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the wire

So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts.

Norman Mailer, “The White Negro”

It’s a common practice for films that are clearly yet loosely related to historical events to be advertised as having been “based on a true story.” This has always struck me as under-inclusive; every fiction, no matter how inventive or fantastic, is based ultimately on various true stories.

Every story is based on a true story; but many stories are not true, or only true in part. Journalists and ethnographers each in their way are professionally dedicated to sorting out the true, from the half-true, from the it would be nice if it were true but it’s not, etc.

Last summer, Gideon Lewis-Kraus contacted me about a story he was writing for the New York Times magazine about the controversy surrounding Alice Goffman’s book On the Run. I had just published a long article in the Chronicle of Higher Education calling into question the veracity of several stories in the book (The article wasn’t by any means a full catalog of the dubious material in On the Run, but it ran to 10,000 words as it was).

Naturally I agreed to be interviewed, even though I had some reason to believe that Lewis-Kraus was, in regard to this topic, a blinkered zealot who believed with a kind of fundamentalist fanaticism in Goffman’s innocence of any academic or legal wrongdoing. Over the course of our conversation, I strongly encouraged him to do his best to corroborate the incidents in On the Run that had been called into question, several of which would be easy to corroborate with even the most minimal assistance from Goffman herself. Surely, I suggested, his article was going to provide her with the ideal venue for clearing her name.

All this was based on my expectation that the Times would run yet another extensive investigative article on Alice Goffman only if that investigation revealed something worth revealing.

The article has finally been published, and my expectations have turned out to be wrong. Lewis-Kraus spent quite a bit of time with Goffman, and was struck by what to him was her puzzling refusal to respond to her critics:

It does not help that Goffman, when challenged about her book — or about the privilege, defiance and sloppiness to which critics attribute its weaknesses — tends to respond with willful naïveté or near-­grandiose self-­possession. Once, when I asked her what she made of a sustained series of attacks by one critic, a respected quantitative sociologist, she said it was hard to pay proper attention to him when other people were accusing her of felonies.

I think there’s nothing puzzling at all about why Goffman has failed — with the exception of one disastrous interchange with Steven Lubet, who constitutes the “other people” referenced in the above quote — to make any public response to her critics. The most plausible explanation for silence, however, will he hidden to anyone who is not open to a hypothesis that Lewis-Kraus clearly refuses to consider. Instead, Lewis-Kraus did his version of investigative journalism, at least in regard to this subject. This involved, among other things, investigating at least two of the seven incidents in the book that I question in my Chronicle piece (to which he links).

Here is the first incident, as described in that piece:

Goffman describes her supposed detainment by undercover police officers, who are working a drug investigation of, among others, Chuck and Reggie. She is brought to the station:

They take me up the stairs to the second floor, the Detective Unit. I sit in a little room for a while, and then two white cops come in, dark green cargo pants and big black combat boots, and big guns strapped onto their legs. They remove the guns, and put them on the table facing me.

I interviewed Lt. John Walker, a supervising officer in the Philadelphia Police Department, and read him Goffman’s description of her interrogation. It would be an understatement to say that Lieutenant Walker was incredulous. He said that, first, only SWAT members wear guns on their legs, and that interrogations aren’t done by SWAT; they’re conducted by investigative officers, i.e., detectives. Second, detectives wear business dress on the job. Third, as a matter of basic security, all personnel are prohibited from bringing weapons into interrogation rooms, let alone placing guns on a table where they could be seized by a suspect. Anyone who breaks that rule is subject to suspension without pay. (I independently confirmed these statements with two other Philadelphia police officers).

Again, as in the case of George Taylor’s eloquent speech, which so neatly encapsulates the major themes of Goffman’s book, it’s not impossible that these events took place as Goffman describes them. Perhaps, for some unexplained reason, SWAT members rather than detectives interviewed her. Perhaps they openly flouted the rules about bringing weapons into interrogation rooms. Or perhaps Goffman embellished the details of her interrogation, or invented the incident altogether.

This purported incident closely mirrors a scene in the gangster film Menace to Society (Elsewhere in the book Goffman describes how she and some of her primary informants watched such films together regularly.).

Here is Lewis-Kraus’s description of his investigation of the matter:

The hardest elements of her story to confirm are the ones that feel like cinematic exaggerations, especially with respect to police practices; several officers challenged as outlandish her claim that she was personally interrogated with guns on the table. To Goffman, however, the fact that a journalist or a legal scholar would turn to the police to confirm accusations against them is representative of the broader failure of American society to take seriously the complaints of disempowered minority communities. It’s the definition of institutional racism. When I reminded her that it was my job to try to find independent confirmation of some of her claims, she understood my own disciplinary needs and was forthcoming, if slightly begrudging, in helping me out. But at one point, when I pressed her on one of these issues, she wrote back that I seemed to be saying, ‘‘The way to validate the claims in the book is by getting officials who are white men in power to corroborate them.’’ She went on: ‘‘The point of the book is for people who are written off and delegitimated to describe their own lives and to speak for themselves about the reality they face, and this is a reality that goes absolutely against the narratives of officials or middle-­class people. So finding ‘legitimate’ people to validate the claims — it feels wrong to me on just about every level.’’

This is a remarkable passage. As to “turning to the police,” one would hope that Lewis-Kraus would have asked Goffman to tell him when and where she was supposedly interrogated, since there would at least be a record of that part of her story. Did he? (I did, and she declined to reveal this information, even though, as I pointed out in the Chronicle, revealing this information would not violate the strictures of her Institutional Review Board protocol, so her claims that confidentiality concerns were constraining her were strained at best).

Of course if she really was interrogated, it’s practically certain that the police who did so would deny putting their guns on the table in front of her, either because what Lewis-Kraus refers to delicately as a potential “cinematic exaggeration” was something she made up, or because admitting to actually having done so would be confessing to a gross violation of basic protocol, that could easily get a cop suspended, or even fired (or killed), if something had gone wrong. But we do not, despite my — and presumably Lewis-Kraus’s — investigative inquiries, have any evidence that Goffman was ever interrogated, let alone that she was treated as a genuine menace to society.

Which brings us to Goffman’s claim that skepticism about her version of events constitutes a “failure to take seriously the complaints of disempowered minority communities.” Alice Goffman was and is a white person of immense social privilege. Nothing illustrates that more forcefully than Lewis-Kraus’s article itself, which, for all its ponderous disquisitions on the nature of sociological inquiry, ends up being in substance a content-free puff piece, designed, wittingly or not, to provide social absolution in the paper of record to a white person of immense social privilege, after she published a purportedly true book full of implausible stories, not one of which Lewis-Kraus ended up being able to actually confirm, even in part, despite what were surely his best efforts to do so.

Here is the description in the Chronicle piece of another incident that Lewis-Kraus investigated:

Goffman describes how she witnessed a pair of police officers arrest Alex, a new father visiting his girlfriend in the maternity ward. He is taken away in handcuffs, as the mother of his child begs the police to let him stay with her and their newborn: “Please don’t take him away. Please, I’ll take him down there myself tomorrow, I swear — just let him stay with me tonight.” The police ignore her pleas, and they go on to arrest two other new fathers on the delivery-room floor. They then take time to respond to Goffman’s inquiries regarding their actions:

The officers told me they had come to the hospital with a shooting victim who was in custody, and as was their custom, they ran the names of the men on the visitors’ list.

Lubet ran Goffman’s account past a source in the Philadelphia police department, who described it as “outlandish.” I read the relevant passages to Lieutenant Walker and John Verrecchio, a detective in the homicide unit who led the five-year investigation that resulted in the arrest and conviction of Chuck’s killers. (Both Walker and Verrecchio said they had never heard of On the Run.) They responded in unequivocal terms when asked whether Goffman’s account of the “standard practice” of checking patient and visitor lists, and then arresting hospital visitors with outstanding warrants, was accurate. “One hundred percent false,” Walker said. In his many years on the force, he’d never heard of a single arrest that had been made from the use of such a procedure.

Verrecchio burst into laughter when he heard the passage describing the arrest in the maternity ward. “Never happened,” he said flatly. What about the more general claims regarding checking visitor lists? “They’re nonsense.”

The hospital incident involves an eyewitness narration by Goffman. It can’t be explained away by the hypothesis that in some instances she was too credulous in regard to accounts she heard from her subjects. Goffman has declined to identify the hospital, so it’s not possible to determine whether this incident took place. But it is possible to determine whether the statements Goffman says the officers made to her about the arrest’s routine nature are true, and they don’t seem to be. Independent inquiries by Lubet, Jesse Singal of New York Magazine, the Yale law professor James Forman Jr., and me have all failed to find anyone in the Philadelphia criminal-justice system who has ever heard of police officers’ checking patient and visitor lists in order to arrest people with outstanding warrants. (These inquiries included speaking to public defenders and other criminal defense lawyers, whose clients might have been arrested via such procedures. These lawyers would have no incentive to cover up questionable police practices, and indeed would be eager to confirm Goffman’s claims. None did.)

