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When Is a Denial Not a Denial?

February 24th, 2010 · 7 Comments

When it’s a carefully-worded statement from Lindy Matsko, the vice principal implicated in the Pennsylvania school webcam spying lawsuit:

“At no time have I ever monitored a student via a laptop webcam,” said Matsko, who is in her 25th year working for Lower Merion School District, “nor have I ever authorized the monitoring of a student via a laptop webcam, either at school or in the home. And I never would.”

Nobody ever claimed that Matsko personally conducted webcam surveillance of students. Nor does the complaint allege that she gave some kind of order to individually target any particular student.  If we believe the district’s claim about how it uses its remote monitoring software—and there’s some reason for doubt—then the laptop camera was probably activated by a tech trying to determine whether the student had taken home a temporary “loaner” laptop that was supposed to remain at school.  The tech may have then seen what looked like drugs on the student’s desk, and forwarded the image to Matsko.  In other words, everything Matsko says here and the allegations made by the student and his family can both be wholly true.

She later added that, in more than a decade as assistant vice principal, she had “never disciplined a student” for actions beyond school property that had no connection to a school-related event, apparently in response to the Robbins lawsuit’s allegation the student learned of the webcam surveillance from a school disciplinary action.

Again, nothing here is actually inconsistent with the complaint.  The claim made there is that the student was called into Matsko’s office and accused of “inappropriate behavior” at home, captured by the school webcam.  There’s no mention of any disciplinary action being taken. The student has since explained that he was questioned about possession of something that appeared to be drugs, but which he says were Mike & Ike candies (of which he is apparently a notoriously ravenous consumer).  Maybe he explained this and they believed him.  Or maybe they didn’t, but decided to drop it since there was no real way to prove otherwise.

Judging by comments on the news story, most locals are interpreting this as a denial of the allegations in the lawsuit.  But closely parsed, it isn’t anything of the sort: It’s a way of slyly implying that the student’s family is lying, without actually saying anything that contradicts their account.

Tags: Journalism & the Media · Privacy and Surveillance


       

 

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 mike farmer // Feb 24, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Technically speaking, I’m sure you’re correct, but, and I’m sure you agree, Matsko’s rebuttal is an evasion which compunds the problems. It would have been much better to address the charges in context and take responsibility for solving the problem rather than make a weasly statement only a bureacrat can admire.

  • 2 southpaw // Feb 24, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    I don’t know. We’re talking about a career high-school administrator here, not a politician on the make. Her biggest problem right now is that she might get convicted of a federal crime, not that the public may internalize a negative perception of her conduct from unrebutted press accounts. Given those priorities, I don’t see why it would be rational to go around spinning the media with clintonesque evasions. That sort of sharp practice would only serve to antagonize the federal prosecutors who are poring through her emails right now and will soon be deposing her.

    My guess would be that you’re seeing an adamant denial from a woman who does not know how to word a press statement (and is so persuaded of her own innocence that she does not yet realize she needs to (i) keep quiet and (ii) hire a lawyer). Of course, it’s possible that she’s a slick operator who missed her calling in politics, but I doubt it.

  • 3 Good & Plenty Would Have Meant Expulsion « Around The Sphere // Feb 25, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    [...] Julian Sanchez: When it’s a carefully-worded statement from Lindy Matsko, the vice principal implicated in the Pennsylvania school webcam spying lawsuit: [...]

  • 4 tde // Feb 25, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Contra southpaw – I’d say that school administrators are as skilled at posturing and self-preservation as any politician.

    I agree that the prosecutors will quickly see through the statement, but it will play a useful role in public opinion – which may ultimately influence the prosecutors.

  • 5 Julian Sanchez // Feb 25, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Well, again, what she is denying here—probably truthfully—is HER PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for spying on the kid. I don’t think you have to be enormously slick to want to make clear that whatever happened wasn’t your fault, while avoiding any discussion of what actually happened and who might have been responsible. Also, at this point, does anyone honestly believe that her public statements weren’t picked over with a fine-toothed comb by district lawyers? They’re a week into a media-heavy lawsuit; they’re not completely stupid.

  • 6 RickRussellTX // Feb 26, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    “does anyone honestly believe that her public statements weren’t picked over with a fine-toothed comb by district lawyers?”

    We often assume that public school systems do a terrible job of selecting good teachers or innovating educational techniques.

    Do we suddenly expect more of their administrators or lawyers? I can completely believe that they would utterly fail to understand the magnitude of this problem or the legal subtleties.

    In any case, the statement, “at no time have I ever monitored a student via a laptop webcam” is a lie on its face. She gleefully ate the fruit of the poisonous tree, whether she picked that fruit or not is hardly relevant. The police can’t pay somebody to search your home then claim they didn’t actually search your home because it was done by a contractor.

  • 7 Jack Smith // Mar 2, 2010 at 8:47 am

    It seems that concerns over this lawsuit are just thin-skinned whining, typical of a beta male.

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