Part 4—As Rachel Maddow correctly said: As Governor Perry said: Oops!
Last night, early in Politics Nation, Joy-Ann Reid of The Grio made a striking statement.
Why wasn’t George Zimmerman charged with a crime on the night he shot and killed Trayvon Martin? Reid discussed the way this decision was made by Sanford officials. She then added the following statement:
REID (3/28/12): We also learned that there was an instance where Zimmerman was taken back to the scene of the shooting. They did a re-enactment with him. But after all of that, the re-enactment, apparently they did look at his clothing and did take his clothing and his gun. But after the homicide detective talked to him, he didn’t believe him. So he prepared an affidavit—he actually did a written affidavit saying he didn’t believe him and he should be arrested.Oops. Over the previous week and a half, MSNBC’s journalists had been insisting that police didn’t take Zimmerman’s clothing and gun—that their failure to do so showed that they had conducted a pseudo-investigation. Al Sharpton and Lawrence O’Donnell thundered about this point, with help from reliable sidekicks like Jonathan Capehart.
Even after the Orlando Sentinel reported that the Sanford police had in fact taken the clothing and gun, the thunder continued on this “news” channel. Lawrence O’Donnell’s thunder on Monday is especially instructive:
O’DONNELL (3/26/12): The Sanford police have made an obvious tactical decision. They have decided they have had enough of the criticism from the likes of me and the law enforcement professionals that I’ve had on this show and others who called their investigation an exercise in rank incompetence the night Trayvon Martin was killed ago, 29 days ago.As usual, O’Donnell was stressing his own heroic role, even as he misstated the facts. Is there anything else this clown does?
And so, the police have taken a time-tested police tradition in a situation like this. They don’t want to take it anymore. So you know what they’re doing now? They are leaking, leaking, what they believe is evidence that supports their foolish, unjustifiable position of allowing George Zimmerman to just walk free, walk free that night, and not collect any evidence from him, not his gun, not his clothing, nothing. Nothing from him on the night he shot and killed Trayvon Martin.
We’ll guess that O’Donnell may have been right on one score in this statement. It may well be that people within the Sanford police force decided to start leaking information because they “didn’t want to take it anymore” from the likes of O’Donnell. But presumably, part of what they didn’t want to take was O’Donnell’s relentless misstatements—the misinformation he kept advancing even after Florida newspapers reported the actual facts.
For the past two weeks, O’Donnell and Sharpton have aggressively pushed basic misinformation, using bogus claims to advance a preferred story-line. Last night, Reid finally said that the Sanford police had in fact taken the gun and the clothes.
No one on either one of these programs issued corrections of the false claims they had made for the past two weeks.
We don’t mean to pick on O’Donnell and Sharpton. Absurd misstatements have ruled the day as the acolytes of a tribal world advanced their tribe’s favored claims. This was Joan Walsh in Tuesday’s Salon, handing her readers a gong-show:
WALSH (3/27/08): The fact is, whatever turns out to be true, the president was right: This case looks like too many others where a young black man was gunned down for being a young black man. A 17-year-old was shot to death, and no one was taken to a police station to be questioned about it. It then took police three days to locate the dead boy’s family. Now they’re sliming him with anonymous leaks.On the tapes which were released last night, you can see Zimmerman as he is “taken to a police station to be questioned”—as he’s taken there in handcuffs, no less! But even when Walsh’s piece appeared, it had been widely and reliably reported that Zimmerman had in fact been questioned at length, with re-enactments at the scene of the killing.
How does someone like Walsh write such tripe? For once, she ought to explain. One possible answer: The tribal world to which Walsh belongs no longer traffics in old-world items like facts. Consider one segment of Lawrence O’Donnell’s ridiculous program last night.
Midway through the program, O’Donnell interviewed Cheryl Brown, the mother of two teen-age children who made a 911 call during the incident which ended in Martin’s death. Brown’s 13-year-old son was an eyewitness to some of the events which preceded the killing. As of yesterday, the statements he has made to police and the press had been characterized by several major news organizations, including the Washington Post and ABC News.
His statements had been characterized in the Orlando Sentinel all the way back on March 16.
The fact that Brown’s son is now caught in this mess is part of the spreading tragedy. But how odd! When O’Donnell interviewed Cheryl Brown, he didn’t ask a single question about what her son had witnessed or said.
Why did O’Donnell skip past such obvious questions? We will offer a guess: The answer may lie in an exchange between Cheryl Brown and Sharpton four hours earlier.
Cheryl Brown also appeared on last night’s Politics Nation. At one point, Sharpton asked her to characterize the way her son was questioned by the Sanford police. Brown, a dignified, decent person, raised a specific objection:
BROWN (3/28/12): I mean, honestly, I’m not an expert in how to question a witness but I feel, knowing my son and knowing— I was present when they questioned him. I just don’t feel that it was done properly. I think there were some tactics used to maybe suggest some things to him that may be some leading him to say certain things that weren’t exactly what he would have told if he just were able to talk without them intervening or suggesting anything.By yesterday, it had been widely reported that Brown’s son said the shirt of the man on the ground was red. This would suggest that it was Zimmerman whom he saw down on the ground. But you won’t be required to know such things if you watch O’Donnell’s program. You will hear, for almost two weeks, that Zimmerman’s gun and the clothing weren’t taken. Then, you will be kept from hearing that two eyewitnesses, one of them named, have said that the shirt of the man on the ground was red.