That leaves the possibility that Goffman’s account is true, and that the officers who explained their actions to her were lying about its supposedly routine nature, or they were lying about how they located Alex. But the problem with that hypothesis is that it makes Goffman’s witnessing of Alex’s arrest a piece of unbelievably — in the literal sense of the word — good fortune in regard to how it illustrates the book’s central thesis. If such arrests take place at all, they are evidently so rare that Forman, Lubet, Singal, and I have found no evidence of them. What are the odds that one of Goffman’s own primary informants was subjected to this extraordinary procedure and underwent this ordeal while Goffman herself was there to witness it?

Six hospitals in Philadelphia have maternity wards. All six deny that they would cooperate with police in the fashion described in On the Run, and indeed insisted that they were legally prohibited from doing so. Furthermore, if any people at these hospitals witnessed an incident resembling the purported arrest of Alex, I haven’t been able to find them. Of course witnesses to such a memorable event, if they exist, would be relatively easy to find, if Goffman were to reveal to an obviously sympathetic reporter where and when she witnessed that event. Clearly, she did not:

When it comes to Goffman’s assertion that officers run IDs in maternity wards to arrest wanted fathers, another short Internet search produces corroborating examples in Dallas, New Orleans and Brockton, Mass., and a Philadelphia public defender and a deputy mayor told me that the practice does not at all seem beyond plausibility. The most interesting question might not be whether Goffman was telling the truth but why she has continued to let people believe that she might not be.

Sociologically speaking, the most interesting question is why a New York Times reporter thinks that confirming via web surfing that at some time somebody somewhere in the United States has been arrested in a maternity ward has any relevance to the investigation of the very specific — and incredibly fortuitous — incident Goffman claims to have witnessed. That Lewis-Kraus’s other piece of confirmatory evidence is that he was told by a public defender that the incident “does not at all seem beyond plausibility” speaks to how desperate he is to believe that Goffman is telling the truth, especially given her evident failure to supply him, as she so easily could have done, with information that would confirm this story, or at least some aspect of it. In other words, among the people she has continued to let believe that she might not be telling the truth is Lewis-Kraus himself, although his faith in her appears to be so unshakable that the most obvious reason why this might be so remains invisible to him.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of all this is that, given his and many other peoples’ evident hunger to believe that Goffman is being on the level with her readers, Lewis-Kraus could have produced what would have been interpreted by many as a complete vindication of Goffman if he had managed to confirm the details of one — or even a part of one — of the various incidents Lubet, myself, and other critics within the academy have called into question. Yet, after many months, he was unable to meet even that minimal evidentiary standard.

Any reader who has gotten this far is by this point probably as sick of the Alice Goffman saga as I am. What continues to intrigue me, however, is her apparent ability to get supposedly hard-headed journalists to believe her. Part of the reason for this, I suspect, is that what makes On the Run an initially compelling read is, ironically, its apparent authenticity — the glimpse it provides into a demi-monde that has fascinated upper class white people for a long time, as captured most memorably in Norman Mailer’s 1957 essay “The White Negro.” That Goffman explored and chronicled this world was, above all, really cool. (The moderator of the Sociology Job Market Rumors website, which has featured much inside-baseball style discussion of the Goffman affair, sums Lewis-Kraus’s story by noting that “in the end it does feel like a [Jesse] Singal-type of ‘she drove me around Philly and I think she’s cool’ vindication.”)

A lot of people loved On the Run because, among other reasons, it seemed like an ethnographic version of The Wire. The Wire, of course, was based on a true story, or rather many true stories. But The Wire is fiction. Authors of fictions are free to embellish and invent, whether to entertain their audiences, or to throw light on the world in ways that go beyond what can be done with mere historical veracity, or both. Journalists and ethnographers, if they remain true to their crafts, are not free to take similar liberties with, to use an old-fashioned word, the truth.

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  • Morse Code for J

    If Stephen Glass had been an ethnographer instead of a journalist, he’d be admitted to the California bar now.

    • twbb

      Your sample size for determining the intellectual rigor of ethnography is one?

      Honestly one of the frustrating parts of this whole narrative is the implicit assumption by legal academics that ethnography as a method is never critically examined so needs the armchair efforts of the legal academy to do so. The history of anthropology is largely a history of the development and critique of the ethnographic method.

      • Hogan

        Honestly one of the frustrating parts of this whole narrative is the implicit assumption by legal academics that ethnography as a method is never critically examined so needs the armchair efforts of the legal academy to do so.

        Now whose sample size is one? And is Paul critiquing ethnography as a method, or one example of it?

        • twbb

          “Now whose sample size is one?”

          Not mine? 3 of the 4 Goffman critics Paul mentions above are law professors. Plus Steve Lubet’s facultylounge posts have attracted more criticism from named law professors.

          “And is Paul critiquing ethnography as a method, or one example of it?”

          Paul’s Chronicle article specifically questions ethnographic practice generally, and implies that ethnographers just accept what they’re told uncritically. Lubet offers advice to the field on how to improve itself.

          • Paul Campos

            I didn’t imply that ethnographers as a group accept what they’re told uncritically. In any case my criticisms of Goffman aren’t directed at methodological errors, unless you call making a lot of stuff up a methodological error.

            Also, On the Run is not just an ordinary ethnography. The dissertation on which it’s based won the dissertation of the year award from the American Sociological Association. (The dissertation, by the way, features much less scholarly documentation than the book, which is to say almost none at all, although you have to go to the Princeton library to discover this, since Goffman refuses to make it available more easily).

            The book has gotten extraordinarily fulsome praise from some of the top people in the field, and of course it’s probably the most widely read ethnography in recent years. All this would seem to indicate potential structural problems in the evaluation of some kinds of ethnographic work, at least at certain elite institutions (Princeton, Chicago, Penn, to name the relevant parties in AG’s case).

            • J. Otto Pohl

              The second paragraph surprises me. Generally PhD dissertations have more footnotes per page than any other form of writing. My own PhD is a little less than 100k (the maximum allowed by SOAS)and has 1019 footnotes. Or just a tad of one citation for every hundred words. A lot of other dissertations have a lot more citations than that.

              • Matt_L

                exactly, and this is true of anthropology dissertations based on extensive fieldwork. You have to document your sources.

      • IM

        So you thin the argument developed in this article – that this is an older method of ethnography/ ualitative sociology but legitimate – is right?

  • LuigiDaMan

    My brother was a police prosecutor, an assistant DA, and eventually a defense attorney. He was the kind of attorney you got if you really truly committed the crime. Based on the above incidents, Goffman’s tome seems true enough. In fact, if these are the most outlandish events in her book, I’d say she only penetrated the outer layer of police brutality/racism and cover-up.

    More important to me is why you and others continue to hound her. Professorial misogyny? Academic policing?

    Having gone through the dissertation process and seeing firsthand what PhD candidates do with facts and statistics, and no, it isn’t pretty, I’m trying to get a handle on just what exactly fuels your rage.

    Goffman may have embellished and lied. On those points she is vulnerable and deserves scrutiny and, perhaps, even censure. The continual lambasting of her methods and character are, however, way over the top.

    There are stories I could tell you from my brother’s files that make “On The Run” seem juvenile. I’m from a part of the country where the deck isn’t just stacked against minorities, said minorities aren’t even permitted in the poker room to play. You want to rail, rail against real white privilege. Put your commitments where your typewriter fingers are. Do something. Goffman is not the problem.

    Shooting the messenger makes your condensation even harder to take.

    • LeeEsq

      I love how these threads bring out people who never commented before to defend On the Run with even more uncorroborated claims.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        LuigiDaMan is what I’d call an infrequent commenter- I don’t think he’s trolling, just disagreeing

      • earl

        Well, it’s striking that this article can largely be summarized as

        reporter: “Dear Mr Piggy: did you or your officers wildly violate the law and/or de jure (as opposed to de facto) department policy?”

        Pig: “Of course not! Haw Haw Haw that supposed incident is laughable.”

        to which I reply, drawing from one of so many incidents, Laquan McDonald. Where 19 officers corroborated the murderer’s lies, 5 of them stole video from the restaurant, and we just learned more detained witnesses until they chose to corroborate the story [1].

        [1] http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/08/us/laquan-mcdonald-witness-cover-up-allegations/

        • Manny Kant

          Taking guns into interrogation rooms and laying them on the table is implausible not so much because it’s wildly illegal as because it’s wildly idiotic.

          • The Temporary Name
            • Procopius

              What town did that happen in? Was it in Arkansas by any chance? Or Arizona? I know there are some towns with really, really dumb detectives, but this sounds like the case of Aafia Siddiqui. She was the Pakistani woman who disappeared for several years and reappeared when she was tried for terrorist activities. I found most of the charges against her very implausible, too. Supposedly she was apprehended and taken to a police station in Afghanistan. The thing I found most implausible was that an Army warrant officer took his loaded M-16 rifle into the station and leaned it against the wall while preparing to interrogate her. She supposedly grabbed the weapon and shot at her interrogators and was shot in the abdomen by Army and FBI personnel. The court proceedings were pretty much in secret and I’ve never bothered to really dig into it, because it was a foregone conclusion that she was going to be sent to prison for many years, despite evidence that she was probably totally bonkers and incompetent to stand trial.

