But here’s where impressions can come from: Is Trevor Noah perhaps a bit of a hack?
That fear surfaced a few months ago, right after he was chosen to succeed Jon Stewart. In a piece at the new Salon, Silman and Saraiya describe a concern the young comic expressed in a recent stand-up set:
SILMAN AND SARAIYA (7/29/15): Talking about his own experience being pulled over by police, Noah observed: “you know what’s crazy, is I don’t know how not to die. That’s the thing that freaks me out right now—I don’t know how not to die.” Saying he felt “there was a time when black people and police had an unspoken agreement,” now he notes that “every time I turn on the news another black person’s being killed for seemingly fewer and fewer reasonable reasons. It just doesn’t make sense.”Just for the record, Trayvon Martin wasn’t killed by police. Did we mention that this report appears at the new Salon?
He then turned one-by-one to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Walter Scott to illustrate the random, absurd reasons that police have used to justify the taking of black lives.
At any rate, Noah seems to feel that something has changed in this society, which he only recently joined. Every time he turns on the news, “another black person’s being killed for seemingly fewer and fewer reasonable reasons.”
“It just doesn’t make sense,” Noah says. We’ll assume he’s being sincere, that he’s not being a hack.
Noah seems to think that those increased news reports reflect a change in police behavior—an upswing in black deaths at hands of police. That’s possible, of course. But an upswing in certain kinds of news reports may also reflect a change in the values of news directors—a change in the types of events directors choose to put on the air.
We’ve seen no statistics which demonstrate that police killings are on a major upswing, or on any upswing at all. (As has been widely noted, this country doesn’t keep good statistics about deaths at the hands of police.) It does seem clear that news directors are deciding to put such events on the air more frequently than they may have done in the past. This may be driven by an increase in cellphone videotape, and/or by the heightened belief that such deaths deserve coverage.
Is Noah seeing more black deaths on the air because more deaths are occurring? Or is he seeing more black deaths on the air because news judgments have changed?
We don’t know the answer to that question—and Noah assumes the worst. Like punditry, comedy can get a whole lot easier when you play it that way.
We’ve seen no statistics which settle this matter. We have seen the wide discussion in recent years of a string of “anecdotal” examples, four of whom are named in the passage above.
Where does Noah get the sense that police killings are on the rise? In part, it may be because more such events are getting put on the air, where they get treated as Perfect Examples. And it may be because we increasingly massage, invent and disappear facts to create our Perfect Examples.
Consider another recent piece at the pitiful new Salon. Somewhat horribly, the piece was written by Scott Timberg, a former writer for the Los Angeles Times who isn’t a young, inexperienced kid.
To what extent do we on the pseudo-left now massage our examples? Alas! Where the other tribe has developed its birthers, we increasingly have our own less-than-fully rational “deathers.” Try to believe that Timberg, an experienced adult journalist, began his report like this:
TIMBERG (7/27/15): The police killings of unarmed black men like Eric Garner, Michael Brown and, most recently, Sam Dubose at a July 19 traffic stop at the University of Cincinnati, have enraged many and baffled more. Why did Cleveland police shoot and kill 12-year-old Tamir Rice last year? How did self-styled block watch patrolman George Zimmerman decide to shoot and kill teenager Trayvon Martin, who was armed with nothing but a bag of candy on that night in 2012? These outrages have caused demonstrations, urban unrest, more violence and a larger sense that something has gone wrong in the nation’s race relations.Is Scott Timberg a “deather?” It’s hard to believe that a serious, adult professional journalist composed a passage which is so deeply selective about such a serious subject.
Besides outright racism, what motivates the overreaction of law-enforcement and vigilantes who have left these men dead?
A social psychologist at Wellesley College who studies diversity and friendship, Angela Bahns, has recently completed research that helps to explain part of the puzzle: It shows that people can imagine a sense of threat—a threat serious enough to justify violence—even with no real evidence besides their own stereotypes. And the stereotypes, the research suggests, are the root causes of the violence.
As he starts, Timberg almost makes it sound like Martin was killed by police, as Silman and Soraiya do in their piece about Noah. Presumably, he means to classify George Zimmerman as a “vigilante,” a term he introduces in paragraph 2.
