Tom Byrne, my attorney and friend, passed away two weeks ago. This book is as much a conversation on his journey the last few years as it is mine, since he was with me the entire way. I will miss him. Tom did a lot to focus me on the issues and helped to alleviate my anger in the early going. He was always trying to do the the right thing, even when the rest of the world wasn’t even interested in being fair.
In the final draft, I will dedicate this manuscript to his memory.
The lies told to the coroner’s investigator by Stephan Scoggins, and the myths continued by Harvey Levin and TMZ in the press gained credence, survived and “stuck” so long because first and foremost, the length of time it took the Coroner to arrive at a decision, allowed inaccurate information to circulate without challenge by the facts. It also didn’t help that doctor-patient privilege prevented me from correcting the record.
Secondly, the story took the form of a proverb or urban myth. In their book, “Made to Stick”, Chip and Dan Heath examine the “six principles of sticky ideas” (Random House, 2007). This story had all six. It was simple: woman dies after cosmetic surgery. It was unexpected: people have cosmetic surgery all the time. Many times the results are laughable, but come on, no one dies. (Unfortunately, that is part of the myth: people do in fact die all the time following cosmetic procedures.) Clearly it was concrete: a dead body. Where many people first heard the story made it credible: CNN. Regardless of who you are or what you do the story evoked some emotion: sadness, disgust, or fear. And, above all there was a story: Celebrity mom has surgery by celebrity plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills and dies.
What was not so easy to understand was why, as the story dragged on and on, no one in the press, none of the so-called “real” journalists, nor any of the authorities investigating the matter, bothered to research, or present the facts?
Diana and Nubia were the only two people with Donda West from the time she left the surgery center to the announcement of her death at Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital. Neither one of them- both without the restraint of doctor-patient privilege- was interviewed by anybody, at any time, not even the coroner’s investigator. Why was that?
The best example of this, the people telling the story ignoring the principal players, comes from a woman named Amy Keith, a reporter with People Magazine. She called me a number of times, first to verify some issues and then “wanting to get my take on the 911 call”. It was now public record and some members of the press were using it as a way to generate a dialogue with me. I had not heard it, though it was being played on a number of outlets. Ms Keith was using the “verification” angle and she actually offered to send me a copy.
I assured her that that wouldn’t be necessary.
She said she wanted to talk with me after I had heard it, and I suggested that she call back the following day, making sure that she knew I understood she had a deadline. Sure enough, she did. She called back. “What do you think?” she asked.
“I’m not sure what you mean” I countered.
“Well, you’ve had an opportunity to hear it, what’s your take on it?” She sounded impatient and I got the impression that she wasn’t as concerned with what I had to say, as she was with what she intended to write, regardless of what I had to say.
“I don’t have a take on it’ I said. “It is what it is. I’m interested in your take; you’re the one writing on it.”
I’m sure she found me tedious and not very cooperative, but what I was trying to do was to get her focused on what she was hearing. It seemed to me at the time that what she really wanted was some ridiculous soundbite she could take out of context, because in my mind you didn’t have to be Donda West’s doctor, a doctor, or Dr. Dre for that matter, to have an opinion on it. What was also obvious, at least to me, was that if she took the time to listen, I mean really listen, her take would be exactly my take, which was the take I had hoped she would have arrived at on her own anyway, without me.
I wanted to see her as intelligent. I wanted someone in the press to just get it. She didn’t, and that’s when I feared no one would. I felt helpless. I also began to believe this woman, this Amy Keith from People Magazine, was an absolute idiot. She may be and may have been, but the real problem was with me: I was suffering from what Dan and Chip Heath based on the research of Elizabeth Newton at Stanford call the “Curse of Knowledge”. I knew the significance of the message in the “911 Call” and it “was impossible for (me) to imagine what it’s like to lack that knowledge”. I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t see it. “When you listen to this” I began, “aren’t there two really pressing questions you ask yourself?
Nothing…she had no reply to give me.
As a result, Ms. Keith and I went back and forth over the next day or so. She wanted my take and I wanted someone in the press to stop and look at the facts. She finally suggested that we meet and talk (her goal all along) and I consented to meet her at a hotel in Newport, not too far from my house in Laguna Beach. She had arrived before me and was sitting at a booth in the restaurant of the hotel, notes spread out on the table and a digital recorder in front of her.
“Hi, are you Amy? I asked.
She nodded warmly and smiled, “Yes, hi Dr. Adams.” She had that advantage, the advantage of recognition, because let’s face it, my picture, and a most unflattering picture at that, was everywhere.
After I had introduced myself and taken a seat across from her, the first thing I noticed was that she was very cute, and disarming, and had gone to extreme lengths to be business-like and professional. The second thing I notice, after she put a tape recorder in front of me, was that she wasn’t having a conversation; she wasn’t listening to me, she was working her angle and didn’t care what I had to say.
“Can I get you something…coffee…something to eat?” she asked.
“No…no, water is fine.”
I watched her as she went about her business. She asked pointed questions, made eye contact occasionally, and asked for clarification when there was some confusion. In the beginning she focused on mundane issues in the press, her background research.
I found it hard to maintain a conversation because she kept returning to issues that I had already explained I felt came under the auspices of doctor-patient privilege. She was undaunted. She would acknowledge my concern; move away from the taboo subject of Donda West, only to return with the same question worded another way. She was going to keep at it until she got some negative sound bite to print. That was obvious, and so was my naivete.
Here was a reporter I was naively expecting to be open and fair, and what this woman was, was a classic case of “confirmation bias”. She was not interviewing me, she was looking to gather information, regardless of whether the information was true or not in order to confirm her preconceptions. I should have recognized it when she brought up Aboolian. “Dr. Aboolian says he would not have operated on her”.
“That’s his business; I don’t have a comment on it.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter. He’s crazy and no one pays him any attention anyway.”
I didn’t expect that. That was perhaps more insight than I was prepared to give her. Perhaps I was wrong about Ms. Keith. I know I wanted to be. “Oh really…so if you know “he’s crazy” why do you guys keep repeating him?” I asked. Ms. Keith just shrugged it off. She had no answer for that. Perhaps, changing my opinion once again, she was as clueless as I had originally thought. I know she just didn’t seem to care about the facts.