When we willfully look at reality through opaque glass, we purposefully distort the truth, defame the abused, and silence democracy.
What does it take to silence democracy? Not much. The recipe includes a little disregard for truth, a few omissions here and there, a lack of context, and a willful shielding of our eyes. Part I discussed how we prefer confirmations of what we already think we know rather than any information that might challenge our assumptions. Below we look at why this aspect of our nature is harmful to our communities and society.
A willful disregard for truth makes a mockery of real issues of public interest, public safety.
You would have to be living under a rock to not know about the Alabama senate race of Roy Moore, a Republican with touted beliefs so far out that he has alienated many of his own party members. First, forget his party label. Research Moore’s controversial stances for yourself to see how disturbing some of his ideas are. These alone are concerning, and well outside of the scope of mainstream conservative ideals. (And, really, Southerners are tired of defending the South from this junk. We’d thought we’d moved beyond Southern politicians who spewed the atrocious adages of our tainted pre-Civil Rights past.)
More troubling, Moore has had NINE women come forward alleging Moore groomed, pursued, and/or assaulted them. All but two were teenagers at the time of the alleged incidents. The fifth accuser, Beverly Nelson, came forward to corroborate the pattern of behaviors laid out by four prior women and to share her own (again, alleged) experience of sexual assault at the hands of Moore.
Reportedly, Nelson is a registered Republican and Trump supporter. However, conservative-leaning media and others, including POTUS, are playing dirty to discredit and smear this woman who has everything to lose and nothing to gain. This blew up yesterday. In the aftermath, we would be fools not to stop and reflect on this repeated manipulative scheme.
Once again, here’s the bottom line obvious.
Sexual violence is not a political issue. It’s not a private issue. It’s a public interest issue. It’s a society issue. It’s a religious issue. That it has been polarized and politicized is shameful.
Americans, hiding behind clouded lenses, have allowed this polarizing with a little help from social media and search engine algorithms. As we now know, during the 2016 election, duplicitous actors were silencing democracy. These democracy silencers manipulated the vulnerabilities of our echo chambers–our online “groups,” search preferences, habits, etc. For the sake of human dignity, we should all take a deep breath, step outside of our narrow-mindedness (and our “red” and “blue” boxes), and apply a little objectivity. (Maybe a little humanity, too?)
Silencing Democracy–Our Incredible Means of Measuring Credibility
How does Moore’s credibility stack up beside Nelson’s? Not that we have all facts (always important to note), but here is what has been reported (for what that is worth).
Moore’s Side of the Scale: 30+ Witnesses, 9 Alleged Victims, and Moore’s Backtracking on Formerly-Made Assertions (Hedging)
On Moore’s side of the line, we have 30+ witnesses alleging Moore’s history of “inappropriate” sexual behaviors. None of the witnesses were his multiple accusers, and yet they corroborated the accounts of nine alleged victims (to count). The witnesses detailed similar patterns of behavior and confirmed multiple pieces of evidence. These witnesses’ many assertions controvert Moore’s own contention he didn’t know any of the accusers. Here’s a quick smashup of what’s been reported:
- The Washington Post, who first reported on the allegations, interviewed over 30 witnesses aside from the accusers. They corroborate accusers’ reports.
- In an interview with Sean Hannity, Moore said he could not remember whether he “dated” some of the girls: “I do not remember speaking to a civics class. I don’t remember that. I do not remember when we … I seem to know or remember knowing her parents … that they were friends. I can’t recall the specific dates because that’s been 40 years, but I remember her as a good girl. But neither of them have ever stated any inappropriate behavior. She didn’t say anything. They said about me…”
- When Moore was more pointedly asked whether he dated a nineteen-year-old when he was in his 30s (not a crime, but relevant given the accusations), he said, “If I did, I did . . . .” (Things that make you go ‘hmm.’)
- Compare the above to what he later said at a DeKalb county rally: “These allegations are completely false, they’re malicious. Specifically, I do not know any of these women” (emphasis added). (Now look back at numbers two and three above.)
