Expert Witnesses
by DCDave

"Ruthann Aron was sexually abused by her father starting when she was 7 years old, a secret she kept for years and one that explains why the Montgomery County politician ultimately plotted to kill a husband who had cheated on her and left her twice, her attorney said yesterday.

"In the opening arguments of Aron's murder-for-hire trial, Barry H. Helfand portrayed his client as a deeply depressed and dependent woman who once suffered a brain injury that impaired her judgment and ability to control impulses. Between that and a lifetime spent hiding her childhood abuse, she could not understand that what whe was doing was against the law or stop herself, he said. Helfand did not deny that in 1997 the 55-year-old Potomac millionaire tried to hire a hit man to kill her husband, urologist Barry Aron, and Baltimore lawyer Arthur G. Kahn." Washington Post, Feb. 27, 1998, p. B1.

Please notice that the lawyer said that her childhood trauma had rendered her unable to "understand that what she was doing was against the law" rather than saying that it had made her unable to tell right from wrong. Someone getting ready to present the psychobabble defense can't be heard slipping back into that old ativistic notion that there is such a thing as right or wrong, good or evil, can he?

"So he's just a lawyer doing his job," you say, "a man trying to make lemonade out of the lemon of a case he has taken on." Okay, but what can one say in defense of the nine (9) (IX) psychiatrists-psychologists who were able to persuade only one stubborn jurorthereby causing a mistrialthat Ruthann, a member of her county planning board and former candidate for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, was not criminally responsible for her actions?

I was thinking of that, of the fact that Ruthann with her money was able to get nine times more people from the psychology profession to argue her ridiculous case than was Kenneth Starr to argue his, and of the numerous family members of Parents Against Corruption and Cover-up who have been victimized by fraudulent post-mortem psychoanalyses when I penned the following poem:

Rent a Shrink

Let's hear it for expert witnesses,
A mercenary breed.
Ask them what they're prepared to say,
Their response is, "What do you need?"

If the cops want to say, "Self-murder,"
They will reinforce it:
The psychological autopsy
Is dusted off to endorse it.

And if the defense is well-heeled,
The jury can be beguiled
By tales of how the client killed
From being abused as a child.

Oh, concerning Ken Starr's case, here is the conclusion of part 3 of my "America's Dreyfus Affair." And the web site of Parents Against Corruption and Cover-up is one of the links at my web site, for those who want to look farther into this particular manifestation of the corruption of the psychiatric profession.

Speaking of the ever-flexible "expert witness" breed, though Dr. (Henry) Lee certainly did yeoman's work for the legal team representing O.J. Simpson, no group has demonstrated a greater readiness to please a well-heeled or powerful client than have the members of the psychology profession. It is never very hard to find one ready to defy common sense with jargon and references to the psychology literature, the modern version of the soothsayer's incantations. It is altogether fitting then that Starr should vest so much importance in the work of the "suicidologist" (Dr. Alan L.) Berman, letting him bat last, or "cleanup," as it were, in his report. Berman does not disappoint. He dismisses the fact that the "suicidally depressed" Foster ate a hearty final meal by telling us that "there is no study in the professional literature that has examined eating behavior prior to suicide" and that "even death row inmates, knowing they are to die within a short time, eat a last meal." So much for gumption and introspection. The absence of a study--upon which we are forced to take Dr. Berman's word--is here glibly equated with the absence of the phenomenon itself, and impending execution of a psychologically normal person is equated with a bout of clinical depression so acute that it results in suicide. It must be nice to be an expert.

