They never get you on the crime, they get you on the cover-up

Posted on by Pastabagel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Casey Anthony is not guilty of the murder of her daughter Caylee Anthony.

However, she is guilty of “providing false information to law enforcement officer“.

It’s something of a cliche that high profile people never go down for their crimes, they go down for the cover up. It was the cover-up of the Watergate break-in that destroyed Nixon’s presidency. It wasn’t oral sex with Monica Lewinsky that got Clinton impeached, it was lying about it under oath. Remember how Martha Stewart went to prison for a year for insider trading? Oh, wait, she didn’t. She went to prison for obstructing justice and lying to investigators.

I want you to think about this. False information to a law enforcement officer. One would assume that a murderer intent on evading the law and avoiding imprisonment would give false information to law enforcement officers at every opportunity. And when the stakes are high–capital murder high–what’s the risk to them? Committing a misdemeanor?

It was always a strange strategy to charge Casey Anthony with lying to officers when they were already pushing to give her the death penalty for the crime, the circumstances of which she was alleged to have lied about under the false information charge.


In the shadow of O.J.

Everyone thinks Casey Anthony is guilty, and the reasons they think she is guilty are precisely the kinds of things that can never be introduced into court. She acted like this when a normal person would act like that, she had a weird expression, she’s on this med or that drug, etc.

Remember that courtrooms are theaters. Law is not about the pursuit of truth, it is about the pursuit of justice. A trial is a story based on true events, with a giant book called the Rules of Evidence serving as Aristotle’s Poetics, limiting what can and can’t go into the story.

All of American criminal jurisprudence and trial practice exists in the shadow of the O.J. Simpson trial. The moment the brutal slaying of two people came down to whether the defendant could fit a glove ostensibly worn by the murderer on his own hand unassisted, criminal law slid irreversibly into the postmodern era. At that moment, there ceased to be truth, there ceased to be things that were knowable with absolute certainty. There is no reality, there is no past. There is only a story constructed in the present from artifacts. In a courtroom, there is only the story being told simultaneously by two different authors working at cross purposes. The prosecution writes a thriller, the defense writes a tragedy. Or vice versa. Two different plots from the same set of “facts” with the same set of characters.

But we knew this since Blackstone.

Raskolnikov the Postmodernist.

What the O.J. trial taught us is that there is a third author of the trial story–the criminal. The postmodern Raskolnikov not only scripts the trial before he commits the crime, he can now step outside of himself during the crime and its aftermath to test the veracity of the story he writes as it unfolds. “Is what is actually happening sufficiently less believable than the lie I will tell later?” Our Raskolnikov writes and revises in situ and in real-time.

You don’t get away with murder by leaving no evidence, because that is impossible. You get away with murder by making an absurdity of truth. Tell the lie that is amorphous and evolving. There was a nanny. The nanny’s name was Zanny. Another Zanny. There was no nanny. The nanny is Xanax. Under questioning lies are not lies but reconstructions of language. “It depends what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” It depends what the meaning of ‘nanny’ is. Words can have no meaning when ‘meaning’ has no meaning.

If criminal cases have become more and more scientific, then the criminal and/or defendant operates under the limits of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. You can know (a) or you can know (b), but you can never know both at the same time. Nothing is certain, everything is just uncertain to a greater or lesser degree.


I said there were three authors but this is not true. There is a fourth author. The combination of the law, television, and media. This author (or editor if you prefer) tells a story that is not limited to either facts at hand in the trial or to the stories written by the litigators or the criminal. This is the story about the stories, the meta-narrative of the case. The editor, or meta-author, introduces facts, analysis, and commentary colored by prejudices, agendas, biases, and supposition convincingly and entirely unchallenged. The meta-author puts on its own lawyers to argue the prosecution and defense, and hires its own scientific and psychiatric experts to opine on matters within their purview.

The meta-author tries and retries the case in real-time (much as the postmodern Raskolnikov revises his story and lies in real-time). But the meta-author doesn’t write in the interests of justice or for a judge or jury.

The meta-author writes for the audience, and it must write a story the audience likes. The meta-author has two constraints. First, the meta-narrative of the case must solve the crime. It must identify the murderer. Do you believe Casey Anthony killed Caylee? Do you believe O.J. killed his ex-wife? You believe this not based on the stories delivered at trial but based on the one delivered in the media. The frustration you feel is that their guilt has gone unpunished. But you do not believe the crime is unsolved. The first function of the meta-narrative of the case is to restore in the public’s mind the false idea that: there is a truth that is knowable, that we know it, and that all that has happened in the court case is that the justice machine has slightly malfunctioned.