- Consider that More has admitted (and subsequently denied) knowing and possibly dating the women who were between the ages of seventeen and nineteen at the time in question. Interestingly, it seems he only denies the allegations of involvement with the women who were fourteen and sixteen at the times of alleged incidents. Those two accounts (which detail very similar patterns of behavior as patterns in his admissions) are the only two that would more certainly land him in legal trouble. (Wobble, baby, wobble, baby, wobble. He’s seems to be all over the place.)
- The list of nine women include these (with their ages at the time of the reported incident(s): Leigh Corfman (14); Wendy Miller (16); Debbie Wesson Gibson (17); Gloria Thacker Deason (18); Gena Richardson (18); Becky Gray (22); Beverly Nelson (16); Tina Johnson (28). Read Time’s article, “More Women are Accusing Roy Moore of Sexual Misconduct: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About the Scandal.”
- The range of behaviors reported (again, similar patterns reported by many unrelated, unknown persons) include these: providing alcohol to under-aged persons; pursuing “dates” with under-aged girls (to the point he was reportedly banned from the mall); forcibly kissing girls without consent; and attempted and completed sexual assault (including multiple allegations of groping and fondling).
- After Moore said he knew none of the women, several produced evidence. They brought forward their postcards, yearbooks, etc. with messages allegedly inscribed by Moore. The distinct Moore signature appeared authentic (see below).
Whew. That’s a lot. Actually, this poorly constructed hodgepodge summary likely understates the alleged facts. Cross-triangulation of multiple perspectives, comparison of testimonies with objective evidence, and the overlapping of details from multiple, unrelated accounts at least suggest Roy Moore has a credibility issue.
Nelson’s Side of the Scale: One Date & Place “Annotation”Beneath Moore’s Signature in Nelson’s Yearbook
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of Beverly Nelson’s and Roy Moore’s statements.
The allegations: In a press conference on Nov. 13, Beverly Young Nelson said that Moore sexually assaulted her in 1977 when she was just 16. She claims that Moore offered to drive her home from her job waitressing at a restaurant and then groped her and forced her head toward his crotch. She said that she had first met Moore at the restaurant she worked at when she was 15. She said he frequently complimented her appearance and signed her yearbook with the note: “To a sweeter, more beautiful girl I could not say Merry Christmas. Love Roy Moore, D.A.”
Moore’s response: During a press conference on Nov. 13, Moore denied her allegations. “I can tell you without hesitation, this is absolutely false,” Moore said. “I never did what she said I did. I don’t even know the woman. I don’t know anything about her. I don’t even know where the restaurant is or was.” Moore also denied signing her yearbook and called on Nelson to release the yearbook so a handwriting expert could examine it.
Samantha Cooney, “More Women are Accusing Roy Moore of Sexual Misconduct.”
Nelson did as Moore requested. She produced the yearbook and was willing to allow handwriting experts to examine it. Why? We imagine it was because Roy Moore had discredited Nelson. Impugned her character. Used a public stage to defame and coerce silence. Nelson produced her yearbook and called his bluff. The inscription? Just as she said. The signature? It bears resemblance to Moore’s signature on court filings and other verified documents. Did the scale finally tip?
Most reasonable persons would say Nelson at least met the “more likely than not” preponderance of evidence burden, right? It seems more likely than not that Moore signed Nelson’s yearbook. This implies Moore did, in fact, know Nelson. And that leads to the logical inference that Moore was lying during his November 13th press conference.
The burden should logically shift to Moore to prove this wasn’t his signature in her yearbook, that he didn’t frequent the diner where Nelson worked, that he had no association with Nelson.
Did Moore hire that handwriting expert? Curiously, he did not. Instead, he relied on a few media (Fox News and Breitbart) to work magic. Without having expert witnesses analyze the handwriting and scientifically determine whether the signature was bona fide, political pundits claimed the signature was a “forgery.”
Why? They picked up on a comment Nelson made as an aside during the interview. The vultures were circling. Watching for any morsel they could twist, warp, take out of context, and manipulate to fit their agenda. (Ironically, the underhanded deception was more of a “forgery” than any annotation on a yearbook.)
