Part 2—Eleanor Clift’s false fact: Especially at times like this, our discourse will often be driven by false or unfounded facts.
These bogus facts are often transformed into “narratives”—selective stories designed to promote a preferred view of some incident.
Our discourse is often clogged with bogus facts. Often, these facts are put to partisan use—but where do those bogus facts come from?
Uh-oh! All too often, our bogus facts come from our major journalists. Consider one small example:
On Sunday, C-Span presented a lengthy program which it called a “Roundtable Discussion on Race in America.”
The discussion involved three well-known pundits. They were hosted by C-Span’s Peter Slen. To watch the discussion, click here.
On and on the discussion went. Roughly 96 minutes in, Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift said this about the militarization of police. We’ll highlight a blatant false statement:
CLIFT (8/24/14): Some jurisdictions, you know, big cities, need some of this armament. But Ferguson? It seems very much over the top and they seem like they are not at all trained to use it.Did the “armament” in question belong to the Ferguson police, or to the St. Louis County police? We still aren’t clear on that point, which pundits routinely gloss.
Taser—a Taser would have been much more effective in dealing with Michael Brown, but they say Tasers aren’t 100 percent effective. So maybe they ought to make them more effective.
Plus the fact there was a second police officer in the car with Wilson, I believe. That could be the backup with the gun. I think there is going to be some definite review of the procedures they used in Ferguson and whether those were the ones they were trained [in].
We also cringed (so Digby wouldn’t have to) when Clift suggested that Tasers would have been a better tool in the case of Michael Brown. Unless we’re mistaken, the one prior instance of a Ferguson policeman killing a citizen involved the use of a Taser, not a gun, back in 2011.
Tasers are dangerous too. Depending on what occurred between Wilson and Brown, it isn’t clear that Taser use was necessary, appropriate or feasible.
Those are relatively minor points. We were most struck by Clift’s belief that Officer Wilson was riding with a second officer on the day he shot Michael Brown.
From this remarkable bungled claim, we quickly discerned an apparent fact: Eleanor Clift probably shouldn’t have been on TV discussing this high-profile matter.
Good grief! Fifteen days after Brown was killed, Clift still didn’t know the barest basics about the way the shooting occurred! And you probably know what happened next:
Wilson was by himself in his car that day. But none of the other C-Span participants corrected Clift’s misstatement.
Slen didn’t correct or question Clift’s error. Neither did her fellow panelists, Paul Butler and Armstrong Williams. As you know if you own a TV, that sort of thing just isn’t done to a pundit of Clift’s stature.
People! Professional courtesy!
Clift’s error won’t change the world. That said, somebody out there in C-Span land now believe a bogus fact because he saw Clift advance the claim as three other people looked on.
Clift’s error isn’t especially important. It doesn’t figure in any of the partisan narratives currently being voiced about this high-profile case.
This morning, in the Washington Post, we encountered a more significant error. We clicked a featured link from the Post’s web site and found Joshua Alston, a former Newsweek scribe, saying this about negative portraits of Brown:
ALSTON (8/25/14): The defamation machine is so predictable...Uh-oh! According to Sunday’s New York Times, it seems that Brown may have been left uncovered for perhaps 15 minutes. For background, see yesterday's post.
Cherry-picked details of [Brown’s] life may not matter for the inquest into his shooting. But that doesn’t make his character irrelevant. His character definitely matters.
It matters to the black people who are still alive, those of us who have to continue to muster the resolve to participate in and contribute to a country in which Brown was shot and left to languish, uncovered, for hours on the pavement.
In typical fashion, the Times made little apparent effort to establish the accuracy of this claim, which theoretically lay at the heart of its front-page fact-check.
That said, it seems fairly clear that Michael Brown’s body did not lay uncovered “for hours.” And this particular fact really matters. It lies at the heart of a widespread narrative, in which the body’s lengthy exposure was a sign of contempt by local police for Ferguson’s black citizens.
Was the body “left to languish, uncovered, for hours?” Almost surely, no. But the Post is still publishing this claim—and there it was again last night, broadcast on CNN!
Once again, it was Van Jones who made this apparent misstatement last night. In the 11 PM hour of CNN Tonight, he told Don Lemon that the body was left uncovered “for four or five hours.”
As we noted yesterday, Jones is very smart and very fair. That said, he continued to make this inaccurate claim a full day after the New York Times seemed to say that the length of time in question was maybe 15 minutes.
Needless to say, Lemon didn’t question Jones’ remark. On TV, it isn’t done.
(As we post, CNN still hasn’t produced the transcript of last night’s 11 PM hour, in which the channel exploded with “Breaking News”—with an apparent audiotape of the gunshots which killed Brown. CNN made major claims all through this hour. It ought to produce a transcript.)
Where do our bogus facts come from? All too often, they come from our top-ranking journalists.
In the case of Clift, these journalists may go on TV to discuss matters they haven’t been following closely. In the case of Jones, they may keep repeating a bogus claim even after it seems to get debunked in a New York Times front-page report.
Moderators and other pundits almost never correct or challenge such claims. In the world of ranking pundits, this just isn’t done.
All too often, our major journalists are the source of our many false facts. All too often, these bogus facts turn into important partisan narratives.
Last week, Joe Klein used the term “metaphor” as he described this familiar process. What did Klein mean by that term?
Tomorrow, we’ll review what he said, warts and all. On Thursday, we’ll review an attempt at rebuttal.
Tomorrow: Metaphors and facts
We’ve changed our headline for the week: We’ve changed our headline for the week to streamline our topic. Some of the questions we previewed yesterday will be discussed in supplemental posts.