"Bad decisions, poor judgment"

We're pleased to report that ARR was able recently to interview Michael Mendacium, the head of ETG, the well-known firm that revolutionized media management for both college and professional athletes by pioneering the "ETG treatment" of episodes inconveniently caught on video tape or reported in police blotters.

ARR: Mr. Mendacium, we're happy finally to have caught up with you. Thanks for coming today.

MM: Good to be here.

ARR: Our research shows that your client list consists almost entirely of college and professional athletes who are suspecting of having committed what ordinary people would call criminal acts. You promise to restore their credibility by the "ETG treatment." What exactly is that?

MM: Well, it's easiest to understand if you start by looking at how the ETG principle works. The basic idea is that you teach the athletes -- and the athletics directors, and the coaches, and the presidents of the universities -- to redescribe what they've done in terms so innocuous that it fades from public attention.

ARR: How in the world could you do that?

MM: Maybe an example would help. Do you remember Michael Vick, the quarterback who played for Virginia Tech, served a little jail time, and is now playing NFL football?

ARR: Yes. Wasn't he the one who was convicted for running a dog-fighting ring along with a bunch of his hangers-on? Putting pit bulls into a ring and making them attack each other viciously until one of the dogs was either blinded or crippled or lost so much blood it lay there until it bled to death?

MM: You've got the general idea. But that isn't what Vick was sent up for. It's the way they treated the dogs that didn't meet their standards for viciousness that was the complaint.

ARR: What did they do?

MM: Well, sometimes they drowned the dog. Sometimes they electrocuted it. We've read accounts that in some cases they swung the dog by its hind legs and smashed its head against the wall until its brains ran down the cement. Various things like that.

ARR: That sounds pretty revolting. Evil, almost. What could the "ETG treatment" do for a case like that.

MM: The whole secret of ETG treatment, Norm, is that it simply eliminates the details that make episodes like this so upsetting to ordinary people. For instance, if a malefactor says "I bashed the head of that dog against the cement until its brains ran down the wall," people are going to get upset. But if you say "I showed poor judgment in a canine training session," people are going to forget about it in two seconds.

ARR: "Showed poor judgment"? That's what you call ETG treatment? When the guy has bashed the brains of the poor dog out against the wall?

MM: Well, it's not necessarily that. If the case is really bad, you can teach the client to say "I made a bad decision."

ARR: By bashing the dog's brains out?"

MM: Sure. When the press shows up, and you're sitting behind a table with your coach beside you, you look contrite and you say "I was involved in a canine obedience session and I made a bad decision about the appropriate mode of negative reinforcement."

ARR: The kid says "appropriate mode of negative reinforcement."

MM: We teach them phrases like that. It's part of the ETG package. If the coach is part of the deal, we teach him to nod and look grave when the player is saying the phrase." The media firestorm dies right down.

ARR: "Bad decision"? "Poor judgment"? You really teach your clients to talk like that?

MM: Norm, we do. We do it because it works. We also give them follow-up lines that express contrition and show a resolution to improve in the future." It always works.

ARR: Follow-up lines?

MM: Right. The kid has to stand in front of a mirror and say the line 50 times. Then he goes out and faces the cameras.

ARR: Lines like what?

MM: Oh, stuff like "This is not any indication of who I am. I made a bad decision."

ARR: But wait a minute. If you feed them these lines and make them practice, isn't that a classic example of false or dishonest contrition?

MM: Sure, but the sportswriters who cover these things don't give a damn about whether the kid has bashed out the brains of some dog because it wasn't vicioius enough. They've got tomorrow's column to write.

ARR: We see. But this business of bashing dogs' brains out is pretty extreme. What do you do in simpler cases? Say a football player rapes a girl who comes to his room. Or hits a woman in the face in a bar? Or hands in papers written by somebody else to get the credits to stay eligible? Or is pulled over for drunk driving and turns out to have drugs in the car? Or breaks into the room of another student with a mask on and takes money?

MM: Those are all easy cases. You just haven't grasped the magic of the principle yet. There's nothing that you can't redescribe in innocuous terms by using the ETG method. Think about it: if you can call bashing out the brains of some poor dog as "poor judgment" or "a bad decision," what couldn't you describe that way?

ARR: You've got a point. So in the case of a client who got into a knife fight and stabbed somebody so as to leave them crippled for life?

MM: You teach them to say "I showed poor judgment in the management of sharp-edged cutlery." Or "I made a bad decision about the anatomical consequences of an invasive procedure."

ARR: And they actually learn to say things like "anatomical consequences" and "invasive procedure"?

MM: If they want to get off with a two-game suspension they do.

ARR: We see. What about rape?

MM: "Poor judgment concerning the use of reproductive organs." Or "bad decision regarding the volitional sincerity of a refusal."

ARR: Cheating?

MM: "Poor judgment on a test." Or "exam." Or "paper I handed in."

MM: Drunk driving?

ARR: With things like drunk driving, we teach them to go straight to the serious look and the contrite statement: "This is not any indication of who I am. I made a bad decision." Then they can add "I had no idea the little girl was in front of my headlights. I used poor judgment concerning the appropriate application of brakes."

MM: We think we understand. Well, we understand that your company is making millions off these highly-publicized episodes. But since ETG is privately-held, we haven't been able to get hold of a corporate balance sheet. Can you give us a rough idea of how you're doing?

ARR: Norm, that's privileged information. But I can give you an idea of how to get a rough estimate. Just go through a list of scandals involving athletes over, say, the last four years. If the accused person makes a statement using "bad decision" or "poor judgment" or any terms resembling those, they're almost certainly clients of ours. If the kid says any version of "This is not any indication of who I am. I made a bad decision" or "I've got a lot of growing up to do," they're absolutely ETG clients.

ARR: That's very helpful. Mr. Mendacium, we're grateful to you for having been here with us today. May we close with one last question?

MM. Certainly.

ARR: What does "ETG" stand for?

MM: Well, Norm, we're actually not allowed to divulge that information. But it doesn't violate the rules if I tell you what the "E" stands for. Can't you guess?

ARR: "Euphemism"?

MM: Very good. I imagine you can work out the rest.