on April 19, 2011
Lying seems epidemic in American society. Stewart focuses his superb writing skills on the general problem of perjury and lying under oath by highlighting the cases of four celebrated liars: Martha Stewart (no apparent relation to the author), Scooter Libby, Barry Bonds, and Bernie Madoff. For each of these, he asks the same question: "Why would people with so much to lose put so much at risk by lying under oath?" Ultimately, the answer becomes obvious: "They thought they could get away with it."
Stewart uses extensive sources for his own narration. Chief among these are notes from investigations, court proceedings, and personal interviews. Although the book is non-fiction, it's a page-turner, because the machinations of the perpetrators and their victims are suspenseful, ensnaring, and powerfully emotional. Each of the perpetrators would ultimately explain their deceits as motivated by "loyalty," but this seems mostly self-serving and devious. Whatever loyalty they had in mind was to themselves, as all were readily prepared to let underlings and associates take hard falls to cushion their own. In the end, most of the celebrity liars recovered reasonably, with the exception of Madoff who will be in prison for a long time and has lost the love of his family and seen one of his sons commit suicide pursuant to the shame he showered on them.
These continuing losses of Madoff as well as those of Bonds, recently convicted of obstruction of justice, aren't covered in the book which was written in 2010 although published in 2011.
This book has several strengths, and perhaps just one weakness. The strengths are the readable and interesting writing, about larger-than-life "heroes" turned "villains." As he points out, these villains "evidently expect to be admired for this behavior." Meticulously researched and artfully written, the book provides considerable details, easily read and enjoyed. It also addresses a central problem "lying under oath [that] undermines civilization itself."
If the book has a weakness, it would be its failure to look at the bigger picture in order to frame the problem more usefully, to bring it perhaps closer to an appropriate remedy. The bigger problem, in my opinion, is that lying is rampant throughout all of society, not just at the level of criminal investigations and judicial proceedings. While it's true that celebrities routinely lie to protect their wealth and status, the problem seems far more extensive. We have in the US a system rigged for the rich and powerful, whether individuals or corporations, that rewards lying as "business as usual." Why is that? Two reasons, primarily: (1) lying pays and (2) liars are not punished. That might sound hard to believe, if you've not actually investigated it. However, there are few laws against lying, they are usually not enforced, and in many cases--such as politics--the Supreme Court protects liars. The Court has ruled that politicians can routinely lie and broadcasters must be willing (if they are not already eager) to sell to the liars and their campaign organizations advertising time to carry those lies to as many people as they can possibly infect.
So, when Stewart suggests that fixing this problem "requires a capacity for moral outrage," he's right, but as a remedy that prescription falls far short. To bring the epidemic under control, we are going to need to invent and employ new solutions. For example, Snopes on the Web publicizes some lies ("urban myths") and many people check Snopes before they pass lies along. PolitiFact and FactCheck, two other Web sites, investigate political lies and policy lies. New products such as Wolfram Alpha, StateOfTheUSA, and numerous regional indicators projects aim to provide curated and reliable answers to important questions. Wikipedia enables many people to edit and polish statements, hopefully bringing them rapidly to a state of truth. A new organization, TruthSeal.org, offers means for people and organizations to affix seals of truth to their vetted claims and to offer bounties for people to present falsifying evidence. In these and other ways, we might create stronger incentives for truth telling and stimulate social networks of people to ferret out lies in the public information commons. By changing the incentives, rewarding truth tellers and punishing liars, we could hope to begin to change the course of this rampant social disease.
Without some change to the rules of the game, we should continue to expect the same outcomes, over and over.
In fairness to Stewart, he wanted to tell a compelling story and get people thinking seriously about how our society encourages obviously sociopathic behavior. He does that extremely well. Another book will be required to look at the bigger, more general problem, consider the situation from a problem-solving point of view, and lay out the best courses of action for implementing remedies. Readers who might be interested in my own study of that problem and proposed recovery plan should consider TRUTHINESS FEVER: How Lies and Propaganda are Poisoning Us and a Ten-Step Program for Recovery.
"If it wasn't for perjury I'd be out of business."
