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Sun Jan 19, 2020, 08:21 AM

Why I think Alan Dershowitz is a contrarian. [View all]

A lot is being said of Alan Dershowitz serving on the Orange One's defense team for the impeachment trial. There are lots of reasons why this is odd, not least of which Dershowitz's previous alliances with the Democratic Party. So a lot of people are saying things like "he's lost his marbles" or "he's lost it."

I don't necessarily think so, and there's a reason I think that way.

First - yes, he was on the defense teams that let OJ walk and got Epstein a scandalously light sentence. Assuming he played a major role in those defenses, that doesn't necessarily mean he's nuts. It means he's amoral, but it also means he's a good defense attorney, and that he did his job well. That being said, these were defense teams. Dershowitz wasn't the lone defense attorney, and I've never seen an accounting of who on these teams did what. So he might have been present as window dressing, for all I know.

I think he's a contrarian. I'm an academic, and I encounter such people all the time. These are people who adopt positions contrary to the consensus. They don't necessarily believe them, but they like the notoriety and attention that comes from being a lone voice in a crowd. Almost every academic field has them.

There's a difference between a contrarian and a denialist. Most of the academics or think tank inhabitants claiming that human-driven climate change has stopped, or that human activity isn't to blame, are doing it for the money, political bias, or both. They may also like the attention, but the main motivators are either financial or political. Contrarians may make money from public appearances and whatnot, but it's all about the attention.

Anyway - why do I think Dershowitz is a contrarian?

I decided this when I saw him comment on the Amanda Knox case.

Ms Knox was an American college student who was studying in Italy when her British roommate was murdered. The local police decided that Ms Knox and her Italian boyfriend were involved in some sort of sex orgy gone wrong. Ms Knox was arrested, interrogated with neither a defense attorney nor interpreter, and eventually convicted of the crime. Her conviction was overturned on appeal and she came back to the US, but the Italian system lets the prosecution appeal acquittals (something they initially did to deal with corrupt judges); her acquittal was overturned, she was convicted again, and the second conviction was also overturned. So she's been cleared, but it took a long time.

The media - especially, though not exclusively, the Italian and British tabloids - went nuts over this. They published all sorts of salacious stories about Mx Knox and/or the crime, most of which were either bullshit, misinterpreted beyond all resemblance to reality, or taken way, way out of context.

If one actually looks at the facts of the case, it becomes very, very clear that the crime was committed by a lone intruder. Every bit of forensic evidence used against Ms Knox or her boyfriend was later shown to be misinterpreted or contaminated. Her "incriminating statements" and "odd behavior" were only incriminating or odd in the tabloids; in reality, they were perfectly normal given the circumstances.

Eventually, almost every legal expert in the US agreed that Ms Knox had been railroaded - that this was a classic case of tunnel vision in which law enforcement decided what happened and framed everything they saw in that context. Mx Knox was obviously innocent of this crime, and the police and prosecutors involved in the case gave a textbook example of how not to investigate a violent crime.

I say "almost" because one American lawyer took the opposite view - Alan Dershowitz.

This is when I decided he wasn't just an amoral defense attorney, but a contrarian. He wasn't involved with the case. He didn't have to open his yap about it. And yet, open his yap he did - and what came forth were claims that the evidence against Ms Knox was very strong. Given his defense of OJ Simpson, where the evidence against his client was pretty solid, this struck me as flat-out absurd. It was like claiming that ghost pepper sauce is as mild as milk, but that strawberry jam is a fiery condiment sure to cauterize your taste buds.

Then I remembered that he works at a university, and it all fell into place. He's a contrarian academic. He may or many not have thought Ms Knox was guilty (just as he may or may not have thought OJ was innocent), but he adopted his position based on his perception of consensus and desire to move in the opposite direction.

Anyway - my tuppence. I think it's worth considering as we watch him on cable news.

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