Exhibit A: During an interview with ABC News, the reporter asked Nelson if she added “notes” below Moore’s inscription in her yearbook, and she said, yes, she had added the date and the place below his words to her.
Silencing Democracy by Defaming Victims
Obviously, Moore’s account wasn’t more credible than Nelson’s (see above). Obviously, it is deliberately deceptive to call an “annotation” a “forgery”:
Definition of annotation
1 : a note added by way of comment or explanation The bibliography was provided with helpful annotations.
2 : the act of annotating something
Definition of forgery
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
–Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
If “adding” of date and time is evidence of forgery, well then, shucks, every grandmother in the South who receives Christmas cards is, too. I mean, how dare Grandma say she received a Christmas card signed by Uncle Joe after she wrote the date in the corner and filed it in her 1983 picture album. Absurd, no?
And how dare any of those teenage girls say their friends signed those corner notes in their yearbooks after doodling hearts and BFF beneath it (my own little added note was always, “Smile, God loves you!”)?
C’mon, people. What happened to common sense? (Common sense is very biblical, by the way. Jesus’ speaking in parables was an explicit display of common sense.)
Annotation is not synonymous with forgery.
Acting as if it is distorts reality, blurs denotation and connotation. It crosses into Orwellian “Doublespeak” territory. Were annotating the same as forging, then my former students have many apology letters to write Harper Lee because we “forged” many comments in the margins of our To Kill a Mockingbird pages. In fact, someone should really this new definition of annotation to the OED and save all the high school English teachers out there from the persecution and media attention that’s about to descend on them.
The absurdity only makes the line brighter between credible and incredible. Side-by-side on the scales of justice, it’s clear, Moore loses the credibility argument. At least with what all media reported. And that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Moore had mega media magnates endorsing his campaign, but they couldn’t find anything more to discredit all of these women. The women were credible.
Why, then, is the public so ready to buy the incredible? (Read Part I.)
Credible persons don’t need to ferret out loopholes. Straightforward, trustworthy people don’t seek escape clauses. Upright, ethical persons don’t evade accountability by manipulating some minor technicality. This is why the Harmless Error Rule exists in criminal procedure.
In criminal procedure, a “technicality” is harmless unless at least it has a minimal effect on a verdict. Courts weigh a technicality’s effect on a verdict against the overwhelming and untainted nature of evidence (e.g., admissions of guilt, inconsistent statements, number of witnesses corroborating reports, forensics, etc.). If evidence of guilt is high and impact of “error” is low, then the verdict usually stands. Why, then, does media manipulate “harmless” technicalities?
Because media know their audiences will buy the manipulations. The same way mall kiosk merchants know we’ll buy those Metabolite pills that defy science. We don’t value truth. We value the confirmation of our preconceived presumptions. We need to believe our way of thinking was right. Is right. Even if our thinking was . . . is . . . distorted.
This absurd assessment of credibility overlaps with the leeway media have to play with the truth. If there’s so much “fake news,” then why don’t more people sue the media, right? Why aren’t there more consequences for these public liars?
Fair questions. Short answer? Same game, different leagues.
Think of David and Goliath. While private person David can expect a fair fight if up against another private party, that isn’t the case with issues of public interest and media defendants. Those cases are more like putting David up against two Goliaths. It will take more than one slingshot to bring them both down.
Defamation is the use of a false statement that is published to a third party as purported fact, such that (critical to making a claim) it causes damage to the person who is the subject of the statement.*
So here are a few important points about defamation: One, truth is NOT defamation. Truth is an absolute defense to defamation. Second, an opinion is NOT defamation. Third, media are like many Goliaths, and they have special privileges under defamation law. Fourth, sexual abuse survivors may have their OWN defamation claims–PER SE claims.
Per quod defamation requires a plaintiff to PROVE damages. But PER SE defamation is “on its face” harmful. Plaintiffs need not prove damages where others make false statements (1) that a person was involved in criminal activity; (2) that a person has a “loathsome,” contagious, or communicable disease; (3) indicates that a person was unchaste or sexually promiscuous; (4) indicates the person acted in a manner at odds with the proper conduct of his business.