That always gets some laughs when I say it to clients and to witnesses I am preparing for testimony. I am not encouraging them to lie under oath; quite the opposite. Instead I am telling them a fact of courtroom life-"there are going to be lies told, and you had better be prepared for them." I explain that the fact that people on the other side may lie, it does not allow lies on our side. My job, as a lawyer, is to ferret out those lies and expose them. Once a witness is revealed as a liar on a subject, the witnesses credibility on every subject is shot.
James Stewart, as a journalist and as a lawyer, has seen this epidemic grow. When the rich and powerful like Bill Clinton, Barry Bonds, Bernie Madoff think nothing of rising their right hands, swearing to tell the truth, and lying through their teeth, something has gone terribly wrong. But although James Stewart's excellent book focuses on the lies of the power elite, the truth is that perjury is probably the single-most common crime in America today. And as Stewart notes, its not just the witnesses, lawyers are often the enablers, the messengers of deceit, spreading the word, "we need you to say X". And when X is really Y, that is perjury.
So where does it stop? Hopefully the end begins now. Our nation cannot endure long if truth is simply a commodity, rather than a sacred flame that lights a democratic ideal.
And in spite of the participation of some lawyers in this culture of deception, many of my colleagues before the bar agree with me. When I tell my joke, most don't crack a smile.
Read this book and join the revolution.
on April 19, 2011
Another masterful work from James B. Stewart. In this book, he touches on themes that everyone is bound to find compelling: mainstream celebrity (Martha Stewart), politics (Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's former chief of staff), sports (Barry Bonds) and finance (the infamous Bernie Madoff). Unlike many other writers, though, Stewart looks deeply into his subjects and the available data on them, including fascinating court and SEC transcripts that no else bothered with, and that reveal essential details about his subjects. At the same time, he manages to keep the focus on the human condition, including the innocent and not-so-innocent bystanders who were affected and sometimes ruined by the colossal, shameless lies that these "role models" told in official testimony. Stewart makes a strong case for the appearance of a serious fissure in the the legal system that this country depends on for legitimacy, and tells four incredible stories in doing so. Read, learn and be educated and entertained at the same time ...
on May 14, 2011
No one is better than James Stewart as a financial feature reporter. He gets to the bottom of a complex series of events and explains them with unsurpassed clarity and objectivity. If you are interested in the subject he's describing, there is no better source for learning about it. And those skills are on display in the four lying-related scandals he discusses here: Martha Stewart, Scooter Libby, Barry Bonds (and other BALCO defendants) and Bernie Madoff. In each story, Stewart's focus is on the lies the subject told to official investigators, and since such lying is much closer to the heart of the Stewart and Libby scandals than to the Bonds and Madoff events (for the latter two, official lies were more of an interesting sidelight than the core of what will put them in the history books), I found those portions of the book the most interesting and enlightening. Indeed, for Martha Stewart and Scooter Libbey, Tangled Webs should stand as the definitive treatment. Read this, and you'll "get it."
In opening and concluding sections, the author ties the four stories together by shucking his customary objectivity for a jeremiade against perjury and official lying. He has passionate feelings on the subject that no doubt were part of the source of his energy that allowed him to so meticulously record these events. While I am more than sympathetic to his views on this point---in my case he is preaching to the choir---I did not find those parts of the book particularly persuasive; they are not the reason to buy it. This may be in part because of the very excellence---the irrefutable, closely documented objectivity---of the main body of the book. This is one book where reading just the first and last chapters is the exact opposite of what you should do.
on June 7, 2013
I wanted to fall in love with James Stewart’s Tangled Webs, (Penguin Press, New York: 2011). The subtitle alone persuaded me the author was on to something important: "How False Statements are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff." But my love was not to be. I read my way to the very last page, more out of a sense of professional obligation than due to any sense that I was about to discover something new and important.
I did not.
But I did learn more than I ever thought I wanted to know about the nuts and bolts of the Martha Stewart prosecution and the prosecution of Barry Bonds. I read the sections on Bernie Madoff, but I still do not understand the investigation of him. Yes, I get that his investment firm was merely a gigantic Ponzi scheme, but the covering scam he used to deceive regulators and investors remains impenetrable to me. I am not sure that is Stewart’s fault, but I suspect it is.