    • joe from Lowell

      Just as paleontologists are particularly excited when a new fossil fills a niche as a transitional species, I find this comment interesting because it serves as a bridge between the “unwavering insistence on the factual accuracy of the story” and the “bemoaning the damage getting caught lying has done to the cause” phases of this sort of self-inflicted controversy.

      • Richard Hershberger

        My favorite bit is the suggestion that there is a rarefied class of defense attorneys for “if you really truly committed the crime” in contrast to those run-of-the-mill defense attorneys who only handle innocent defendants.

        In the real world, as contrasted with the world of internet comments, any defense attorney will tell you, if they are being honest, that the vast majority of their clients are guilty. I have a good friend who is a criminal defense attorney. She treats the time she had an innocent client as a story to dine out on.

        It is the innocent defendant who needs the super-special defense attorney. The vast majority of the time the defense attorney’s role is to know how the system works and to help the defendant cut the best deal under the circumstances. Keep your average client out of jail, and it is win; he’ll refer all his friends to you for years to come. But the truly innocent client will be harmed–perhaps severely–by having a criminal record, regardless of jail time. So you go for an acquittal. But the system isn’t set up for this. You need a defense attorney who knows how to work it that way, too.

        • ajay

          If I had really committed a crime, I would think twice before engaging the services of an attorney who was universally known to be “the one you hire if you really committed a crime”.

          • The Dark God of Time

            Presumably, “the one you hire if you are guilty and he/she has a track record of getting people like me acquitted”

    • aaronl

      In fact, if these are the most outlandish events in her book, I’d say she only penetrated the outer layer of police brutality/racism and cover-up.

      The funny thing is, I have plenty of outlandish stories from my experiences in the criminal defense system. Some of Goffman’s dubious claims are significantly less outlandish than the “I couldn’t have made this stuff up if I tried” war stories I collected during that period of my life. The problem is not that Goffman’s disputed stories are outlandish — the problem is that they are, by all reasonable appearances, false.

      Goffman may have embellished and lied. On those points she is vulnerable and deserves scrutiny and, perhaps, even censure. The continual lambasting of her methods and character are, however, way over the top.

      What is the proper extent to which one should question the methods and character of somebody who, in your words, embellishes and lies in what is ostensibly a work of non-fiction? Is the extent to which such a person’s methods and character affected by whether that person admits to her mistakes or refuses to do so?

      • gmack

        The problem is not that Goffman’s disputed stories are outlandish — the problem is that they are, by all reasonable appearances, false.

        I have no dog in this fight; I’ve not read On the Run and probably won’t, partly because of the controversy surrounding it (I teach a class on the “Politics of Poverty,” and subject matter of this book would, if I could actually trust the book, fit nicely within that course).

        Anyway, it seems to me that the above phrase is a bit misleading. In my reading of them, many (most?) of the criticisms of Goffman take the following form: We have not been able to corroborate the events that Goffman recounts, and the events seem wildly implausible, so the most likely explanation is that she’s lying/embellishing. In other words, the claim that it looks, “to all reasonable appearances,” that some of her stories are false seems to depend on the idea that the stories don’t make sense (e.g., Paul doubts her tale about being interrogated precisely because the story violates normal police policy).

        I don’t personally think this is a bad argument, but it does place a lot of weight on the idea that the stuff she recounts is implausible. So if it is true that the stories she’s telling are not in fact implausible, then it looks to me like some of the criticisms are blunted.

        • medrawt

          I think for some people it started with the part of the book where Goffman volunteers that she participated in what, legally speaking, would be a conspiracy to commit murder; that might make some folks scrutinize other aspects of the book. But beyond that, it’s not only that “some of the stories are implausible” – it’s that some of the stories initially seemed plausible, or fell into the category of things that we might be primed to believe (whatever Goffman thinks, many of her critics don’t seem like dupes of the white power structure) … except that when the attempt was made to find out more information about these incredible stories or practices, nothing was there.

          And then there are, IIRC, her admissions that in addition to changing some details to help anonymize her subjects she actually inverted some timelines, supposedly to assist in the obscuring (not, apparently, that any of it was effective), so that elements of the book really may not be as “truthful” as they appear to be, in a journalistic sense. That doesn’t help her credibility when it comes to the stuff that does seem flat out implausible – like her story about interrogations being conducted with a gun on the table.

          • Justaguy

            And then there are, IIRC, her admissions that in addition to changing some details to help anonymize her subjects she actually inverted some timelines, supposedly to assist in the obscuring (not, apparently, that any of it was effective), so that elements of the book really may not be as “truthful” as they appear to be, in a journalistic sense. That doesn’t help her credibility when it comes to the stuff that does seem flat out implausible – like her story about interrogations being conducted with a gun on the table.

            Except that changing nonessential details to protect one’s informants is not considered dishonest in an ethnography, especially since Goffman explicitly states she is doing just that.

            • libarbarian

              That might be more persuasive if she didn’t leave enough details in to rather easily identify some of the people .. for example “Chuck”.

              IIRC, a critic found out his name rather easily with a simple search of the murders in Philly during the rough timeframe “Chuck” was killed.

            • aaronl

              Except that changing nonessential details to protect one’s informants…

              To argue that Hoffman fabricated details about an anecdote that involved only herself and a couple of police officers in order to protect her informants is… pretty absurd. Are you trying to convince us that the police weren’t aware of this incident? Recognize this: The only way that’s possible is if she fabricated the incident.

              • Justaguy

                I didn’t say that at all. Medrawt claimed that her changing the timeline makes her less believable. But it is both a standard convention of the genre, and something she openly stated she was doing. So, regardless of what you think about any given incident she recounts, Goffman changing the timeline doesn’t in and of itself make her less credible. Ethnography is not journalism.

                • medrawt

                  That’s interesting to know; I would not have thought that altering chronology was an accepted practice. (If nothing else, I would think it distorts the perception of how events affect the subjects.) I continue to think that this book, which was been marketed and received very differently than I imagine ethnographic texts usually are (I compared the Amazon pages of some of the other volumes in the UofC Press series of which this is a part), has really been marketed to the general public as a work of journalism, something akin to Nickel and Dimed, and to the extent that the practices Goffman followed are different than what we would expect of a journalist, it’s the responsibility of her and her publishers, choosing to engage the publicity as I believe they have, to make those things clear.

                  But Goffman’s inability to just provide satisfactory answers on this sort of stuff doesn’t speak well, in my opinion, and I can’t let go of the incredulity Campos has that the journalist in this piece basically seems to say “Yeah, I don’t know why she behaves like this, but I like her, so she’s probably honest, even though I’ve been given no concrete reason to believe it!” The most charitable assumption I can come up with is that she’s so inside a very particular bubble that she really can’t understand what the perspective is of the people looking in (said looking being something in which she has to be at least partly complicit, or did she try NOT to get her book reviewed in the New York Times, etc.?)

        • aaronl

          Anyway, it seems to me that the above phrase is a bit misleading. In my reading of them, many (most?) of the criticisms of Goffman take the following form:….

          So a guy comes into a store and states, “I left my apartment five minutes ago to come here, but on the way I took a side trip to the moon and back”, you are going to infer what? That he’s using a metaphor? That he’s lying? That he’s mentally ill? But you’re going to recognize that it’s very obvious that he’s not speaking the literal truth — that he pulled a Neil Armstrong journey to the moon and back during a five minute stroll from his apartment to the store.

          For people who don’t know much about what happens in a criminal court or jail that they have picked up from TV crime dramas, perhaps the more ludicrous of Goffman’s claims seem plausible. If your knowledge of space travel comes entirely from your belief that Star Trek is a documentary, perhaps you also believe that the side trip to the moon could have occurred. But when you are more familiar with reality, the story simply isn’t plausible. And it’s not just one implausible story — it’s multiple stories.

          Further, Goffman has chosen to hammer nails into the coffin in which she buried her credibility by refusing to come up with any corroborating details that would allow independent verification of her implausible fables. Why do you suppose that she make such a choice?

          • J. Otto Pohl

            If it was Sun Ra he could have made the trip. ;-)

        • Procopius

          Paul doubts her tale about being interrogated precisely because the story violates normal police policy

          I think it goes beyond violating normal police policy. It violates elementary common sense. I would regard taking a loaded weapon into a jail cell or interrogation room as suicidal, not just idiotic. And what would be the point of taking an unloaded weapon in? It’s a heavy, hard object that could fit in the hand nicely and be used as a club against me. Granted I was a soldier for twenty years and had such scenarios explained to me, but I would think that would apply even more to police officers. Just sayin’.