As for the media, they know how to stretch a headline to the line of falsehood. The media are afforded leniency with defamation so that they may report issues of public interest. However, they too often manipulate this relaxed standard. Often, a media outlet can print an injurious lie (e.g., calling an “annotation” a “forgery”), so long as it quickly retracts, reprints, and adds a little correction at the bottom of the publication. In the slight time between printed lie and corrected publication, we, Americans, have been hoodwinked.
Caught in the crosshairs are victims of abuse. Were an individual, private figure to make false statements to a third party that imputed a woman’s sexual chastity, that private figure could find himself or herself facing a defamation per se suit (i.e., special damages are presumed and do not have to be proven due to the nature of the alleged falsehood). But where public media defendants make such comments, the injured party must make an additional showing of actual malice–a high burden to meet. Thus, injured parties receive little justice, and the offending media source gets away with silencing of democracy.
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire
Consider the purpose of Nelson’s production of the yearbook signature. Was it to show some condemning message? Was it to offer a picture of a man’s groping hand? No. It was merely used in defense of Moore’s claim that he’d never met Nelson.
The burden shifted back to Moore. What proof did Moore put forth to show he hadn’t met Nelson? That’s right. NONE. (At least none reported.)
Consider what you would do to quickly put allegations to rest if you were in his position: I’d offer up as many samples of my signature from the time period I could find–old Social Security cards, driver’s license signatures, tax filings, etc. I’d hire a handwriting specialist. I’d dig up hundreds of original copies of my signature for comparison. I’d produce materials and witnesses to prove my alibi showing why I couldn’t have been in place X at time Y with person Z.
That Moore’s done nothing but give a shaky recollection of details speaks volumes. If his memory is that bad he certainly shouldn’t serve in the Senate. However, reality showed people’s cognitive distortions made them all-to-eager to cling to the deliberately deceitful media misinterpretation of an “annotation” equaling a “forgery.”
People needed to believe the candidate affiliated with their chosen political party was noble and righteous, without blemish. They needed to believe he was more decent than not only his political opponent (vile by his very association with the “other” party), but they also needed to believe him of stronger moral fiber than his accusers.
They needed to believe their party’s candidate was “victim” of some malevolent partisan attack. The disclosures disrupted the pleasant facade, shattered people’s Utopian rose-colored lenses.
Recently, there’s much talk about prosecuting those who make false accusations of sexual misconduct. In fact, there are laws making “false reporting of an incident” a criminal offense. Good. False accusations mock jurisprudence and make it harder for real victims of crime to get justice. However, here’s a reality check for our knee-jerk cognitive distortions: only between 2% and 10% of sexual violence allegations are false.
Hard numbers? Considering the margin of error, up to 9/10 allegations are TRUE. Those numbers do not consider the additional fact that sex crimes are the most underreported. Thus, false accusations are rare. They are the exception, not the rule.
And yet, democracy derailing “news” headlines in your echo chambers sold you a fake forgery story. Their lies about one piece of one account underhandedly sought to discredit all nine accounts. The Bannon-backed alt-right quickly pounced on Nelson, making it sound as if the “truth” was out and Nelson had written the entire thing herself. They later dialed back to Nelson’s adding “notes” below the inscription.
Breitbart “cried wolf,” Fox News took the bait, Moore retweeted the Breitbart falsehood, and POTUS had to escalate the drama (who, let’s not forget, has 13 accusers and a pending lawsuit against him for defamation–we could publish a book detailing his credibility issues).
Why does society show more outrage over false accusations than confirmed cases of sexual violence?
The fact remains that false accusations do sometimes occur. Should all women be believed? No. As the statistics above show, up to 1/10 accusations are false (we remind readers again, though, that also reasonably means 9/10 accusations are true).
There’s nothing wrong with being a natural skeptic. We’re skeptical ourselves, reserving judgment until we’ve looked at an issue from multiple perspectives, considering all relevant facts and evidence. We think it wise for persons to remain nonjudgmental when sexual violence accusations arise. It’s prudent to balance the necessities of safety and support with the necessity of due process for the accused. But there’s a difference between being a natural skeptic and a jaundiced, one-sided pundit.
