution first showed that there was circumstantial evidence through which a reasonable person under similar circumstances might reasonably perceive such a threat to be implied. There has to be at least some historical context. "Did you ever see the movie version of 'The Godfather'?" might thus be part of the predicate required to support the piling of such inferences on top of each other.

To prove abuse of power, Gov. Palin's opponents have to prove either the use or threatened use of power. They have to show the whole chain of causation, without skipping any steps. So can Monegan, or Wooten, or anyone else supporting either of them, or attacking Gov. Palin, produce any basis to show that anything Todd Palin, or Sarah Palin, or anyone on Sarah Palin's staff, ever said or wrote to Monegan about Wooten amounted to —

  • first, an order that Wooten be fired (rather than, say, reassigned to other duties, given remedial training and counseling, or given some other, lesser punishment); and

  • second, a threat that Monegan would be fired if he didn't fire Wooten?

So far, there has been no specific allegation to either effect — no showing of anyone else who'd been similarly threatened with firing or fired, nor any showing negating (or even remotely inconsistent with) any other explanations for what was written or said (like the ones Gov. Palin has actually tendered for her own emailed references to Wooten a full year or more before Monegan was offered a different government job).

So to the extent it's about misconduct on the part of Gov. Palin (as opposed to misconduct by Wooten or Monegan themselves), the whole of Tasergate is based on guesses stacked on inference stacked on innuendo. In that context, it's particularly important to be truthful and scrupulously accurate about what anyone has "admitted" — especially on something as important, and as slippery, as what anyone intended. Pundits may then argue what conclusions they want; but pundits who wish to be credible, and certainly anyone who wants to be considered a professional journalist, have a duty not to misrepresent what's actually being disputed.

As for the purported point of Ms. Goldstein's article — to discuss and attach .pdf scans of a letter sent by a lawyer explaining the eleven different reasons why Todd Palin would not be handing a legislative lynch mob more rope to hang him with by responding to an unenforceable and inappropriate subpoena — I encourage you to read both Ms. Goldstein's characterizations and then the letter itself. You can decide for yourself, or at least get an accurate impression as to what basis there is for disagreement about the subpoena, from the actual source document.

As you do, though, note Ms. Goldstein's sloppy-at-best construction when she says "An earlier claim by [attorney] Van Flein that the matter belongs before a personnel review board was rebuffed" — as if Van Flein's position were rebuffed by a court, or even a full legislative committee vote. (It was actually only "rebuffed" by the Democratic state senator who's leading the witchhunt and the investigator he's directing in his admitted attempt to produce an "October surprise"; in other words, the opposing parties disagree, and the matter hasn't yet actually been resolved.)

Notice, too, how Ms. Goldstein skips over the substance of the first ten objections — which might require her to, you know, actually look at a statute which says that only the Alaska Personnel Board has jurisdiction to consider abuse of power claims in state employment matters — so that she can mock Gov. Palin and her husband's legitimate point that between now and November 4th, they do have some other obligations on their calendar.

On the assertion as to what Gov. Palin has "admitted publicly" as to an intent to "urge Wooten's firing," though, the bottom line is this: Until she publishes a conspicuous correction, Ms. Goldstein is perilously close to, and perhaps across the line of, simply lying herself. In the interests of justice, I object. And for now, since we're operating in the court of public opinion, the only ruling on my objection will come from each of you.

— Beldar

Posted by Beldar at 05:18 AM in 2008 Election, Law (2008), McCain, Palin, Politics (2008) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Contra Bonnie Goldstein at Slate.com, Gov. Palin has never "admitted publicly" that any communications with Monegan were intended to "urge Wooten's firing" and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) David St Lawrence made the following comment | Sep 24, 2008 7:38:46 AM | Permalink

Keep up the great work.

A purveyor of false news gets a certain notoriety and a lot of attention from credulous readers, but the activity loses support when the falsity is clearly exposed.

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