And this is where the second, vital function of the meta-narrative comes in. It tells you that the reason that justice has malfunctioned is because someone lied. To you. This is the crime above all crimes. If you are not the meta-author, then you cannot lie to the audience. The audience will destroy their heroes when their heroes betray their trust. And this is why in a capital murder case prosecutors included the relatively insignificant charge of lying to the police. It is the nudge and wink to the audience at home.

It says, “No matter what happens at trial, we all know you did it and we’re going to get you one way or the other.”

Related posts:

  1. No Law For The Wicked
  2. Another Minority Report
  3. Enough truths to cope with already
  4. Should the President Release the Photo of Osama?
  5. Noam Chomsky is Wrong on Bin Laden (and Foucault Won That Debate))

25 Responses to They never get you on the crime, they get you on the cover-up

  1. Pingback: Casey Anthony Not Guilty

  2. thelastcpa says:

    Which is why you never, ever talk to the police if you could possibly be a suspect.

  3. In 1931 Al Capone was indicted for income tax evasion. Justice, specially when what people mean by justice is vengeance, has always been a farce, long before the postmodern era.

  4. xiphoidmaneuver says:

    Why do so many people want Casey Anthony (and most defendants in sensational crimes) to be guilty?

    • mwigdahl says:

      Because the outcomes possible if she’s guilty are more satisfying than the outcomes possible if she’s not guilty.

      If she’s not guilty and acquitted, that’s great, but still, someone killed her daughter and stuck her out in a field with duct tape over her mouth and got away with it. The murderer is still out there — the system (_our_ system) couldn’t even get to the point of finding the right suspect, let alone convicting.

      If she’s not guilty and convicted, there’s been a horrible miscarriage of justice, and still the real murderer got off scot-free as above.

      If she’s guilty and convicted, the social contract is validated, we can take pride in the fact that our justice system worked and that the guilty are being punished — publicly and with full live media coverage.

      If she’s guilty and acquitted, we get to point fingers and second-guess the jury and prosecutors. How could they be so stupid? If _I_ were running the case, I’d… How could they not see that… At least in this case there’s a concrete face to focus hate upon. You can even imagine her twirling her moustache in sinister glee as she heads out to Ladies’ Night at the nearest meat market.

    • Pastabagel says:

      They presume them to be guilty because TV coverage biases them that way. High profile crimes can only be covered on television from the bias that the accused is guilty. In other words television has to prejudice the viewer to think the accused is guilty because casts the the people on the side of the state and against the defendant. As mwigdahl points out, if the accused is acquitted, the feeling is merely that something broke down in this one instance, that they got off on a technicality, the prosecution team was weak or the defense lawyers were particularly slick, etc.

      Consider the opposite situation. What if TV biased the audience towards the innocence on the defendant? Then you have a situation where the people are against the state, watching the state put an innocent man in jail. Set aside for the moment the democratic election of judges and DA’s. If that innocent person goes to jail, their conviction wouldn’t be perceived as losing on a technicality, it would be perceived as a gross injustice from which there is no recourse.

      And this is precisely the problem the government now has with Bradley Manning. If public perception is on his side, it is necessarily against the government. So what if the government convicts him in a public trial, then what?

      • paxilpaul says:

        First of all great article; thoroughly enjoyable. Second of all i have a sneaking suspicions you are the last psychiatrist’s clark kent.

        astute right, i know.

        Love it but I have to disagree with you; now mind you im drunk and coming off of 14 hours of adderall stimulation so bear with my laxidasical dissent:

        You say TV is the meta author and that its villification of the state is out of necessity for what i belive implied the purpose of preserving a general placation or acceptance of the current judicial paradigm.

        But, without relegating this to optimism or naivety, lets not forget that dissent with government is at the core of this countrys founding…. if it can be fixed, even tweaked, the dissent is the catalyst.