Stewart is, of course, right: The administration of justice depends on truth-telling. If we lie with impunity, then the center will not hold. Got it. In an ideal and transparent world, discovery of facts would be what the law school professors used to call "a mere matter of proof."
Stewart has a lopsided view of the world. He frets about the consequences of witnesses who lie to the government without ever stopping to consider what happens when government lies to the people. This gives the book a quaint, 1950s kind of feel: If we all just told the truth, why everything would be all right.
Reality is, and, frankly, always has been, a lot more nuanced.
The government has perverted the grand jury process. A device once intended to protect people from an over-reaching government is now a secret tool the government uses to launch lengthy and intrusive searches. The cloak of grand jury secrecy is used to justify a one-sided game of hide and go seek. A federal agent might knock on your door to ask questions. He won’t tell you what others have said about you. He will tell you he cannot relay such information. But he will question you if you permit him to do so. And he will take notes. If those notes don’t match the account given by another witness, you just might face a federal prosecution for lying to a federal official. We let government define the truth while permitting it to deceive.
Can someone tell me why it is a crime to lie to the government, but mere business as usual for the government to withhold the truth? The current rhetoric is that the government needs investigative tools to protect us against crime. There was a time in which we viewed ourselves more in need of protection from government. All we like sheep have gone astray. We don’t even know how many crimes are defined in the penal codes of the state and federal governments. We’re broke, and yet we imprison more folks per capita and for longer periods than any other nation on Earth. There’s something wrong here, all right.
The fact that a few privileged plutocrats lied to the government and got caught is not what is undermining America. Stewart spend no time arguing this proposition. What is undermining the nation is the loss of a common set of interests and a common conception of right, the very things that Cicero long ago taught define a commonwealth. There is a crisis of legitimacy in the nation that runs far deeper than a few isolated prosecutions.
I recently watched an interview with San Francisco’s Tony Serra on the topic of snitching, or becoming an informant for the government. Serra argues that it is wrong to snitch: it undermines a person’s sense of honor, and it undermines the adversarial process, thus turning us all into potential agents of the state when the price offered for what we have to say is right. The government can buy witnesses with liberty, Serra argues. A defendant who offers something to a witness gets charged with witness tampering. This asymmetry is fatal to liberty.
So, too, with lying. We get the government we deserve. If we permit government to lie with impunity that cheapens the value of truth. Is it any wonder that a people distrustful of its government will lie to government agents?
Clients who lie to government agents face the risk of jail time. They face that risk even if they tell the truth, so long as the government chooses to credit the contradictory tales told by another as truth. The fact of the matter is that determining what is truth is rarely simply a "mere matter of proof." Sometimes the truth is a matter of what one chooses to see. Giving the government a set of two-way mirrors in its search for truth blinds the very people and makes engaging the government risky business for us all.
Go ahead and read Stewart’s book. It won’t hurt you. It is a painstaking recreation of several high-profile cases. The book can be read with profit by any criminal defense lawyer handling white-collar criminal cases. But don’t read the book to see what is undermining America. Stewart hasn’t a clue. He apparently believes that if we all just rolled over and gave the government what it wanted all would be well in this the best of all possible worlds.
Tangled Webs: How False Statements Are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff by James B. Stewart
“Tangled Webs” is an interesting look at how lies undermine the judicial process and hence America. Pulitzer Prize-winning and bestselling author, James B. Stewart showcases four cases: Martha Stewart, “Scooter” Libby, Barry Bonds, and Bernie Madoff. With a luxury of details and skilled writing Stewart does in fact untangle the webs of deception. This insightful 496-page book includes twelve chapters broken out by the four aforementioned cases, a conclusion, and notes and sources.
1. High-quality book. It’s thorough, interesting and well written.
2. The fascinating topic of deception showcased by the following four real-life stories: Martha Stewart, “Scooter” Libby, Barry Bonds, and Bernie Madoff.
3. Stewart comes across as well connected, fair and determined to get the story right.
4. Excellent format. The book is broken out logically and it’s easy to follow. Stewart does a wonderful job of building up the intrigue of each case and how it unravels. He also provide a summation and a synopsis of where are they now.
