December 18, 2002
Bloggers show up newspaper (again)

The story of the alleged sexual harassment incident at Boalt Hall quickly transcended the individuals involved. In fact, the public story seems to be about more than just a single incident where an inebriated student invited an inebriated dean into her apartment at 2:30am.

It's also about the press itself, and with the latest twist, it's also about bloggers showing up a newspaper. But first it's about several major newspapers that decided to protect the privacy of an anonymous accuser (who has declined to file charges) while also granting the accuser's attorney and mentor a forum to exploit the accusation for their own agendas. As the attorney said

her client has not gone to police because media coverage of the accusation will be more effective in preventing Dwyer from obtaining future jobs than the court system would be.
Wow. And if any newspaper still prints anything at all about the story after that admission, shouldn't they at least publish the name of the accuser? The public has a right to know who this woman is. Shouldn't we be able to assess the credibility of her allegations before we decide whether to deprive ourselves of the future services of John Dwyer? And don't we, as citizens in a country founded on due process, expect the media to uphold the principle of "innocent until proven guilty", and help protect us from unsubstantiated accusations, whether made by the state or by individuals?

When the press effectively conspires with an anonymous accuser to destroy an innocent person's livelihood, something is seriously broken. The newspapers that have withheld the accuser's name have violated their public trust. And they continue to sit on her name even though I know that at least two papers have been aware since Friday that Erin O'Connor identified Jennifer Reisch (with an assist from me).

It is in this spirit that I reveal how I confirmed Reisch's identity as the accuser. Using O'Connor's hints, I formed a theory that it was Reisch, but I wasn't 100% certain. So I tactfully duped an unwitting newspaper reporter into confirming my hunch. I don't wish to identify and embarass the reporter. He/she is one of a number who have covered the story while withholding Reisch's name. It's not about this one reporter, it's a more systemic problem of concealed biases, hidden agendas and selective disclosure of critical information.

The mental image I used to have of newspaper reporters was Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman playing Woodward and Bernstein in "All the Presidents Men", using guile to coax information from reluctant sources. Now it seems that members of the public have to use guile to coax information from reluctant newspaper reporters. And that's just one more reason why newspapers will continue to decline in importance while blogs continue to grow in importance.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at December 18, 2002 07:29 AM
Comments

I stopped my CCtimes and SFcomical subscriptions 9 mos ago and went to web news sources.More timely,more funny,and no paper to slug to the curb every week.I keep you and about 6 other bloggers on tab along with a variety of news sources.I don't even watch TV news anymore.

Posted by: mbruce on December 18, 2002 10:55 AM

"So I tactfully duped an unwitting newspaper reporter into confirming my hunch."

Wow!... What a loaded sentence.

Bite on Shark!

Posted by: Ipsofacto on December 18, 2002 06:24 PM

Yea, right! And guys like Michael Moore, known through brilliant works like "Bowling for Columbine" and "Stupid White Men", will gain momentum as well. Fantastic, how he interviews Charlton "NRA" Heston concerning the Columbine massacre, how he entangles the man in his own contradictions. Information and the business of conveying, distorting, decoding it is the currency of the future, and the bloggers are adepts to this new branch of existence.

Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished
(Hamlet)

hans

Posted by: hans on December 19, 2002 12:51 PM

I'm not sure that the name "Michael Moore" and word "brilliant" should ever appear in the same sentence, unless the word "not" is also in there somewhere. If you followed that idiotarian's blog immediately prior to and following the last election, you'll know that it took a fellow-blogger, Rachel Lucas IIRC, to keep him honest. Technically, of course, there's no way for Rachel or anyone else to "keep him honest," but by keeping his dishonesty out in the open, she did the next best thing.

Posted by: Jeff Bishop on December 19, 2002 01:35 PM

I'm curious as to how identification of the accuser makes a whit of difference to the case.

Posted by: Jane on December 19, 2002 07:14 PM

Jane, That's a good question. I think it's a couple of things.

(1) if she remains anonymous it could set a precedent inviting others to use this form of media "trial" by anonymous accusation to destroy other people's reputations. I would hate to be on the receiving end of such an inquisition. Wouldn't you?

(2) this is not a criminal case subject to the constraints of due process. People's opinion of the accused are being formed in the context of an unproven accusation. It would be helpful to know more about the accuser in order to assess the credibility of the accusation. What if, for example, the accuser has a track record of seducing her professors or making accusations of harassment that are never proven in court? (I have no knowledge that either applies to Reisch, but what if it did?) My personal reaction to an anonymous accuser is to disregard nearly everything she says. But not everybody will react that way. Result: reputation of the accused is damaged, possibly unfairly. Now go back and re-read (1) above.