        Althought, I do agree that if we so prioritize the preservation of innocent life then that comes at a stiff price, often the price of justice. But it is not honest to dismiss this fact and circumstance that we, as Americans, have chosen that to let 10 guilty go free in order to preserve 1 innocent life, is a worthy trade. The reason casey anthony didnt go down for muder is because the circumstantial evidence, while overwhelmingly convincing of her guilt, still lacked a smoking gun (the murder weapon or cause of death) an eye witness, or a truly verifiable motivation. Absent those, all the deceit and distortion in the world will not sustain a conviction through the constitutional paradigm we have adopted. And if there is one thing that can be shown to be true, irrational people don’t act rationally; their psycholoical quirks can lead them to wear the circumstantial masks of murderers but an underlying pathology can be responsible for it. I’m not saying that is what happend in this case, nor that it is even likely; but, when the standard is beyond a reasonable doubt, well, thats a pretty fuckin high bar to clear.

    • xiphoidmaneuver says:

      Thank you the thoughtful replies mwigdahl and pastabagel.

      I would also add that when you see the prosecution and media team up against an individual it would make us feel safer to believe “As long as I’m innocent that could never happen to me.”

  5. Rudd-O says:

    So, as usual, I will just ask the one question that nobody has bothered to ask:

    the false idea that: there is a truth that is knowable, that we know it, and that all that has happened in the court case is that the justice machine has slightly malfunctioned.

    Dear pastabagel: Is your claim true?

    As another reader said two weeks ago: “Oh, really, pastabagel, so fuck truth and consistency? Then it’s really simple: everything pastabagel says is always false, regardless of evidence, reason or logic.”

    And so, one question at a time, the blatant relativist self-contradictions that pastabagel tries to sneak past his readers get discovered and nailed.

    You should retire already, dude. Go fool some postmodernists.

    • xiphoidmaneuver says:

      Rudd-O, does the illogical anger you? If so, it would be quite rational to get past your anger.

      I think your pursuit here is futile – a blog handle that doesn’t consistently stand by the existence of objective truth can never be nailed on that. Pastabagel merely has to consign your airtight logic to perspectivespace.

      I’ll attribute this one to Nietzsche:
      “When you argue with a postmodernist you become a postmodernist.”

    • Pastabagel says:

      Again, I’m going to be nice. Your inability to read and understand what I wrote do not make it inconsistent or wrong.

      And that fact that you are here suggests that somewhere deep down you feel that all that Molyneux bullshit you’ve packed your head with has a few intellectual…let’s politely call them ‘gaps’. So you are unconsciously attracted to writing that espouses the opposite of what he does, in a train wreck sort of way.

      I’m going to suggest to you that you go with that instinct.

      • Pastabagel says:

        FYI, that was directed at Rudd-O.

      • Rudd-O says:

        How arrogant of you to assume that I am here because I am “attracted” to the stench of your intellectual droppings.

        No, Mr. NOTHING is ever true, that is not why I am here. I am here because one of my favorite writers, TLP, suggested partial objects and, unbeknownst to me, it turns out that you started contributing your childhood traumas of relativism here.

        But don’t worry. I will now remove partial objects from my feed. You because nothing tops first having to read illogical bullshit passed off as profound reflection and then being attacked by the author when one points out the OBVIOUS errors in the inane text. Being insulted by a person who cannot think two times is two fucking times too much.

        • Pastabagel says:

          Bye bye, and don’t forget to “leave your family!”

        • inarticulateinthecity says:

          Hey, Rudd-O, I must say Pastabagel’s postmodernist antics and his proclaimed love for some misty relativism annoys me sometimes, but I think you’re dead wrong here. This was quite nice, quite nice. You’re overreacting, dude. Chill.

  6. CubaLibre says:

    “And this is why in a capital murder case prosecutors included the relatively insignificant charge of lying to the police. It is the nudge and wink to the audience at home.”

    Well. I realize this supports your point, with which I mostly agree. But prosecutors always charge everything they possibly can based on the probable facts of the case, no matter how “public” the case is (fact: 99.9% of criminal cases have no public visibility whatsoever). No one ever only gets charged with first-degree murder.

    No one ever only gets charged with one crime at all, really. Even your garden-variety 2d degree assault is going to have a disorderly attached, if there’s any evidence whatsoever. Getting the guy on screaming loud because you can’t get him on the punch to the face is exactly like getting the guy on false information because you can’t get him on murder. This has more to do with the motives of prosecutors than the postmodern media.

  7. Guy Fox says:

    Ladies, Gentlemen, and Phantasms, welcome to the meta-meta-narrative.

  8. Or says:

    I was considering a front-page post on this, but this thread preempted most of what I was going to say.