5. Provides a fascinating sample in the introduction showing recent, famous cases of perjury.
6. Interesting insights into the background of Martha Stewart. “From humble beginnings in New Jersey, Martha Stewart had vaulted from stockbroker, to caterer, to cookbook author, to Kmart spokeswoman, to magazine creator and editor, to a one-woman lifestyle conglomerate. She was indisputably talented, with a keen aesthetic sensibility, unerring taste, and an encyclopedic command of household skills. She was also ambitious, a perfectionist, a workaholic, stubborn, and, at times, a harridan.”
7. The elements of criminal insider trading disclosed. “Criminal insider trading requires three major elements: the sale or purchase of a security, in breach of a fiduciary duty or relationship of trust, while in possession of material, nonpublic information about the security. Waksal’s trading and attempted trading obviously met all three criteria: he was an ImClone officer with a duty to shareholders and he knew about the adverse Erbitux decision.”
8. The eye-opening and staggering cost of Stewart’s decision, it’s truly mind-boggling. Read all about it.
9. The most interesting case of the four was that of “Scooter” Libby. The ramifications of his case reached the highest levels of Government.
10. Fascinating look at the convergence of politics, media and the public. “The Kristof article was still stirring controversy. Kristof’s assertions had developed into a steady drumbeat of articles questioning the accuracy of the State of the Union address, and specifically the sixteen words about uranium in Africa: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” It was as if all doubts about the candor of the Bush administration, which by now were legion, were focused on that one sentence. Libby’s notes from June 9 indicate that President Bush himself was now asking about it. Apparently in response to a request from Libby, the CIA faxed him a classified report discussing Wilson’s mission. It referred to Wilson only as a former ambassador, but Wilson’s name was written in the margins, in what appears to be Cheney’s handwriting. That Sunday on Meet the Press National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had been questioned about the uranium claim, and had come across as uncertain and badly prepared. The Kristof column had touched a raw nerve of suspicion among the White House, the State Department, the CIA, and the Defense Department, each fearful that another arm of the administration would try to blame it for the intelligence failure and resulting war.”
11. Political intrigue at its finest. “Washington loves a mystery, and this was the biggest leak mystery since the identity of Watergate’s Deep Throat: Who had revealed Plame’s identity and CIA role to Novak?”
12. Political dynamics and insights into the legal system. “The trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby opened on January 23, 2007. The courtroom was on the sixth floor of the Prettyman building. It had taken four days to choose a jury. The defense team was looking for jurors who weren’t hostile to the Bush administration or the Iraq War–no small feat in heavily Democratic Washington–and who were open-minded about the possibility of memory loss, which was already emerging as the centerpiece of Libby’s defense. The nine women and three men who filed in included a singer, an art historian, a postal worker, a retired math teacher, a Web page designer, and, curiously, a Washington Post reporter who had worked with Bob Woodward. Ten were white, an anomaly in the heavily African American District of Columbia. It was a well-educated, reasonably affluent group that pledged to weigh the facts with an open mind.”
13. Baseball and the Barry Lamar Bonds scandal.
14. The danger of steroids. “Steroids have been linked to psychiatric disorders, depression, and suicide; to heart and liver damage; and to sexual dysfunction. Steroid use can cause severe acne, especially on the back and shoulders, hair loss, mood swings, and fatigue, and it can be addictive. Human growth hormone, a synthetic or natural protein, encourages healing and tissue growth, and is often used in conjunction with a steroid regimen. It, too, has been associated with numerous adverse side effects.”
15. Steroid scandal in track and field. “In early June 2004, the USADA formally accused Tim Montgomery and three other sprinters–but not Marion Jones–of illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs and said it would seek to prevent them from competing in the upcoming Athens Olympics. The primary basis for the charges was the documents Novitzky had gathered in the BALCO raid, as well as the memo of Conte’s interview, in which he admitted providing Montgomery with steroids.”
