Clemens and Body Language

I’m getting really tired of hearing about how Roger Clemens’s demeanor, word choice, or tone indicate that he is clearly innocent or guilty (mostly I’m hearing the latter). Here is what experts think of Clemens’s body language.

From his parched, pursed lips to the jut of his shoulders, Roger Clemens was holding something back, three body-language analysts who watched him over the past two days said Monday.

“There’s more to the story,” said Janine Driver, a body-language consultant who trains law enforcement officers in truth detection. “There are several probing points that lead me to believe that he’s not going to be completely truthful.”

Since the release of the Mitchell report last month, Clemens and his lawyer have issued a series of increasingly angry denials, rebutting claims by his former personal trainer, Brian McNamee, that Clemens took steroids. But it was Clemens’s two recent television appearances — a “60 Minutes” interview Sunday, and a news conference Monday — that provided material to truth-detection analysts like Driver, who make a living parsing the slightest grimaces, shrugs and words for signs of subterfuge.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, for example, the analysts noticed that Clemens swallowed hard, looked down, and licked and pursed his lips when answering questions — all signs, they said, that he might not have been telling the truth. “That’s indicative of deception, that’s indicative of stress,” said Joe Navarro, a retired F.B.I. agent who trains intelligence officers and employees for banks and insurance companies. Navarro has also written a book about how to tell whether someone is bluffing in poker.

But, here is my favorite part.

Nevertheless, Navarro warned against concluding that Clemens was lying. Even the most skilled body-language experts are right in only about half of all cases, he said, and investigators often study body language to decide when to dig deeper. It is not evidence that someone has committed wrongdoing; Clemens might have been showing stress from defending against potentially career-killing allegations. “He clearly shows signs of distress, but we don’t know why he’s being distressed,” Navarro said.[Empasis added]

The most-skilled experts get it right about half the time? It must be difficult to eke out a living when your competition is a coin. [In fairness to body language experts, I suspect that they are a little bit better than half-right.]

Bottom line: we don’t know whether it is Clemens or McNamee who is lying, and it is OK to say so. There is no separating equilibrium here in terms of their behavior. If you are telling the truth you should continue to insist that you are being truthful, if you are lying you should continue to insist that you are being truthful. While something one of the parties does may lead us to favor one side over the other, there is no meaningful information to interpret: it is all just noise.

The truth will probably come out one day, so let’s worry about it then.

Addendum: This certainly doesn’t help McNamee.

McNamee was having sex with the woman in the resort’s pool and didn’t stop when confronted by security, the documents say. Police were notified. When they arrived, they found McNamee had helped the woman out of the pool and get dressed, according to the documents. Groggy and incoherent, she was taken to the hospital, where the documents said she was found to have GHB, the “date-rape drug,” in her system.

The woman told detectives she could not remember details of the encounter in the pool. She said she did not give McNamee permission to have sex with her, and witnesses told detectives they had heard her saying “no” during the encounter, according to the documents.

Detectives later recovered some of her jewelry, an empty beer can and a water bottle containing GHB at the side of the pool.

Police interviewed McNamee hours later, according to the documents, and he denied having sex with the woman or knowing Yankees batting practice pitcher, Charles Wonsowicz, who was also in the pool. McNamee refused to submit a saliva sample for DNA analysis, the documents said.

9 Responses “Clemens and Body Language”

  1. Donald A. Coffin says:

    But we do have McNamee admitting he lied to CLemens, so we know at least one of them has lied.

  2. Ed T. says:

    But body language IS 80% of communication. A bad liar is easy to spot, and that’s all that people are pointing out, the body language of a what appears to be a very bad liar.

  3. The thing that stood out most to me, and something that I am concerned that sports writers are ignoring, was the fact that McNamee stated he would “go to jail for you”. How do we take that? Is that him stating loyalty in that he would put the friendship before allowing Rockets name to be entirely tarnished? Or, is that admitting that he just pulled names of players out of a hat?

    Unfortunately, I’ve known people who have had their name smudged in court because they were ‘drinkers’, I can’t imagine how a ‘drug dealer’ manages to hold any credibility.

  4. rer says:

    What stands out to me in that tape was how clemens never seemed to answer McNamee’s ” what do you want me to do” question.

  5. Marc Schneider says:

    I don’t think it’s so easy to tell a good liar. Even if you are telling the truth you might be nervous or uncomfortable. I’m not too comfortable with these folk notions of how to distinguish truth from a lie. And people read body language differently; many times I have read an article where the writer says such-and-such was defensive or combative or something like that and when I see a tape I don’t see the same thing. Maybe I’m just not as perceptive as others but I don’t think, as JC suggests, that it’s all that easy to spot a liar by his body language.

    The fact is, no one knows who is telling the truth and, unless something else comes out, no one ever will. Of course, credibility is a key factor in trials but jurors get that wrong a lot too. People will come to their own conclusions based on their general feeling about Clemens. A lot of people don’t like him or Bonds and will conclude he is lying.

  6. pawnking says:

    The real trouble with depending on body language is it is entirely subjective. Therefore it is a favorite for those who live off of subjectivity, namely sports talk radio hosts. They declair their own unfallable ability to spot a liar, declare Clemens or McNamee the liar, and the case is closed.

    In other words, nothing is settled here.

  7. Rer,
    What is he going to say, “Yes, I want you to go to jail for me”. When in fact, he doesn’t not want McNamee to go to jail for him, rather, he wants McNamee to go to jail for false allegations. This was emphasized over and over when Roger commented about his name being cleared.

  8. Sal Paradise says:

    The book ‘Blink’ by Malcolm Gladwell has a bunch of information on body language (especially in the face) and ‘thin-slicing’ information to find trends. I didn’t read the connected studies, but there is for instance a guy who can take a video of 15 minutes of a couple discussing an issue they have and predict with reasonable certainty about which couples will be divorced in the next 10 years — much more so than the untrained viewer.

    There was another study in the book about facial expressions that are universally understood around the world (including places in New Guinea and the like free of mass media and modern forms of communication).

    These would tend to indicate that body language is NOT subjective, and makes me think that the body language experts are seeing something tangible and objective — not subjective.

  9. Hello everyone!

    I came across this blog chatting about the whole Roger Clemens drama where I commented on TV and in the NY Times that there is more to the story here. First, I would like everyone to know that I never call someone a liar, that’s a risky move. Instead, I teach people to look for hot spots, i.e. out of place mico-expressions, as mentioned in the book blink, and odd statements (such as when Roger Clemens said about reviewing the Mitchell Report, “I know what not untrue.” What that really means is, “I know what’s true.” In my experience in training law enforcement from the CIA to the FBI to Federal judges, our subconscience does not allow us to say things simply when we lie. Another interesting comment Clemens has said is, “How do I prove a negative?” Would any of you ever say that when you were being accused of something you didn’t do? Innocent people don’t have to prove anything, they just tell the truth. Next, if you want to watch me bust someone in a lie, just check out my Donny Duetsch MNBC’s Big Idea interview on my site: