Saturday, February 04, 2012

Two E-Mail Chains; Or R. Brodhead, Movie Critic

The closing scene of Primal Fear, the movie referenced by Richard Brodhead as, it seems, an avenue through which to interpret the lacrosse case. Brodhead's private comment came a few days after the arrests of Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty. Could this chilling portrayal by Ed Norton really be how the Duke president perceived his institution's own students?


Courtesy of a Bob Ekstrand filing, two e-mail chains, including five April 2006 e-mails, from senior Duke administrators.

The e-mails are both surprising and unsurprising. The unsurprising elements: Provost Peter Lange comes across as the only humane member of Richard Brodhead's inner circle. Larry Moneta comes across as petulant and self-pitying.

The surprising: Brodhead (based, of course, on this very small sample size) appears even more crassly concerned with Duke's image than I would have expected. This concern also was demonstrated in an excerpt that Ekstrand featured from former AD Joe Alleva, who stated in a deposition that he was "crucified" by senior administrators after he appeared too sympathetic to the lacrosse players at this press conference. That revelation, it would seem, explains Alleva's becoming far colder in his treatment of the lacrosse players thereafter, even though his judgment about the team's character was confirmed by the Coleman Committee report.

The intriguing: None of the administrators (in these confidential, not-for-public exchanges) appeared even to consider that a sexual assault hadn't occurred--even though both e-mail chains came after the revelation that no DNA matches existed to any lacrosse players.

E-mail 1, from Brodhead to Moneta and Alleva, 9 or 10 April 2006:
"They have human needs."

Perhaps this can be Duke's new marketing slogan: "Send your sons to our school, at $50K/year: Our president understands they 'have human needs.'"

"We can't do anything to side with them, or even, if they are exonerated, to imply that they have behaved with honor."

Brodhead must have been stunned when he received the Coleman Committee report, and learned that they students about whom he was appalled had a history of drinking much too much but otherwise were good students and campus citizens.

E-mail 2, Moneta to Brodhead and Alleva, 10 April 2006:

"We . . . have ensured that faculty treat them fairly." I'm sure that Kyle Dowd would have been surprised to have learned this. Or the students in History classes taught by Profs. Deutsch or Thompson.

Why, exactly, did Moneta "hope" that fired coach Mike Pressler was "no longer communicating with the players"? Pressler had been virtually the team's only advocate within the Duke administration.

Moneta seems put out that the players and their parents were upset with Duke, given that "we have been supporting them throughout." If Duke's behavior between 25 March 2006 and 10 April 2006 constituted "support," imagine what opposition would have entailed!

E-mail 3: Brodhead to various administrators, 24 April 2006. By this time Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty have been arrested. And in response, the president traveled to the Durham Chamber of Commerce, where he roused applause with his infamous remarks about the duo: "If our students did what is alleged, it is appalling to the worst degree. If they didn’t do it, whatever they did is bad enough."

This e-mail suggests, again, a cold and calculating man. The same president who condescendingly remarked about how students facing on-campus mobs "have human needs" now mused--one month into the crisis--"maybe they just want someone to meet with them and show a humane face." A "let them eat cake" mentality.

The e-mail's other intriguing item was its first sentence. Two weeks after the revelation of the DNA test results, Brodhead doesn't even seem to have thought that maybe no rape of any type occurred. "Certainly a large number of them are [innocent] of the criminal charge." This assertion implied that Brodhead believed that at least some of the students were guilty. How, exactly, did he believe a crime occurred given the negative DNA tests?

E-mail 4: Lange to senior administrators, later that morning:

This e-mail from Lange, in response to Brodhead's missive, suggested that one "humane" person did exist among Duke's senior administrators. The e-mail suggests that Dean Sue probably fell into this category as well.

Presciently and perceptively, Lange warned that Duke's throw-them-to-the-wolves policy toward the lacrosse players "is probably mistaken."

Somewhat surprisingly, based on his closing paragraph, even Lange doesn't appear to have considered that a rape might not have occurred. It would have been shocking at this stage if any Duke administrator was certain that the accused players were innocent. (I certainly wasn't certain of it at this stage of the case, following things as I was exclusively in the media.) But it's equally shocking that the Duke leadership doesn't appear to have considered absolute innocence even as an option. That oversight helps explain why Brodhead didn't cover himself with a few throw-away presumption-of-innocence lines in his April 5 and April 20 statements.

The final e-mail, with Brodhead responding to Lange.
Even the clueless president appears to have realized that the lacrosse players and their parents wouldn't welcome a sit-down with the hopelessly-biased Moneta (who was firmly on record, by this point, as saying he didn't believe the players were innocent).

Brodhead's obsession with p.r. came in his comment about the "need to be on script"--which strongly implies that his "whatever they did was bad enough" comments were part of the "script" Duke had elected to follow.

Finally, and most chillingly, was the reference to the Edward Norton movie, Primal Fear. Here's the wikipedia description:
Martin Vail is a prominent defense attorney in Chicago who jumps at the chance to represent Aaron Stampler, a young, stuttering altar boy accused of murdering the Archbishop. At first interested primarily in the publicity that the case will bring, Vail comes to believe that his client is truly innocent, much to the chagrin of the prosecutor (and Vail's former lover), Janet Venable.

Vail discovers that powerful civic leaders, including the District Attorney, have lost millions in real estate investments due to a decision by the Archbishop not to develop certain church lands. The archbishop received numerous death threats as a result. He also learns that the archbishop had been sexually abusing altar boys, including Stampler.

Introducing this evidence, while it would make Stampler more sympathetic to the jury, would also give his client a motive for murder, something the prosecution otherwise has lacked.

The trial does not proceed well for the defense, as there is considerable evidence against Stampler and public opinion holds him almost certainly guilty. When Vail confronts his client and accuses him of having lied, Aaron breaks down and transforms into a new persona, a violent sociopath who calls himself "Roy." He confesses to the murder of the archbishop and throws Vail against the wall, injuring him.

When this incident is over, Aaron appears to have no recollection of it. Molly Arrington, the psychiatrist examining Aaron, is convinced he suffers from multiple personality disorder due to childhood abuse by his own father. However, Vail cannot enter an insanity plea during an ongoing trial.

Vail sets up a confrontation in court. After Venable questions him harshly, Aaron turns into Roy and charges at her, threatening to snap her neck if anyone comes near him. Aaron is subdued by courthouse marshals and is rushed back to his cell. In light of Aaron's apparent insanity, the judge dismisses the jury in favor of a bench trial and then finds Aaron not guilty by reason of mental insanity, and remands him to a mental hospital

Vail visits to tell him this news. Aaron says he recalls nothing of what happened in the courtroom, having again "lost time." However, just as Vail is leaving, Aaron asks him to "tell Ms. Venable I hope her neck is okay," which is not something that Aaron should have been able to remember if he had "lost time." Vail points this out, whereupon Stampler grins slyly and reveals that he has been pretending to be insane the whole time. But he didn't make up the identity of Roy, he made up Aaron.

Stampler now admits to having murdered the archbishop, as well as his girlfriend, Linda, whom the cleric also had molested. Stunned and disillusioned, Vail walks away, with Roy taunting him from the cell.

Did Brodhead see the lacrosse players as sociopaths? This cultural reference suggests an astonishingly negative view of the two students who had just been indicted. Or perhaps the president was merely asking his colleagues about the previous night's schedule on HBO.


Anonymous said...

"We can’t do anything to side with them, or even, if they are exonerated, to imply that they behaved with honor."

"or even, if they are exonerated..."

Really damning. And perhaps it also helps explain why it took so long for Brodhead to utter his faux "apology".

Anonymous said...

"I believe they want an acknowledgement of their innocence, and that’s where we are stuck. "

And just why was Duke "stuck"?

Brodhead was not "stuck" when he pronounced that "what they did was bad enough". Why was he "stuck" with regard to pointing out that maybe they didn't do anything at all?

hman said...