16. An interesting look at the world of high finances.
17. Harry Markopolos’s significant role in Madoff’s scandal. “Markopolos said that a London-based fund-of-funds he spoke to was considering a Madoff investment, and asked to conduct a performance audit of Madoff’s returns. Madoff refused, saying only his accountant could audit the results in order to preserve the secrecy of Madoff’s model. “The number of hedge funds that have relied on fake audits has got to number in the dozens,” Markopolos pointed out. Markopolos was also troubled that apparently only Madoff family members were privy to the investment strategy, asking, “Name one other prominent multibillion-dollar hedge fund that doesn’t have outside, non-family professionals involved in the investment process. You can’t, because there aren’t any.””
18. The telltale signs that were clearly missed. “This should have been a red flag, since the failure to take a vacation is a classic symptom of fraud. Nearly all Wall Street firms require employees to take two consecutive weeks of vacation.”
19. A superbly written conclusion that captures the essence of the book.
20. Notes and sources provided.
1. James Stewart is a thorough author and his books require an investment of your time.
2. No neuroscientific angle on why people lie.
3. How false statements undermine America focuses more on the moral “feely” versus the hard quantifiable aspects of it.
4. The very first sentence of the introduction threw me off, “We know how many murders are committed each year–1,318,398 in 2009. We know the precise numbers for reported instances of rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and vehicle theft.” Was this false fact thrown in there as a joke or a factual error?
5. Lack of visual materials to complement the fine narrative.
In summary, the best complement I can give a book is that the areas of the book I intended to skip over like the Madoff scandal actually captivated me enough to read it in its entirety. That’s what good writing based on thorough research does. I’ve read enough about the Madoff scandal to skip it but Stewart like a good movie captured my attention. Of the four stories, the “Scooter” Libby was of most interest followed by Madoff, Stewart and least, Bonds. It requires an investment of your time but if you are interested in any of these four stories Stewart will provide high-quality insights. I recommend it!
Further recommendations: “Fair Game” by Valerie Plame Wilson, “The Politics of Truth” by Joseph Wilson, “Taking Heat” by Ari Fleischer, “The Prince of Darkness” by Robert Novak, “Game of Shadows” by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, “Juicing the Game” by Howard Bryant, “No One Would Listen” by Harry Markopolos, “The Madoff Chronicles” by Brian Ross, and “The Wizard of Lies” by Diana B. Henriques.
on October 26, 2011
Stewart begins his book with the observation that lying, particularly in matters legal and financial, is epidemic. It is probably true, although some numbers free from the effect of expanded definition and changes in reporting would be useful to see if it's increasing.
He uses four cases, Martha Stewart, Scooter Libby, Barry Bonds, and Bernie Madoff, to demonstrate his point.
He's a good financial writer, which means he can explain things to those without the arcane knowledge of The Street, and he's a good writer overall which means he can lay out the facts so they can be followed easily.
One expects wrongdoers to lie to keep themselves out of trouble. The issue is others lying for them. Martha, Bonds, and Madoff were powerful, overpowering personalities who provided various people with a good living. It appears that some kinds of subordinates develop a feeling that loyalty is owed despite wrongdoing. Loyalty is a virtue independent of other issues, anyway.
With Martha, we see how fast, and without thinking, one can get involved in insider trading. Insider trading is and ought to be illegal. Without such prohibitions, corporate and industrial espionage would leave The Street looking like raw nature, red in tooth and claw, to say nothing about actual sabotage.
The issue of juicing athletes is a so-what for me, but the investigation found that people lied about it, so that was the thrust of Stewart's case. When associates of the subject of prosecution lie, the system of law is threatened. Stewart should have spent more time on the motivations of the associates to lie.
Madoff's career was a lie and he lied straightforwardly to keep himself out of trouble. In my view, the interesting part of this case was the SEC's inability to spot what was, according to Stewart, so obvious to trained investigators, and which ultimately allowed the losses to triple before the Ponzi scheme collapsed.
The Libby case is the odd man out here. The investigation was about a crime which, it turned out, didn't happen. Plame's identity came out in an unclassified report to Richard Armitage, then at the State Department, who wanted to know from the CIA what all this Wilson stuff was. Armitage had never seen a covert agent's name mentioned in an unclassified report. The law requires the leaker to know the agent is covert and to know of active efforts to maintain the cover. The report to Armitage, who told at least one reporter, mentioned that Wilson's wife works at the agency. So either she was not covert or the agency leaked its own agent itself. Talking about a leaked agent after the leak is public is not a crime, either. The web of who told whom so that Robert Novak knew about it, and Libby, and Rove, and various others was the subject of an investigation of a non-crime, in the process of which several people lied and only Libby prosecuted.
The partisan nature of the ensuing public outrage was manifest when it dwarfed the cumulative outrage about the Hanssen, Agee, and Ames betrayals. Which, it should be reiterated, actually happened.
Stewart tells us the truth; that the system of law depends on integrity. It requires, for example, somebody in an insider situation in a corporation, to keep silent about insider information and watch friends and family either take a hit, or miss an opportunity. We must not lie to protect a friend from justice.
The system of law has responsibility, as well. High-profile cases of high-profile people getting away with that which would have the rest of us clapped in irons before we can say, "Not guilty" damages the system of law, providing an excuse for some to ignore the law. The law must seem accountable and fair. Harvey Silverglate tells us the average person commits three felonies a day without knowing it, because of the huge and growing number of obscure, vague, overbroad laws and regulations having nothing to do with any obvious connection to the generally-accepted sense of right and wrong. We are protected from prosecution solely by the prosecutors' work load. But if they take a dislike to us, or need some leverage to get us to testify a certain way (lie)in a case where we may be a witness, there are plenty of ways to legally ruin us or our loved ones.
Legal doctrines like Kelo, or laws like civil forfeiture are viciously unfair and magnets for corruption.
This is a good book and Stewart is an excellent writer. I wish he had spent more time on the motivations of the perps' associates, and discussing why the incidence of such lying is "epidemic". Simply saying that bad people lie and that lying is bad is just a start.
on April 19, 2016
Yes, I bought it twice. So good am passing it along to others.
Here is what I said in my first review: This book is compelling, and excellent read. He takes 4 case studies, and breaks down the events. Martha Stewart, Barry Bonds, Libby Scooter, and Bernie Madoff. Fascinating turn of events. I also thought Martha Stewart was an innocent "victim" of sorts, but no longer! And Bernie Madoll - how did the government screw that one up so badly? Barry Bonds and cohorts, what a disappointing discovery to see how tainted the athletics system is. Amazing read.
on August 17, 2012
James Stewart's collection of four true stories about perjury, dishonesty, and bald-faced lies reads like a fast-paced mystery novel. His first subject is Martha Stewart, who was convicted in March 2004 of charges related to an insider-trading scandal. Martha came into unsolicited "inside" information, and in a knee-jerk reaction, immediately sold her stock in ImClone Systems. Sounds reasonable, except that's called insider trading, and it's illegal. Her real troubles, though, began when she lied about the circumstances of the sale and then stuck to her story, even after investigators repeatedly gave her opportunities to recant. In the end, she made a business decision: she would rather serve a prison sentence than admit to a wrongdoing that would disappoint her fans.
It's a common enough tactic. As long as wrongdoers insist on their innocence, there are always people who will believe the claim, regardless of how convincing the evidence. I have to admit, my immediate reaction was one of sympathy. At first blush, it seems like something that could happen to any of us--an unthinking reaction to an attack on our property. Would I have had the discipline to forego taking action on such a tip? The irony of the situation is that Martha only saved $46,000 by her illegal action--less than the cost of her defense, I would think, and hardly worth the millions she must have lost in business income by being sidetracked.
The subject of James Stewart's second tale is Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who stuck to his lie, even after others began to shift their save-ass stories to align with the facts that were coming to light. No, he wasn't the only one to lie; he was just the only one to refuse to revise his lie as bits and pieces of truth emerged. The Big Lie became the star of an investigation that began in 2003 as an inquiry into a serious matter of national security: who had leaked the name of a CIA operative to the press? At the completion of the investigation, no fewer than three big names admitted to inadvertently dropping Victoria Plame's name in conversations with journalists. Only Scooter Libby never admitted his error, even after being faced with the incontrovertible evidence. Not only did he fail to admit what he had done, his fabrications in lieu of truth were easily disproved--and he did not waiver even then. Among those who revealed Plame's identity, the only person who paid the high price was Libby, and he was prosecuted for perjury, not for revealing Plame's identity.
