Part 3—Where do our narratives come from: To our ear, Chris Hayes wasn’t exactly obsessively honest on his cable show Monday night.
Hayes spoke with conservative writer Leon Wolf about the Justice Department’s recent pair of reports. Citing the nation’s tribal divide, Wolf made some accurate statements:
WOLF (3/16/15): As I’m sure you’re aware, Chris, there were actually two Department of Justice reports issued concerning Ferguson. The first one dealt with the actual shooting of Michael Brown, and the second one dealt with the Ferguson PD at large.According to Wolf, liberals are largely ignoring the Justice Department report about the shooting of Brown. He said that report “tends to kind of decimate the ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ narrative.”
Liberals, for the most part I think, are ignoring the first of those, which tends to kind of decimate the “Hands up, don’t shoot” narrative. While conservatives have, in large part, ignored the second part of that, which shows that notwithstanding what you feel about what happened to Michael Brown, there was some serious problems with Ferguson PD that ought to be addressed.
(Wolf also said that his conservative colleagues are largely ignoring the report which alleges widespread misconduct within the Ferguson Police Department.)
It’s always easy and fun to criticize The Other Tribe. We’ll focus here on Our Own.
Are we liberals really ignoring the Justice report about the shooting of Brown? Yes we are, and so are major mainstream orgs. When we aren’t ignoring that report, we’re often miscasting what it said.
We liberals! Judging from appearances, our corporate stars don’t want to discuss the way the Justice Department “kind of decimated” the “Hands up, don’t shoot” narrative.
We thought we saw that reluctance at play when Hayes responded to Wolf in a very murky way. Bob McCulloch was the much-maligned local prosecutor who ran the local grand jury about the shooting of Brown:
HAYES (continuing directly): Yeah, let me talk about that in quick succession. So the first report on the shooting, right, finds essentially there’s no cause for federal civil rights charges. And there’s sort of two standards there.That was Hayes’ complete discussion of the Justice report about the shooting of Brown. It seemed to us that his remarks were designed to be clear as mud.
One is that they don’t have, they can’t make a federal civil rights case, which is actually a harder case than just, say, manslaughter case in the actual jurisdiction. But the second essentially reiterates some of the things that McCulloch found about the credibility of various witnesses vis- a-vis hands up, vis-à-vis the encounter that happens and the physical ballistic evidence, whether it corroborates some of those witnesses versus others.
In terms of the Ferguson part of that—and you’re right that it basically, I think, backs up largely the determination of the grand jury and Bob McCulloch.
It’s true! The report did find that there was “no cause for federal civil rights charges” against Darren Wilson. But from that point on, Hayes seems to be throwing gorilla dust, like Lawrence O’Donnell before him
Sorry, Charlie! The Justice Department didn’t fail to act against Wilson because “a federal civil rights case...is actually a harder case than just, say, manslaughter case in the actual jurisdiction.” Rather plainly, the Justice Department seemed to make an affirmative statement about Wilson’s conduct. It rather clearly seemed to say that Wilson’s shots that day were all justified, were all fired in self-defense.
In our view, Hayes really got murky as he continued from there. According to the young corporate liberal, the Justice Department report “essentially reiterates some of the things that McCulloch found about the credibility of various witnesses vis- a-vis hands up, vis-à-vis the encounter that happens and the physical ballistic evidence, whether it corroborates some of those witnesses versus others.”
That statement is clear as mud. As a general rule, when people like Hayes speak in public that way, they’re trying to muddy the water. To our ear, Hayes seemed to be behaving in the very way Wolf had just described—he was keeping us liberals barefoot and clueless about what Justice said.
What did the Justice Department actually say about the shooting of Brown? Rather plainly, it rejected most of the factual claims which formed the liberal (and mainstream) narrative right from the very first days.
And good lord! What a job the Justice Department did on TV’s star eyewitnesses! To read that report, click here.
In the earliest days of this national discussion, a trio of eyewitness accounts helped form much of the public narrative about the unfortunate events of that unfortunate day.
Hayes’ skilled mumble-speak notwithstanding, the Justice Department report left the accounts of those three amigos for dead. It also described a range of witnesses who said that Brown was menacing and threatening Wilson in the moments before he was shot—witnesses who had often refused to go on the record because they said they feared reprisals from the local community.
People like Hayes won’t tell you that. To appearances, they’re being paid to keep us liberals barefoot, clueless and happy.
We’ve already reviewed Hayes’ mumble-talk. Today and tomorrow, let’s review some rather clear language from the Justice Department. Let’s start with Witness 118, a 19-year-old woman who lived in the apartment complex in front of which Brown was shot.
Michael Brown was shot and killed on Saturday, August 9, 2014. Starting on Sunday, August 10, videotape of Witness 118 was played all over TV, on broadcast news and cable.