My take on "Primal Fear" was that a key part of the overall plot centered on the big,(very big) difference between a slick, manipulative guy like Vail and a stone-cold sociopath like Aaron/Roy. Vail thought he was pretty devious; and he was, for someone who started out basically normal and merely needed to adapt himself to cutting some ethical corners to win in a courtroom. But even he was easy prey for someone like Roy and he did not even consider that possibility until the very last minute of the movie.
No doubt Brodhead enjoyed seeing himself as a post-modern, nihilistic, tough guy who does what has to be done. And he was; in the context of a faculty lounge. Then he crossed paths with M. Nifong, T.Levicy, and C.G. Mangum.
He bought the ticket. Maybe he is not enjoying the ride.Cry me a river.

Anonymous said...

"It is possible that the DA has so screwed up this case that those guilty will never be found...."

What exactly was meant by this? I doubt it was concern that RCD were innocent. Rather, it was that Duke would have its reputation besmirched because "something happened" which involved Duke students - at least this was the thinking of the Duke administration as indicated in these email threads. The reputation of Duke - the Duke brand - had to be protected at all costs. Remember it was Steele who opined that it could always be sorted out on appeal. The worst thing for the Duke brand, was that there not be a trial in which the three men could be shown to be not representative of the honor of Duke.

Anonymous said...

Brodhead's use of the movie plot from Primal Fear is very telling to me. He resorts to a one-in-a-million scenario as a potential foundation for his decision-making process. What kind of person does that? Even more profound is the fact that, in Primal Fear, only one character had to change his story to avoid imprisonment. All of the evidence stayed the same.

In the Crystal Mangum Hoax, literally hundreds of people would have had to change their stories and someone would've had to tamper with hundreds of pieces of evidence to avoid guilt -- if the players were truly guilty. Thus, what Brodhead is suggesting is more like a billion- or a trillion-to-one longshot.

Take the DNA testing done by the SBI as an example. They showed no matches to the Duke players, but there was a match to at least one unknown man. Yet Mangum complained of a condom-less rape by at least three players. How could this be true in an undisciplined mind searching for some type of Primal Fear-inspired Hollywood subtext? Here's how: Either a group of trained professionals (We'll call them "Operation Scrub") entered the bathroom immediately after the "rape" and thoroughly wiped Mangum clean and injected her with semen carefully taken from her "driver," or those same members of "Operation Scrub" broke into SBI Headquarters and removed the Mangum samples and replaced them with new ones.

But what about the time-stamped photographs of Reade Seligmann? Well, obviously "Operation Scrub" either hired the best forensic photograph specialists to doctor the photos or they sent in a team to break into the bank to replace the ATM surveillance tape with a new one.

And what about Officer Shelton's call into Police Headquarters that Mangum was "just passed out drunk"? Phony or paid for by "Operation Scrub." The same goes for the pictures showing Mangum already drunk and with scratches prior to starting her "dance."

And Kim Roberts claiming that nothing happened? Operation Scrub got to her, too. Seligmann's cell phone records and credit card charge receipts? Totally phony. For an organization like "Operation Scrub," it is easy to access the records kept by Fortune 500 banks and telephone conglomerates.

All of this exculpatory evidence -- and much, much more -- was public knowledge before April 24, 2006 when Brodhead sent the last email quoted in Professor Johnson's article. Even back then, Brodhead was childishly rationalizing based on a Hollywood script to stay a "true believer" and avoid showing any kind of spine or good sense whatsoever. MOO! Gregory

Anonymous said...

Does Brodhead call himself a radical feminist anti-capitalist who opposes white supremacy and imperialism, with a central commitment to creating a sustainable human presence on the planet?

Because trying to get a communist to admit he's a communist is, for obvious reasons, like trying to get a pedophile to admit he's a pedophile.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, KC, for staying on top of this when the Durham and greater NC media is stone-cold silent on this.

I continue to be amazed that Brodhead is still in charge at Duke. In fact, so many of the ingredients and people who created the Duke Lacrosse debacle are still in place.

I believe that a similar outrage could happen again tomorrow with the right catalyst. Durham is primed, ready, willing, and able to do it again.

Anonymous said...

Brodhead's undoing may hinge on an email he sent which references a movie about a sociopath who actually commits a violent crime, takes full advantage of the legal system and is acquitted for a crime he later admits to.

