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The 15-Seconds Blog

  • The French, They Are Different

    American trial lawyers are often stumbling blocks for communication.
    Too often we see attorneys unnecessarily tell their clients to “take the fifth”
     — not only in court but also with the media.

    Even when lawyers speak out themselves on behalf of those they defend, they frequently say little of interest.

    But the French — it appears they are quite different.

    Today’s example comes to us from
    Al Jazeera  (of all places) which has
    a story about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, who was accused of rape in New York last year (the charges were eventually dropped) and is now being questioned in France about his alleged involvement with a prostitution ring.

    Al Jazeera says Henri Leclerc, lawyer for Strauss-Kahn, told French radio in December that his client did not know that the women who were at parties he attended were prostitutes.

    “He could easily not have known, because as you can imagine, at these kind of parties you’re not always dressed, and I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman.”

    Well, that is an interesting defense.  Strauss-Kahn would probably call it the naked truth.


  • Shooting Your Mouth Off

    “Ready, fire, aim” is not a good plan for fighter pilots or interviewees.

    The Washington Times today has a story about Navy Reserve Captain Tim Dorsey who has been nominated for promotion to rear admiral.  Such an honor usually means the nominee has had a remarkable career.

    Dorsey’s record includes having shot down a plane.

    Unfortunately it was one of ours.

    According to the Times, in 1987, as a mere lieutenant junior grade, Dorsey was flying an F-14 and engaged in a training exercise and inexplicably fired a missile at a U.S. Air Force RF-4C reconnaissance jet — destroying the aircraft.  The crew of two narrowly escaped death by ejecting.

    The subsequent investigation declared the incident “not the result of an accident, but the consequences of a deliberate act” and a “disregard of known facts and circumstances.”   Those kind of evaluations are not normally career builders.

    After the investigation said his conduct “raises substantial doubt as to his capacity for good, sound judgment,” Dorsey turned in his wings and became an intelligence officer and a lawyer in the naval reserve. He is now the inspector general for a Navy Reserve detachment in Norfolk, VA.

    Not surprisingly, the media wanted to talk to Dorsey about his career rising from the wreckage. In our view, he demonstrated continued bad judgment by engaging. He didn’t say much — but how he said it shows that he is still a little quick on the trigger.

    “I’m going to have to decline to talk right now, based on the kind of job I’m going to be taking,” he explained.  “I’m not really big on talking to press for anything.”

    So what his this new job?  According to the Times, he says

     “It means heading up some intel factions. So it’s not something I would typically do. I (would) rather not see my name in the paper at all now because of the job I’m getting ready to take.  A lack of press is good on what I’m getting ready to do.”

    Dorsey had an easy escape route — when someone whose nomination is under consideration by the Senate — the right course is always to simply decline to comment out of respect for the approval process.  Simply saying: “It would be inappropriate for me to comment while my nomination is under consideration” is all he should have said.

    He should have stowed the rest of his shaky excuses.  Telling a reporter that you would “rather not see your name in the paper” and implying that there is some operational secrecy need because of your impending assignment in the naval reserve is just another demonstration of continued bad judgment.


  • Eschew Obfuscation

    “If you can’t beat ’em, confuse ’em” seems to be the motto of Pentagon budget briefers.

    A Washington Post-blog today carries an interesting glimpse and the secret lingo of Defense Department bean-counters.

    On Monday an array of senior officers and top civilians were trotted out to try to explain the Pentagon’s latest budget.  Quicker than you can say “FYDP”  – “Future Years Defense Program” in Pentagonese — the briefers launched a salvo of acronyms that would have rendered all but the most geeky Washingtonian speechless.  The Post gives this example:

    REPORTER: Yes, Mrs. Bonessa, you said that there were eight program cancellations, but you only said — listed five. What are the other three?

    BARBARA BONESSA, Deputy Director, Army Budget: Oh, I — yes, I only listed the largest ones. Let me flip back to — let’s see, I listed EMARSS, HMMWV recap, FMTV, managed soldier system, JPALS– Davis?

    MR. DAVIS : Long-range LRAS 3 and –

    REPORTER: You’ll have to repeat that.

    MR. DAVIS: LRAS 3.

    MAJ. GEN. PHILLIP MCGHEE: Long-Range Advance Scout Surveillance Systems.

    STAFF: And Knight Under Armor.

    MS. BONESSA: There we go, thank you.

    GEN. MCGHEE: The Knight Targeting Under Armor for 300 million.

    When budget nerds talk to trade press — that is the kind of gobbledygook you get.

    The problem is that when you live in that kind of world — you soon forget what words, phrases, and acronyms that you use — are foreign to everyone else.  In a complex environment like the Pentagon this can lead to miscommunication.  The problem is not just jargon.  Even common words can mean different things to different people.

    There is an oft-told anecdote about what the words “secure the building” mean to the various military services.  The story goes that if you tell someone in the Army to “secure the building” they will post guards around it.  Give the same order to someone in the Navy and they will turn out the lights and lock the doors. Tell it to the Marines and they will storm the building, killing or capturing those inside and setting up a headquarters.  But say “secure the building” to an Air Force officer than they will take out a five year lease with an option to buy.

    The funniest thing about the story is that it is based on truth — each of the services has a dramatically different understanding of what those three simple words mean.

    Our point here is that even if the person asking the question and the person answering it understand the lingo (not always a given) it is a good bet many others will not.  So when trying to communicate — make sure you use language that your old Aunt Tilly would understand (unless she is a Deputy Assistant Under Secretary for something.)