Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Not Getting Answers

November 21, 2007, 8:00 a.m.

Prior Entries:

Nicholas Johnson, "Culling the Flock; How About Them Hawks?" November 15, 2007.

Nicholas Johnson, "Trouble in River City; Locker Room Update: What Can We Know, and When Can We Know It?," November 16, 2007.

Nicholas Johnson, "Football Story Has Muscular Legs; If UI Won't Talk, Regents Will," November 18, 2007.

Nicholas Johnson, "Stonewall's Mortar Crumbles; Now the Governor; UI, This is Not Good," November 20, 2007.

The Greatest "Story Two" Never Told

"Story One" regarding an alleged October 14 sexual assault on the UI campus involves such questions as what happened during those early morning hours, who was involved, what witnesses saw, what evidence was gathered by investigators, why the search warrants have been sealed, what the University has done for the accuser and her family, whether the Register should have named the names it did, and so forth.

"Story Two" has nothing to do with those things. It is very simple. It involves UI officials only. It concerns contact among and between them only. It doesn't involve the facts of what happened. It doesn't involve the names of the parties. It doesn't even involve what those officials discussed with each other. It only involves a handful of officials -- those responsible for cases like this. The question they need to answer is: "Who and when did someone on the UI payroll contact you about this matter, and who and when did you inform thereafter?" That "investigation" shouldn't take more than a couple hours maximum. And there is no reason I can imagine why they should not have to answer.

So far as I know, no journalist has yet put that question to any of those officials in precisely those terms. What they have asked are questions that relate to "story one," or questions that so conflate "story one" and "story two" that the official can properly respond that they can't answer because the matter is under investigation.

"It's not easy being green," sang Kermit the Frog.

Well, it's not easy being "Black and white and red all over" either -- to borrow from the children's riddle about newspapers.

You've got to hand it to the Press-Citizen for trying.

As Brian Morelli reported on November 16:

Following a tip, the Press-Citizen initially contacted UI officials about the alleged incident Oct. 19 and has followed up with more questions and formal document requests. During that time, several UI officials either wouldn't respond to questions about an alleged assault involving football players or said they didn't know about such an incident.

. . .

UI officials including athletics director Gary Barta, associate athletics director for student services Fred Mims, Equal Opportunity and Diversity director Marcella David and vice president for student services Phillip Jones are continuing to decline comment on many key questions in the case, citing the ongoing investigation.

Among the questions:

• Did the victim or the football players report the alleged assault to other UI officials before it was reported to police?

. . .

UI Police Director Charles Green also is declining comments on specifics, but he clarified that his officers "absolutely were not aware of the incident until the victim reported it to our department on Nov. 7."

. . .

Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said she was notified of the incident last week.

. . .

The new sexual harassment and assault reporting policy for student-athletes includes a chain of command reporting system and steps such as seeking resolutions, investigating and reporting findings. Various officials such as Mims, David, Jones and sexual harassment and compliance officer Mary Curtis are among those the policy states should be notified.

Every academic or administrative employee of UI is obligated to promptly notify David in most cases, or Jones in the case of residence hall incidents, regardless of the victim's wishes, according to the UI operations manual.
Brian Morelli, "Mason backs officials' response; Officials not saying if protocols were followed," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 16, 2007.

So I may have been driving a bit beyond my poetic license when, on Sunday, November 18, I blogged under a sub-head that read, "Why are local papers avoiding this story?":

Another mystery is why the local papers -- The Daily Iowan, The Gazette, and the Iowa City Press-Citizen -- have been so reluctant to ask these process questions of the University.

If they have asked these questions, and received answers, why have they not been reported? If they have asked these questions and couldn't get answers why have they not reported that story? And if they haven't even pursued this aspect of the story, why not?

Why do we have to rely on a newspaper, and Regents, in Des Moines to find out what's going on in Iowa City?
Nicholas Johnson, "Football Story Has Muscular Legs," November 18, 2007.

To clarify, from the context of that entire blog entry it is clear that by "This Story," and "what's going on in Iowa City," I was referring to what I've called "the second story." As I wrote there:

Let's make clear what I, and I believe Gartner, are -- and are not -- talking about.

We're not talking about revealing precisely what happened during the early morning hours of October 14. We're not talking about identifying the accuser or those accused.

What we are talking about is revealing to the media and public what the responsible adult, UI administrators did between October 14 and November 18 (today). That is something the public does have a right to know. Those revelations need not invade any privacy rights of the individuals involved. They need not affect the integrity of any trial that may or may not take place in the future.

This is, I believe, an absolutely crucial distinction. So long as officials are asked general questions, for which the answers need not, but could, compromise the integrity of the investigation and possible trial as well as the privacy interests of the accuser and the accused, they can properly refuse to answer.

It is only when it is made abundantly and unambiguously clear from the questions that they only deal with the "second story" that their refusal to respond does, indeed, constitute stonewalling.

The Press-Citizen continued its inquiry yesterday, as UI President Sally Mason traveled from downtown Iowa City out North Dodge Street to the paper's offices and met with its editorial board. The story of that exchange was given page-one headline play by the paper this morning. Brian Morelli, "Mason: Victim is leading process; Asks media to be patient during sex assault investigation," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 21, 2007, p. A1.


What do we learn from that interview, as reported, about "story two"? Virtually nothing. Were the precise questions I've just described asked of her? It's not clear from the story. What is clear is that there are no reports of answers.

