“Fall guy” and other terms

Tuesday night, I heard Chris Matthews of MSNBC correct a lawyer he was interviewing about the Lewis “Scooter” Libby verdict. The lawyer for journalist Matt Cooper, Dick Sauber, had used the term “scapegoat.” A scapegoat, Matthews said, is a person who didn’t do anything wrong but has to take the blame for others. Denis Collins, the Libby juror who talked to the press after the verdict, said that the jurors wondered if Libby was the “fall guy.” A fall guy is someone who is left to take the blame when a scheme fails. Matthews was right to note the difference. (I checked the dictionary to be sure of the definitions.)

The “scapegoat” term came up in the Libby defense. Libby’s attorney, Theodore V. Wells Jr., said that his client was concerned about “being scapegoated.” Collins seemed to understand the nuance of the terms when he said that the jurors wondered about Libby’s role. Collins said, “It seemed like he was, as Mr. Wells [his lawyer] put it, he was the fall guy.”

The terms “fall guy” and “scapegoat” appear in quotation marks in reports about the Libby trial, as they should. They are loaded, and as Matthews’ discussion shows, they are subject to different interpretations.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.