Two Deceitful Non-Denial Denials And An Unethically Tardy Whistleblower


TV shows like “Lie to Me” and “The Mentalist” as well as all the profiling shows like “Criminal Minds” have done a public service by schooling viewers in the tell-tale signs of non-denial denials. Nonetheless, people continue to use them, apparently because they work. Bill Cosby’s lawyers just launched a lulu, responding to the inexplicably re-booted accusations that Cosby was a serial sexual predator in the 70’s. You can’t get more non-denial than this, from lawyer John P. Schmitt on Cosby’s website:

“Over the last several weeks, decade-old, discredited allegations against Mr. Cosby have resurfaced. The fact that they are being repeated does not make them true..Mr. Cosby does not intend to dignify these allegations with any comment.”

There is no denial of the alleged rapes to be found here. Yes, the accusations are “decades old”: So what?  So are questions about whether Lizzie Borden was guilty.  The fact that the allegation are decades old means Cosby can’t be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations, but they don’t change anything about the seriousness of the accusations against the erstwhile “America’s Dad.”

Discredited? How have they been discredited? Cosby paid a settlement in one of the cases: that generally makes the allegations look credible (See: Paula Jones/Bill Clinton; Michael Jackson). Sure: “The fact that they are being repeated does not make them true,” and it also doesn’t make them false. That Cosby doesn’t intend to “dignify” the matter with further comment is strategy and posturing. It is significant that the lawyer did not say “He didn’t do it.”


[UPDATE: Ah HA! Today that statement was taken down, with this taking its place, a joint statement from Dolores Troiani, counsel to Andrea Constand, and Schmitt:

‘The statement released by Mr. Cosby’s attorney over the weekend was not intended to refer in any way to Andrea Constand. As previously reported, differences between Mr. Cosby and Ms. Constand were resolved to the mutual satisfaction of Mr. Cosby and Ms. Constand years ago. Neither Mr. Cosby nor Ms. Constand intends to comment further on the matter.”

Translation: “Oops. That settlement with the first of Cosby’s accusers was predicated on neither party impugning or accusing the other once the money was paid, and that “discredited” comment risked getting Bill in even more hot water. Never mind!”]


Lawyers aren’t permitted to lie, though. Then again, they aren’t supposed to mislead the public with deceitful non-denials, either.

Then we have CNBC’s response to ex-CNBC reporter Melissa Francis, who followed Jonathan Gruber’s admissions of rigged math to get the Affordable Care Act past “stupid voters” with a relevant anecdote of her own. Francis, now a Fox Business anchor,  claims that the network “silenced” her when she questioned the merits and specifically the misleading numbers for the Affordable Care Act when it was being rammed through the legislative process. She told Fox News that she was called on the carpet by CNBC brass and told to stop, on the grounds that such criticism was “disrespectful to the President.”

A CNBC representative responded:

“That’s laughable, but we take notice, because as the fastest-growing network in prime time, we’re always on the lookout for high quality comedy writers and actresses.”

Like the Cosby non-denial, this is all bluster and deceit. “Laughable” isn’t a denial. The listener might decide to hear it as one , but all the word means as “that makes me laugh”: maybe CNBC has a strange sense of humor.  Mockery is not a substantive denial. The first part of the sentence is ambiguous, and the last part is an implied ad hominem attack that isn’t sufficiently specific to be certain it even related to Francis.

You see, telling lies in public is tricky, not to mention unethical. The truth in both cases would be much easier:

  • “Mr. Cosby regrets his past conduct in respect to these incidents and allegations, though he does not necessarily agree with how they have been characterized. He is deeply sorry for any harm he may have caused, and now believes his best course is to move forward.”
  • “CNBC regrets any instance in which it may have inhibited the best journalistic instincts of our reporters, as we appear to have done in the instance cited by Ms. Francis. We will be reviewing our practices and policies so there is no question among the CNBC staff and its audience that we hold no loyalty to any elected official, party, policy or policy-maker, and view our  mission as providing our  viewers with objective analysis and the facts they need to know.”

Before I leave CNBC, however, I want it understood that Francis failed her obligation as a journalist miserably. She could have and should have been an industry whistleblower when this incident occurred, or, in the alternative, have stared down network censors as responsible journalists have been doing in her position since the days of Edward R. Murrow. On Fox today, she said that she didn’t do either because she “always has wanted to please.” Well, she’s in the wrong profession: she should be running a tea house. Her revelation now is next to useless, for she works for Fox Business, CNBC’s rival. It looks like she is piling on the Jonathan Gruber criticism, and her credibility is dubious.

Had she fought like she was supposed to—and she would have been fighting both for the public not to be “Grubered” and for the integrity of her profession—she might have made a difference. Instead, she did what she had to in order to keep her job, and became part of the conspiracy to fool “stupid voters.”

There are few things more useless and infuriating than a tardy whistleblower.


Sources: Washington Post, Mediaite, Signal

2 thoughts on “Two Deceitful Non-Denial Denials And An Unethically Tardy Whistleblower

  1. It is significant that the lawyer did not say “He didn’t do it.”

    No, that is not significant – for the very reason that competent lawyers have learned that conclusions of that sort will be drawn whenever they don’t deny, if they ever build up a pattern of denying when they can back denials. So, to keep things muddy, they also don’t deny in cases when they could. Such a failure to deny would be significant for many people who could deny, as those people would indeed deny if they could, so people who are aware of the risk take the trouble not to be like those people. Your faulty conclusion, that not denying is significant, will eventually help build up the mud.

    It’s actually a topic in information theory, and it leads to things like “stupid” censors censoring harmless letters from Second World War factory workers (because, if they didn’t, there would be a spike in censorship of letters from strategically important people and places – which would mark those). There’s an Irish folk tale about a leprechaun putting hat bands on bushes that also illustrates the point.

    • It’s significant, though the proper statement would be: Mr. Cosby denies these allegations; or “My client says these allegations are false. The phrasing used makes the lawyer sound like he wanted to be able to say—“Now read my statement—I never really denied that the allegations were true.”

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