    • Morse Code for J

      She sexed up her book-dissertation with stories she probably had heard secondhand or seen in movies. If that’s something she wanted to do without being called on it, she should have presented “On the Run” as a novel rather than a work of academic inquiry.

      • PhoenixRising

        Or…memoir.

        Not to be That Guy, but having published a book that I wrote/researched/sourced as non-fiction in the memoir genre, because the demand was for what I’d proposed plus a lot of personal story–publishers push anything that is ‘based on verifiable facts’ that are not going to be verified by the author (or third parties) into that bucket.

        Even then, she might be in James Whatsis territory…but she probably would have gotten away with it. (Pro tip: Granville, Ohio is not a big enough town to make up anything about the cops in.)

    • sibusisodan

      Goffman may have embellished and lied. On those points she is vulnerable and deserves scrutiny and, perhaps, even censure. The continual lambasting of her methods and character are, however, way over the top.

      But that’s what it means if one embellishes and lies as an academic: that your methods and character aren’t great.

      You can’t legitimately ask for some kind of chinese wall between criticism of this specific evidence in this specific piece, without that somehow affecting the assessment of that person, and their scholarship as a whole.

      I appreciate the point that the effects on the academy as a result of this are nowhere near as long-lasting or consequential as things that Goffman is investigating. That does not necessarily mean the academy can let this slide, though.

    • Rob in CT

      This sort of defense of Goffman only helps support Paul’s argument.

      This is ridiculous.

    • Humpty-Dumpty

      I hate it when there’s condensation all over the freshly-shot messenger. It’s just too humid in these comments.

    • The Temporary Name

      Goffman may have embellished and lied. On those points she is vulnerable and deserves scrutiny and, perhaps, even censure. The continual lambasting of her methods and character are, however, way over the top.

      These sentences don’t make sense together.

      • djw

        That really is an extraordinary paragraph.

        • ChrisTS

          I wonder if there is a difference, here, for non-academics and academics?

          For academics, honesty/accuracy/carefulness are essential to one’s character qua academic. AG might be a very fine person in other respects (kind to kids, pets, and old ladies, etc.). But her character as an academic is what is in question.

      • twbb

        I don’t understand the lack of understanding here. “Censure” can be differentiated from “continuous lambasting.”

        Let’s take Lubet as an example. Criticizing Goffman’s methods: appropriate. Calling around to active police officers and prosecutors and asking them if she committed a crime wink wink is not.

        • Paul Campos

          Criticizing Goffman’s methods: appropriate. Calling around to active police officers and prosecutors and asking them if she committed a crime wink wink is not.

          Why?

          • Justaguy

            I’m curious, if you were a practicing lawyer and Goffman came to you as a client, would you advise her to speak freely with people who were accusing her of a crime? Or would you tell her to keep her mouth shut?

            • Paul Campos

              Oh I would absolutely tell her not to talk. But naturally my interests as an academic and a journalist in this matter are diametrically opposed to what my client’s interests would be if I were in that role.

              • Justaguy

                Sure, but why is that not a straightforward explanation to her failure to respond to critics? She claims she isn’t doing so because people are accusing her of felonies. It is clearly in her best interests not to be more open.

                • medrawt

                  But people are accusing her of felonies, in part, because she wrote that she committed at least one felony. I mean …

                • Paul Campos

                  It’s a straightforward explanation for her failure to respond to critics in re the Glock rides, but it’s no explanation at all for her failure to respond in regard to everything else about the book that’s been criticized, which has nothing to do with any potential felonies.

                  BTW the only reason she would (theoretically) be in trouble about the Glock rides is if she didn’t make that stuff up, which I suspect she did. Indeed her response to Lubet comes very close to admitting as much.

                • ChrisTS

                  As Paul says, that is only one ‘incident’ under question. Lubet was suggesting that, if true, her story indicated felonious conduct. This doesn’t explain why she is not forthcoming on all the rest of it.

          • twbb

            Putting aside the clear (to me) moral illegitimacy of conspiracy that criminalizes things that can’t already be proscribed by accessory charges, or the historical tendency of prosecutors to overreach with conspiracy, is Lubet an academic criticizing academic work or is he a police informant? Its not enough to try to derail her career, he wants her in jail? You don’t see any morally questionable problems with this?

            • Paul Campos

              Lubet is a former criminal defense lawyer, and he is, it’s safe to say, perfectly aware that for various practical reasons the chances that AG would be prosecuted for her averred conduct as described in OTR are zero.

              The claim that he’s “informing” on someone by pointing to a passage in that person’s best-selling book is a peculiar use of that term.

              • ChrisTS

                And I, at least, have seen no evidence that he wants her prosecuted.

        • The Temporary Name

          I don’t understand the lack of understanding here. “Censure” can be differentiated from “continuous lambasting.”

          Sure it CAN be. So what? Why should I care if her being censured for being a liar and embellisher results in her being constantly referenced as a liar and embellisher?

          • djw

            The “continuous” factor is surely partly because of how the relevant professional academic organizations and institutions don’t appear to be taking the issues raised seriously.

            If the quantitative/experimental political science community, Science, UCLA, and Princeton University had circled the wagons for Michael Lacour, you can be sure the critical coverage of his fraudulent research would have a been a great deal more continuous. And if Hugo Schwyzer was still teaching at Pasadena CC and being published in major feminist outlets, you’d see a lot more about him. To be clear, I’m not asserting Goffman’s misdeeds were comparable, nor that the consequences should be as harsh. But criticizing the coverage of apparant fraud for not stopping after a story or two when the relevant institutions take no steps to address it is silly.

            • The Temporary Name

              Yes. Values of “continuous” may vary.

    • Warren Terra

      My brother was a police prosecutor, an assistant DA, and eventually a defense attorney

      What is a “police prosecutor”? A quick Google finds evidence that the office does exist, in countries other than the US, but possibly not in jurisdictions that also have “assistant DAs”.

      • djw

        My first thought was “special prosecutor who focuses on prosecuting police officers” so I’m not surprised to learn it doesn’t exist.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          It exists in Australia and New Zealand.

      • Marek

        This is a real term in some American jurisdictions. Seriously, you think that because you haven’t heard of it, another commentator must have made it up?

        I have no idea what Goffman saw, or didn’t see, and I agree that it should be easier to corroborate at least some of her stories. But don’t forget that the Philadelphia police department bombed a neighborhood under its protection in living memory. I don’t see how they have earned the benefit of any doubts.

        • aaronl

          If the Philadelphia police department were to deny the MOVE catastrophe from back in 1985, their denial would not be credible. But they aren’t denying that it happened.

          You’re engaging in special pleading. The question of whether or not Goffman’s stories are true has absolutely nothing to do with the city in which her stories are based.

          • Marek

            Hey, where’d my goalposts go?

            I was attacking the reliability and good faith of someone speaking on behalf of the PPD. I have no idea what Goffman saw, but I’m not inclined to believe the cited assertion of the PPD without strong corroboration, in part due to the PPD’s history of violence and abuse.

            • aaronl

              So your argument is that you were not engaging in special pleading, but that you were instead relying on guilt by association?

        • Hogan

          The Philadelphia police have done bad things.

          This is a bad thing.

          Therefore the Philadelphia police probably did this.

          • Malaclypse

            While that is indeed normally a bad syllogism, I remember Frank Rizzo, so I’m inclined to make an exception.

            EDIT: which is in no way a statement regarding Goffman’s veracity one way ot the other.

          • Marek

            That’s not what I said. But, OK, fine, here’s another. The Baltimore police have a policy regarding transportation of prisoners. When put under oath, a police officer defendant testified that no one follows the policy. This is an example of why one should not take at face value the assertion that a particular action was against policy, and therefore, didn’t happen.

            I represented police officers for years. My impression was that most of them were honest, well-intentioned people. But I wouldn’t assume that an unsworn, untested assertion as to policy, and the extent to which policy is followed, is true.

            • Hogan

              Independent inquiries by Lubet, Jesse Singal of New York Magazine, the Yale law professor James Forman Jr., and me have all failed to find anyone in the Philadelphia criminal-justice system who has ever heard of police officers’ checking patient and visitor lists in order to arrest people with outstanding warrants. (These inquiries included speaking to public defenders and other criminal defense lawyers, whose clients might have been arrested via such procedures. These lawyers would have no incentive to cover up questionable police practices, and indeed would be eager to confirm Goffman’s claims. None did.)

              • Marek

                I read it just fine the first time, thanks. Vague assertions about solicitations of hearsay and appeals to authority (YLS! OMG!) don’t constitute evidence in my line of work.

                • joe from Lowell

                  Remind me who it is that is making assertions of fact that ought to be backed up by evidence and aren’t?

        • The Temporary Name

          My weakness for hating cops does not prevent me from smelling bullshit.

        • joe from Lowell

          I have no idea what Goffman saw, or didn’t see, and I agree that it should be easier to corroborate at least some of her stories. But don’t forget that the Philadelphia police department bombed a neighborhood under its protection in living memory. I don’t see how they have earned the benefit of any doubts.

