Two numbers disappear: Chanel Miller's well-received book, Know My Name: A Memoir, was officially published on September 24.
At the New York Times, Jennifer Weiner's review of the book appeared on line that same day. In print editions, publication of Weiner's review was somewhat delayed. Eventually, the piece appeared on Sunday, October 13, in the high-profile Book Review section.
Weiner's highly favorable review was somewhat oddly delayed. That said, one day before Miller's book appeared, the Times published a lengthy profile of the author and her book.
The piece was written by Concepcion de Leon, who had interviewed Miller. De Leon is a youngish writer, seven years out of college (Grinnell, class of 2012.) On September 23, her profile appeared on the front page of the Times' Arts section.
If memory serves, de Leon's profile was the first account we read of Miller's book. When we read the piece, we were struck by the way de Leon summarized the basic events of the deeply unfortunate night when Miller, then 22, was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner, a 19-year-old Stanford freshman.
De Leon described the events as shown below. As an act of journalism, this basic account strikes us as highly truncated. It also strikes us as misleading in a highly significant way:
DE LEON (9/23/19): On Jan. 17, 2015, Chanel Miller was seven months out of college and working at an educational technology start-up when she decided to accompany her younger sister to a Stanford fraternity party. She remembers going, having some drinks and, hours later, regaining consciousness in the hospital.De Leon may not have read Miller's book at that point in time. In that passage, she seemed to be reporting the contents of the interview she'd conducted with Miller, not the contents of Miller's book itself.
What happened in between she pieced together primarily from news reports. She was found unconscious behind a dumpster with Mr. Turner on top of her, she said, by two graduate students who intervened and held Mr. Turner until the authorities arrived. He was arrested and later charged with three counts of felony sexual assault.
What did Miller specifically say to de Leon? We have no way of knowing. But as an act of journalism, the account we've posted above strikes us as significantly misleading, possibly even as "slick."
What's misleading about de Leon's account? Consider what she says in that passage, but also what she omits. As far as we know, everything she says is accurate—but a great deal has been left out.
It's true! By all accounts, Miller did go to a Stanford fraternity party on that deeply unfortunate night. By all accounts, including her own, she did "have some drinks" at that party.
Hours later, Miller did "regain consciousness in the hospital." All those representations are accurate, but a great deal has been left out. Meanwhile, consider the various misimpressions a reader might get from reading that brief account.
Start with this. There are various ways a young woman can end up unconscious, behind a dumpster, after attending a fraternity party where she "had some drinks."
To cite one possibility, so-called "knockout" or "date rape" drugs may have been surreptitiously placed in her drinks. That said, no one has ever claimed that that's what happened here.
As a second ugly possibility, the young woman who was found behind the dumpster could have been physically assaulted—"mugged"—and rendered unconscious in that manner. Once again, no one has claimed that that's what happened here.
De Leon's truncated account of what happened that night lets the reader imagine various possibilities. But what actually did occur in this case? Taking some implied advice which Miller offers near the start of her book, let's turn to a news report about the testimony which occurred on March 21, 2016, during Turner's trial.
Reporter Tracey Kaplan covered the trial for the San Jose Mercury-News. In the passage posted below, she reported some basic facts which de Leon chose to omit.
In this passage, Miller is referred to as "the woman" because her name was being withheld from public reports at this time:
KAPLAN (3/22/16): Prosecutor Aleleh Kiancerci, on the other hand, contends that the woman was clearly extremely drunk—and Turner knew it...She did not wake up for at least three hours. The woman’s blood-alcohol was more than .24, or three times the legal limit. Turner’s blood-alcohol content was .17, or more than twice the legal limit of .08.In this passage, Kaplan is reporting some basic information which emerged at trial. According to Kiancerci—the prosecutor Miller portrays at her major ally—Miller and her assailant were both very drunk at the time of the assault.
Indeed, in Kaplan's account of the prosecutor's presentation, Miller was "extremely drunk" at the time of the assault. That said, it's perfectly clear that Turner was very drunk too.
Whatever adjectives one may use, two numbers were present in Kaplan's report, as they had emerged at trial, for a reader's perusal. In Kaplan's account, the prosecutor was stressing how drunk Miller had been at the time of the behavior the jury would later judge to have been an assault.
