Part 3—Triumverate straight outta Kafka: We’ll admit it. The analysts were disappointed by Kevin Drum’s take on the “controversy” surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin.
This is the heart of Drum’s reaction. Glumly, the analysts said he’d taken the easy way out:
DRUM (3/27/12): Has there been any public controversy in recent memory as disheartening as the Trayvon Martin case? I don't mean the killing of Martin itself, though. That's certainly disheartening, but it's hardly unique. I mean the political reaction to it.We agree with the highlighted sentiment. We think the treatment of the Martin killing has been deeply disheartening.
A week ago, the worst I could say about right-wing reaction to the Martin case was that conservatives were studiously ignoring it. But that was a week ago. Since then, conservatives have entered the arena with a vengeance.
But in these highly tribal times, it’s easy to seize on the other tribe’s conduct. In his post, Drum focused on “right-wing reaction” alone—and he went wherever he had to go to find it. More specifically, he linked to Dave Weigel, who was complaining about the conduct of “the Twitter aggregator (yes, we've come to that point) Twitchy.”
“Yes, we've come to that point,” Weigel wrote, mocking himself for tracking Twitchy—and failing to explain why he’d done so. In our view, Weigel seems to be completing his journey from right to left, peddling silly shit as he goes. But the analysts moped as they saw Drum take a pass on his own liberal tribe’s behavior.
Has the treatment of the Martin case been disheartening? It certainly has—but you don’t have to chase after Twitchy to illustrate that point. In the liberal world, the bad conduct has been right there on TV, conducted by high-profile players.
Do liberals and progressives still need actual journalism? Or do we live for tribal pleasures alone? Judged by journalistic norms, the conduct on MSNBC has been very bad—and this conduct has been performed by very well-known players.
Consider the conduct of prime-time harlequin Lawrence O’Donnell, whose interviews in the past two nights have defined a terrible breakdown in progressive intellectual norms.
Last Wednesday evening, O’Donnell defined his role in the Martin matter. He fashioned himself a “prosecutor” in this case, he told the liberal world (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/27/12).
Over the past two nights, O’Donnell has shown the liberal world what that means, and it hasn’t been pretty—or smart. Let’s start with some truly ridiculous conduct from Monday evening’s program.
O’Donnell interviewed Rene Stutzman, a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel. At 7:36 that evening, the Sentinel had posted a new report by Stutzman. In her report, Stutzman describes what George Zimmerman told the Sanford police about the events which preceded Martin’s death.
(Stutzman’s report has been updated several times. As far as we know, the original form of the report no longer exists on-line. To read the report as it now exists, click here.)
Was Zimmerman’s account to the Sanford police truthful and accurate? We have no way of knowing. But his account is an obvious part of this story. By normal journalistic standards, it would have been helpful for O’Donnell to use his interview with Stutzman as a chance to gain some clarity about what Zimmerman has said.
Instead, O’Donnell staged one his famous rants. Incessantly, he talked over Stutzman, just as Bill O’Reilly had done in an exchange with a liberal policy expert two hours before on Fox. O’Donnell claimed that certain parts of Stutzman’s report failed to establish the fact that she was reporting Zimmerman’s account of what happened. He said she seemed to be making statements as if they represented her own knowledge.
It may even by that this claim was true in some way or other, although Stutzman’s report was larded with attributions by the times we checked it on-line, three hours after O’Donell’s initial attack.
Were there shortcomings with Stutzman’s report? It’s always possible, though isn’t obvious from anything O’Donnell said Monday night. In the end, it’s impossible to know, because O’Donnell—a prosecutor straight outta Hell—incessantly interrupted and talked over Stutzman, refusing to let her speak. In her third attempt to defend her work, Stutzman finally chose to just keep talking as O’Donnell shouted her down. The reporter managed to say this much before she surrendered again:
STUTZMAN (3/27/12): Mr. O’Donnell, I think you’re misrepresenting the story as it’s published. In the second or third paragraph, Mr. O’Donnell, it says “the police account.”In a perfect example of O'Donnell's method, Stutzman's statement does not appear in the MSNBC transcript. Where she spooke, you only see this: "(CROSSTALK)"
To watch this full segment, click this.