          We invaded Iraq based on logic like this.

    • Norrin Radd

      So long as we’re trading family stories. I was raised by a cop, a good one, and as a kid he would often take me to “the office” to show me his trade. Sometimes “the office” was a squad car, soometimes it was a station house , and sometimes it was a jail. In both the station house and the jail cops take extreme precautions to preclude the ability of detainees and prisoners of getting their hands on weapons. Signs are prominently posted reminding officers not to take guns inside of holding areas. Ms Goffman has written what we call a tall tale. It sounds like an entertaining piece, one that Elmore Leonard would be proud of. I hope Hollywood richly rewards Miss Goffman for her efforts, I just hope they cast Delroy Lindof and Idris Elba in the movie.

      • rea

        Elmore Leonard is usually more realistic

    • ChrisTS

      Condensation?

      • Warren Terra

        Don’t condensend to him!

    • brad

      Sure, because the RS UVA story isn’t now permanently enshrined in the canon of “all rape claims are false” ‘evidence’ list.

      It’s a sad but necessary fact that when reporting on the hard truths those reporting have to hold themselves to the highest possible standards so as to make the realities they are trying to report on inescapable. Goffman failed that standard, and instead of admitting mistakes or trying to fade into the woodwork she’s making it about her.

    • Jeff Ryan

      I was a prosecutor in Chicago for years, as well as a defense attorney. (I’ll let that simmer while I move on.)

      I have not read the book, and have followed this controversy in a desultory fashion. But truth does matter. And the failure to use it can only undercut any impact the author wishes to have.

      All of that said, I spent many, many hours with cops, mainly detectives, but patrolmen and Tac officers as well, and her story about the hospital and the “interrogation” seem ludicrous to me. First, I have never heard of cops checking “visitor” sign-in sheets to locate people with warrants (though I have seen it on TV, which might be telling). I don’t know of any hospital that would stand for it. And I spent quite a few hours in hospitals looking for victims and witnesses and I doubt the cops I was with would have ignored such a method as the author depicts if they were allowed to use it. (And, trust me, in a hospital, the staff, not the cops, rules.)

      Nor would any cop who wished to live past the next few minutes take his gun off and put it on a table with a civilian present. That is insane.

      The accounts don’t hold water, leaving me to doubt the accuracy and reliability of the book itself. And that has nothing to do with “white privilege.” It has to do with simple experience.

      • The Temporary Name

        Just getting things done with a list of names seems ridiculous. “Aha! John Smith signed in and I KNOW that guy has a warrant, him being the only John Smith of that name!”

    • Crusty

      According to the movies and maybe a couple of episodes of NYPD Blue and maybe the Wire too, the thing to do is not to put your gun on the table, but to make a big show of taking your gun off, taking it outside the room leaving it out there and then going back into the room to rough up the perp. I gather that this is done so that there is some sort of sense that the cop beat up the perp in a “fair fight,” i.e., it wouldn’t be gentlemanly to beat somebody up while also holding a gun, and also, in case the perp fights back, he can’t get your gun.

  • J. Otto Pohl

    I haven’t read the book under scrutiny here. But, this post seems pretty compelling evidence that some of the events described in the book either did not take place or took place in a very different manner than the book claims. That is at best sloppy for a non-fiction piece. But, Campos seems to be suggesting that the author is guilty of something considerably more sinister than merely being sloppy and making unintentional errors. It is one thing for an academic or journalist to make mistakes. It is quite another thing to deliberately make stuff up.

    • LeeEsq

      If Goffman is telling at least the partial truth, she kind of admitted to committing a very serious felony as part of her research, conspiracy to commit murder.

    • postmodulator

      I don’t see how you get to “unintentional errors” from the citations above. Did the cops put things that *looked* like guns on the table?

      • J. Otto Pohl

        Read what I wrote again. Here is the relevant phrase, “guilty of something considerably more sinister than merely being sloppy and making unintentional errors.”

        • mark

          The “But” at the beginning of that sentence does a lot of work, though, since to me it seems to put Campos’ interpretation in contrast with the “sloppy” hypothesis, for which you agree there is sufficient evidence.

          Now I think maybe you meant it to contrast to the degree of crime (ie, worse than sloppy) but I was honestly not sure what you were trying to suggest in your comment, mostly because of that phrasing.

          • J. Otto Pohl

            The “but” is intended merely as a segue.

            • Marek

              When I tried to use a segue, I fell on my but.

      • twbb

        She might have honestly remembered it as happening. She might have been told by someone else that it happened to them and combined the stories in her memory.

        • Paul Campos

          Maybe Michael LaCour “remembers” having done that survey. Memory can be a tricky thing. Maybe Princeton was a little hasty a in yanking that job offer.

        • Norrin Radd

          That’s why ethnographers have this thing called “pen and paper” and “take notes”. Why some of the younger “millennial” ethnographers use these things called smartphones to “dictate” notes.

          • ChrisTS

            Exactly. And she claims to have kept voluminous notes. (Until she destroyed them.)

          • twbb

            “Hold on, stop the interrogation for a second, I want to write down something, officer. What? No, of course you can’t see what I’m writing. Now just sit down and be quiet and I will let you know when you can resume interrogating me.”

            • Lost Left Coaster

              Give me a break, you always write field notes as soon as you can after an incident. In other words, once she was free to do so — surely within 24 hours after this interrogation took place. That’s plenty of time to get down important details like, “they took their guns out and put them on the table, facing me.”

              • Paul Campos

                The rationalizations that AG’s defenders employ are interesting in and of themselves, precisely because so many of them are so absurd on their face.

                • Lost Left Coaster

                  Yes, and as an ethnographer, I am frustrated that it is these defenders of Goffman, and for the most part not Goffman’s critics, who are woefully misrepresenting what ethnography is and how it is carried out in the field. Some of Goffman’s defenders are making it sound like ethnography is not rigorous but rather is just a bunch of stuff someone remembers later and hopes it is true and writes it down.

                • Paul Campos

                  Yes, and as an ethnographer, I am frustrated that it is these defenders of Goffman, and for the most part not Goffman’s critics, who are woefully misrepresenting what ethnography is and how it is carried out in the field. Some of Goffman’s defenders are making it sound like ethnography is not rigorous but rather is just a bunch of stuff someone remembers later and hopes it is true and writes it down.

                  I recently interviewed an ethnographer about her new book, because I had some questions about what sort of procedures she had used to make sure she was both relaying what she had observed accurately, and to check out the extent to which what she had observed was typical, unusual, etc.

                  What she revealed was a panoply of sophisticated methods that were worlds apart from Goffman — who according to the Times story is somebody who can’t remember basic details about her own life, or where an office that she’s visited several times in the past week is, but who should be trusted in regard to her purported recollections because of reasons.

                • djw

                  Yes, and as an ethnographer, I am frustrated that it is these defenders of Goffman, and for the most part not Goffman’s critics, who are woefully misrepresenting what ethnography is and how it is carried out in the field. Some of Goffman’s defenders are making it sound like ethnography is not rigorous but rather is just a bunch of stuff someone remembers later and hopes it is true and writes it down.

                  Substitute “fan of ethnographic research” for “ethnographer” and this is my reaction as well. I don’t know whether the people circling the wagons for her have decided defender her work at all costs is a sufficiently important goal that they’re willing to risk appearing pretty silly to do it, or whether they don’t realize how silly their defenses make them look, but either way it doesn’t reflect well of some non-trivial subset of this scholarly community.

        • Lost Left Coaster

          No, that is not how it works. When you write an ethnography, you don’t just sit down and remember stuff and hope for the best and write it down.

          So if she’s just sitting around and thinking, well, I remember that, it may or may not be true but might as well put it in the book — that would be malpractice.

          • twbb

            Yes, it would be. Malpractice does not mean she was intentionally lying.

            • ColBatGuano

              That is a very fine hair to split.

              • twbb

                There’s actually a huge difference, especially in academia.

                • ChrisTS

                  No, there is not. For an academic, sloppiness and indifference to accuracy are malpractice.

  • LeeEsq

    Its more than just fascination with the demi-mode that makes On the Run compelling to many people that should know better. On the Run provides “evidence” for a lot of what people want to believe about all that is horrible in American policing and criminal justice but in a more sexy way than actual events. Its like the Rolling Stone-UVA story in that way, its confirmation bias for an existing world view.

    • aaronl

      I agree. Had the work been presented as a fictionalized account of the S.E. Hinton genre, there would be no controversy, and the embellishments would be regarded as artistic flourishes.

    • Lee Rudolph

      fascination with the demi-mode

      That’s getting into Married to the Mob territory.

      • LeeEsq

        That’s how Paul describes it. I think that Goffman’s defenders are acting more along the lines of confirmation bias.

        • wjts

          Whoosh, as the kids are saying these days.

          • Lee Rudolph

            Clearly, in this case less would have been Moore.