Here’s the first clip from NBC Nightly News, John Yang reporting:
YANG (8/10/14): The struggle spilled out onto the street where Brown, whom investigators say was not armed, was fatally shot.Variations on this claim continued from Witness 118 over the next several weeks. By Thursday evening, August 14, Lawrence O’Donnell’s hang-him-high panel was vouching for the obvious accuracy of her statements.
WITNESS 118: Police just shot this man for no reason.
YANG: [Witness 118], who took the cell phone video, says she saw those shots from her apartment balcony.
WITNESS 118: He’s running this way. He turns his body towards this way, hands in the air, being compliant. He gets shot in his face and chest and goes down and dies.
By August 18, Anderson Cooper was empathetically telling Witness 118 how “terrible” and “distressing” it must be for her to have to share the various things she saw. Showing no empathy for his viewers, he didn’t remind them that eyewitness testimony routinely turns out to be wrong.
Millions of people, all over the country, had their understanding shaped by the statements of Witness 118. We will assume that this young woman behaved in good faith as she made these statements. But this is part of what the Justice Department said about her presentations, which kept changing over time:
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORT (page 56): Witness 118 gave three investigative statements, and testified before the county grand jury. A SLCPD detective initially interviewed Witness 118 approximately two hours after the shooting. She subsequently appeared in the media several times. During those media interviews, Witness 118 added details that she did not report to local law enforcement, claiming in the news that she saw the “whole scenario play out.”The most horrible statement about this witness came in the passage shown below. Witness 101 is Dorian Johnson, Michael Brown’s companion that day and someone with whom Witness 118 “socialized almost weekly:”
At the conclusion of her interview with the SLCPD, Witness 118 assured the detective that what she reported was her best recollection of the incident and that she was not leaving anything out. Nonetheless, Witness 118’s accounts to the media and to federal prosecutors and agents were different from her initial statement to the SLCPD, even though her grand jury testimony was ultimately more consistent with her initial SLCPD account.
Witness 118 added to her media narrative that Wilson shot Brown in the back from three feet away and that Brown never moved back towards Wilson. Physical evidence is inconsistent with both of those added details. Also, contrary to her initial account, Witness 118 told federal agents and prosecutors that Brown’s arms were at his sides and his hands were around his hips when he came to rest on the ground.
When federal prosecutors and agents challenged the inconsistencies in her accounts, Witness 118 conceded that she likely assumed facts that she did not witness herself based on talking with other residents in the Canfield Green complex and watching the news, but was not specific about which facts.
...Witness 118’s accounts are riddled with internal inconsistencies, inconsistencies with the physical and forensic evidence, and inconsistencies with credible witness accounts. Her attention was admittedly diverted away from the shooting when she watched Witness 101 ducking for cover and she acknowledged that her account was also based on assumption and media coverage. Accordingly, after a thorough review of the evidence, federal prosecutors determined the various versions of this witness’s account to lack credibility.
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORT (page 46): During his testimony before the county grand jury, Witness 101 acknowledged that he had discussed the incident with another witness, Witness 118. Witness 101 explained that he was friendly with Witness 118, and noticed her standing on her balcony when he and Brown first encountered Wilson on Canfield Drive. He explained that he was surprised that so many other witnesses came forward because Witness 118 was the only person he saw outside, and she was the only person who saw the incident from the “first shot to the last shot.” However, as detailed below, Witness 118 was not out on her balcony for the majority of the incident, and it is unknown at what point she actually witnessed the shootings, if at all.Good lord! In that part of its report, the Justice Department says it isn’t clear that Witness 118 “actually witnessed the shootings” at all!
Should Anderson Cooper and Lawrence O’Donnell tell their viewers about these remarkable findings? If those fellows were journalists, we’d say the answer is obvious.
That said, Cooper and O’Donnell are mainly corporate TV stars. So is Hayes, as his recent mumble-speak helped make all too clear.
Witness 118 made many statements which turned out to be inaccurate. So did Dorian Johnson, Witness 101.
By Thursday night, August 14, Lawrence O’Donnell’s hang-him-high panel was strongly vouching for the “obvious” greatness of Johnson’s statements. Here’s some of what the Justice Department said about his various accounts:
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORT (page 47): As described above, material parts of Witness 101’s account are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence, internally inconsistent from one part of his account to the next, and inconsistent with other credible witness accounts that are corroborated by physical evidence. It is also unclear whether Witness 101 had the ability to accurately perceive the shootings. Witness 101 likely crouched down next to a white Monte Carlo as Wilson chased Brown. The Monte Carlo was facing west with a view of the passenger side of the SUV. Brown ran in the opposite direction that the Monte Carlo was facing. Witness accounts vary as to whether Witness 101 was ducking for cover on the passenger side of the Monte Carlo with his back to the shooting, or whether he fled the scene prior to the final shots being fired. Both Witness 101’s inconsistencies and his ability to perceive what happened, or lack thereof, make his account vulnerable to effective cross-examination and extensive impeachment. Accordingly, after a thorough review of all of the evidence, federal prosecutors determined material portions of Witness 101’s account lack credibility.A third eyewitness helped shape the public narrative in the weeks after Brown’s death. That was Witness 127, a 27-year-old woman who was picking Witness 118 up for work at the time Brown was shot.
