The 26th Round
If you're a reader of the “Operation Cleanup” series, it's quite possible thatyou'll be tuned into C-SPAN this morning when the Senate Committee on Commerce, Scienceand Transportation holds its latest hearing ostensibly “exploring boxingreform”. Those people who are “in the know” realize fully that thisproceeding, as well as all others before it, is a charade – not designed to unearthanswers, but instead choreographed in order to reaffirm determinations which have alreadybeen made, independent of any form of democratic input.
Nevertheless, I felt it perhaps useful to offer a little background as to what you canexpect from the hearings, and why it is that they take the shape they do.
First of all, it's important to understand a couple of important things:
This is NOT a fact-finding mission. It is a show, specifically tailored to utilize the”name value” of its participants, for whatever it's worth, to provide”window dressing” for the bill, which, by the way, is ALREADY WRITTEN. In otherwords, there is not ONE THING anyone in this hearing could say that would change what isin the bill.
The entire procedure is structured to generate “FRIENDLY” TESTIMONY, and nothingelse. You will not find voices shouting above each other, trying to get a word inedgewise. There's no need for that, because rarely is heard a dissenting word.
I am not a political animal, so my mentality doesn't exactly identify with this kind ofphilosophy, not when we're supposed to be dealing with something that is democratic innature. But I'm told that this is the norm when we're talking about hearings conducted inassociation with prospective legislation.
I can only imagine that in boxing, it's probably a lot easier to put together a smallgroup of “witnesses” who are all too happy to be there. And there are plenty ofthem.
Those people are identified through something called the PRE-INTERVIEW process. In effect,what happens is that someone – in this case, Senator John McCain's “boy”, KenNahigian – gets you on the phone and “feels you out”. What he's trying todetermine is whether a potential invitee is available on the day the hearing is scheduled.But more importantly, he wants to find out whether that person is available to be brought”on board” with the legislation.
In most cases, the people who have been contacted for the pre-interview have been screenedto where it is known even before that point where the person stands – squarely in favor ofthe legislation, or “neutral” enough to be swayed without too much effort.
What is fundamental to an understanding of this process is that if you let it be known tosomeone like Nahigian that you have serious questions – however legitimate – about what heand his bosses are trying to accomplish, you run the risk of never being contacted again.
Someone like myself, for example, who is aware of the farcical nature of such a hearing,knows a lot more than anyone on the committee, and wouldn't hesitate to tell them thetruth, would be considered “too dangerous” for their purposes, and wouldn't evenrate a consideration.
No one wants to hear that kind of voice within the context of a Senate hearing. But sinceit's the only forum where any of these people are actually paying attention, that doesn'treally say much for free speech or democracy, but that's just the way it is.
I have actually spoken with people who have expressed reservations about what McCain andhis folks were trying to accomplish, but who were either not allowed to come or asked notto include those kind of “negative” references in their statement, which bringsme to……..
The PRE-SUBMITTED TESTIMONY. Anyone who is scheduled for one of these hearings mustprovide a complete script of his/her opening statement in writing, at least two days inadvance. Among other things, this provides a great filtering mechanism. This statement isgoing to be read by the witness and put on the record, so it is important that it conformwith “the program”. If it doesn't, the witness may be asked to make some changesto it. If most of it is objectionable or inflammatory, there is that possibility that thewitness' appearance will be canceled.
Operatives working for these committees, and pushing legislation, are not above actuallywriting the script, or part of it, for their witnesses either. Sometimes that's how wewind up with……….
PLANTED TESTIMONY. When one of the committee members would like to have something put onthe record to further his own agenda, but does not want the notion to originate withhimself, he will figure out a way to arrange for such a suggestion to be”planted” with one of the witnesses. This way, it looks as though it weresomeone else's idea, creating the impression that the idea has enhanced”credibility”.
This deception can be performed in a number of different ways. Someone like Nahigian, forexample, might actually write a passage that will be inserted into the witness' openingstatement. Or, it could be planned that a Senator asks a certain question or brings up acertain point during the “Q&A” session, and the material planted with thewitness comes up then. I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about.
About a month before last May's Senate hearing, I was having a conversation with someonefrom a state boxing commission. He was explaining to me that there was one possible routefor other commissions to go, in keeping with the desire to bring about some kind ofuniformity in laws related to boxing that could, in a way, go beyond what might becontained in the federal legislation. That would be to adopt “model legislation”that could be introduced and voted on, state-by-state. He cited an organization he hadcontact with, called the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws,formed in order to draft such legislation.
He wrote a memorandum to Nahigian, explaining all this in depth. Nahigian didn't know whatthe NCCUSL was, but he thought it was a good idea, worth following up on.
But it didn't involve his bill specifically, so there was no plausible way for someone onthe committee to introduce the idea.
At the May 22 hearing, Bert Sugar, a former editor of Ring Magazine, was one of thepanelists. Sugar, who is a skilled ad-libber, was sailing through an opening statementthat did not quite match that which he had submitted to the committee, but was a wonderfuland entertaining improvisation nonetheless.
There was only one part of the statement in which Sugar has to stop, reference a piece ofpaper, and read from something that looked like a script. It was to recite the following(taken from the written statement):
“In keeping with Senator McCain's stated goal, we do not have to re-invent the boxingwheel; the mechanism to organize the sport is already in place. And it is called 'TheNational Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws'. This is a group that wasorganized in 1892 – not incidentally, the same year as the John L. Sullivan-James J.Corbett fight, the fight which brought in modern boxing as we know it today, withthree-minute rounds and gloves under the Marquess of Queensberry Rules.The stated purposeof The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws is 'to promoteuniformity in state law on all subjects where uniformity is desirable and practable, byvoluntary action of each state government'. As such, The National Conference ofCommissioners on Uniform State Laws has drafted uniform laws in many fields and thenencouraged states to adopt them on a state-by-state basis as law-including such diverselaws as the UCC, the Probate Act, the Anatomical Gift Act, and the Interstate FamilySupport Act.”
Even for someone with legal training, like Sugar, that's quite a coincidence.
There's nothing illegal or unethical about planting testimony with a witness, though it'sa little deceptive. After all, the witness is ostensibly brought in to contribute what HEhas to the discussion, not what others have. Such a manipulation of the process wouldleave doubt in my mind as to the credibility of ANY testimony that was offered by a givenwitness.
Finally, there is the QUESTION & ANSWER session. This is something of a freelancediscussion, where what panelists say is not necessarily controlled. A dissenting viewcould possibly be heard here, but it must be remembered that the senators on the committeecontrol the floor, so if there are controversial issues brought up in a witness'statement, it's likely that someone like, say, a McCain would pick and choose which oneshe would like to address and ignore the others. If you noticed from the last hearing,Emmanuel Steward brought up several good points that needed to be followed up on, but theywere not touched. Once again, control of the flow of information is the key.
This time around, Sugar is back again, along with that well-known “reformadvocate”, Bernard Hopkins, Ross Greenberg of HBO, and the member of this panel thatwill offer the most substance, author/columnist Thomas Hauser. Sugar, by the way, is alate substitute for Greg Sirb, who has suddenly pulled out of the Wednesday proceedings.Hmmmmmmm.
In any case, grab a beer, sit yourself in front of the television, and have a laugh. Butdon't do that until you've finished reading my own “statement”.
That's in the next chapter.
Copyright 2003 Total Action Inc.