Friday, June 25, 2010

Ilogical Reasons To Doubt Al Gore Sexual Assault Allegation

In an article titled 3 reasons to doubt the Al Gore sex assault story published by Salon.com written by Steve Kornacki we are given the following list of reasons for skepticism:

1) The Portland police declined to investigate the woman's claims any further after she made her statement, citing a lack of evidence.

2) The allegations were apparently known two years ago to at least one Portland media outlet -- the Portland Tribune, a weekly paper that declined to report on them. The paper's editor tells Ben Smith that the allegations didn't meet the "test points" that the paper uses to determine whether a story is likely to be true.

3) We have seen plenty of cases of baseless (if vivid) sexual allegations against celebrities before. Tucker Carlson was once accused of rape by a woman he'd never met, for instance. Something similar happened with magician David Copperfield last year, too. (Plenty of celebrities have been guilty of sex crimes, too, of course.)
This list is analytically meaningless but it and other similar lists are so common that too often these reasons are treated as if they really were logical tools of analysis when they are nothing more than popular justifications for baseless doubt.

Kornacki wrote earlier:

Who knows what, exactly, to make of the news that Al Gore has been accused by an Oregon masseuse of making repeated, unwanted sexual contact with her back in 2006?
Unfortunately his list doesn't provide any credible help in answering this question.

Item number 1: The failure of a police department to investigate an allegation of sexual assault is meaningless at determining the authenticity of the original allegation and therefore is meaningless at providing a reason to doubt the original allegation.

This outcome is pathetically common even when the person accused isn't someone famous. If there is no forensic evidence the decision of whether to investigate can come down to a quick guess about the credibility of the person making an allegation versus the credibility of the person accused.

Credibility most often relates to what biases investigators or jurors cling to. For example, even though there is plenty of research which shows that most victims of sex crimes don't call 911 immediately, the failure of a victim to take this action is often positioned as undermining that victim's credibility. There are good reasons for victims of sex crimes to be skeptical of investigators, but too often actions which can be described as lack of cooperation are falsely positioned as casting doubt on the original allegation.

Not investigating "because of lack of evidence" is too often treated as if it is the same as "because of credible evidence that allegation is false." Treating these as equal shows inexcusable sloppiness.

Item number 2: Media outlets are not trained sexual assault investigators so their decision not to print an allegation against someone not charged with a crime is meaningless. Because of liability issues the media needs to have a standard for what they will publish, but a choice not to publish is not credible evidence related to the original allegation.

Item number 3: This one is canceled out at the end by Kornacki himself. He wrote, in parentheses: "Plenty of celebrities have been guilty of sex crimes, too, of course."

The fact that there have been both false and true allegations of sexual assault against celebrities tells us nothing about a particular allegation which has not been proven false or proven true. The reality is that something which tells us nothing cannot be a logical basis for skepticism. Yet Kornacki fails to recognize this basic logic.

An item not mentioned by Kornacki is that those who accuse celebrities of sex crimes are often subjected to the presumption of their guilt and to the denial or minimization of the reality Kornacki only acknowledges in parentheses. Being a celebrity doesn't make someone incapable of committing a sex crime yet far too many people act as if it does just that. When a celebrity is accused the number of people who pose a threat to the accuser goes up substantially.

Some who presume guilt of alleged sex crime victims can go so far as to enact physical violence against the person who made the allegation. A man named Patrick Graber offered to murder Kobe Bryant's accuser for $3 million. While the prosecutors justified a plea deal which dismissed the original charges because they didn't believe he planned to commit the murder once he had what he believed to be the $1 million down payment they don't know for sure what this man would have done for an additional $2 million.

All this means that nothing Kornacki cites eliminates any reason to doubt Al Gore's innocence. However, the one-sided doubt presented by Kornacki implies just the opposite.

Meaningless lists such as given by Kornacki do nothing to help evaluate the authenticity of allegations but they can help people rationalize seeking out those they envision as false accusers. Death threats are far too common from people who think of themselves as upholding innocence.

Those who are willing to make these kinds of lists must also be willing to accept responsibility for casting baseless one-directional doubt.

Update (7/31): The Portland Police Dept. has announced that there will be no charges filed against Al Gore. This announcement and the reasons given for it have been mistaken by some to mean that the woman who made the report has been proven to have lied to the police, meaning that this is a proven hoax. This is false. "Lack of credible evidence," means just that.

Those who twist this into something more are promoting a false claim. Too often this includes the police and prosecutors who make claims which go beyond the evidence. People who seem to never forget "innocent until proven guilty" and who are concerned over the taint of unproven allegations sudddenly seem to have never heard of either of those concepts. The pervasive bias about false reports causes many people to read more into the evidence than is actually there.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:51 PM   3 comments links to this post

3 Comments:

At June 25, 2010 1:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so right on with your excellent analysis. One really has to wonder why anyone at Salon.com would feel the need to defend Al Gore. Odd too that the media in Portland wouldn't "print first and ask questions later" like they seem to do with any juicy news item. I guess that when Al Gore's reputation is at stake, the wagons circle and the journalists suddenly become professional?

 
At June 27, 2010 6:47 AM, Blogger Melissa said...

Yeah. Sure, I'd love to believe that Gore didn't do it. And I suppose there's a small chance that he didn't. (And a much, much larger chance that he did) But nothing in the article proves anything. Not only that, nothing in the article casts even the slightest bit of doubt on it! Great post.

 
At June 28, 2010 10:15 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

To the anonymous who commented by referring to a case from 1987 which the police declared a hoax,

Your reference is as meaningless as if you wrote a comment which consisted of nothing more than a reference to a case where the celebrity was proven guilty.

Other famous allegations provide absolutely no evidence related to this case.

 

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