SHARPTON: When you say “leading things,” can you give me an example?
BROWN: Well, for example, they asked Austin if he could tell the race of the person lying on the ground. He said he could not see the color of their skin. They then proceeded to ask if he knew the color of the shirt that the person was wearing. And then they proceed to give him options of what color that shirt could have been. I don`t feel that they should have done that. I think they should have just let him tell the story with as much detail as he could remember. They suggested maybe it was black, maybe it was white, maybe it was red. I don’t think that that is information he would have been able to provide, especially since he said it was so dark that he couldn’t see the color of the skin. I don’t see how he could see the color of the shirt if he couldn’t see the color of the skin.
Did Brown’s son see this correctly? Is the other, unnamed witness telling the truth? We have no idea. Eyewitness testimony is often mistaken, and this event happened at night. Let’s say again—it’s part of the spreading tragedy of this case that a 13-year-old has now been dragged into the middle of a very emotional matter, with tribal and racial pressures arrayed against him.
(Cheryl Brown says she is “mostly black.” God bless Brown and her teen-aged children, who tried to help.)
It’s part of the tragedy of this case that a 13-year-old has been dragged in this mess. But O’Donnell has been picking and choosing and misstating facts all through the course of this spreading disaster, pimping himself for his courage and greatness as he does. In the passage we’ve quoted above, he complained about the “rank incompetence” of the police, even as he bravely continued to spread his disinformation.
That said, here’s an additional part of the tragedy:
O’Donnell is allowed to go on the air and behave in this ridiculous manner. This brings us to a troubling fact about MSNBC, a "news channel" which has been a disaster since the Clinton-Gore years:
In the past few weeks, MSNBC has implicitly made an announcement: Whatever it is, it simply isn’t a news organization at this point. It is no longer providing a service resembling traditional journalism.
Each night, this organization pretends to be giving you facts. But that plainly is not what it’s doing.
In 2009, Rachel Maddow lodged a complaint about the conduct of Fox News, which by then was directly involving itself in the promotion of political rallies. Her complaint was largely accurate, though she larded it up with silly scare language in which Fox was promoting a protest movement “against the U. S. government.”
Fox isn’t a news station, Maddow said. Basically, she was right in her analysis. But uh-oh! In these remarks, she was describing the culture which would be soon adopted by the directors of her own former news station:
MADDOW (10/23/09): Is Fox a news station? The answer to that is unrelated to the question of whether and which Fox hosts and correspondents express their opinion about the news. It is possible to express an opinion about the news and still cover the news responsibly.Ignore the talk about “organizing and promoting a protest movement against the U. S. government.” The Obama administration is not “the U. S. government.”
Expressing an opinion about the news does not negate one’s status as a news reporter or as a correspondent or as a news anchor. The expression of opinion about the news is not the difference between Fox and the rest of the news media. The difference between Fox and news is that Fox is now actively organizing and promoting a protest movement against the U.S. government.
The difference between Fox and news is not that Fox has hired personalities and executives and producers share and express an opinion about the news, that they share an ideology. Opinion has always been a kissing cousin to news, and one man’s ideology is another man`s objective passion.
The difference between Fox and news, the way in which one of these things is not like the other, is that only one of these organizations is organizing anti-government street protests. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s perfectly legal as far as I know. It just makes Fox an opposition political outlet to the Democratic Party and the Obama White House rather than a normal news channel.
The exclamation point was put on that fact today when it was announced that the next round of Americans for Prosperity anti-health reform rallies—which we’ve highlighted on this show in the past—they will be headlined by Fox host John Stossel. Mr. Stossel is a paid contributor at Fox News. He hosts specials for them and he’s about to start his own primetime hour on their business channel. But not before he tours Arkansas, leading rallies against what our friends at American for Prosperity call the "dangers of government-forced health care."
This is a story that most of the media has gotten wrong so far. By not only defending Fox as if Fox is just a news network that has a right-wing point of view, but by ignoring what Fox does as a network that has nothing to do with the news. It’s a free country and Fox can do what it wants. God bless them and keep them.
But it would frankly be strange, it would be weird for the White House, for the U.S. government to treat a group that is organizing protests and rallies against it as if that group is just covering the news. It’s not.
Ignoring that cable excitement, Maddow was making a very good point. It’s a giant break with traditional practice when a news organization sends its personnel to promote political rallies.
But uh-oh! Before long, MSNBC was sending Ed Schultz to promote political rallies in Wisconsin. Sadly, this channel’s disgraceful conduct in the past two weeks shows where this sort of thing leads. It shows how much worse things can get.
The killing of Trayvon Marrtin was an important event. As we noted last Saturday, President Obama made a wise suggestion about how we should react. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/24/12.)
“It is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together—federal, state and local—to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened,” the president said. Speaking of Martin’s parents, he said this: “I think they are right to expect that all of us, as Americans, are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
That said, MSNBC has refused to take this event “with the seriousness it deserves.” Their conduct has constituted a rolling clown show—a rolling journalistic disgrace. The clowning continued last night as a millionaire cable culture continued to tell us we don’t need actual facts—that speculation, misstatement and novelization will serve us just as well.
Who needs journalism? this channel has asked. We have a more pleasing product to sell you!
Thye're guessing that we will gulp this new food. In that, almost surely they're right.