Three hours later, Stutzman’s report was full of attributions. No one could fail to understand that she was reporting Zimmerman’s account of what occurred, as related to her by “law-enforcement authorities,” not her own personal knowledge.
Was her original report lacking in some way? It’s certainly possible, although we have no idea. But one thing was abundantly clear Monday night—O’Donnell’s conduct was inexcusable, a break with all journalistic tradition. It was the work of a very stupid man, a surrender to Kafkaesque values.
On Fox, O’Reilly was behaving the very same way that nighty, shouting down a liberal policy expert who dared to disagree with him about Obama’s health law (Caroline Frederickson, president of the American Constitution Society). O’Donnell was aping the conduct of Fox, as he increasingly does.
Last night, Last Word was worse. In this case, O'Donnell assembled a trio of prosecutors to work over Joe Oliver, an acquaintance of Zimmerman who has been speaking on his behalf on various news programs.
Is Oliver worth interviewing at all? That isn’t entirely clear. But O’Donnell’s half hour with this character witness was a journalistic disaster, a tribunal straight outta Kafka. Joining O’Donnell, fellow prosecutors Capehart and Blow took turns working over the witness, creating one of the strangest interview sessions we’ve ever seen on TV.
How peculiar was last night’s session? If you choose to click here and watch the several segments, go ahead—just count the ways.
One moronic example:
Completely bizarre non-questioning questioning was directed at Oliver concerning some past place of work. We learned that Oliver once worked with Zimmerman. But we weren’t told where they worked, or what they did, or why this was deemed to be relevant.
We’ll take a guess, but it’s only a guess: It may be that O’Donnell struck some sort of deal with Oliver in which such questions would be off-limits. But as this very dumb cable host strutted and peacocked his hour on the stage, his viewers were never told the terms of any such deal. They were simply handed the very odd questioning which almost always occurs when our new Guignolian star shows off his courtroom chops.
Judged by journalistic standards, Blow and Capehart behaved like fools in support of O'Donnell. But then, consider something Capehart had said a few hours earlier, appearing on Politics Nation with Al Sharpton.
Capehart knows which side he’s on. But judged by journalistic standards, is he even minimally competent?
At one point, the following exchange occurred. For now, we’ll focus on the highlighted statements. As they watched this exchange, the analysts writhed for the world:
SHARPTON (3/27/12): It seems to me, Jonathan, after reading your article, if they are now saying, even one saying that Trayvon was reaching for the gun, another saying he was banging this guy’s head on the ground and there was blood, then why didn’t they keep Zimmerman’s clothes? It would seem to me that would be the first thing you would do is keep all the evidence because there would have had to have been blood on Zimmerman's clothes.Capehart and Sharpton have focused on the Martin story for the past two weeks. Last night, they were still asking about the toxicology tests. They wondered why Martin was tested, but Zimmerman wasn’t.
CAPEHART: Right. Exactly. You have a dead person lying on the ground. You have the shooter, who admits that he shot him. You have him in custody, in handcuffs, in the back of a car. You bring him to the police station. At no point are any tests done—not gun powder, not DNA testing, no photographs. Nothing of George Zimmerman’s clothes are done. And on the flip side, we know that a toxicology test was done on Trayvon Martin. But was one done on George Zimmerman? These are questions we don’t know.
SHARPTON: And I want to—and the thing that I would add to that is, if one was done on the deceased, on the victim, then why wasn’t one done on the shooter? And who decided that?
CAPEHART: Exactly. Exactly.
They showed no sign of knowing why this might have occurred. This struck us as sad and strange.