On Thursday evening, August 14, Witness 127 spoke with O’Donnell for two full segments, thereby becoming his much-adored star witness. He vouched for her and re-aired tape of her interview for weeks. But as we showed you yesterday, this is part of what the Justice Department has said:
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORT (page 56): Although Witness 127’s statements are materially consistent with each other, significant portions are contrary to the forensic and physical evidence and inconsistent with credible witness accounts. Witness 127 was unable to give reasonable explanations as to why the physical evidence might be inconsistent with what she remembers, and therefore prosecutors were left to conclude that she inaccurately perceived material portions of the shootings either because of the stress of incidents or because she was distracted. Accordingly, after a thorough review of the evidence, federal prosecutors determined material portions of this witness’s account not reliable.These three witnesses played outsized roles in the way the American “press corps” assembled its account of that day’s events. On a wide array of points, the Justice Department found that their statements had been factually wrong:
According to the Justice Department, Michael Brown wasn’t shot in the back. He wasn’t shot with his hands up. According to the Justice Department, he wasn’t attempting to surrender; he wasn’t standing still. According to the Justice Department, Brown had advanced 21 feet back toward Officer Wilson before the fatal shots were fired.
If we’re willing to traffic in facts, the Justice Department report makes mincemeat out of these three highly influential witnesses. We will assume that all three acted in good faith during this episode. But on the most basic facts of the case, the Justice Department found that their statements were factually inaccurate.
Should Anderson Cooper tell viewers that? Should the egregious Lawrence O’Donnell? How about Hayes?
Journalistically, the answer is clear. But we aren’t living in a journalistic world.
Rather plainly, these witnesses presented the local community’s standard narrative about what happened that day. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss the many eyewitnesses who supported Wilson’s account of the events, but said they were afraid to come forward and risk the community’s wrath.
For today, let’s consider one more “witness,” Witness 128.
In fact, this 23-year-old man didn’t see what occurred that day. But so what? According to the Justice Department, he offered a set of invented claims to Michael Brown’s grieving mother, influencing what the nation came to hear about that day’s events:
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORT (page 69): Witness 128 explained that when he stopped ducking for cover, he saw Brown coming back toward Wilson with his hands up. Witness 128 stated that Wilson shot Brown, causing him to fall face down to the ground. He maintained that Wilson then stood over Brown and shot into his back. When federal prosecutors asked him to reconcile those final shots with the autopsy report that shows that Brown was not shot in the back, Witness 128 said he may have hallucinated but could not offer more of an explanation. He also admitted that much of what he initially said was assumption.So-called Witness 128 didn’t see the shooting! He may have hallucinated!
As mentioned, Witness 128 was one of two witnesses who identified his voice on the aforementioned video taken in the aftermath of the shooting depicting the two contractors. Witness 128 claimed to be the person off camera shouting, “He wasn’t no threat at all,” because he did not perceive Brown to be a threat. However, Witness 128 acknowledged that he did not know what happened at the SUV. Contrary to what he originally told the FBI, he did not see Brown run from the SUV, was mistaken about the final shots fired, and therefore did not know whether Brown was a threat to Wilson.
Witness 128 also admitted that he spoke to Brown’s mother on the day of the shooting and shared details of the shooting. Witness 128 told Brown’s mother that Wilson shot Brown at point blank range while his hands were up, and that even after Brown fell to his death, Wilson stood over Brown and fired several more times. Witness 128 also told several neighbors his inaccurate version of what happened, as they were gathering in the minutes and hours after the shooting. Several individuals identified Witness 128 through description as someone who was going around spreading a narrative that Brown was shot with his hands up in surrender.
That to the side, he told Michael Brown’s mother, and other community residents, that Officer Wilson “shot Brown at point blank range while his hands were up,” then “stood over Brown and fired several more times.” Presumably, people believed what he said.
There’s always someone who decides to spread the most heinous possible claims around in the wake of an incident like this. It was that way in Ireland during The Troubles. It’s been that way everywhere on earth.
In the case of this major event, witnesses with inaccurate claims were widely aired all over TV in the days and weeks which followed the shooting. This Monday night, a young conservative said we liberals don’t seem to want to come to terms with this fact.
Our opinion? Just like that, a mumbling liberal corporate star seemed to prove him right!
Tomorrow: I don’t plan to “relitigate,” Gene Robinson loftily said