Until the elevator video was released on Monday, Ray Rice's attorney, Michael Diamondstein, was part of the small but not exclusive fraternity of people—Rice, Janay Palmer, cops, prosecutors, casino security, TMZ reporters, Deadspin tipsters, and allegedly not a soul from the NFL—who knew what precisely it contained. He'd seen the video. When the media asked in May if it showed Rice punching Palmer, he told them: "It's more complex than that. I can't break it down to you in words that quickly."
His tongue was a little looser later in the month. On May 24, he appeared on South Jersey's ESPN 97.3 FM and made what at that point was the only public statement about the contents of the video from someone who'd seen it firsthand. He was coy about it, though.
"Let's assume for the sake of argument, rather than enter into the pretrial diversionary program that [Rice] entered into, we hypothetically move forward on the case. And hypothetically we litigate 100 motions and the video comes out and the video shows — hypothetically speaking now, hypothetically speaking — shows that Ray wasn't the first person that hit and Ray was getting repeatedly hit but just Ray hit harder, fired one back and hit harder. Hypothetically speaking, and he gets found not guilty. Is that result somehow better? Is it better for the public? Is it better for the Ravens? Is it better for Ray? Is it better for Janay?"
At the time, this appeared to be Diamondstein's way of getting what was really on the tape into the public domain without explicitly saying what was on the tape. With each "hypothetical," he seemed to be winking and wriggling his eyebrows, pleading for us to read between the lines.
This was bad enough at the time—it never mattered whether Palmer "provoked" Rice, with physical violence or otherwise—but now, with the brutal reality of what happened in that elevator laid bare for all to see, Diamondstein's radio performance takes on a radically more sinister aspect that goes well beyond zealous lawyering.
Here was a guy who had seen the tape, who knew exactly what Rice did to Palmer that night, and who still thought nothing of laying out this red herring of a hypothetical, with all sorts of winks and nudges. Why? What possible reason would he have for doing this other than to deliberately mislead the public and smear Janay Palmer by positioning her as the aggressor? He had to have known how people would interpret his comments, as he was the only person with direct knowledge of the tape willing to toss us a few bits of (ultimately bad) information.
You can listen to the radio segment from May 24 right here (click the second audio player). Skip ahead to the seven-minute mark. Diamondstein is talking about what a good person Ray Rice is, and then out of nowhere he leaps into his hypothetical about the video. He's suddenly very animated, lurching into a topic of conversation that nobody had brought up to that point. It all feels very prepared.
Worst of all, the narrative he offers up more or less became the accepted one. Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio wrote last night that a Ravens official privately cautioned him against describing Rice's action as a "punch," the implication being that Rice might not have been the aggressor.
And then there was the parade of ESPN pundits, Stephen A. Smith being the worst of them, making noises about Janay Palmer's "errors" and discussing "elements of provocation."
This is what a smear campaign looks like. Let's say that Diamondstein is the Typhoid Mary of the smear. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that it was Diamondstein whispering his account of the video into the ears of reporters and that it was Diamondstein whispering it into the ears of those NFL officials who themselves would go on to whisper it in the ears of reporters. What would that make Michael Diamondstein, do you think? I think it'd make him a ghoul and a dick. Hypothetically speaking, of course.