    Joe Nocera on DSK

    If the worst he suffers is a perp walk, a few days in Rikers Island and some nasty headlines, one’s heart ought not bleed. Ah, yes, and he had to resign as the chief of an institution where sexual harassment was allegedly rampant, thanks, in part, to a culture he helped perpetuate. Gee, isn’t that awful?

    For a piece that claims to be a celebration of process and impartiality, it doesn’t miss a chance to invite the reader to enjoy hating the man for something that still legally required Nocera to use the word “allegedly”. As long as the justice system is meeting the national impartiality quota on your behalf, you can bandy playground taunts on op-ed pages with a clear conscience. It’s almost like selling indulgences.

    • sunshinefiasco says:

      It doesn’t claim to be a celebration of process or impartiality– you do realize that it’s an Op-Ed, right? It claims to be Joe Nocera’s opinion. He’s a business journalist, not a court reporter or a professional pundit.
      Also, while you may not like the language, at least he reserved it for a case where the woman, whatever her reputation/past, reported the crime immediately, with semen on her dress and bruises on her body.

      • Or says:

        Of course it’s his opinion. What difference does it make that he’s a business journalist? The only difference I can think of is that it might indicate he has more of a bias regarding the head of an institution like the IMF, which, if anything, means it deserves an even closer reading. But rather than speculate on whether he has a grudge against DSK in particular, I chose to focus on how his treatment of the individual relates to his larger point. (Also, as of a couple months ago he became a biweekly op-ed contributor, so we’ll all start hearing many more of his opinions on topics beyond business.)

        The main thrust of the article is that this is how the system should work even if, boohoo, a rich, powerful man is inconvenienced. But the boohoo sarcasm is woefully insufficient once you realize that the rich, powerful man’s resignation has consequences for a lot of poor, powerless people, so Nocera had to say that DSK losing his post isn’t so bad regardless of whether the current allegations turned out to be true. Now here’s what’s interesting about Nocera’s language: in order to prepare the reader to accept in the next paragraph that this is “a case that actually lives up to our ideal of who we like to think we are” that “speaks to our more noble impulses”, he felt it would help his argument to change his tone from careful deliberation to flippant belittling, and to casually dismiss the significance of DSK’s resignation in one sentence (and recounting all the other details we already know was important enough to fill nearly the entire first half the article). It’s difficult to be inspired by his conclusion after he’s planted in my mind an uncomfortable reminder of how easily someone with a soapbox as big as the NYT could spoil those noble impulses the next time a case like this is in the news.

        • sunshinefiasco says:

          What difference does it make? It means that anyone who recognizes his name (and that won’t be everybody, but Joe Nocera is about as famous as financial journalists get) knows that it’s not being written by a lawyer or someone who hpays attention to criminal trials all day, it’s being written by a guy who writes about the bailout. Just because the NYT has decided to solicit opinions from him on other subjects doesn’t mean that he’s extremely qualified for anything but financial journalism.

          Also, exactly what consequences do you believe there are for the “poor, powerless people”? I can see you think the IMF does more good than harm, which is a red flag for me, personally, but it’s not as if the institution is about to go under (DSK only had a year left on his term anyway, and second terms are relatively rare). We traded a liberal-ish French economist for a conservativ-ish French economist who’s going to follow through with the plans designed by the liberal-ish economist (and most importantly (for the US/Europe), avoid governance reform).

          As far as I know, the main things that DSK worked on were positioning the IMF as an even more important player in foreign exchange/asset valuation in the coming years, and he was an architect of the European bailout, and Lagarde is following through on those, so I’m not sure exactly what kind of drastic change you’re expecting.

          Either way, between the three of us, Nocera is best qualified to comment on whether the huddled masses lost anything by missing out on DSK’s last year in office. (Even if they did, it’s the man’s second sexual misconduct scandal in the last four years, and perhaps the IMF might benefit from a managing director who can help himself.) Nocera’s certainly better qualified to gather an impression about whether there are sexual harassment issues at the IMF, although there’s at least one report that says that there are, and these are the same folks who decided that banging a subordinate wasn’t breaking any rules.

          You might be annoyed that Nocera didn’t write that story more focused on the financial implications, but it’s an op-ed page, not the financial section, and he wanted to slap French chauvinism and exceptionalism instead. If you don’t like it, take it up with his editor.

  9. Zo says:

    “You get away with murder by making an absurdity of truth. ” This is so sad. This all so fucking sad. And I can’t even bear to quote the OJ moment. Gutsy, deep post. I think I hate postmodern.

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