So there is someone willing to defend beleaguered NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and it turns out it's the guy who's willing to defend almost anyone -- Lanny Davis, crisis manager and author with a book to sell you, about crisis management. His defense of Goodell has been duly recorded and published at CNN, which is willing to publish anything.
At issue here is that whole Ray Rice business, wherein the National Football League, being aware that the Baltimore Ravens running back had clocked his then-fiancee Janay Palmer into a deep unconsciousness in a hotel elevator, punished Rice with a more lenient punishment than it metes out if you smoke a little weed now and again. To Davis' mind, the people who have really behaved irresponsibly are those demanding accountability.
"When everyone is piling on," says Davis, "it's time to take a breath and say: We need more facts, less reliance on media reports based on anonymous sources and over-heated pundits who are too ready to rush to judgment."
Left unsaid here is that the main reason we've been largely kept in the dark as to the facts, up until TMZ released the full video of Rice's violent interaction with his fiancee, is that Goodell and his organization have endeavored mightily to keep those facts from coming to light. When the public was armed merely with the evidence that Rice had dragged his fiancee from the elevator, the NFL defended its decision to suspend him for a mere two games by sheltering in what had been unknown, essentially suggesting that Palmer had acted in such a way that mitigated the circumstances.
The Baltimore Ravens organization cheerfully sheltered in the same existential void, sending a May 23 tweet that read, "Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident." The implication being that she had done something to bring Rice's fist upon herself.
As craven as that now looks, given the fact that we all know now that the "role she played" was nothing more than being the punching bag of a violent abuser, that's only the start of Goodell's merry litany of falsehoods. As Deadspin's Tom Ley has reported, these are legion.
And that's probably why Davis' "defense" of Goodell doesn't really go on to ... you know ... defend him. What Davis wants you to know is that Goodell, for all his many faults, should be lauded for doing really good crisis management. But as you'll see, Davis is also wrong about that.
But then [Goodell] turned in the right direction, following the three basic rules of crisis management, whether in business, politics, or life.
First, he acknowledged that he made a mistake and took personal responsibility. He showed that he understood, albeit belatedly, how serious male violence against women is. In his August 28 letter to all NFL owners, Goodell wrote: "I didn't get it right. Simply put, we have to do better."
In an accompanying memorandum that would be distributed to all personnel in the NFL, he wrote, in bold-faced dark letters, the following:
"Domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They are never acceptable and have no place in the NFL under any circumstances."
Suffice it to say, the process of "taking responsibility" is actually more complicated than simply saying, "My bad," and then putting a bunch of universally true things in super-serious boldfaced type. An organization that needs its leader to remind it that domestic violence and sexual assault are "wrong," and by the way "illegal," is an organization that needs a remedial level of accountability imposed upon it. Goodell shows no real sign of wanting to do this -- I'll point you again to Ley's list of deceits that have come straight from Goodell.
Second, he laid out a detailed forward-looking mandatory education and training program to implement this policy. Most important, he announced far more severe penalties than before, effective immediately for violations of this bold-faced policy: 1) at least six game suspensions for the first violation, with heavier penalties if facts show more serious offenses, such as violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child; and 2) a second offense will result in "banishment" from the NFL. That's right, banishment -- with no assumption that a petition for reinstatement will ever be accepted.
Davis maybe doesn't realize this (or perhaps it's a feature in the "crisis management" biz), but the first two sentences contradict one another. You can't have a "forward-looking" domestic violence program if the program you're implementing is only being implemented because you got caught out by TMZ's release of the full video of Rice's abuse. Goodell's "forward-looking" policy was the two-game suspension standard, forged during what amounted to a cover-up of the facts. You don't get to say, "Now that we've been pantsed by TMZ, we have a domestic violence punishment program that really lowers the boom," and call that "forward-looking."
Finally, we have this:
The third rule is to authorize an independent investigation to answer all the questions and verify the facts. And that is exactly what happened. Of course the emphasis is on the word "independent."
Yes, this "independent investigation" was set up by New York Giants owner John Mara and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II, and it involves parachuting former FBI Director Robert Mueller III into NFL HQ to give the league the full True Detective treatment.
Now, perhaps at this point you're wondering how "independent" this investigation can be, given the fact that it's all been put in place by a pair of owner-stakeholders. Lanny Davis wants you to shut your ignorant mouth:
I have read about doubts about Mueller's objectivity because he comes from a large law firm that has ties to the NFL. My response: Nonsense. Robert Mueller is a former United States attorney, senior U.S. Justice Department official, and one of the most respected FBI directors in history.
Nonsense! By gum, Robert Mueller did some stuff, and you will respect that. Well, here's some of the stuff that Davis is very quickly glossing over:
ESPN: "Mueller, based in Washington, D.C., is a partner in the law firm of WilmerHale, which helped negotiate the NFL's Sunday Ticket package with DirecTV. The firm also has represented Washington R*****ns owner Dan Snyder, and several former members of the firm have taken positions with NFL teams."
Mike Florio, NBC Sports: "One such former WilmerHale employee is, coincidentally, Ravens president Dick Cass, who joined the club after thirty-plus years at the firm."
So the "doubts" that Davis has "read about" are actually the accurately reported accounts that document the obvious conflicts of interest with this "independent" investigation.
This is not good crisis management, when your BFF in the crisis management business puts easily penetrated obfuscations on CNN's website in order to paper over all of the previous obfuscations reported everywhere else.
If you want to assess the potential that the NFL is prepared to be accountable for all of this, here are some things you should remember. Goodell made accountability your responsibility. He declined to take on the task himself. When the public was outraged about Rice's meager suspension, Goodell told the public to trust him -- because if you knew what was on the tape of the incident, you'd see it his way. When the public was outraged at the fact that the content of said tape put paid to those notions, Goodell adjusted the suspension policy but insisted that he hadn't seen the full video.
It was only after the Associated Press had the NFL caught in that lie that Goodell did a modicum of facing the music. And now Lanny Davis is here to tell you that you don't actually possess any facts -- that everything you think you know about this incident actually has emerged from a wilderness of "innuendo and anonymous sources" and that you should wait for a conflict-laden investigator to spin you a tale of the real facts.
There's a reason you don't trust these guys. You should go with that instinct.
(By the way, here's what good crisis management looks like, from Kristine Belisle, former adviser to federal inspectors general: "We might be embarrassed at times and disclose things that we could -- and others would -- easily hide, but we'll shock the press with our honesty. No one else does this, and before long, we'll have a built-in defense when we're attacked. No matter what they hear, the press will come to us first and believe us, because we'll prove to them that we tell the truth.")
[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]