John Edwards Press Conference Disconnect

During the trial, I’d been waiting to hear John Edwards explain his lack of knowledge about his campaign fund contributions and about the money funneled to cover up his affair with Rielle Hunter. I don’t understand how he couldn’t have known Hunter was living in a multi-million dollar mansion and jet setting in private planes to luxury vacations. Interpersonal intimacy naturally piques one’s curiosity in one’s partner’s way of life. It’s hard to believe that at no time during their relationship casual conversation about Hunter’s travels or her home wouldn’t be mentioned. When the defense team didn’t call Edwards to testify in his own behalf, I was disappointed. I wanted a glimpse into Edwards way of thinking so I could discern fact from fiction by “hearing from (him) and from (his) voice.”

As if Edwards could read my mind, he gave a press conference after the verdict allowing a glimpse into his way of thinking, albeit not under oath. In his speech, I noticed Edwards portrayed himself as a man donning several roles. As an attorney, he thanked and evaluated the jurors for a job well done. As a family man, he acknowledged his parents and his eldest daughter for their unrelenting support during the trial. He professed his love for his parents, his siblings and his children. However, a level of humanism and realism was lacking from his self portrayal as a repentant man. Not once did he publicly acknowledge the extent of the emotional damage from the hurt, betrayal, deceit to his family or his deceased wife, Elizabeth Edwards, nor did he acknowledge self disappointment. He didn’t address the long road to rebuilding trust and faith in those he hurt. A healthy dose of realism and humanism in his speech would have shown us a sliver of a repentant man. Repentance is more than acknowledging sin and accepting responsibility. Repentance includes taking action to right the wrongs. Humanism and realism are necessary components for acquittal or at the very least, a commuted sentence, in the court of public opinion. Let me explain my may of thinking.

When Edwards gave his confession by accepting “responsibility…for my sins” even though he didn’t “believe that I ever did anything illegal or thought I was doing anything illegal.” He further accepted responsibility by admitting “I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t know what he’s confessing to. It’s not clear what he means by “anything illegal,” “sins” and “an awful, awful lot that was wrong.” I want to believe Edwards; however, I can’t believe something that he didn’t say. As a body language and detecting deception expert, I’m skilled at identifying the nuances of body gestures and verbal “hot spots.” Edwards’s confession sounds like he is taking responsibility because he used convincing words such as “sins,” “anything illegal,” and “awful lot that was wrong.” Yet these words lack specificity. People tend to use vague words when they don’t want for us to know what they are thinking. I can’t believe something that I’m not told. I’m not a mind reader. I don’t know what Edwards is talking about. Sure, I can guess and speculate, but that’s not how I operate.

Additionally, Edwards used the verbs “believe” and “thought” which convey uncertainty and doubt. Notice the difference between two of his statements. “…while I do not believe that I ever did anything illegal or thought I was doing anything illegal.” versus “I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong.”  In the first statement, Edwards isn’t convinced that he didn’t do anything illegal as evidenced by his choice of verbs “believe” and “thought.” If he wants us to believe that he didn’t do anything illegal then he should tell us he didn’t do anything illegal instead of suggesting that he didn’t. A convincing statement would have been, “I did not ever do anything illegal” which would have unequivocally denied any wrongdoing. In the second statement, Edwards stated that he “did” make “wrong” choices. The second statement projects certainty. I believe him when he stated that he made many wrong decisions and mistakes.

Ah, I saw Edwards use the beggar’s pose, a body language gesture with both arms in front of you and open palms facing upward toward the sky, when he said, “I don’t think God’s through with me. I really believe He thinks there is some good I can do.”  In the nonverbal communication world, the beggar’s pose is a classic sign of vulnerability suggesting sincerity and openness depending on its use. Given that Edwards had previously confessed his sins publicly and was alluding to redemption, the beggar’s pose might have effectively conveyed sincerity. However, he qualified his statement by using “think,” “believe,” “really,” and “some.” As I pointed out earlier, the verbs “think” and “believe” convey doubt. In other words, Edwards isn’t sure God has a continued purpose for him or God is convinced of his goodness. Yikes! I imagine this isn’t the message he wanted to convey. The word “really” adds unnecessary emphasis to his statement as though he’s trying to convince us that God believes in him. Furthermore, the word “some” is limiting and suggests Edwards isn’t completely good. Ouch! Again, I imagine this wasn’t the impression Edwards wanted us to have of him. So the disconnect between his body language and his words undermined his message. The disconnect may also contribute to the pervasive negative commentary throughout cyberspace of Edwards’s presser (press conference) as a pisser.

What is your take now that you know the disconnect between Edwards’ words and body gestures?

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