No scale can accurately weigh objects if not first calibrated to zero.
Jaded, one-sided evaluators don’t have their scales set to zero. Therefore, they show bias (consciously and unconsciously). Unfortunately, our culture is proving its calibrations are off when it comes to allegations of sexual violence. The cultural contagion then infects individual minds.
The cultural contagion infects our systems of justice: contrast the case of Brock Turner with the case of Nikki Yovino.
Brock Turner: This college athlete was caught digitally penetrating a 22-year-old unconscious woman (“Emily Doe”) and was convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault. Three felony counts, and he served three months in prison.
Nikki Yovino: This college female falsely accused two football players of raping her when she actually engaged in consensual intercourse with both. She admitted “making up” the rape account out of fear that truth of the consensual sex would damage her relationship with another male, a “potential boyfriend.” She plead guilty to two lesser felony counts (different state) and served a year in prison.
Both committed terrible acts. Both rightfully faced consequences for their conduct. Yet, the male violent offender with three felony convictions served less prison time than the female who plead guilty to two lesser felony offenses. 🤔
[Huge factual detail worth mentioning in the Yovino case? Yovino immediately reported the falsified account because her motive required immediate disclosure. That’s inconsistent with the vast majority of sexual violence victims who remain silent for days, weeks, months, even years. The self-interest motive doesn’t hold up for those who disclose at inopportune times and in ways that the harm self-interests.]
The observation of constitutional rights is a one-way street with two-way traffic, and defamation threats chill victims’ first amendment rights.
Amid all the drama, one has to wonder, where are the cries for more deliberate due process for victims? It’s no surprise abusers wouldn’t care to afford victims proper due process. But what about these other due process champions always ready at the helm to shout, “Innocent until proven guilty!”
Why aren’t those persons more concerned about victims’ substantive due process rights? Victims’ 14th Amendment liberty interests in bodily integrity? In Coker v. Georgia, the United States Supreme Court said this about sexual assault:
“It is highly reprehensible, both in a moral sense and in its almost total contempt for the personal integrity and autonomy of the female victim and the latter’s privilege of choosing those with whom intimate relationships are to be established. Short of homicide, it is the “ultimate violation of self.”
433 U.S. 584, 597-98 (1977).
Sure, constitutional due process applies to government deprivation of a person’s life, liberty, and property. However, isn’t the government depriving victims of life, liberty, and (potentially) property when government officials use their public platforms to target individual accusers? When they act as prosecutor, judge, and jury? When they declare verdicts from public podiums? When they defame and destroy wholesale?
Shouldn’t all persons accused of any illegal act be afforded due process? Deliberation? Fair and objective weighing of all evidence in the light of the entire record? Read here how abusers are turning defamation claims into threats, chilling First Amendment rights. Where’s “innocent until proven guilty” for those effectually being accused of criminal offenses like “false reporting of an incident”? This one-way due process is becoming a sad legal, political, and social strategy employed to shut up victims, intimidate witnesses, cover up crimes, and allow continued patterns of abuse. It’s seems a bit like mob-style witness tampering on a grand scale.
Reasonable persons are watching this play out and shaking our heads (Reasonable Republicans, Independents, and Democrats standing together). We’re watching the plague spread, and we see the utter destruction in its wake. More importantly, God is watching.
Anyone who trades victims of sexual violence for money, status, votes, political agendas, or institutional reputation has sold his soul.
Mm-hmm. Maybe some so-called Christians would do better to read their Bibles rather than thump them in others’ faces. Isn’t it a show of humility to reserve judgment and deny knee-jerk positions of self-interest? Even if a person attends church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday, and Friday, his or her church attendance isn’t going to overcome the fact he or she met the devil on a dark, dusty crossroad, exchanged truth for self-interest, and signed over his or her soul to the background of victims’ cries. (Cue the Charlie Daniels fiddle. 🎻)
Conservative Christians could hardly deny the Bible’s position on this in Matthew 18: 6-10 (Jesus speaks pretty explicitly on the matter). And Republicans were rightly distressed twenty years ago when Paula Jones offered allegations against former President Clinton. Somehow, though, the election of Donald Trump has caused this to become a polarizing, political issue. Some Republicans and Democrats have suddenly developed amnesia and forgotten the 1990s. Some Christians have suddenly forgotten key conversations of Jesus Christ–the MVP of their entire religion.