            • wjts

              Except it was Michelle Pfeiffer. (Directed by Jonathan Demme and featuring some wild costumes, though, so I guess you could go that way.)

              • Hogan

                THANK YOU. I had NO idea what was going on here.

  • aaronl

    I’m not one to deny the racial, and at times racist, elements of our criminal justice system. But when I read the anecdotes you’re describing, the image that comes to mind is not my experience with criminal defendants and criminal defense, but with TV and movie crime dramas for which verisimilitude must never get in the way of the plot or an action sequence.

    The article opens with the credulous acceptance of the claim that Goffman destroyed her notes to protect her sources from police investigation (except, as is later revealed, the notebooks to which she felt a sentimental attachment), then shares another rather ludicrous anecdote in which TSA agents overlook bullets and shell casings in her carry-on and instead focus on “a young man with brown skin”. Anybody here want to try getting a bag through airport security despite its containing a bullet or shell casing?

    She acknowledges a variety of errors and inconsistencies, mostly the results of a belabored anonymization process, but otherwise persuasively explains many of the lingering issues. There is, for example, a convincing defense of her presence in the supposedly closed juvenile court and a quite reasonable clarification of the mild confusion over what she witnessed firsthand and what she reconstructed from interviews — along with explanations for even the most peculiar and deranged claims of her anonymous attacker, including why Mike does his laundry at home in one scene and at a laundromat in another.

    Given the brevity of Lewis-Kraus’s article, it’s understandable why we’re only told that there are good explanations, and not what those articles are, right? Oh, wait…

    Some critics called far-­fetched, for example, her claim that an F.B.I. agent in Philadelphia drew up a new computer surveillance system after watching a TV broadcast about the East German Stasi. If you search the Internet for ‘‘Philadelphia cop Stasi documentary,’’ a substantiating item from The Philadelphia Inquirer from 2007 is the second hit.

    It might be corroborating if the $39.95 mapping software described in the article could reasonably be deemed a “computer surveillance system”….

    …after finishing her dissertation in 2010, she spent two years on a postdoctoral fellowship in Michigan (she threw away the two years of field notes she took there, fearing an even worse version of the criticisms she got for ‘‘On the Run’’)….

    Wait — did she destroy her notes because she was afraid that the police would demand to see them in order to prosecute her friends, or did she destroy her notes to stymie her critics? And if the latter, how could she possibly believe that destroying her notes would help her buttress her credibility?

    I’ve followed this story since… I came across your blog post. I may not actually be as sick of the saga as you are, given how long you’ve been following it, but I suspect I’m close.

    • Hogan

      So out of fear of criticism for, among other things, destroying her notes, she . . . destroyed her notes.

      That’s what I call brassing it out.

    • Dave W.

      then shares another rather ludicrous anecdote in which TSA agents overlook bullets and shell casings in her carry-on and instead focus on “a young man with brown skin”.

      I was struck by the same idea on first reading, and went back and re-read the passage more carefully. She didn’t actually say that the carry-on currently had bullets and shell casings in it, only that it had in the past. She was suddenly struck by the possibility that it might still have some, since she hadn’t checked it carefully before heading to the airport and putting it on the X-ray belt. But she never says that it actually did have any contraband – only that she felt that the TSA agents would treat her differently if they did flag something than they would the guy with the brown skin.

      • aaronl

        They would have treated her differently. For some reason, he was supposedly treated with suspicion. She would have been treated to a full body massage (so to speak), some time in detention, and would have had a strong chance of facing a criminal charge.

      • ASV

        The more I think about this passage, the more frustrating it becomes, and that’s saying something in the context of everything else. As I see it, there are a few possibilities here:

        1. It’s very clumsy writing and she meant to say that she did, in fact, have bullets in her bag, and TSA didn’t care — the implication being that they let the white woman through even though she had banned objects because they were too busy with their racist search of a young man with brown skin. This strikes me as quite implausible, because I have flown on airplanes many times. I’m a white man, and my wife is a white woman; we’ve both been randomly pulled several times. Sometimes other people (sometimes white people!) are getting pulled at the same time, so it’s not like they only have the capacity to search one person at a time. I will also note that the TSA employs many non-white agents, and it’s hard to see what their incentive would be to behave as Goffman describes here. Any white person who takes this reading as correct and accurate is invited to try to carry some contraband onto a plane.

        2. Given all that, assume the writing is an obscure but accurate description of the contents of her bag — that is, it once held bullets but did not at the time she’s talking about. If that’s the case, what is the point of this story? It seems fairly obvious that it’s there to illustrate a point about institutional racism and privilege, but in practice, “a non-white person was being searched and I didn’t get stopped even though at one time in the past I was carrying something that is banned on airplanes,” is not illustrative of anything.

        3. Alternately, the point is her show of “solidarity” with the young man being searched. But, you know, making eye contact with a stranger getting hassled by the TSA is not likely to be taken as solidarity. And the connection between the solidarity and her once bullet-laden bag is what? Everything about the interaction as it exists in her head is manifestly influenced by her perception of what it is to be “a young man with brown skin” and the context of her experiences carrying a bag with bullets in it. What kind of asshole tells a story of seeing a young man with brown skin being searched (I guess — maybe talked to, maybe detained, who knows?) by security personnel and gives it the punchline, “And then he ignored my ‘Fight the power’ glance”?

        Ugh. Every time this comes back up I get more angry about it.

        • ajay

          she did, in fact, have bullets in her bag, and TSA didn’t care — the implication being that they let the white woman through even though she had banned objects because they were too busy with their racist search of a young man with brown skin. This strikes me as quite implausible

          It’s implausible that they didn’t care. It is entirely plausible that they didn’t notice; firearms and explosives are regularly carried through airport security in the US undetected, either in DOT tests or by accident. The case I remember particularly was about 10 years ago, a senior Israeli policeman in the US for a conference who realised to his horror, on unpacking in his hotel, that he had inadvertently brought his issue sidearm with him in his carryon luggage, passing through security at both Ben Gurion and JFK airports without it being detected.

  • Warren Terra

    Does anyone know whether Goffman is facing any sort of formal inquiry from her current institution? There seems to be real controversy as to whether she faked significant portions of her thesis, which would disqualify her from a faculty job …

    • Hogan
      • Warren Terra

        Given the seriousness of the allegations, that would seem to be rather inadequate.

  • BiloSagdiyev

    This is a picayune point, but it’s a new trend, and I want to bitch.

    They had “big guns” strapped to their thighs? Two or three times in the past few months I’ve heard people in the media (liberal/artsy types) say “big gun” when talking about a gun that isn’t all that big. I know there’s a cultural divide on guns on this country (and I don’t mind) but yeesh. Did this police department have a 19th century Colt Peacemaker day every other Friday?

    Shorter: pistols aren’t big guns.

    Now, was it “Menace to Society”? Or was it “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”? Were these cops wearing orange watch caps?

    • aaronl

      One of the passages of the Times article that caught my eye was this one:

      In one scene, two white officers in SWAT gear break down a house door, “with guns strapped to the sides of their legs.” She continues, “The first officer in pointed a gun at me and asked who was in the house; he continued to point the gun toward me as he went up the stairs.”

      I found myself wondering, was the gun still strapped to his leg? (That would also be a very odd way to secure the premises.)

      The description of “big guns” in the passage quoted by Campos seemed to me to be more about trying to convey an understanding that the guns were intimidating, as opposed to actually being about their size. But I find it exceptionally difficult to believe that the anecdote has any truth to it as, leaving aside the fact that officers conducting the interrogation would not have had guns strapped to their legs, as Campos implies, officers value their lives too much to effectively hand their firearms over to a suspect.

      • so-in-so

        Never mind the “big guns”, the idea of SWAT team members ascending a stair case while looking backwards pointing a gun at another person on the floor below strikes me as really unlikely tactics.

    • Downpuppy

      It was “Wanted : Dead or Alive” & they were 1892 Winchester Mare’s Leg rifles.

    • Warren Terra

      I am so f’ing heartily sick of Gun Snobbery, by which I mean the tendency of firearm aficionados to sneeringly condescend to anyone who dares to write anything about their beloved thundersticks without first undergoing a three year apprenticeship in modern weaponry and then passing a written exam. These people trumpet their triumph when anyone dares to venture an opinion regarding munitions while failing some shibboleth such as saying “bullets” instead of “cartridges” making some slight but irrelevant error upon which the gun devotee can rhapsodize as if this disqualifies the offender from having opinions.

      Goffman is accused of many things, and may have fabricated significant parts of her thesis. This is a terribly serious offense if true! On the other hand, your complaint is absurd. Questioning the imposing size she claims to have perceived of guns brandished at her just makes you look bad. Maybe it never happened, and she made it up – but if it did happen, she can refer to the guns as gargantuan for all anyone gets to care.

      • ChrisTS

        I think you’re being a bit hard on Bilo, but I agree with your rejection of the “you must be an expert and use proper terminology to have a view” deflection.