Posted by: Stefan Sharkansky on December 19, 2002 08:24 PM

It would seem to me that since the accuser has more-or-less admitted in a public forum (newspaper) to wanting to ruin the "alleged" guilty party's career, the guilty party would have a very strong civil and criminal case against his accuser. In America, we are innocent until proven guilty and what the accuser is trying to do is bypass all due process and go straight to the punishment phase. If I was the "alleged" guilty party, I would be tracking down my own attorney.

Posted by: digrafid on December 19, 2002 08:27 PM

Hi Jeff, Michael Moore is brilliant - not dumb. Moore, brilliant, not in one sentence

hans

Posted by: hans on December 20, 2002 04:17 AM

OF course her idenity makes a difference. Does she have a history of drunken behaviour with people she barely knows? This isn't sexual harrassment of sexual abuse or even assault. It's an ugly, thoughtless sexual incident and both parties bear responsiblity for their own actions. Should Dwyer step down? I don't know. Should he never work again--of course not. Should she get into a alcohol treatment program--might not be a bad idea.

Posted by: ideefixe on December 20, 2002 08:55 AM

Thanks, all, for the comments. I suppose for me the bottom line is the professor/student relationship, and the fact that sexual harassment policies have been in effect for a long time now.

The bottom line is that it is incumbent upon the professor to behave. Period. Right or wrong, we all can read sexual harassment guidelines, and right or wrong, we can all make choices whether or not to follow them.

Does Dwyer deserve to lose his job over this? That's another question.

Posted by: Jane on December 20, 2002 12:27 PM

Your justification for 'outing' Dwyer's alleged victim rests on two wholly false assumptions:

(1) Dwyer was forced out of Boalt because of the accusation

The alleged victim filed a complaint against Dwyer nearly two months before he resigned. The school started an investigation into her complaint. Dwyer CHOSE TO RESIGN less than two months into the investigation. He was not asked to leave. He was not forced out. When Dwyer resigned, the school ceased its investigation (since he had already resigned, there was no other action that could be taken against him by the school). The real questions are: what was Dwyer afraid that the investigation would reveal? And why did he not let the investigation run its course so he could clear his name? After all, to my knowledge, Berkeley has never fired a professor for engaging in a consensual sexual encounter with a student.

(2) The alleged victim went to the press in an attempt to smear his name.

In the six or seven weeks in which Berkeley was investigating the alleged victim's allegations, she never made her accusations public. It was Dwyer who chose to issue a 'press release' describing why he chose to resign. It was only Dwyer's gross mischaracterization of the incident that caused the alleged victim's attorney to set the public record straight about what had occurred.

Posted by: weeble on December 20, 2002 05:29 PM

> The real questions are: what was Dwyer afraid that the investigation would reveal?

Is there any suggestion that there was anything other than what has already come out?

No, but that nasty Dwyer cut short the witch hunt, so clearly he should be smeared even more.

We should thank him. Since there's no investigation, we're free to convict him of things without doing any work.

> And why did he not let the investigation run its course so he could clear his name?

Because the investigation can't clear him in any useful form.

Why? Because there's no outcome that would actually clear his name.

Posted by: Andy Freeman on December 21, 2002 08:49 AM

Andy, I don't understand your comments.

The fact is that we don't know what else may have come out of the school's investigation of the complaint against Dwyer. No one knows but Dwyer himself - and he chose to stop the investigation. I don't think anyone is happy that the investigation was not concluded. That is what permits people to assume, based on nothing but their own assumptions about the world, that the complaint was a "witch hunt." And this assumption is used to justify vitriolic and ugly attacks on the alleged victim's character.

I find your characterization of the complaint as a "witch hunt" particulary puzzling given that the alleged victim's account has been at least partially corroborated by Professors Swift and Krieger. Although you may disagree with your politics, the fact is that both professors confirm that the alleged victim sought their help at the time of the 'incident' (however you want to characterize it).

Additionally, it is disingenuous for you to assert, with no factual basis whatsoever, that the investigation could not clear his name, regardless of the outcome. Even though Dwyer himself believes that his version of events was "inappropriate" and constituted "bad judgment," he is facing an allegation of sexual assault (not harassment - the allegation is that she was unconscious at the time). If the investigation had corroborated Dwyer's account of a single, consensual sexual encounter, with a woman who was not taking a class from Dwyer, this would absolutely clear his name regarding the sexual assault allegation. Of course, there may have been negative fallout about the sexual encounter, but Dwyer admits to engaging in it, so that can hardly be deemed a "witch hunt." And there is absolutely no evidence that he would be stripped of his deanship or professorship for a consensual sexual encounter. I challenge you to find even a single instance in which a Berkeley professor was punished for engaging in a single consensual sexual encounter with a student not in his or her class.

Posted by: David on December 21, 2002 12:45 PM
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