[Newsletter] 4.9.24 | “It’s not extortion,”

April 3, 2024

Last month was back on track with lots of examples to learn (and laugh.) The winner is a classic blunder where one party utters a negative word and the other repeats and denies it several times causing the listener to ignore the denial. It’s also already in contention for lawyer communication malpractice of the year. Two strong runners-up and more from Israel’s Prime Minister, the head of Luxembourg soccer (yes, it does exist thank you very much), misuse of the claim of no red line, RFK Jr. bad friend choices, and the Pope’s stance on Ukraine and repeating a very bad phrase. Sam Bankman-Fried’s lawyer also contributes. And an example of the wrong thing to say and the wrong way to say it from Kellogg’s CEO.


“It’s not extortion,” said the lawyer for a woman accusing Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott of non-consensual sex. She’s asking for $100 million to keep quiet. In reply, Prescott sued her for, you guessed it, extortion. Her lawyer doesn’t read the YDS memo because he used the word multiple times, and it made all the headlines.

Additionally, in an interview with the all-news radio station KRLD, the woman’s lawyer repeated, “This is not extortion,” three times.

Our take? And our acknowledgement that a normally “bad word,” extortion, becomes the word Prescott’s lawyers want remembered is—wait for it—extortion!

The Dallas Morning News, “Dallas police investigating claims of alleged sexual assault involving Dak Prescott,” March 13, 2024


“King Charles is not dead,” was the announcement, much retweeted, from Buckingham Palace following a tweet from nowhere—ascribed to Russian misinformation—which went viral. Funny because it came from the Palace. This is where we would have recommended just the visual of a balcony appearance and jaunty wave.

Twitter “King Charles is not dead, Buckingham Palace refute rumors,” March 18, 2024

“I’ve never bet on baseball or any other sport,” said Dodgers Shohei Ohtani who is in the spotlight for a $700 million ten-year deal but facing controversy over the discovery that his interpreter may have paid millions in gambling debts with his money. Ohtani voiced denials over and over in a press conference, saying “I never went through a book maker; I never agreed to pay off the debt.” We feel for him, and we have experience with a nationally televised press conference in a sports crisis. Missing from all these denials is any positive comment about his commitment to the integrity of the game, his admiration for the sport and his gratitude for the opportunity the team has given him. Oh, and a ’thank you’ to the fans would be nice.

USA Today, “Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani says he was duped by his ex-interpreter, blindsided by gambling allegations,” March 25, 2024

“We’re not a Banana Republic,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacting to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calling on Israel to hold elections for new leaders. He should have stuck to quoting the numerous officials and leaders who jumped into the debate and noted the U.S.’s long- standing relationship with the only democracy in the region.

The New York Times, “’We’re Not a Banana Republic,’ Netanyahu Says, Rejecting Criticism from U.S.,” March 17, 2024

“I did not exonerate him,” said special counsel Robert Hur testifying before Congress about his report finding that the President “willfully” retained and showed classified documents but that he was not bringing charges because he did not believe a jury would convict him. This is not exactly a classic BLUNDER, where we ignore the denial, as much as it is an example of the power of negative words and of how a word (or phrase) can be the foundation for the point the speaker is trying to say. It also exemplifies how words can anchor warfare (or, in this case, word fare.) Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) tried to assert that Hur’s investigation “resulted in a complete exoneration of President Biden.” Hur replied, “That ‘exoneration’ is not a word found in the report.” Jayapal pressed the issue, “You exonerated him,” and Hur emphatically said, “I did not exonerate him.” The lesson? Don’t bring up a word that is likely to get repeated and can become the anchor message. The exchange made it into numerous press reports and only highlighted that section and conclusion of the report’s finding.

USA Today, “Hur testimony shows sad state of 2024 race,” March 14, 2024

“This is not Liechtenstein,” said Paul Philipp, president of Luxembourg’s soccer federation. The humor of this may be lost on people who aren’t Euro-centric or soccer obsessed. Tiny Luxembourg loves soccer, and it may actually make the playoffs of a major tournament. Officials are outraged that people would find this amazing or worse, amusing. Although the nation is small – news reports note it is smaller than Rhode Island with a population of Nashville – it is proud of its successful effort to spot and develop talent enough to mount a competitive team. It is, as the above quote notes, “not Liechtenstein” or, for that matter, even “San Marino.” (We had to go look it up, too. San Marino is a “microstate” within Italy, but it is bigger than the Vatican and Monte Carlo.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Soccer’s Punchline Learns to Punch Its Weight,” March 20, 2024

“There’s no red line,” said President Biden when asked if Israel’s pursuit of Hamas leadership was a “red line,” which would cause the U.S. to pull back on supplying arms to the Jewish nation. The headlines in multiple publications said it all. Biden said there was “no red line,” but then named several conditions that he considered that Israel had to observe. The phrase has an unhappy and controversial history. In 2012, then-President Obama warned Syrian President Assad against using chemical weapons using the red-line phrase, but when Assad went ahead and used them there was no penalty.

This quote has gained additional traction as, at this writing, the U.S. just abstained from a U.N. Security Council vote calling for a complete and immediate cease fire in Gaza, effectively allowing the resolution to pass and furthering Israel’s precarious international status claiming that its pursuit of Hamas is justified.

Reuters, “Biden makes contradictory comments on Gaza ‘red line’ in MSNBC interview,” March 9, 2024

He wasn’t a “ruthless financial serial killer,” said Sam Bankman-Fried’s own lawyer, Mark Mukasy, arguing at sentencing for the convicted former high flying bitcoin star. Here’s another lesson for lawyers. The Wall Street Journal article notes the judge made clear that Sam Bankman-Fried never admitted fault or guilt or expressed remorse and experts who faulted the argument note that Bankman-Fried was fixated on math not people. We agree.

The Wall Street Journal, “FTX Founder Sam Bankman-Fried Sentenced to 25 Years,” March 28, 2024


Robert Kennedy Jr, after being asked about flying on convicted and now deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein’s plane said, “So I run into everybody in New York. I mean, I knew Harvey Weinstein; I knew Roger Ailes; I knew—O.J. Simpson came to my house. Bill Cosby came to my house.”

The author of the article paraphrased the response as follows: I know it sounds bad that I was palling around with a pedophile, but you have to understand that I frequently associate with rapists and murders, too. There’s context!

The reader who spotted this sent it with the notation “with friends like this…” We agree.

Instagram Threads @keithedwards

Ukraine should have “the courage to raise the white flag” and negotiate with Russia, said Pope Francis. His remarks caused international outrage with numerous commentators and officials pointing out that this is calling for surrender. Interestingly, from the reports, it appears that the Pope introduced the comment of “courage to negotiate” but then reporters threw the “white flag” phrase at the Holy Father who repeated it.

CBS News, “Pope Francis says Ukraine should have ‘courage of the white flag’ against Russia,” March 10, 2024


“Cereal for dinner, that’s going to be much more affordable,” said Kellogg CEO Gary Pilnick, suggesting consumers could save money by eating cereal for dinner on a CNBC interview and in a Wall Street Journal piece. Backlash was swift and brutal. What should he have said? We would have recommended a poll or focus group exploring how people eat cereal all day and snack on it. As someone who munches Cheerios at night, I could identify with this! Then they’re reporting on trends not looking like a company targeting poor people.

Consumer Affairs, “Kellogg continues to get pushback over cereal for dinner idea,” March 12, 2024

“You Don’t Say” is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say.