The last two narratives of well-known prevaricators cover Barry Bonds (who lied under oath during an investigation of steroid use) and the infamous Bernie Madoff, who is credited with bringing the world to its knees with the pyramid scheme to end all pyramid schemes. Bonds apparently suffers from an overprivileged childhood and a case of incredible arrogance. Madoff reads like a classic sociopath.
The most interesting revelation to me about the Madoff investigation is that the assembly-line mentality of the young SEC lawyers, working on their careers instead of investigating their cases, resulted in the Madoff scam catapulting from $20 billion to $65 billion before he was stopped. Each and every one of the investigators believed Madoff was lying, but guessed it was about nothing of consequence, as if the lying in and of itself was of no consequence. If we pass the buck upline, we find an SEC who hired attorneys not by their knowledge of how the market works but by the grades they made in law school. None of the SEC attorneys involved in the Madoff investigation understood the fundamentals of stock trading. One positive outcome, if any can be found, is that the SEC now trains its attorneys in stock-trading basics.
Stewart caps off his storytelling with a commentary on the theme of his subtitle: "How False Statements Are Undermining America." Early on, he speaks his opinion through the words of the prosecuting attorney in the Martha Stewart case: "The laws that are being enforced in this case are designed to make sure that investigators can fairly evaluate facts based on the truth. That is the point. It is important. And those laws must be enforced to keep the integrity of government investigations."
I'm less than a quarter way through the book, and I have forgotten it is about truth.
In the case of Martha Stewart, the author's account seems to be conclusive, mainly because three people--the stockbroker's assistant, Martha Stewart's best friend and one of her employees--could not bring themselves to lie under oath. In the case of Scooter Libby, it is unlikely that all of the lies and all of the liars will ever be uncovered. At the time, it was widely believed that the White House had foisted a lie on the American people to further justify the war in Iraq, and then outed Victoria Plame to get even with her husband for exposing the truth . . . and to send a message to anyone else who may have been in a position to come up against the administration's agenda. No proof of these allegations has ever been found. Reporting without comment, the facts leave open the possibility that both the president and the vice president perjured themselves. James Stewart gives this possibility a wide berth, never so much as suggesting it. Perhaps it was the complete lack of mention that for the first time caused me to consider it. Bush's memoir quotes Vice President Cheney as saying, "I can't believe you're going to leave a soldier on the battlefield." To some, this constitutes a hint that Libby lied out of loyalty and perhaps even a personal belief that the truth would harm the country. Ever the professional, the author never hints at any of these possibilities, offering only the available facts.
Not surprisingly, most people will go to great lengths to hide their sins against society. Somehow, breaking the law is seen as a rebellious act against an oppressive parent or mysterious "them," the authority that squeezes the joy out of life. Too few of us are keenly aware that violating a law is an act of aggression against our friends, neighbors and country.
Author James Stewart calls upon defense attorneys to follow the law and code of ethics, to stop turning a blind eye when their clients lie under oath. "A society that depends only on prosecutors and the judicial system to curb perjury will never succeed," Stewart warns. He calls for "moral outrage" that demands nothing short of the truth.
Is it true, as ferociously declared by Jack Nicholson's character in the film A Few Good Men, that we just "can't handle the truth"? In a society reared on tattle-tale tit, that rewards those who never cry "foul," can we be as good as we ought to be when faced with the exposure of our lapses in integrity? Stewart asks us to avoid the outlaw mentality that encourages lies to protect friends, family or clients. "To elevate loyalty over truth is to revert to the rule of the tribe or class, where power and brute force decide all conflicts," he writes.
on August 7, 2015
I stopped reading this when I got to Barry Bonds, because just at that moment, the en banc court of the Ninth Circuit threw out his conviction. That's not the fault of the author, and perhaps all the more reason I should read that chapter. I also have heard so much about Bernie Madoff that I am uncertain whether to read that chapter either. But I read the first two and thoroughly enjoyed and was enlightened by them. Is it fair for me to give a review to a book that I have only half read, and not decided whether to finish? I have decided yes because the first two chapters on Scooter Libby and Martha Stewart were alone good enough to give the book five stars.