At this point, Starr weighs in with brand, spanking new, never before seen evidence from Dr. Watkins in Little Rock (somewhat like the new evidence that Vince actually cried over dinner on the Friday before his death, which would have had to be at the Tidewater Inn on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a fact of which Starr does not remind us). First we had silence from Watkins. Then we had the prescription of trazadone (brand name Desyrel) for insomnia, not depression, as reported in the Fiske Report. Now, out of the blue, we are told he typed up notes on July 21 (which he inexplicably kept to himself for who knows how long) and they say this:

"I talked to Vince on 7/19/93, at which time he complained of anorexia and insomnia. He had no GI (gastrointestinal) symptoms. We discussed the possibility of taking Axid or Zantac to help with any ulcer symptoms as he was under a lot of stress. He was concerned about the criticism they were getting and the long hours he was working at the White House. He did feel that he had some mild depression. I started him on Desyrel, 50 mg. He was to start with one at bedtime and move up to three....I receive word at 10:20 p.m. on 7/20/93 that he had committed suicide."

Isn't it curious that Dr. Watkins would go to the trouble to write this down the day after he heard of Foster's death and two days after he supposedly made the prescription, but apparently would not bother to tell key officials about it? We have been told on the record that he was brought into the case more than a week later when a note was found in Foster's office mentioning a return of a Foster call by Watkins. This is almost as curious as the list of psychiatrists appearing in Park Police records for the first time on July 27, though the contents of Foster's car and wallet were gone through thoroughly and inventoried on the night of July 20.

But forget about such skepticism for the moment. Let's return to the world of shrink talk, where a rock-solid, highly successful lawyer can be unrecognizably transformed to suit the client:

"Dr. Berman reported that '[m]istakes, real or perceived, posed a profound threat to his self-esteem/self/worth and represented evidence for a lack of control over his environment. Feelings of unworthiness, inferiority, and guilt followed and were difficult for him to tolerate. There are signs of an intense and profound anguish, harsh self-evaluation, shame, and chronic fear. All these on top of an evident clinical depression and his separation from the comforts and security of Little Rock. He, furthermore, faced a feared humiliation should he resign and return to Little Rock.' The torn note 'highlights his preoccupation with themes of guilt, anger, and his need to protect others.'" (by killing himself? ed.)

If that doesn't convince you try this:

"In his report, Dr. Berman first noted that '[d]escriptors used by interviewees with regard to Vincent Foster's basic personality were extraordinarily consistent in describing a controlled, private, perfectionistic character whose public persona as a man of integrity, honesty, and unimpeachable reputation was of utmost importance.'"

What he does not tell us is that interviewees, on the record, were also quite consistent in describing a man who seemed perfectly normal in every way, but what does such an apparently admirable "basic personality" have to do with suicide, anyway? Well, at this point we have a footnote:

"Dr. Berman noted that '[r]ecent studies...have documented a significant relationship between perfectionism and both depression and suicidality, particularly when mediated by stress.'"

It is a real shame that the Berman Report has not been made publicly available, because there is a very high probability that what we have here is a classic case of circular reasoning:

1. Vince Foster killed himself because he was a perfectionist.
2. Perfectionists tend to kill themselves.
3. We know perfectionists tend to kill themselves because the perfectionist, Vince Foster, killed himself.

Actually, it's probably even worse than circular reasoning because Dr. Berman seems to have made a bit of a leap to make a warped Felix Ungar-type out of a man who simply exhibited high standards. The likely circular reasoning is explained by a letter that I sent to the student newspaper of Yale University on February 8, 1996, with an information copy to the psychologist whose work is the subject of the letter. It was not printed, but I did get a response from the psychologist who simply thanked me for the information. I reproduce the letter to the editor here almost in its entirety. As you read it, bear in mind as well the opening quote from Edward Zehr. It is not just the propagandistic press that concerns him, but the "decay of our basic institutions."

I might also note that while this long essay began with comparisons between current developments in the United States and those in France a century ago, comparisons to our late lamented cold war superpower rival can hardly be avoided.

Dear Editor:

I trust that the final failure and collapse of that great experiment in large-scale planning called the Soviet Union will not lead to the rapid withering away of academic programs in Sovietology. There is much to be learned about human folly and treachery from the largest and longest such experiment in history. Take, for instance, the systematic corruption of that nation's institutions and professions, as all independent and objective standards were sacrificed for the perpetuation of the power of the state. Outstanding examples of such corruption were in the professions of journalism and psychiatry. We now know that to be a correspondent for Pravda or Izvestia was to be a member of the KGB, and we have all heard the tales of brave Soviet dissidents condemned to psychiatric hospitals and plied with mind-altering drugs because, after all, anyone who would challenge the state "must be crazy."