What we also observe, from the story and especially the video of the interview accessible from the Press-Citizen Web site, is something we've known since the first time we caught a presentation by President Mason. She's good; very good. She comes across in the video, as we've seen her before, as calm, assured, soft spoken, informed, reassuring -- and as capable as any presidential candidate of either party who's come through Iowa City during the past year of making you believe that a lump of coal is a bouquet of roses.

She didn't focus on what she and the other administrators did or did not do -- which is the only legitimate story at this point. She focused on the accuser -- with feeling and sensitivity and compassion. Indeed, she even persisted in referring to the accuser as "the victim" -- which raises problems of its own, especially since the Press-Citizen picked up and repeated that characterization. But it was a truly brilliant performance in conception and execution on her part, and bodes well for the University's ability to deal with the other crises that are bound to arise in the future.

[President Mason noted the Duke case in the video excerpt from her interview. It's a reminder I have raised as well -- as have many others. But it should be noted in that context that describing an accuser as a "victim" is precisely what got Duke's administrators in trouble. As I've written earlier, both the accuser and the accused are entitled to presumptions at this point: the accuser is entitled to a presumption that she is telling the truth, and the accused are entitled to be characterized as "innocent until proven guilty."]

The story notes that, "UI is facing increased pressure to be forthright in explaining how it has handled the situation, including recent public comments from Gov. Chet Culver and Iowa state Board of Regents President Michael Gartner." It continues,

The Press-Citizen, following a tip, initially contacted UI officials about the alleged incident Oct. 19, and has followed up with more questions and formal document requests. During that time, several UI officials -- including athletics director Gary Barta, associate athletics director for student services Fred Mims, Equal Opportunity and Diversity director Marcella David and vice president for student services Phillip Jones -- declined to comment on many key questions in the case.

They have declined to answer questions about whether the victim [note the use by the Press-Citizen (not President Mason) of the characterization of "victim"] or the football players reported the alleged assault to other UI officials before it was reported to police, . . .."
But that was about it for "story two."

The lead for this morning's story in the paper is, "University of Iowa President Sally Mason urged the media to be 'patient' and 'sensitive' in pursuing a story about a sexual assault investigation involving three Iowa football players that remains largely clouded."

Everything she apparently said on that subject is, at a minimum, superficially credible and sound. The University should be sensitive to the needs and wishes of the accuser. The media can fairly be asked to be "patient" as that process works its way.

And equally obviously, none of this relates to "story two" in any way whatsoever.

Although, it is not unfair to note that in this situation, with the vast resources of the University of Iowa arrayed on one side, and those of the woman accuser on the other side, the UI does have a bit of a conflict of interest here when it endeavors to "help her" while she's "fragile" during this "sensitive" time. Clearly the UI Foundation, football program, the coach, the AD -- and not incidentally the University's president -- would suffer a much greater blow from a full-blown criminal trial than if the accuser were to opt for an alternative to that route.

President Mason said that she wanted answers to the same questions being asked by Regents President Gartner and Governor Culver -- and that it was appropriate for them to be asking those questions. (They are the same questions that I was asking last week.)

But "story two" is not that complicated. It doesn't require an "investigation." It doesn't require "patience." Especially not from President Mason. All it requires is about a half-dozen phone calls to people who supposedly report to her. Some of those people's names have been identified by the Press-Citizen and repeated here by me -- not that President Mason needs to be reminded who they are. Those phone calls do not involve questions regarding the identity of accuser or accused, what those individuals have said, or what evidence is possessed and reveals. They do not involve questions regarding what is being done for the accuser and her family.

The question is, simply, "Who and when did someone on the UI payroll contact you about this matter, and who and when did you inform thereafter?" That "investigation" shouldn't take more than a couple hours maximum.

Has she obtained that information? Did anyone with the Press-Citizen ask her? If so, what were the answers she, and the paper, received? That's "story two," and it has yet to be told.

# # #

5 comments:

John Barleykorn said...

I don't know why you give the PC such standing. On the one hand you opine against corporate media, but then you use a corporate media outlet when it suits you on another topic.

Jim Lewers gloating over his "victory" over the regents was nauseating.

North Liberty said...

Is there really a 'second story'? Someone needs to convince me that the University of Iowa should not have time to work this situation through.

An intimate assault has to be the most sensitive issue facing the U of Iowa (and maybe society) today. We can talk about the board of regents, Wellmark, plots, and under-21 drinking, all of which are important issues in academia. However what happens in intimate moments between adults cannot not easily be delineated without knowing a ton more of the context.

I suggest that this issue has been pushed too much too soon to make it public. Are we assuming that the Univ of Iowa officials are inherently corrupt or defective?

Image you are the female(s) or the male(s) involved, watching the situation blow up. It would scare the bejeebus out of anyone, perhaps into silence.

I think the media should back off.

Anonymous said...

barleykorn and north liberty:

Can't you people read? You missed the point entirely.

North Liberty said...

Always great for commentators to ask 'can you read', when apparently they cannot write. Lay out the points for us.

Anonymous said...

Nick, you write, "As high schools increase in size, so do absences and numbers of drop outs; alcohol and other drug abuse; graffiti and property damage; bullying, fights and violence; sexual harassment and teen pregnancy."

Correlation and causation are two different issues. What evidence do you have that the correlations you cite in your writing have any relationship to causation? Here in Iowa most small high schools are in small, homogeneous towns where parents know each other, etc. Most large high schools are in larger cities that have minority populations, and parents are far less likely to know each other.

My two cents.

Peter Hansen