If you’re even minimally competent, you’ve reviewed Stutzman’s March 23 news report, in which she addressed this very question. Writing in the Sentinel, Stutzman discussed five of “the most prominent misunderstandings” surrounding the Martin case. This was her third example:
STUTZMAN (3/23/12): The cops tested Trayvon for drugs but not Zimmerman.According to Stutzman’s report, Sanford police were following standard statewide practice in their testing of Martin. “Zimmerman was not tested because he was not arrested,” she wrote, suggesting, without directly saying so, that this is standard procedure too.
True, according to authorities. Trayvon underwent an autopsy, the same as in every other suspicious death in Florida, and as part of that, was tested for drugs. Zimmerman was not tested because he was not arrested.
Is Stutzman’s reporting accurate? We have no idea, but we have an excuse—we watch MSNBC! By now, it’s utterly silly to keep pretending that no one has any idea why Martin, but not Zimmerman, would have been tested, if that’s what actually happened.
Sharpton and Capehart both represent very prominent news organizations; presumably, either man could get his phone calls answered. It would be very easy for Capehart to make a few calls concerning this basic point.
Sorry. Last night, Capehart was still expressing puzzlement about this very basic matter, while suggesting that something was very wrong with what the police had done. He showed no sign of knowing what Stutzman reported four days before. He didn’t report any way in which he himself has actually tried to get his question answered.
Capehart was playing a tribal role. But where had the journalist gone?
That said, the journalistic picture may have gotten worse in this morning’s Orlando Sentinel. Last night, Capehart and Sharpton continued to say that the Sanford police didn’t collect George Zimmerman’s clothing (see transcript above). Last week, this claim was routine on MSNBC, paired with the claim that the Sanford police let Zimmerman walk away with his gun.
On March 23, Stutzman reported that the Sanford police did take Zimmerman’s gun on the evening Martin was killed. This morning, in another “rumor”-debunking report, she says the claim about Zimmerman’s clothing isn’t accurate either:
STUTZMAN (3/28/12): Sanford police failed to collect key evidence in the case: the clothing of George Zimmerman, the gunman who killed Trayvon.Liberal viewers of MSNBC have routinely been told that Sanford police didn’t collect Zimmerman’s gun or his clothing. If Stutzman’s reporting is accurate, both these claims were false. (For the record, Sharpton no longer seems to be saying that Zimmerman “walked away with his gun.”)
Not true, police said. They took his clothing as well as Trayvon's and packaged it for crime-lab analysis. A spokeswoman for Special Prosecutor Angela Corey would not disclose Tuesday where the clothing is now, but she wrote in an email that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement "is assisting with the processing of physical evidence.”
Last night, O’Donnell and his pair of Guignols played the journalistic fools, just as O’Donnell himself had done the night before. Just as this very loud fellow had promised, he had cast himself as a prosecutor, walking away from the journalist’s role. But this was a prosecutor straight outta Hell.
In real courtrooms, a prosecutor is balanced by a defense attorney—and a judge is sitting on the bench, poised to make fools like O’Donnell stop their ridiculous conduct. But Dorchester’s loudest favorite son doesn’t people his courtroom that way. He peoples his courtroom with the triumvirate of O’Donnell, Capehart and Blow—with folk who seem determined to further the tribal narrative, thus pleasing us liberal rubes.
Do liberals need journalistic values? Do we need the service of journalists—of people who will pursue the actual facts of a case, applying reasonable measures of fairness and logic? Or is it all tribal all the time now? Is it all about creating stories which pleases the dullest mind?
That strategy might be good for business. Is that the strategy this cable channel has now selected?
When it comes to the killing of Trayvon Martin, you really don’t have to go to Twitchy to find people behaving badly. Prominent people are behaving quite badly all over the One True Liberal Channel, as that channel increasingly chooses to pattern itself after Fox.
Tomorrow: What Maddow once said about Fox
Quick review: Three basic questions:
Did Sanford police take Zimmerman’s gun? Did Sanford police take Zimmerman’s clothing? Should Zimmerman have been tested?
Capehart, a journalist, still doesn’t seem to have any idea. One final question: