CNN | Dharun Ravi | Tyler Clementi Doesn't Know Anything About Dharun Ravi And Tyler Clementi

120317040614-paul-butler-headshot-left-teaseA lot of smart people have spent the last 24 hours explaining the significance of the Dharun Ravi verdict. (If you don't know about the Dharun Ravi verdict, please click here.) One of those smart people is Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor, the current "Carville Dickinson Benson Research professor of law" at George Washington University, and the author of Let's Get Free: A Hip Hop Theory of Justice. Today, published his ruminations in the form of an essay titled "Rutgers Spying Verdict Won't End Bullying." And while the claim made in the title is self-evidently true, it's clear that Butler knows nothing about the Dharun Ravi case.

In fact, Butler is so ignorant of the case that he manages to cram four falsehoods into a single three-sentence paragraph. That graf:

As the whole world knows, Ravi secretly videotaped his roommate, Tyler Clementi, having sex with another man. He let some other people watch the video, and he tweeted that Tyler was gay. Clementi then jumped off a bridge to his death.

Falsehood breakdown:

As the whole world knows, Ravi secretly videotaped his roommate, Tyler Clementi ...

There was no tape. It was a live webcam, turned on for just a moment.

... having sex with another man.

Nope. They were just making out.

He let some other people watch the video ...

Nope. Only one person besides Dharun saw the webcam feed, and only briefly.

... and he tweeted that Tyler was gay. Clementi then jumped off a bridge ...

Technically true, but cruelly misleading. Dharun first tweeted that Clementi was gay long before the webcam-snooping and the suicide. In fact, he did it before the school year had begun -- before he'd even met Clementi in person. Butler's imputation is that Dharun somehow "outed" Clementi, which is nonsense. The only reason Dharun was able to tweet the words "Found out my roommate's gay" so early on was that Clementi was already out'n'proud on the internet. It is the case that Dharun made another reference to Clementi's sexuality on the night he spied Clementi and his lover on the webcam, but it's insane to think such a reference might drive an out person to suicide.

Butler should read Ian Parker's excellent New Yorker article, "The Story of a Suicide," before writing anything else on the subject.

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  1. He didn't really do half bad compared to some of the people commenting on the case. Ravi did post to twitter telling everyone to log onto his webcame and watch Clementi having sex.

    That's not letting them watch the video (Clementi unplugged the computer) but he invited them to watch.

    I also don't have a problem with "videotape" in this context. No, nothing was actually taped (as far as we know) but videotape is a decent enough shorthand for "set up a camera and sent a video feed to a remote computer"

    Posted by: Wendel | Mar 17, 2012 5:25:58 PM

  2. Easy sentence: Deport Dharun Ravi (according to NRP, he's not a U.S. citizen), and never ever let him back into the U.S. Be done with him. Let's not spend any more tax money on him while ensuring he never has the life he expected a U.S. college education would give him.

    Posted by: starshipcaptain | Mar 17, 2012 5:46:59 PM

  3. For me, Ravi's conviction of at least ten counts is of great satisfaction. Those on the homophobic side of the press are going to report/slant it as a fluke, miscarriage of justice and judicial mistake. Ha Ha! Ravi loses, as he should.

    Posted by: OS2Guy | Mar 17, 2012 5:50:13 PM

  4. It is satisfying to read of Ravi's conviction but it feels like overkill. If he was so bad, why did the government offer him a plea deal of community service? To me, he is just an immature jerk who's adolescent stupidity involved the wrong person. Yes, he was nasty but not 10 years in prison and deportation nasty.

    Posted by: Hatfield | Mar 17, 2012 6:04:07 PM

  5. I'm confused - are you coming to the defense of Ravi? It certainly looks that way.

    Posted by: Notkony | Mar 17, 2012 6:09:08 PM

  6. You have to wonder about these CNN journalists.

    Posted by: jason | Mar 17, 2012 6:11:04 PM

  7. @Jason: Journalists?

    No surprises here. CNN is ridiculous - almost as ridiculous as Fox.

    @ Hatfield: I agree 100% - I think Ravi's just a very, very typical kid his age learning to deal with the fact that there are gay people in his association and that he has to deal with us.

    Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC | Mar 17, 2012 6:15:10 PM

  8. @NotKony ... yeah, I had to read it a few times because that is how it read to me too at first. I think he's just frustrated with Butler's column as a whole and was just hitting at inaccuracies and wanted to show that Butler was missing the point and was trivializing Clemente's suicide by attributing it to a tweet. But I also think that got lost a bit in the post as a whole.

    Posted by: TMT | Mar 17, 2012 6:18:03 PM

  9. @Daniel Berry, NYC

    I agree with you. He needs, at most, a heavy slap, but it serves no real purpose to totally ruin his life.

    Yes, he's guilty.

    No, he didn't intend a death to result.

    Posted by: JAMES in Toronto | Mar 17, 2012 6:22:07 PM

  10. @Hatfield & Dan... He hasn't been sentenced yet, and NJ is sorta complicated when it comes to sentencing, so the 5 & 10 years that are being tossed around are just people's guesses.

    Also, plea deals aren't necessarily a measure of how "bad" a person is, but it avoids a costly and time consuming trial... Since Ravi wasn't a citizen, the plea deal still may have resulted in his deportation— our immigration laws are very strict when it comes to crime— so if he really wanted to avoid that, he'd need to try for an acquittal.

    Posted by: TMT | Mar 17, 2012 6:25:26 PM

  11. Dear NotKony:

    Thanks for reading. Of course I'm defending Ravi. I'm defending him from false allegations. Ravi's actual, verifiable behavior is bad enough; there's no need for CNN or anybody else to make stuff up.

    - BKT

    Posted by: Brandon K. Thorpp | Mar 17, 2012 6:29:47 PM

  12. @NotKony and TMT: This article is about CNN's inaccurate reporting on what happened between Tyler and Dharun. The contents of the article have nothing to do with anyone's justifications for anything that Dharun actually did.

    It does get tiring hearing one reporter after another saying that Tyler Clementi was watched by Dharun's Twitter followers "having sex with a man" when the reality is very different.

    On another note, one thing that struck me when learning all the details was this quote:

    "Clementi wrote, “other people have commented on his profile with things like ‘how did you manage to go back in there?’ ‘are you ok.’ ” The friends were treating “my making out with a guy as the scandal whereas i mean come on . . . he was SPYING ON ME. . . . do they see nothing wrong with this?”

    I got the impression that it may have been the homophobic reactions of people like Jason Tam that sent Tyler over the edge. Dharun is being held responsible, but it was really the ugly bullying of a team of people surrounding Dharun that made the hurt snowball for Tyler.
    If students all over America could understand this, it should underline how important it is to be an ally. Tyler might be alive today if just one person in Dharun's circle had said, "Dharun, this snooping and broadcasting of gossip is not okay. Your roommate kissed a guy; so what? Stop acting like you're a victim."

    Posted by: GregV | Mar 17, 2012 7:10:56 PM

  13. Speaking of inaccurate reporting, the perps CLAIMED they watched the wemcam feed "for a second" -- as if they had a stopwatch. it's painfully clear that that's a lie -- yet its repeated constantly.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Mar 17, 2012 7:21:51 PM

  14. actually, more than one other person than ravi saw the feed. molly wei also turned on the live feed "for like a second" when a few other people came into her dorm after ravi left.

