Part 4—Why bother having professors: Yesterday, we received an email from The Nation, a famous journal of the alleged left.
To be honest, the email was a fund-raising pitch. It was written by Mychal Denzel Smith, a smart, involved young Nation blogger. It started out like this:
Dear Friend of The Nation,Full disclosure: We aren’t exactly a friend of The Nation, although we subscribed for quite a few years. That said, we were struck by the contrast between what the email promised and what it quickly provided.
There isn’t a good reason for me to be as angry as I am over the “not guilty” verdict handed down for George Zimmerman in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. I always knew that would be the outcome.
And yet there I was, crying rage-filled tears as “ZIMMERMAN NOT GUILTY” appeared on television. Because no amount of cynicism can override the pain of knowing a 17-year-old boy is dead through no fault of his own, and no one will be held accountable.
Our nation is crying out for an honest, respectful dialogue about racism in America. One of the few places that conversation is happening is here at The Nation where I am a regular blogger.
The email said that The Nation provides an honest dialogue. As it continued, the email said that we “can count on The Nation to make sense of all the noise and confusion.”
The email said that The Nation “fights tabloid news with fearless, truth-telling investigation and commentary.” But right there in that second paragraph, Smith gave an account of this recent case which had the characteristics of tabloid pseudo-reporting written all over it:
In the unfortunate case of Trayvon Martin, is “a 17-year-old boy dead through no fault of his own?” We will break that question into two parts:
Is a 17-year-old really a boy? Ignoring the bathos in that locution, we’ll move on to the fact-based question:
In the case of this teenager, is he dead “through no fault of his own?”
Smith asserts that state of affairs as an established fact. We’d have to regard that as tabloid writing as opposed to honest conversation.
What actually happened in Sanford that night? Unlike Smith, we weren’t physically present, so we aren’t going to tell you.
That said, people who are 17 are sometimes prone to doing things which are extremely unwise. Is it possible that Martin behaved unwisely that night, perhaps even violently?
Of course that is possible! Unless you’re reading the standardized, tabloid writing which, in this latest unfortunate case, has been adopted by the mainstream press corps from voices on “the left.”
Our “press corps” has been writing tabloidized novels for decades. When it writes its Standard Group Stories, the corps tends to take its account of the facts from some preferred outside source.
The 1990s was a time of rising conservative power in Washington. Perhaps for that reason, the “press corps” accepted stenography from Republican and conservative sources as it constructed its tabloid-flecked novels about President Clinton and the first lady, then about Candidate Gore.
The liberal world just sat there and took it as these punishing novels were crafted. In that conduct, our career liberal leaders proved that they are either very dumb or just deeply immoral.
You can make the choice! At any rate, the mainstream press corps’ alignment with conservative sources began coming apart in July 2003, as the failure to find so-called WMD in Iraq began to move center stage. In the wake of that embarrassment, the mainstream press began moving away from Bold Leader Bush and his Strong Silent Leadership Style.
For the previous dozen years, they had strongly tended to align with the right, from whom they took their dictation. (Example: In the twenty-month coverage of Campaign 2000, it’s very hard to distinguish mainstream treatment of Candidate Gore from that which emerged on the right.)
Starting in July 2003, this alignment began to dissolve. And so it came to pass: By the spring of 2012, when the national press began to report the killing of Martin, the major organs were willing to take their dictation from “the left.”
In the process, we got yet another hapless product—another tabloid-inflected, standardized tale. But this time, the fake facts, cloying language and disappeared information all came from voices on “the left.”
This time, the “press corps” farmed out its responsibilities to forces on the left! Handed this responsibility by a deeply irresponsible press corps, we lefties churned the typical reams of bullshit, though we’re still assuring the world that we created “an honest dialogue” about Martin’s death—that we’ve been “fighting tabloid news with truth-telling investigation and commentary.”
What a manifest pile of crap! Let’s return to Joyce’s Dublin, or perhaps to Camus’ Oran.
When Joyce surveyed his nation in Dubliners, he saw moral and intellectual “paralysis” pervading all sectors of the community. When Camus imagined Oran in the grip of a plague, he explained why respectable citizens couldn’t see, wouldn’t say, what was happening.
Presumably, Joyce overstated the case. Even at 25, young people tend to be hot-headed. But the tabloid behavior has been general all over this nation when it comes to the killing of Martin.
The Nation tells you that isn’t true. The Nation may be a bit blind here.
Many sectors have contributed to the hysteria and the misinformation which have dominated the treatment of Martin’s killing. The lurid fake facts began with the lawyers. But the “press corps” quickly adopted these facts, and its separate stable of fact-checkers went on a good long vacation.
White liberals began to screech and yell, trying to convince the world that they actually care about black kids. At some point, the professors came into our lives.
A few days ago, we reread Ta-Nehisi Coates’ post about the Zimmerman verdict, with which we would largely agree. (We don’t think point 6 makes much sense.) This time, we decided to take Coates up on point 5: “I think you should read everything my friend Jelani Cobb has written about this case.”
We decided to follow this suggestion. This is the link Coates provided.
We have no doubt that Cobb is a thoroughly good and decent person. That said, we’re not sure why Coates recommended his work, since the spirit of Cobb’s work contrasts quite strongly with the analysis offered by Coates.
Is it possible that Trayvon Martin did something foolish that horrible night? (Seventeen-year-olds often do.) Is it possible that he even did something gratuitously violent? This too is not uncommon, and some of the evidence suggests that this might have happened that night.
Coates acknowledges this possibility, undermining The Nation’s account of that evening’s events. But in this post, written on the night of the verdict, Professor Cobb snarks at this possibility.
In these passages, Cobb wishes undesirable possibilities away. What’s the point of having professors if this is the best they can do?
COBB (7/13/13): The most damning element here is not that George Zimmerman was found not guilty: it’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty. During his cross examination of Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, the defense attorney Mark O’Mara asked if she was avoiding the idea that her son had done something to cause his own death. During closing arguments, the defense informed the jury that Martin was armed because he weaponized a sidewalk and used it to bludgeon Zimmerman...At the defense’s table, and in the precincts far beyond it where donors have stepped forward to contribute funds to underwrite their efforts, there is a sense that Zimmerman was the victim.What’s the point of having professors if all they can give you is snark? If Martin did a foolish and violent thing that night—as, of course, he may have done—that doesn’t mean that “a black teen-ager can be considered armed any time he is walking down a paved street,” as Cobb snarks. It would mean that one teen-ager did a very foolish thing, as many teenagers do.
We can understand the verdict to mean validation for the idea that the actions Zimmerman took that night were those of a reasonable man, that the conclusions he drew were sound, and that a black teen-ager can be considered armed any time he is walking down a paved street.
Coates acknowledged this possibility. Cobb was writing a novel while providing a scholarly feel.
Cobb rolls his eyes at the idea that Zimmerman could be considered the victim. But of course, he may have been the initial victim, depending on what actually happened that night. We weren’t present in Sanford that night, so we can’t tell you what actually happened. What is the point of having professors if they just pretend that they can?
We were more struck by this earlier post—by the way Professor Cobb sticks to the tabloidized narrative:
COBB (7/10/13): Last winter, George Zimmerman saw a hoodie-clad black male cutting through a subdivision in the rain, and registered him as a threat. There are many white people who do not think of themselves as racist who can imagine themselves drawing the same conclusion. From this perspective, blandishments about Trayvon Martin’s right to move through that neighborhood unmolested are only so much political correctness. And as a result, Zimmerman becomes a sympathetic figure, a man who did what anyone would do under the circumstances—a man whose cause can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations.Did Zimmerman “register Martin as a threat” because he was “hoodie-clad?” Like Cobb, we have no way of knowing. Unlike Cobb, we aren’t going to hand you a novel packaged as analysis.
We live in an era in which the protocol for addressing even the most severely bigoted behavior very often includes a conditional apology to the offender—a declaration that he has made a terrible error, but is, of course, in no way racist—and, eventually, an outpouring of support for the fallible transgressor, victim of the media and the “race-hustlers.” We grade racism on the severest of curves, and virtually no one qualifies. This apparent contradiction—the prevalence of racist attitudes, the disavowal of actual racism—is key to understanding the way Zimmerman has been received. His actions are understandable, even reasonable, because it doesn’t take a racist to believe black males equal danger. To bridge the gap between those assumptions and the objective fact of Martin as an unarmed teen on a snack run, it’s been necessary for Zimmerman’s defenders—legal and otherwise—to assassinate a dead teen-ager’s character, to turn him from a slight seventeen-year-old into a rapper in his thirties with facial tattoos. Traces of weed, a few vile tweets, and a suspension from school don’t usually get you menace-to-society status, but for some Zimmerman diehards, it’s close enough to round up.
Did Zimmerman “register Martin as a threat” because of his hoodie? That has always been the story told by the Martin lawyers; they also had no possible way of knowing if that was true. In repeating their tale in the form of snark, this professor is playing stenographer too, just as the “press corps” has done.
Alas! On his initial call to police, Zimmerman described suspicious behavior by Martin, some of which seemed to be menacing. He didn’t mention Martin’s clothing until he was asked.