These things come to mind because I have just finished reading the innocuously-titled article "The Destructiveness of Perfectionism, Implications for the Treatment of Depression" in the December, 1995, issue of the American Psychologist by Professor Sidney J. Blatt of the Yale University Department of Psychology. Ostensibly an examination of the motivation behind the recent suicide deaths of three prominent and successful men, it turns out to be something quite different upon closer examination. One of the three men, you see, and the one enjoying the prominent lead place in the article, was Vincent W. Foster, Jr., Deputy White House Counsel.

Psychoanalysis, itself, is not without its serious detractors, but when it is done long distance and post mortem, the reason for skepticism is increased. When the analyst relies almost completely upon secondary sources for his information about the subject's mental state, the validity of the inquiry results become all the more questionable. When those secondary sources are only newspapers, and the newspapers are only The New York Times and The Washington Post, then the whole exercise is little better than a sick joke.

Do I exaggerate? Let's look at the facts. Professor Blatt deduces much about Foster's thought processes from the text of one of the few primary sources he presumably thinks he has, the fingerprintless, torn-up note which mysteriously materialized in Foster's briefcase some days after it was searched and thought to be empty. He is able to invest such confidence in the authenticity of the note because his twin bibles failed to carry the October 25, 1995, Reuters dispatch reporting that three certified handwriting experts, one of whom is renowned literary document authenticator, Reginald Alton of Oxford University, had, independently and unanimously, with extensive supporting explanation, pronounced the note a mediocre forgery. Scholars like to invoke the authority of the best source available, and, to date, these are it. Therefore, the best conclusion a reputable scholar can draw about the sentiments expressed in the torn-up note is that they represent what someone, who we may presume to be Foster's murderer, wants us to think Foster was thinking, not a very good basis for Foster's psychoanalysis.

Citing a New York Times opinion column, which is really no better than a tertiary source, Blatt tells us that Foster "did not seem to be his usual self, (his)...mood seemed low, (he)...spent weekends in bed with the shades drawn...recently lost 15 pounds, and...sent out signals of pessimism that alarmed close friends and colleagues."

Virtually every word of that statement evaporates upon close examination. Had Blatt done the responsible thing and at least consulted the writings of Foster-case investigator Christopher Ruddy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, he would have discovered that, at the time of his physical examination on December 31, 1992, Foster weighed 194 pounds and that his body when autopsied on July 21, 1993, weighed 197 pounds after having lost blood and dried out in the sun for some hours. This fact was originally discovered by independent investigator Hugh Sprunt using Senate Banking Committee hearing documents. Those documents, which include the testimony of all of Foster's close associates, turn up no one whose observations about Foster's behavior fit, even loosely, Blatt's quote. They all say he seemed his normal self to them. Furthermore, White House spokesperson, Dee Dee Myers, says in the Washington Times of July 30, 1993, that the story about Foster working in the bed on weekends with the blinds drawn is not true, and no corroboration for it turns up in the record.
Ultimately, every source, including the torn-up note, that Professor Blatt has used to support his premise that Foster was in a suicidal frame of mind is anonymous. There are, as it happens, somewhat better, attributable sources. But before he gets too excited about looking for them to invoke against me, I must inform him that these are all people who have, on the record, changed their stories at one time or another.

Perhaps Professor Blatt deserves the benefit of the doubt and did not realize just how contrived is the press case upon which he depends so completely. However, that requires imputing to him a degree of credulity that ill becomes a serious scholar. Is it not almost as easy to believe that what he has produced is not really a work of scholarship, but of propaganda?


David Martin

In the case of this most recent report of the misleadingly-named Office of the Independent Counsel, as with the newspapers that reported on it, it is certainly a good deal easier to believe.

David Martin
All Rights Reserved
November 23, 1997

Article written and posted by David Martin, April 1, 1998

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