    Posted by: robb | Mar 17, 2012 8:14:26 PM

  15. I'm a recreation therapist with the elderly population and we have had a few discussions about the Clementi/Ravi case. It amazes me how blunt and refreshin they can be; in that I got various answers from 10 years and deport him and a few years punishment. There was no hatred spewed and it was based on the New Yorker article. I agree that what Ravi did was egregiously insensitive and hauntingly telling of a lot of peoples' passive disdain, disgust. and prejudice of gay people, but he did it mostly because he is what most kids are: stupid, insensitive, and narcissistic. His attempts to lie and cover up what he did are what turned the members of my discussion group against him in the end. I disagree with the article in that Hes innocent because he turned down the deals. He turned down the deals because he feels he is innocent. He does not make the connection between a visceral insensitive and prejudiced decision and the repercussions it had. Its said if the world really does lack such empathy. Either way, I felt Ravi deserved a few years (3-4). As for Clementi...I can empathize on a level I feel unconformable telling anyone. When you get into that place you can't see past it. I wish he had had a friend who could have stood in front of him and been there for him. When you know you don't truly face it alone and someone in person genuinely cares; it can make all the difference.

    Posted by: Alexx | Mar 17, 2012 8:16:52 PM

  16. All you need to know about Ravi's mindset is that he even CONSIDERED spying on Clementi on the second occasion, regardless of whether he was successful in doing so. This presents two questions: (1) Ravi did not believe that his actions were wrong the first time, so why would he immediately shut the feed off as soon as it started? That assertion contradicts the fact of his second attempt. (2) If Ravi was sincerely uninterested or repulsed by what he saw the first time, then what was Ravi expecting to see the second time that would be any different than the first? What was his motivation to try another time, if not out of his own prurient interest? The only conclusion, based on his tweets desiring to share with his peers, is that he wanted to publicize Clementi's private behavior, likely because he wanted to humiliate or shame him.

    Whether or not Ravi was the primary motivating factor for Clementi's suicide, we can never be certain. The fact that the media and public opinion seems focused on this question shows how Clementi's death was a hindrance to the prosecution's case, by distracting from the nature and facts of Ravi's crime. And that's what Mr. Butler @CNN chooses to ignore. It is all too convenient for people not apprised of the facts and evidence of the case to simply characterize Ravi's behavior as that of an immature prankster. But as the jurors correctly realized after weighing the evidence before them, Ravi's actions could not be reasonably attributed to mere youthful indiscretion or poor judgment.

    Posted by: atomic | Mar 17, 2012 8:21:53 PM

  17. I just finished reading the whole New Yorker article. I admit to being quite ignorant of the details in this case. The entire thing is heartbreaking, on a number of levels. Everyone should read it. I don't understand (and I am not alone!) why this poor kid jumped off the bridge.

    Posted by: SoLeftImRight | Mar 17, 2012 8:43:26 PM

  18. It is frustrating when alleged reporters and "expert" commentators get basic facts wrong. Without an agreed-upon reality how can you even begin to discuss more ephemeral questions like meaning and impact?

    Ravi, I believe, created an atmosphere of ridicule for Tyler Clementi in that dorm, a situation TC wasn't equipped to handle on top of the other issues in his life. He DID invade Tyler's privacy, he DID intend to do it again, he DID invite others to watch, he DID lie and tamper with both evidence and witnesses, and he DID lie about his motivation in court. It's (IMO) still unclear whether he was motivated by homophobia or whether it was a "prank" he didn't think through, but it did create a toxic atmosphere for a young gay person who was just coming out of the closet and away from home for the first time and it ended tragically.

    What he DID was invade Tyler's privacy and gossip about it. But he didn't kill Tyler Clementi or create ALL the problems in Tyler's life. And Ravi knew he had done something wrong, bore some responsibility, because as soon as he heard TC had killed himself he started deleting IMs and tweets and writing new, fake ones. He lied to the police but who doesn't minimize their involvement when the police come knocking at their door? What he did deserves more than just an "Oops, my bad!" but it's more complicated than many people on BOTH sides of this "debate" are willing to admit.

    I'm conflicted about this. Many commenters on gay blogs and news sites want him in prison, think he should have been charged with manslaughter, etc. For them Dharun Ravi is THE face of bullying and they want him to by-god pay. In some ways he has become a living, breathing effigy of every anti-gay bully past and present and they want to see that effigy burn.

    But what is that going to help at this late date? Is it going to end bullying or suicide? No. I'm not sure what his punishment should be, but it should fit the facts of the case and not be delivered in anger but in sadness, not just for Tyler but for Dharun as well.