Did this behavior actually happen? We can’t tell you that! We weren’t there, though Professor Cobb was. Indeed, Cobb was inside Zimmerman’s head, from which vantage he offers a tabloidized tale about what roused the vigilante’s initial concern.
(By the way: Could "many white people who do not think of themselves as racist imagine themselves drawing the same conclusion" about a hoodie-clad figure? Duh! Of course they could, depending on what the hoodie-clad figure did!)
In the second paragraph we have posted, the professor keeps stenography alive. It is, of course, an “objective fact” that Martin was a teen-ager on a snack run that night. But other “objective facts” came into being that night, to most of which Cobb has no access.
No problem! He simply assembles the facts he likes and disappears all other facts. He disregards all other possibilities, especially those in which a teen-ager does something very foolish, as teen-agers sometimes do.
Why do we bother having professors if this is the best they can do?
A person could write a hundred novels about what happened in Sanford that night. In one of those novels, Zimmerman approaches Martin at gunpoint. He then starts walking him back to his car.
Fearing for his life, Martin strikes as they near the car. This would explain the location of the fight in a way favorable to Martin. (You haven't seen the location discussed in the press. By agreement with the lawyers, this part of the story has been disappeared.)
You could write a hundred novels in which you imagined the events of that night. We can imagine various tales in which Zimmerman behaves in openly criminal ways. But we can imagine other events which comport with Zimmerman’s story. In those novels, Martin doubles back around and attacks Zimmerman as he walks back to his car.
You can imagine events in various ways, but in all such cases, you are imagining. There is little real evidence as to what actually happened. As he picks and chooses his facts, does this professor know that?
As students of selective narration, we especially enjoyed one statement by Cobb. We refer to his citation of “a suspension from school.”
Before we proceed, let us state and restate a key fact—we don’t know what happened that night. We don’t know what Martin and/or Zimmerman did in the dark. Nor do we know why they did it.
We don’t know if Martin did something foolish that night. We also don’t know if he did something gratuitously violent, although of course he may have. We do know that we get to chuckle at the professor’s reference.
A suspension from school? The professor’s statement is even technically accurate! It’s true: A suspension from school doesn’t usually get you menace-to-society status, nor should it. But we had to chuckle at that presentation, because everyone, including Cobb, knows that this was Martin’s third suspension from school that year, and it was only February. In one of those suspensions, women’s jewelry was found in his locker along with something the school described as a burglary tool.
That doesn’t mean that Martin did something wrong that night, and he plainly may not have. But it tilts the scales toward the idea that something was tilting in the wrong direction for this particular teenager, as sometimes happens.
Three suspensions from school in six months is a lot of suspensions. But for a stenographer like Cobb, those three suspensions collapse to just one, with ridicule extended to those who have wondered if Martin may have done something unwise, perhaps even violent that night. There is no way to know what happened that night, of course. But as this professor manhandles the facts, a large number of possibilities are going to disappear.
We have no idea why Coates would cite Cobb. Coates acknowledges that he doesn’t know what happened out in the darkness that night. Cobb keeps putting his thumb on the scale, pretending that he does. In truth, he is reworking a tabloid novel which came directly from the lawyers and was instantly accepted by the stenographers in the “mainstream press.”
In the 1990s, they were increasingly taking dictation from forces on the right. After July 2003, that presumption started falling apart. By the time this story went national, they were happy to take their dictation straight from those family lawyers. Indeed, the heinous coverage of this event has come to us wholly from the left, as we prove that we can be just as dumb and dishonest as the people we used to revile.
On Monday evening, July 15, Professor Cobb went on the NewsHour, where he repeated a pair of false facts. "The fact of the matter is, Mr. Zimmerman had called the police 46 times in the previous six years, only for African-Americans, only for African-American men," he falsely stated to the hapless Judy Woodruff.
"The police—the dispatcher told him not to get out of his vehicle. He proceeded to get out of his vehicle," Cobb also said. On that same program, another expert from the left told Woodruff, who just sat there, that the verdict had come from an all-white jury!
This is what happened when Woodruff and them decided to take their dictation from us on the left. They'd come a long way from the 1990s, although their facts were still wrong and their novels were still highly tabloid.
We’ve told you this for many years: As in Dubliners, so too here. The moral and intellectual squalor are general through our elites.
Why do we even have professors if they can’t do any better than this? For that matter, why do we even have news programs?
For twenty years, it’s been the practice. Our newshours offer parades of “the dead.” They recite long strings of approved false facts and they tell pleasing fake tales.
Tomorrow: Two decades of silence