THURSDAY, APRIL 29, 2021
Our Town's exposure to truth: What actually happened when Andrew Brown was shot and killed last week?
At present, we can't answer your question.
There's bodycam video of what occurred. So far, though, none of that bodycam video has been released to the public.
(Full disclosure: Bodycam video won't always show what happened in some given case.)
A relatively short chunk of videotape was shown to family members on Monday, and to one of the family's lawyers. But what can be seen on that short chunk of tape?
Very frankly, we don't know.
We can't answer your sensible question for perfectly sensible reasons. For starters, "if history has taught us anything," it has taught us this:
You can't necessarily assume the accuracy of statements made by a family's lawyers in situations like this. We know that because of an episode we revisited a few weeks back.
In an extremely high-profile case, family lawyers were allowed to hear some audiotape in the case of a fatal shooting. One of their lawyers then described what she said she had plainly heard.
Her description turned out to be flatly false—but not before the New York Times had bruited her claim all around. A few days later, the local paper of record (the Orlando Sentinel) said that false report by the Times had created a national sense of outrage.
Lawyers' claims can be wrong! But before we remember that disappeared case, let's zero in on this:
Yesterday, a North Carolina judge ruled that the bodycam videotape in the Brown case won't be released to the public at this time. In the course of that hearing, a new set of claims were voiced about what is seen on that tape.
Yesterday afternoon, Jake Tapper interviewed the North Carolina attorney general about the judge's ruling. At one point, Tapper noted the fact that an apparent contradiction had now arisen concerning what happened when Brown was shot.
Tapper described the contradiction. He also made an extremely wise disclaimer:
TAPPER (4/28/21): So I don't know what happened, right? I haven't seen it. I didn't see the video.
But the family described Brown's final moments as an "execution." One of the family lawyers said Brown was not moving in a menacing way. There's an independent autopsy that says he was shot in the back of the head.
But the North Carolina D.A. today said that the family and the family lawyer's versions are false, and that Brown was backing up his car into police officers. I mean, the video would clear up what actually happened one would think.
Tapper reported the contradiction which had surfaced during the hearing. In truth, the D.A.'s rejection of what the family lawyer had said was a bit more aggressive than that.
On Monday, the family's lawyer, and several family members, described what happened as an "execution." They based this claim on what had been seen on the tape.
Yesterday, the D.A. who is investigating the case rather aggressively contradicted what the family lawyer had said. To his credit, Tapper made a very important statement:
"I don't know what happened," Tapper wisely said.
That's a very important journalistic statement. However much a journalist may love the novel or Storyline of the moment, journalists should always be clear on what they don't actually know.
Tapper made an extremely wise statement. Moments earlier, Attorney General Josh Stein had said the same darn thing:
TAPPER: So the judge ruled that family members will be allowed to see the remaining videos, but that the officers' faces and names will be protected. Do you agree with that decision?
STEIN: Well, I haven't seen the video so I can't speak to exactly what happened or what they represent, so I can't speak to the wisdom. I do think it's imperative that the family be able to see it as quickly as possible so that they can process this tragedy, so I do—I do support that.
Stein doesn't know what happened either! As with Tapper, so too here. Stein was showing very good judgment when he made this fact clear.
That said, an apparent contradiction has now appeared. The D.A. who is investigating the case has flatly contradicted some of the things the family's lawyer has said.
None of this tells us whether the deputies should have fired on Brown that day. None of this tells us what actually happened. (For ourselves, we would prefer that police officers never fire their weapons at all, except when it's absolutely necessary.)
At any rate, a contradiction has surfaced. Unless you're one of the lucky duckies reading today's New York Times online!
Earlier in the week, the family had made extremely dramatic claims about what happened that day. What happened was "an execution," the family and its lawyers had said.
On at least one basic point, the family lawyers had sometimes seemed to contradict each other as to what he video showed. But the lawyers had made a dramatic claim, and this claim had been given very wide exposure, especially on CNN.
On CNN, prime time hosts had often performed like clowns as they discussed and reported this claim. In fairness:
On CNN, IQ levels seem to drop as a long day's afternoon turns into early evening. On Monday and Tuesday evenings, primetime hosts had seemed to treat the lawyers' various claims as if they were sacred writ.
Internal contradictions passed without notice. Inflammatory claims went unquestioned, unchallenged.
Most importantly, primetime hosts failed to tell viewers that you can't assume the accuracy of claims made by family lawyers. For an example of what we mean, recall the way the New York Times introduced the shooting death of Trayvon Martin to the American public.
Back in early 2012, Benjamin Crump was the Martin family's lawyer. He had assembled a legal team to handle the case.
(For our previous reporting of this matter, you can just start here.)
Early in the case, the family and the legal team were allowed to hear audiotape of what had happened that night. At least one of the lawyers then went out and made a blatantly false factual claim about what the audiotape had revealed.
The claim was flatly false. But the New York Times seemed to assume that it had to be true, and so the Times made the bogus claim too.
Over the next few days, the Times backed away from its own false claim on this highly inflammatory factual point—but the famous newspaper did so without ever making an explicit correction.
To this day, no correction of this error has been appended to the Times' erroneous report. A few days after the Times report appeared, the Orlando Sentinel credited that false report with stirring national outrage about what was (inaccurately) said to have occurred.
Early this week, another legal team under Crump made another inflammatory claim. On CNN, IQ-deprived primetime hosts behaved like they were dealing with holy writ handed to them by Moses.
Amazingly, this is the way Our Town's big orgs conduct their "imitations of life." It's hard to believe that they function this way, but this is the way they roll.
Can this really be the way Our Town gets its ideas of the truth? Consider what doesn't appear in today's New York Times, depending on where you read it:
This past Monday, the family's lawyer made her claim. "An execution" had occurred.
Yesterday morning, the D.A. who is probing the case contradicted the lawyer's claim. But in this morning's New York Times, there's no report of that fact, depending on where you look!
In our own hard-copy Times, there is a report of that fact. You can read that news report here.
That report does appear in our hard-copy Times. But to make an extremely long story short, let's just say this:
If you read the Times online, as we initially did today, that news report doesn't exist! You can't even find that news report by using the Times' search engine!
Let's assume that this was just some sort of mistake. That said, it's a mistake which will keep Times readers uninformed. Even worse, it burned a good chunk of our morning!
(Except for all the time we lost, we would have given you more detailed adventures from CNN. Or something—we aren't sure. We regret the lost opportunity.)
What happened when Andrew Brown was shot and killed? We can't tell you that.
But day after day, again and again, Our Town's elite news orgs function rather poorly. At CNN, IQ scores drop as day turns to night—and the Times just keep stumbling along.
This portrait of life in Our Town can be quite hard to believe. It flies in the face of everything we Townies are told about the brilliance which obtains in Our Town.
Tomorrow, we'll show you the way the Times reported the fatal shooting of Ma'Khia Bryant. We'll also flesh out what you can see on the videotape offered as part of this Washington Post news report.
(For fourteen minutes of videotape, you can just click here. We find that tape, but also its absence from cable news, to be sadly but also extremely instructive.)
Long ago and far away, Hannah Arendt described "the banality of evil."
As of today, creeping banality seems to have spread rather widely. According to experts, that banality has possibly taken full hold as Our Town slides toward the sea.
Tomorrow: The banality of banality