Part 2—A tale of three news reports: As a matter of theory, journalistic values are very important at a time like this.
As a matter of theory, journalists should help citizens know when certain facts have been established. They should also caution citizens about the facts which aren’t known.
We humans are strongly inclined to leap ahead of known facts. As a matter of theory, journalists are supposed to drag us back into line.
Needless to say, this is all theory. In practice, journalistic and scholarly norms are routinely honored in the breech. (Just check our Nixonland posts.)
Last night, for instance, we’d have to say that Rachel Maddow continued to nail down a basic fact—she simply isn’t a journalist. The mindset seems to be missing inside her true-believing head.
More on that problem at some point, perhaps even later today! For now, let’s discuss—or try to discuss—three different news reports.
Concerning the shooting of Michael Brown: Lawrence O’Donnell performed an act of journalism last night.
Or at least, we think he did. MSNBC hasn’t yet posted the transcript of his 10 PM program. Given the way the news org works, you can’t be entirely sure that they ever will.
(CNN’s 10 PM hour has already been posted.)
Here’s what we think we saw Lawrence do—and it was journalistic. We think we saw him establish the fact that, even though Michael Brown plainly wasn’t “shot in the back,” he might have been shot at, even hit, from behind.
That’s what we thought we saw Lawrence establish in a long, careful interview with Shawn Parcells, one of the pathologists who conducted that second autopsy for the Brown family.
Conceivably, one of the wounds on Brown’s arms could have come from behind. That’s what we thought we saw Lawrence establish last night.
That said, the transcript hasn’t been posted yet. The videotape of the segments in question are available on-line, and you can find them here. For ourselves, we’ve exhausted our patience with MSNBC’s endless Purex ads through a fruitless search for something we saw on Rachel Maddow’s second hour last night.
A person can only sit through so many of those Purex ads. In fairness, someone has to pick up the tab for Maddow’s $7 million salary.
For notes on that oddly fruitless search, see our third topic, below.
Concerning those traffic stops: Yesterday, we discussed the rather peculiar front page of Sunday’s Washington Post. Midway through Manuel Roig-Franzia’s lengthy human interest report, we were struck by some anecdotal accounts by some Ferguson residents.
Why are people in Ferguson angry with local police? We came away from this passage with an obvious question:
ROIG-FRANZIA (8/17/14): The fraught relationship between African Americans, a majority in Ferguson, and the nearly all-white police force long preceded the eruption of protests.Needless to say, people have been aware of “speed traps” for a very long time. In this case, people were describing absurd situations caused by extensive racial speed traps.
In interview after interview, black men and women talked about their fears of random stops while driving in the city, as well as in neighboring municipalities.
Marcus White, an acquaintance of Brown who works for a moving company, said he frequently has to spend the night in his employer's office because he can't find anyone to drive him home to Ferguson.
"They'll tell me, 'I don't go past Goodfellow,' " he said, referencing one of the streets near the line that separates the county of St. Louis from the city of the same name.
Many here have their own catalogue of towns that they dare not drive through. They sketch long, circuitous routes to avoid the small areas where they feel most targeted, a concern buttressed by statistics that show far higher numbers of traffic stops involving African Americans than whites in the St. Louis suburbs.
"More than four people in the car, they're going to pull you over," said Earl Lee Jr., a 41-year-old warehouse worker who lives in a nearby suburb. "Tint on your windows, they're going to pull you over. Too early in the morning, they think you're up to something. Too late, they think you're up to something. When are you supposed to drive?”
An obvious question popped into our heads: Assuming those reports are accurate, why would such a situation have been tolerated over the course of time? Why hasn’t local leadership addressed this absurd situation?
This question didn’t arise in Roig-Franzia’s report; there’s no reason why it had to. In today’s supplemental post, we’ll show you what happened earlier last week when a twenty-something at the Post tried to address the statistics Roig-Franzia cited—the “statistics that show far higher numbers of traffic stops involving African Americans than whites in the St. Louis suburbs.”
We’ll also post the striking remarks by a St. Louis columnist about the lack of local leadership in the black community.
Last week, we averted our gaze when Maddow discussed those statistics concerning traffic stops. Simply put, Maddow almost totally lacks the journalistic mindset.
Later today, we’ll show you what happened when a kid at the Washington Post tried to tackle this topic. Youth is being served at the Post. In the process, all too often, readers are not being served.
Concerning improved police work: Granted, it happened after midnight. But we’re almost certain we saw it.
We refer to a conversation between Rachel Maddow and James Cavanaugh, MSNBC’s law enforcement analyst.
In this conversation, Cavanaugh briefly flipped the channel’s relentless, pounding script. He recalled the large numbers of deaths which occurred in Newark and Detroit, and in other cities, during racial disturbances of the 1960s and 1970s.
Noting the lack of deaths during the Ferguson protests of the past week, Cavanaugh said we ought to give credit where it is due. Law enforcement is now functioning better in such situations, or so Cavanaugh said.
We know we saw Cavanaugh make these remarks to someone last night. We’re fairly sure he spoke with Maddow, who (we’d say) received his comments less than enthusiastically.
We don’t even know if Cavanaugh is right in his assessment. We thought his comments were journalistically interesting because they flew in the face of the party line which is constantly churned by anti-journalists like Maddow on The One True Channel.
This morning, we fought through MSNBC’s Purex ads in search of the segment with Cavanaugh. The segment doesn’t seem to have been posted at Maddow’s site.
All the other segments have been posted from Maddow’s midnight hour last night. In total broadcast time, they add up to roughly 37 minutes, suggesting that one additional segment is somehow missing in action.
Journalistically, we thought Cavanaugh’s presentation was interesting. However you rate its general point of view, MSNBC is rapidly becoming the most one-sided of the news channels. At this point, we’d have to say that Fox provides a much wider spectrum of views that The One True Channel does.
Journalistically, we thought Cavanaugh’s presentation was interesting, for several reasons. Journalistically, we went to find it—and it wasn’t there.
Tomorrow: “Murder,” she said
Later today: The Post limns those traffic stops