That said, please note what Timberg says in that passage about the killing of Martin. In truth, he presents a textbook example of the way our “deathers” now work:
According to Timberg, people are “baffled” by the killing of Martin, who he correctly says was unarmed. In fairness, it’s no wonder that Timberg’s readers are baffled! This is the way he describes the killing:
“How did self-styled block watch patrolman George Zimmerman decide to shoot and kill teenager Trayvon Martin, who was armed with nothing but a bag of candy on that night in 2012?” Timberg seems to suggest that Zimmerman “imagined a sense of threat—a threat serious enough to justify violence—even with no real evidence besides [his] own prejudice.”
Whatever you think of Zimmerman’s conduct that night, that’s classic “deather” writing! In the manner of propagandists worldwide, Timberg simply omits the fight which was occurring between Zimmerman and Martin, “who was armed with nothing but a bag of candy.”
He omits the testimony of the one eyewitness who came out of his house and got a good look at what was occurring during that fight. He doesn’t mention the injuries suffered by Zimmerman before his fired the fatal shot.
As propagandists have always done, he mentions the piteous bag of candy and disappears everything else. This is classic post-journalistic behavior at the gruesome new Salon.
Timberg’s description of that scene is classic in its lack of obsessive honesty. For Ta-Nehisi Coates’ initial reaction to the “not guilty” verdict in that case, please keep reading.
In the meantime, Timberg’s description of the killing of Michael Brown is classic “deather” prose too. He disappears the Justice Department report which judged that every shot fired by Darren Wilson was “justified,” due to Brown’s behavior.
Once again, Timberg eliminates basic facts which don’t lead us to the conclusion he wants us to reach. In this case, he wants us to judge that Wilson “imagined a sense of threat—a threat serious enough to justify violence—even with no real evidence besides their own stereotypes.”
After a detailed investigation, Eric Holder’s Justice Department judged different. Writing for a deather journal, Timberg doesn’t tell.
Wherever incipient TV stars dwell, Noah feels he’s seeing more reports of wanton police killings. It doesn’t occur to him that this may be a function of the numbers of such events which are now being put on the air, or that he may be getting selective accounts of what actually occurred in those Perfect Examples.
It’s easy to gin a Perfect Example if you play the game the way Timberg does. Increasingly, that’s the way we in the pseudo-liberal world have decided to play.
They’ve had their birthers for almost ten years. We have countered with our deathers. This brings us back to Coates.
A jury found George Zimmerman not guilty on July 13, 2013. The next day, Coates wrote a post at The Atlantic in which he said this:
“I think the jury basically got it right.”
At the time, Coates was interacting heavily in the comment threads at his site. He did so in this instance.
His comments aren’t the simple-minded piddle people like Timberg now serve, with Noah perhaps following along. Might Zimmerman have been in reasonable fear for his life when he was being pummeled by Martin? Might he reasonably have been in fear of “imminent danger of death or great bodily harm,” the standard under Florida law and the law of most states?
The horrible Timberg has wished that away, but Timberg is a deather. This is what Coates wrote that day, responding to a commenter:
COATES (7/14/13): I am on the ground and you are on top of me wailing away. I am most certainly in “imminent danger of death or great bodily harm.”About a month later, Coates largely flipped. By now, we’d say he’s a bit of a deather too. Given his brilliance as a writer, we’d call it a loss to the world.
I say this as someone who has been in that position, and the person putting someone in that position. It is really, really frightening. And you are in danger of “great bodily harm” at the very least. Punches kill people. Skulls hit concrete or tables and cause great damage.
And that assumes that you know you are only being hit with someone’s fist. What if it feels like you’re being hit with brass knuckles? What if you think you see the person reaching for something to finish the job?
Fights are not tame staid events. They are chaotic, random and very, very scary. They are not regulated. There are no TKOs. Fist-fights kill people—and there is no guarantee that a fist-fight will stay at that level.
The other team has the repulsive birther Trump. We have people like Timberg. Each group has been widely enabled by the mainstream press.
Tomorrow: The development of a Perfect Example
Friday or Saturday: Two sets of statistics