Chris Bray: Proof by Denial

Proof by Denial
Chris Bray
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2012

Boston College did not clearly warn Belfast Project interviewees that it would not protect their interviews against a subpoena. Period. The explicit promise between BC and interviewees was simply that their interviews would be kept confidential until they died or chose to affirmatively waive confidentiality. The proof comes from campus, in the form of a statement claiming the opposite.

Along with this post about this story, I wrote to the editors of The Heights, the student-run newspaper at Boston College. I asked them about this claim in their story:

Though participants signed contracts that promised them privacy “to the extent that American law allows,” project supervisors Ed Moloney, an Irish journalist, and Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA member, have been harshly critical of the University’s stance in international media.

Here’s the question I asked:

I would be curious to hear what evidence you have for the claim that “participants signed contracts that promised them privacy ‘to the extent that American law allows.'” Did David Cote see the signed contracts between BC and its interviewees?

On Tuesday evening, I got a response from News Editor Taylour Kumpf. I respect the good faith that they showed with their effort to respond, but watch what the response does to their claim. This is the whole response, and read the second paragraph closely:

We realize that as the independent student newspaper of Boston College, it is our job to report the facts about events related to and involving our University, regardless of controversial material or items potentially damaging to the University’s reputation. We also realize that as University Spokesman, Jack Dunn has Boston College’s best interest in mind and is paid by the University to paint their actions in a positive light to the media, and this is something that we are always conscious of when speaking with him.
That being said, David Cote did see the contracts signed by Ed Moloney upon beginning the Belfast Project. Moloney’s signature was on two separate contracts, the first of which directly stated that participants would be protected “to the extent that American law allows.” The second agreement, which also had Moloney’s signature and the signatures of project participants such as Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, did not state that provision explicitly, but stated on Page 2 that the contract was governed by the provisions of the earlier contract signed by the project supervisor, Moloney. Regardless of what Mr. Dunn said about the contracts, Mr. Cote saw the contracts, in their entirety, with the signatures of Moloney and the project participants.
Thank you for your interest in the matter. If you have any additional questions or concerns that The Heights can address, please do not hesitate to contact us further.

So former members of illegal paramilitary organizations that engaged in armed struggle against the British government were given a contract that didn’t mention that their interviews would be turned over to that government if it bothered to ask, but a clause on the second page of the contract between interviewees and Boston College incorporated, by reference, the language of a second contract that the interviewees did not sign and have not been proven to have even seen.

Does that description support the plain claim that interviewees “signed contracts that promised them privacy ‘to the extent that American law allows,'” or does it show that interviewees signed a contract that did not make that promise in any clear or direct form that would have been recognized by the people reading it?

Everyone at Boston College knows the answer. An editor at The Heights, David Cote, personally saw a contract bearing “the signatures of project participants such as Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price.” With regard to a limitation on confidentiality in the face of a subpoena, the contract “did not state that provision explicitly.”

Full stop. The rest is a word game — with the Irish Republican Army and the peace in Northern Ireland. Does that seem like a good idea to you?