A basic question arises. Why was the woman prosecuting Turner stressing Miller's state of drunkenness? We'll explain that point as the week proceeds. It forms a basic part of the slightly peculiar logic which prevailed at trial—a slightly peculiar logic which has generally been ignored in subsequent public debate.
First, though, Hannah Knowles, a reporter for the Stanford Daily, included those same numbers in her own news report about the testimony at trial. Knowles' report was slightly more detailed than Kaplan's would be. Also, throughout Knowles' report, Miller was called "Emily Doe:"
KNOWLES (3/21/16): Alice King—a supervising criminalist for Santa Clara County—also testified. Given nominally hypothetical situations corresponding to Doe and Turner on Jan. 18, King estimated that the Doe and Turner’s blood alcohol content (BAC) levels at 1 a.m. would have been .242 to .249 and .171, respectively.Again, those numbers were presented at trial by the prosecution. They were offered as part of the successful effort to convict Turner of sexual assault.
At present, we all live in The Age of the Novel—perhaps in an age when our own tribe's tribal reasoning tends to borrow from the realm of the fairy tale, or even of the cartoon. For that reason, every liberal knows how to react to those remarkable numbers, which say that Miller was three times the "legal limit" at the time she was assaulted.
At this point, we liberals are all expected to make an accurate statement. We're expected to say—accurately, of course—that a person who is extremely drunk can't legally be assaulted or mistreated in other obvious ways.
Plainly, that statement is accurate. If you come upon a man who is so drunk that he has passed out, you aren't allowed to walk away with his wallet. And if you come upon a man or a woman who is extremely drunk, perhaps even unconscious, you aren't allowed to interact with them in a sexual manner.
If the man or woman is unconscious, you aren't allowed to interact with them sexually at all, but also this:
If the man or woman is "extremely drunk" but is still upright and walking around and talking, you aren't allowed to engage with them sexually, even if they voice consent.
These are basic facts about the state of the law in various jurisdictions. The reasoning behind them is obvious, though the logic may start to falter a bit if both parties are "extremely drunk."
The logic may start to falter at that point. But this brings us back to the truncated way de Leon described the events of that deeply unfortunate night.
De Leon left it to the reader to decide, perhaps to imagine, how Miller ended up unconscious that night.
In a choice her editor should have amended, she reported that Miller had "had some drinks" at the fraternity party, full stop. She didn't report that Miller had actually "had so many drinks" that she would have tested at more than three times the so-called legal limit, and that she had been so-called "blackout drunk" for roughly an hour at the time the assault occurred.
According to Miller's testimony, she had been "blackout drunk" for roughly an hour at the time of the assault. Tomorrow, we'll offer a quick overview of what that term actually means.
That said, Miller had had so many drinks that she was "blackout drunk" by midnight that night, and was fully unconscious at or around 1 A.M., though no one says that she had been drugged and no one says that her state of unconsciousness had been brought on by a "mugging."
De Leon's highly truncated account disappears those basic facts. New York Times readers were left to imagine what happened that night. Miller herself can't remember a great deal of what happened, but New York Times readers weren't told!
In most places and in most circumstances, it isn't against the law to be "extremely drunk." But because we live in The Age of the Novel, we liberals all know that we should pretend that Miller's extreme drunkenness had nothing to do with the profoundly unfortunate events which eventually took place on that unfortunate night.
Miller directly makes a form of that claim at the start of her well-written book. The claim is extremely hard to credit. It comes from the ream of the fairy tale, and it tends to enable an age of more such acts of assault.
Meanwhile, we liberals! We live in highly tribal times and, like tribal groups through the annals of time, we just aren't especially sharp and are devoted to dogmas. For these reasons, we tend to think that we should applaud Miller for this highly unlikely claim. (Explicit example to follow.)
Beyond that, we may be inclined to think that de Leon and her editor did the right thing in withholding the basic facts which emerged at trial.
Miller "had some drinks" that night? On a journalistic basis, is that statement an act of omission, or is it perhaps better seen as an act of outright deception?
In our view, New York Times readers got misled when some editor waved that account into print. We'd also say that this type of novelization enables an age of assault.
Tomorrow: Portrait of a culture