Ironic that Brodhead is being sued by a former student he thought might have been a suspect in a crime that never happened. The student was summarily suspended without due process for sending an email which also references scenes from a violent movie about a sociopath.

Knowing the other intricacies of the "Primal Fear" plot as well as the shenanigans of the Duke Lacrosse affair, I can't figure out if this is just another "in your face", liberal double standard that includes Chauncey Nartey or simply a time warp similar to the Lincoln/Kennedy assassinations.


sceptical said...

The purpose of the Ekstrand filing was to demonstrate why his subpoena for the records of Duke's two PR firms are justified. To do this, Ekstrand shows with these e-mails that there was indeed a "script," and that those who went off-point, such as Alleva in his first statements, were subject to criticism. There is a telling snetence in one of Brodhead's e-mails concerning Robert Steel which implies to me that Steel was the enforcee of the party line. I am sure that Ekstrand has other smoking guns in reserve. Stay tuned.

Gary Packwood said...

I see the e-mails as fairly straightforward and confident communication from senior staff members with prior knowledge of what was going to come down.

Members of the Group of 88 and their friends in Durham had, no doubt, already told senior staff that a group of privileged white male students was 'coming down' and it was only a matter of time until the police notified administration of which group had fallen.

That, I imagine, was supposed to level the playing field on campus for students not considered privileged or white.

It must have been disappointing for many of the architects of this 'scam' when they learned that the lacrosse athletes came crashing down as it would have been much more dramatic to take down a fraternity following a late night party with alumni from Wall Street in attendance. After all fraternities had already been tagged by the Woman's Center as problematic.

But a 'castrate' march in front of the lacrosse house would add all the drama necessary even if the lacrosse guys themselves were thought of as campus small potatoes.

And besides, now we know from the emails that senior staff thought of 'athletics' as separate from their own administrative duties and responsibilities. Shades of Penn State, no doubt.

But all that planning didn't work and Division # 1 athletics and the fraternities are alive and well on the campus of Duke University.

We'll learn much more as time moves forward.

Anonymous said...

The only film Brodhead, Duke and Durham should have been referencing is Idiocracy.

Anonymous said...

KC -- The answer to your question is yes, that is really how Brodhead views his own students. BRidahead is as cold blooded as they come. THe mere fact that his students may have been innocent was irrelevant to him. His sole focus was getting ahead of the radical faculty and making sure he had their support. Secondly, he had to stay on the good side of people in the media screaming for blood. Hence, "whatever they did was bad enough." Time has proven him correct -- he has survived despite being wrong and amoral on everything since day one and putting the university in legal risk.

IT is a sad statement on the state of academia that not one person at Duke has been held accountable for despicable lies for personal agendas. And it could have happened anywhere.

Anonymous said...

TOH to the good doctor for following up my links...thanku

Anonymous said...

This series of emails reveals Brodhead to be flailing, unsure of himself and grasping at the right PR angle and tone to, above all else, protect Duke and its brand. How pathetic can it get? What a miserable excuse for leadership? I wonder how Brodhead would react if the race of the key players were black versus white, reversed? In the PC-saturated haze at Duke, would the university be throwing the lacrosse guys (in my example, black guys) under the bus? I doubt it. I think Brodhead and the infamous 88 would be slobbering all over the poor boys and screaming "shame shame, white girl tells racist lie" all over Durham

Anonymous said...

If it's true what they say about Paterno holding a UFC quality strangle lock on ALL things football at Penn, and If it's true that Paterno thought himself and his players/coaches above the Penn code of ethics, then it is easy to see how such isolation bred a climate of corruption. In Pressler's case, there is just no record that shows he had a similar attitude about holding his players above and outside Duke ethical standards. (if there were any....). My impression of Pressler (knew him slightly) was of a man deeply honor bound to do the right thing, deeply ashamed when his guys screwed up, and fully commited to accountability within Duke. He did not try to cover up or excuse his players. the extent that Brodhead and company felt a gap between administration and was a gap THEY created by THEIR neglect. It was not created by a coach who thought himself exempt. I doubt Coach K would argue this point. He has said as much before.