“Their eyes are blind. They cannot see.” Holiness isn’t a team sport or a social event. If we are more devoted to our red team or our blue team than God’s team, we cannot live holy. Christians, we know better. We’d do well to live holy all the time.
If there is any issue about which Republicans and Democrats should be united, it should be this, the wrongful nature of sexual violence perpetrated against teenage women (those most likely to be victimized, according to RAINN).
Sadly, many Moore supporters (many who call themselves Christians) are being Machiavellian. By picking party at any cost, even if it costs them their very souls, they are silencing democracy and distorting truth with excuses like these:
Sandra Cummins, 53, an accounting consultant from Fairhope, Ala., said she was likely to vote for the party over the person.
“The allegations are disturbing,” Ms. Cummins said, “but until there’s more concrete evidence, I would err on the side of the Republican, strictly for tax reform.”
A retired coal miner who frequents what the cashier called the “liars’ table” put it to me in the familiar Winston County way. “The women,” he said of Mr. Moore’s accusers, were lying to make him look like a sexual predator. “Groping,” he added, “used to be all right anyway.”
“Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager, and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”
The Irony–When Silencing Democracy Backfires
The irony is Breitbart’s jumping on the Nelson “notes” so quickly only affirms Nelson’s credibility. If major conservative medium Breitbart had anything substantial in the way of disproving any of these women’s claims, it would have produced it by now. Newsflash–it doesn’t. After all, Breitbart is Steve Bannon’s baby, the weapon he’s vowed to use in a “war” to further his own political agenda. The preponderance of evidence (the standard for civil matters) favors Moore’s accusers. At least based on the limited evidence released to the public. Wouldn’t wise persons do well to withhold hastier, knee-jerk criticism of these accusers, then?
To be clear, Fox News had to retract and publish a correction on its “forgery” assertion. But be prepared for more “alternative facts” to increase in circulation through Tuesday and leading up to any election in the future. This is the sad new norm–political infiltration into American journalism has reduced it to little more than cheap click bait. All those dystopian novels that once seemed futuristic now read as reflections of present society.
At least Facebook’s new filter reportedly flagged Breitbart’s yellow journalism as “fake news.” Still, if we hope to hold on to our salvation, a little national peace, and shreds of our personal dignity, perhaps we should heed this quote: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”
America, we should know better than to allow our politicians to make a mockery of real public (not political) issues and real personal (not political) victims. Why does this matter? This mockery makes it politically and socially acceptable to silence abuse and attack those who’ve had the unfortunate misfortune of being target to others’ criminal conduct. The whitewashing of darkness makes it appear as “not so bad” shades of gray. This is dangerous.
When we buy the cheap lies they sell, we contribute to silencing democracy by shutting up victims and giving licenses to abusers. Politicians (and powerful heads in all kinds of institutions) may win their temporal political runs at the expense of victims’ voices, but in the end, it’s our nation, our states, our communities, our children, and our own souls who lose.
And for the record, survivors of assault who’ve been accused of defamation because you broke their silence: you’ve already endured attacks to your physical person, and you do NOT have to abide attacks to your character. You can fight back against defamatory harassment levied against you to “shut you up.” Such coercion is not only unethical, unholy, and ungodly but also unlawful. An attorney can help you fight here in this temporal world, for legal recourse ensures accountability for those who do not fear God as they should.
No matter what legal the outcomes, though, know this. Truth bearers always have greater hope. David didn’t defeat Goliath because of his own might (or the might of any legal representation). David’s was represented by God, and God always wins.
*NOTE: THIS SITE DOES NOT PROVIDE ANY LEGAL ADVICE. Users of this web site should always consult with their own lawyers for legal advice. This web site is an educational and personal blog. We are not a law firm and authors’ posts merely contain general legal information which should not be construed as legal advice to be applied to any specific factual situation. If you are unsure whether your particular situation requires that a document be changed, you should consult a lawyer.