        I don’t really know much about vaccines, for example, but I know enough about vaccine safety studies to know the anti-vaxxers are nuts.

        • N__B

          Drive ’em all nuts: refer to vaccines as “magic bullets” and syringes as “magic cartridges.”

          • ChrisTS

            :-)

      • FridayNext

        Thank YOU! (he said while slow clapping) I’m tired of hearing this from some gun owners. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had some mistake of vocabulary (I think I confused rounds for clips or something) used against me in discussion. Then when I point out that they don’t know the difference between climate and weather (look how hard it’s snowing today. You still believe in global WARMING) or how science works (“Evolution is ONLY a theory”) suddenly I’M the pedant.

        From the context of her story we can guess, within acceptable parameters of error, what type of guns she is talking about. That detail, right or wrong, hardly damns or vindicates one way or another.

      • Captain Oblivious

        With you, WT.

        Not defending Goffman, but clearly she meant “big” to mean “big for a sidearm” and not “big for any cartridge-firing weapon”, in which case the main guns on the USS New Jersey would win the prize.

        Some pistols are quite large for hand guns.

        If you fold a standard (for the US) sheet of 8.5×11 paper in half, your typical standard-frame modern pistol (e.g. Glock 17) will be about that size, maybe a hair smaller, but only a hair. It will weigh somewhere between 2 and 3 pounds fully loaded with a non-extending magazine, depending on the brand, model, and magagazine capacity.

        At the other extreme, fold that piece of paper in half again, and you’ve got the rough dimensions of a Beretta 21A Bobcat or similar “pocket” pistol.

        So yeah, a Kimber II or Glock 21 is “big” within the context of hand guns, and Bilo is just picking nuts.

        • Captain Oblivious

          Adding…

          Gun wackos will redefine their own long-standing terminology just to take the piss out on gun control supporters.

          A case in point is the term “safety”. Until fairly recently, this was understood by all to mean “external” or “thumb” safety — some kind of device that had to be activated manually. Then Glock started aggressively marketing their crap in the US, and Glocks came under fire for having no safeties, and the NRA crowd started claiming “Oh, yes they do! They have internal safeties and a trigger safety!”**.

          Another one is “automatic”. Until fairly recently, any weapon that moved the next round into the chamber by some means other than manual effort or a mechanical action initiated by the actual trigger pull (e.g., as on a revolver) was regarded by all as “automatic”. The distinctions “fully automatic” and “semi-automatic” were made primarily for classification purposes, but both variants were still regarded as “automatic”. Now you have the NRA loons arguing that calling a semi-auto an auto is “wrong”.

          They’d claim a Granny Smith isn’t an apple because apples are red, if they think it would piss off gun control advocates.

          **ETA: When you read about some kid finding dad’s gun and shooting himself or his sibling by accident, read Glock (or revolver — most revolvers don’t have safeties). The Glock “safe-action trigger” is only meant to guard against the trigger being engaged by getting snagged on clothing or the holster. There’s obviously no safety when it otherwise does nothing to lock out the trigger.

        • alex284

          This is what I thought.

          “big” is relative. A protein might be described as “huge” by a biochemist, but that doesn’t meant that you have to worry about it squashing your house.

          Also too, “big” is subjective. Here it might just mean “scary.” It might not have been all the big, but if the story did happen, I can imagine someone who hasn’t seen many guns thinking that the gun is big just because it’s scary.

        • William Berry

          Gun pedant gotcha:

          “the main guns on the USS New Jersey would win the prize.”

          The sixteen inch guns aren’t eligible for the prize. The shells and the gunpowder were loaded separately, not in cartridges.

          Haven’t you seen “A Glimpse of Hell”? :)

      • BiloSagdiyev

        I am so f’ing heartily sick of Gun Snobbery, by which I mean the tendency of firearm aficionados to sneeringly condescend to anyone who dares to write anything about their beloved thundersticks without first undergoing a three year apprenticeship in modern weaponry and then passing a written exam. These people trumpet their triumph when anyone dares to venture an opinion regarding munitions while failing some shibboleth such as saying “bullets” instead of “cartridges” making some slight but irrelevant error upon which the gun devotee can rhapsodize as if this disqualifies the offender from having opinions.

        I am, too, actually. But I want libs to be a little more literate, so they aren’t dismissed out of hand so often. Simple things get bungled in the media all the time, because they’re generally not gun people. (BTW, I am not a gun person, either. Don’t have one, don’t want one, don’t worship them.)

        I didn’t interpret this as “when they brandished it in my face, it seemed huge.” It was just a passing refernce to “big guns.” I’d like the un-gunned in this country, just for basic political reasons, to least understand the concept of

        pistol
        rifle
        shotgun

        That’s just a basic set of categories.

        I don’t demand that everybody like them or care, but I think it’s important to know, because we are living in an armed madhouse. ( h/t Greg Palast)

        • Warren Terra

          I am aware of the term “long guns” as having a meaningful definition, but not “big guns”, a term that I (as another non-habitue of gun-worshipping circles) have mostly encountered in accounts of historical naval battles, distinguishing the big guns from the piddling six-inchers and such.

          In any case, it’s a perfectly reasonable reading of the passage that to her the guns seemed humongous (and as mentioned above there is a huge range in sizes of handguns). If of course the scene ever happened.

        • alex284

          “But I want libs to be a little more literate, so they aren’t dismissed out of hand so often. ”

          The idea that gun nuts dismiss liberals out of hand because we fail to use the correct vocabulary is nonsense.

          That’s the pretext.

          The real reason for the dismissal is because they’re in love with their killing machines and they’re never going to give them up so they don’t want to hear anything bad about their precious toys.

          • BiloSagdiyev

            D’oh! I forgot to mention that in my high speed typing. I think our side should make an effort to know something more about guns, but yeah, no matter what we do, it will never be enough. It is a pretext, when the real subject is, I DON’T WANNA DIE! I don’t want to be shot by some kook! All are qualified to enter that debate.

            And I swear, the Murka I grew up in, everybody said “clip”. Gun people, too.

            I wish I could remember who else I heard basically saying, ERMAGERD! BIG GUN! I think it was David Sedaris. Which is probably another subject.

        • aaronl

          just for basic political reasons, to least understand the concept of….

          Thank goodness for firearm vocabulary lessons from R. Lee Ermey.

      • Marek

        Harrumph.

    • alex284

      OTOH if I started going through grindr pointing out all the guns that are labeled big but that aren’t all that big I wouldn’t have time for much else…

      oh… you meant guns for killing! my mistake.

  • IM

    She nust be very charming in person. Perhaps that is the prolem: She always charmed herself out of problem and depended too much on it.

    • Warren Terra

      She also has tremendous connections; she was born to two eminent sociologists, and after her father died quite young her mother married another eminent sociologist. Obviously you’re right as well – if she’s been among these people all her life, as she has, she could as easily have alienated them as ingratiated herself – but the connections matter.

      • J. Otto Pohl

        Speaking of Sociology I just came accross this fascinating article suggesting that Du Bois and not the Chicago School should be considered the founder of American sociology.

        http://berkeleyjournal.org/2016/01/the-case-for-scholarly-reparations/

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        This makes sense to me. But the kind of person she is (either in terms of her motivations and self-understanding or the impressions she makes on others) seems of secondary importance here. I’m not that interested in engaging in mindreading. Those who’ve dealt with her personally can tell us what she’s like; the rest of us should probably stop guessing. What is at issue is the veracity of her work, which I haven’t read, let alone fact-checked, but the case against which looks pretty devastating.

        • Warren Terra

          The only reason I bring up her connections is that she appears to have faced no meaningful institutional scrutiny, even as many outsiders who’ve taken a look find there are serious questions needing answers. This is not a good situation, and her strong connections may help to explain it.

    • ChrisTS

      The Times piece certainly suggests this. He really comes off as having a crush.

      I can’t think how else one would come to believe that pointing to her (apparently) general discombobulation and forgetfulness is a good defense of her work.

  • Crusty

    I attended the same undergraduate institution as Goffman which is where she began her research and her research is about neighborhoods near the university, i.e., her time at the university was her first exposure to that neighborhood. Anyway, here’s why I think her book rubs people the wrong way.

    At the western end of campus, where the campus touches up against the real world, it is indeed quite an interesting cultural area, where a bunch of rich, white kids, who could not help but look like rich, naive, white kids, bumped up against an impoverished black neighborhood, the likes of which, most of us had only driven through with the doors locked, trying not to make eye contact with anyone on the street. Anyway, since it is bad for the university’s admissions and whatnot, for students to be mugged, the university’s strategy for some time seems to have been to make some kind of buffer zone and keep expanding it westward- the buffer zone consisting of restaurants and stores and other facilities that seemed like the type of places that white people would feel comfortable in and maybe too expensive for the locals or just not welcoming. There has always been a bit of a natural buffer. Right at the edge of campus, there are going to be businesses that cater to students which attracted enough of a student population for students to feel comfortable in that area.