    Posted by: Caliban | Mar 17, 2012 10:23:20 PM

  19. A Hip Hop justice expert? FOFLMAO!

    Only on CNN. And Time Warner wonders why CNN keeps losing huge numbers of viewers every year?

    The only hope for CNN is if Ted Turner gets bored and buys CNN back and cleans house.

    Posted by: Christopher di Spirito | Mar 17, 2012 10:44:28 PM

  20. @Brandon Thorpe:

    Actually, more than 2 people saw Clementi and MB. Molly Wei turned the cam on briefly a second time at the urging - and for the enjoyment of - of a group of girls who lived on the floor. So the total was perhaps 5-8 people.

    I don't mean to nitpick but this is relevant to the question of why Wei was let off so easily. It also raises the issue of why there has been no action against any of the students who aided and abetted Ravi, cheered him on, and/or were planning on attending the viewing party. I am not suggesting that these other students be charged, but why have they not even been subjected to the mildest discipline by the university? And why hasn't the the campus gay group - with its absurd 15-letter alphabet soup name - bothered to do anything?

    Posted by: Tom | Mar 17, 2012 11:13:35 PM

  21. This is undoubtedly a tragic situation.
    It is notable that the defendant was offered a plea deal in December 2011 that did NOT involve jail time (as mentioned in the New Yorker article). This suggests the Prosecution did not expect the Jury to convict on the bias intimidation charge. If a group of laypersons has made a decision that is surprising to BOTH Prosecution and Defence, the likelihood is that the decision is probably wrong.

    Posted by: Just a gay law student | Mar 18, 2012 12:34:18 AM

  22. @just a gay law student:

    Assuming your pseudonym is accurate, you seem to need to learn a lot more about the law. When a prosecutor offers a plea deal, it is not necessarily because they feel they cannot get a conviction on all charges. Often, pleas are offered because they feel it is in the best interest of the family of the victim, or in civil matters, to lessen the costs of going to trial.

    Regardless of what the prosecutors did, the fact remains that a jury of the defendant's peers reviewed the evidence that was brought to bear, and saw fit to unanimously agree to convict. It's not the prosecutors' or defense's place to judge that decision--their SOLE purpose is to represent their case as best and as lawfully as they can. So for you to say that the decision must be wrong because the prosecution offered a plea does not make any sense, and it is something I would not expect a student of law to conclude.

    Posted by: atomic | Mar 18, 2012 1:14:33 AM

  23. @Tom: Wei and any others who saw the video feed or who, by their silence, were complicit in the harassment of Clementi, have one distinguishing excuse that Dharun Ravi does not: none of them (1) modified the computer to permit the remote activation of the webcam; (2) had individual access to the physical computer itself; (3) attempted a cover-up of their own tweets an text messages after the fact. In short, whatever role they played in this matter, they ultimately were not the ones to devise this plan, nor the ones who had the access to the room to carry it out, nor the ones who tried to hide what they'd done in order to evade liability.

    Posted by: atomic | Mar 18, 2012 1:23:40 AM

  24. With all of the national attention given to bullying and to the gay population, there is NO excuse for Ravi to do what he did. He may be young and Indian but he has been in the USA since he was 4 yrs old so he knows better. He is just a judgmental skinny little punk (whom could be thought to LOOK gay himself! This ALL has to stop NOW! During the trial he slumped in his chair, was caught on camera laughing and the worst...yawning as if he was bored with the whole thing. I don't feel he took this serious at all and I hope the judge shows him how serious being a defendant in a courtroom truly is by sentencing him to jail time. I then hope he is deported. I have no sympathy for him.

    Posted by: Shelly | Mar 18, 2012 1:35:49 AM

  25. @ just a gay law student
    I agree with the comment by atomic. And further...IF you are a law student in the USA, learn how to spell defenSe

    Posted by: Shelly | Mar 18, 2012 1:44:43 AM

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