    Among most students, there was always a sense of it is safe until __ street, or, don’t go past ____ street, be it three, blocks from campus, five, or whatever. Undergrads would occasionally hear about an impoverished graduate student, often from another country, who lived five blocks beyond that line and got mugged or something else bad happened. Now, socially, among groups of students, there was always that one annoying kid who loved to announce how frequently he went beyond the “safe” border and how wonderful it was, and he’d say it as if it were no big deal, but also like it was a little bit of a big deal. He’d be looking for a reaction. Hey, what’d you guys do last night- we went to the bar and drank pitchers, what’d you do- oh, I went to the African Cafe at 55th and Baltimore. Its really lovely over there. I just love this neighborhood, so many wonderful little things, its a shame more students don’t visit it. He’d be looking for a reaction like, what, are you crazy, you can’t go that far west, or something along the lines of wow, you are really a wonderful person and I feel ashamed because you’ve exposed how just beneath the surface, I’m a terrible racist.

    Anyway, I gather that Goffman is just one of those students, who liked to say hey, look at me, I’m not afraid to go beyond the border, who put it into a book. And made some stuff up when it seemed a little too boring.

    • Richard Hershberger

      Anyway, I gather that Goffman is just one of those students, who liked to say hey, look at me, I’m not afraid to go beyond the border, who put it into a book. And made some stuff up when it seemed a little too boring.

      And you know what? It really is pretty boring. I say this as one of those annoying white people who will go past the last safe street. It helps that I am large, male, and ugly, but even apart from that its not like Those People there are crazy people constantly shooting at anyone who walks past. (I think it was Bill O’Reilly who had lunch at a diner in, IIRC, Harlem, and reported back his amazement at the absence of gunfire.)

      Here’s what most likely really goes on. The colorful locals know perfectly well that the university is there, and who attends it. They can spot university students from three blocks away. They also know that, even assuming an underlying urge to mug, rape, and pillage, doing this to a middle class white student can bring a world of hurt down. The main exception you have to watch out for is the guy who is strung out. His judgment is impaired. But generally, be aware of your surroundings, especially in isolated places, and go about your business.

      • Crusty

        While its hardly worth quibbling over, I believe that Bill O’Reilly was amazed that nobody was saying “pass the iced tea, motherfucker!”

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    This case so reminds me of the case Robert Bellesiles, author of the discredited book ARMING AMERICA. Like Goffman, he was producing work guaranteed to piss off powerful, right-wing interests (in his case the gun lobby), which may have bought him some time in academic circles, but which also guaranteed that he received unusually thorough extra-academic fact-checking, which suggested he had made a lot of his data up. He put off these accusations for awhile claiming that the relevant documents had been destroyed in a flood. Ultimately, Emory University, his employer, found him guilty of academic fraud and fired him. The problem with the Goffman case is that its a lot easier to prove that documents said to be in an archive don’t exist than it is to prove that anonymized events didn’t happen.

    • Warren Terra

      Since you bring up Bellesiles, it’s always worth remembering that the fncking New Press signed to publish his next book, years after Arming America and its author were shown to be steaming piles of fraud. As if there weren’t honest historians needing book contracts.

    • PaulB

      Even when Bellesiles came up with such whoppers as analyzing nineteenth century data from San Francisco (all city records were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire), not a single academic historian was willing to challenge one who had received the field’s highest prize. Historians ignored the damning evidence produced by amateur historians with gun rights backgrounds but only when a law professor from Northwestern joined in did it become impossible to ignore what was obvious. Lubet and Campos are doing the work that should have been done by sociologists. It’s not only cops in Philadelphia who cover up for each other.

      • gmoot

        Not true. (Some) sociologists have been very critical of Goffman, publicly. The NYT piece alluded to some of these — e.g., the quantitative scholar, Phil Cohen, who wrote a detailed critique that highlighted the implausibility of the “ethnographic survey” that Goffman purportedly did of 6th street. The NYT journalist seemed very willing to take on face value Goffman’s characterization of his critique as internecine disagreements over trivialities, or sour grapes, or jealousy, but that’s on the love-struck and/or gullible journalist, not on sociology.

        Many ethnographers in sociology have critiqued Goffman’s decision to destroy all of her field notes. 6 years worth of them, evidently, plus the 2 years of notes from her next project in Detroit. This is an internal debate over method within the very relatively small community of ethnographers in sociology (most sociologists are quant scholars these days) and hasn’t hit the mainstream press, but it’s happening.

        Notably, Mitch Dunier, Goffman’s thesis advisor and a prominent ethnographer himself, has been very tepid in his support for Goffman. He wasn’t interviewed in the NYT article, whether because the journalist didn’t ask him or because he refused. Sometimes, silence speaks volumes.

        Point is, don’t infer “sociology’s” reaction from what you read in the papers.

  • brad

    This moment in the article struck me

    But it wasn’t until the security line that she remembered what the tote probably once held, memorabilia from her time on Sixth Street: bullets, spent casings, containers for drugs. She passed safely through the scanner in a state of agitation, not about the risk she took but by how blithely she was treated by T.S.A. agents.
    ‘‘And who did they stop?’’ she said. ‘‘Not me and my bag of contrabandy stuff, but a young man with brown skin. I tried to exchange a look of solidarity with him, but he wouldn’t look at me.”

    Is there any way to take that except as an unconscious expression of privilege? That in that moment the guy wouldn’t think of her and to validate her noble intent with a stamp of #notallwhitepeople?

    • Crusty

      Could go the other way- in that moment, she seems conscious of the privilege, i.e., she isn’t stopped. As for why the guy wouldn’t look at her, its not clear why she includes that part. Mostly just seems like bad writing.

      • muddy

        She includes that part because she has to be the star of the situation regarding his brownness. Sounds like a particularly illustrative bit to me, a tiny vignette of the whole.

        • twbb

          Sounds more like a tacit admission that he doesn’t recognize her easy “solidarity.”

    • muddy

      He wouldn’t look at her because he didn’t want to get mixed up with the sort of person who carries loose bullets in her purse.

    • ColBatGuano

      ‘‘And who did they stop?’’ she said. ‘‘Not me and my bag of contrabandy stuff

      Not actual contraband, but hypothetical contraband. Those TSA agents are so bad they can’t tell who might have carried banned material in their bag in the past.

  • ricegol

    Excellent work by Campos, as usual. I know little to nothing about academic sociology but have been following this story with great fascination since being introduced to it by Steven Lubet in the New Republic a few months ago. a few thoughts:

    1. Things that make you “hmmmm”: renowned 1990s magazine fabulist Stephen Glass received his undergraduate degree from. . . the University of Pennsylvania. Sabrina Ruth Erdely, creator of the Rolling Stone UVA rape story received her undergraduate degree from… the University of Pennsylvania. Alice Goffman received her undergraduate degree from . . . wait for it . . . the University of Pennsylvania. Methinks something must be contaminating the water in those Quaker dormitories.

    2. some commenters raised the possibility of Goffman’s name and lineage being a factor in the absence of scrutiny from the academic sociology community. Over the last few months, I learned that Goffman’s father was a very big deal in the sociology community and still remains so more than 30 years after his passing. it’s certainly plausible that Alice has gotten a bit of a pass from the community that revered her father.

    3. I hope someone with knowledge of academic sociology can weigh in with some insight on the following: apparently, when the sociology association bestowed an award upon Goffman, it went against normal protocol and didn’t make her dissertation widely available for critics. I also read that Princeton went against protocol by embargoing her dissertation instead of making it freely available in its library (Campos makes a brief reference to this issue, maybe it’s now available?). Finally, I read that when confronted about the veracity of Goffman’s work, her Princeton faculty advisor was quite slippery and evasive.

  • prplmnkydw

    For what it is worth, I was definitely questioned by a pair of police detectives, one of whom pulled his gun in the interview room to intimidate me. This was more than 20 years ago now, but I am sure it was not legit policy then.

    The whole thing actually ended up being pretty comical eventually. The fool pulled the magazine out of his gun, and started playing with the bullets on the top of the stack. Within a minute or two he had managed to pop two or three loose, and they rolled off the table under the chairs. The room was extremely cramped, with hardly any space between the table/chairs and wall, and so the idiot spent 5 minutes crawling around the very cramped space collecting his lost bullets. When he came back up his sports coat (mustard) was folded over on his back, and he eventually had to leave the room to fix it. In the process, he left his pistol and its magazine on the table, which freaked his partner out. He gathered them up and rushed out of the room to give it back to him.

    A few years later, I heard that same detective ran a woman over in his police car on Christmas Eve, and lost his job.

    • The Temporary Name

      Now THAT sounds plausible.

      • prplmnkydw

        Sarcasm? I can’t tell! I assure you, it happened.

        • The Temporary Name

          Not sarcasm at all. Further anecdotes welcome.

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  • Scott P.

    Someone has probably already mentioned this, but the whole thing sounds a whole lot like Jennifer Toth.

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