CAN WE TALK: Piers Morgan tells the story his way!


Part 3—An ancient tribal prerogative: Are we able, as a people, to conduct a national discourse?

Especially in a large, sprawling nation, this can be a difficult task. In the age of tribal division on cable, the Zimmerman trial provides a case study in the depth of this problem.

But no! As a people, we will not be able to conduct a discourse if we approach the world in the way one pundit described Monday night.

The pundit in question was James Peterson, an associate professor at Lehigh and an MSNBC contributor (employee). He discussed the Zimmerman trial on Monday’s Chris Hayes program.

Unlike some people we see on cable, Peterson has always struck us as decent and completely sincere. But on Monday evening, he gave perfect expression to the tribal imperative.

Defense attorney Karen Desoto explained that the prosecution might have to settle for a manslaughter charge against Zimmerman, rather than the murder charge they have been pursuing. In his reaction, Peterson captured the way a tribalized people can descend into a version of Babel.

To watch the full segment, click this:
PETERSON (7/8/13): I think it’s awful we have to settle for [a manslaughter charge] ultimately, because the court of public opinion sees this case. They see that a kid went to a store to buy Skittles and iced tea, to walk back home to his father’s home, and didn’t make it back. And we don’t see anything else beyond that.
Peterson has always struck us as completely sincere. But in that statement, he captures the process by which a nation, anywhere in the world, can be transformed into a group of uncomprehending tribes.

Let’s note three parts of what Peterson said and/or seemed to imply:

Only one viewpoint exists:
First, Peterson seems to assume that he is speaking for the entire public. “The court of public opinion sees this case,” he says, seeming to assume that everyone in the public sees it the way he does.

He goes on to described what the court of public opinion “sees.” He doesn’t acknowledge a basic fact: Various members of the public will be inclined to “see” this case in different ways.

Picking and choosing his facts: As he continues, Peterson describes the way “the court of public opinion sees this case.” Here is his capsule account of what the public sees:

“They see that a kid went to a store to buy Skittles and iced tea, to walk back home to his father’s home, and didn’t make it back.”

If we accept Trayvon Martin as a “kid,” all those statements are accurate. Trayvon Martin did go to a store where he bought Skittles and iced tea. He was walking back to his father’s home. He didn’t make it back.

All those statements are accurate. But as Peterson describes the case, many other facts are dropped from his account. Whatever a person may think about the merits of the prosecutor’s charges, Peterson has told the story in a highly selective way. Below, we’ll watch Piers Morgan do the same thing.

The tribal coup de grace: As that brief passage ends, Peterson applies the tribal coup de grace. Having eliminated many facts from his account of what happened, Peterson asserts the eternal prerogative of the tribe:

“We don’t see anything else beyond that,” he remarkably says.

In that statement, Peterson describes the way tribes have gone to war with The Other since we humans first slithered out of the swamp. If a dispute of some kind arises, each tribe defines its own set of facts and declares its right to ignore all else. If various tribes behave that way, it becomes impossible to conduct a sensible discourse or to reach some sort of compromise.

Peterson has always struck us as a good, decent person. But that was a remarkable statement of the tribal prerogative, a prerogative which has been declared all over the world since the dawn of time.

The tribe will listen to nothing except the facts it prefers! Under terms of this prerogative, the tribe will tell the story in its preferred way. And the tribe will refuse to “see anything else beyond that!”

That way lies bedlam! But many of our daft, unintelligent TV stars have been acting on that prerogative when they discuss the Zimmerman trial. One of the emptiest heads on TV belongs to CNN’s Piers Morgan. Here he is, on Monday night, describing the case in a very limited way:
MORGAN (7/8/13): I mean, here's my sense of what a lot of people think, which is that, in the end, an unarmed 17-year-old teenager has been killed. And the idea that the person that did that is able just to walk free, an innocent man guilty of nothing, doesn't seem right to them.
In that statement, Morgan was describing “what a lot of people think.” Below, we’ll see that Morgan is one of those people.

Nothing Morgan says in that passage is factually false. It’s true that “in the end, an unarmed 17-year-old teenager [was] killed.”

But note the highly selective way Morgan has sifted the facts of this case. That description would fit a case in which a sniper sat in a tree and waited for an unarmed teenager to walk by. And if we accept the logic implied by that passage, a shooter has to go to prison any time an unarmed teenager ends up getting killed.

In the world Morgan describes, there could be no claim of self-defense, no matter what the teenager in question did. Nothing that unarmed teenager did could lead to the finding that the shooting was justified.

In that passage, Morgan told the story of Martin’s killing in a highly selective way. A bit later, he did the same thing. This time, he stated his own view of the case—and he made a very basic factual error.

This man is paid millions of dollars per year. He is begging for someone to be sent to prison for many years. But he is too lazy, too irresponsible to get even his basic facts right:
MORGAN (7/8/13): George Zimmerman ignored advice, got out of his vehicle, said, you know, “f-ing punks, A-holes getting away with it,” marched away, we don't know what happened next. But at the end, the idea there is no punishment for the fact that that expense of actions leads to him shooting an unarmed teenager dead, seems to me pretty ridiculous.
It seems that Morgan still believes that Zimmerman was told not to get out of car. By all accounts, the exchange in question came later. Zimmerman was already out of his car, following Martin on foot.

(Zimmerman says he began to walk back to his car at that point.)

Put aside the journalistic laziness, the moral squalor, when a person in Morgan’s position persists in misstating such facts. Instead, note again the way he collapses the basic facts of the case:

In that recitation of the facts, Zimmerman “shot an unarmed teenager dead.” That is an accurate statement.

But Morgan’s account completely omits a wide range of other facts, claims and evidence. This is the process Peterson described. Morgan tells a story one particular way, then “doesn’t see anything else beyond that.”

Last night, Morgan was at it again. Morgan is a disaster:
MORGAN (7/9/13): Here's the point really, is that you can have all this evidence that says, “Look, it looks like Trayvon Martin was on top, et cetera, et cetera.” But in the end, is it right, do you think—and I asked this question last night—that George Zimmerman should be acquitted, allowed to walk free, given that we now know he shot an unarmed teenager? Because that's what it comes down to.
Too funny! “You can have all this evidence,” Morgan says. Morgan himself doesn’t care!

As Alex Pareene often notes, Morgan is a very dumb person. In that speech, he once again enacted the process Peterson described:

In Morgan’s simplified recitation, we “now know” that Zimmerman “shot an unarmed teenager.” (Now?) And, inside Morgan’s very weak mind, “that's what it comes down to.”

In that recitation, Morgan eliminates a gigantic range of other relevant facts. But that’s what Peterson did the night before, when he seemed to think that he was speaking for the public:

"I think it’s awful we have to settle for [a manslaughter charge] ultimately, because the court of public opinion sees this case. They see that a kid went to a store to buy Skittles and iced tea, to walk back home to his father’s home and didn’t make it back. And we don’t see anything else beyond that."

Peterson “doesn’t see anything else beyond” the Skittles. This is the age-old, horrendous problem with the tribal mind.

All through the annals of time, the tribalistic human mind has gifted the world with death and destruction as groups insist on the right to “see” and describe events in their own preferred way. They will recite the facts they prefer—and they “don’t see (or mention) anything else beyond that.”

As the Zimmerman trial proceeds, the corrupted nature of cable news gives us the chance, every night, to see this gruesome process unfold. Given such a tribal arrangement, are we able, as a people, to conduct a national discourse?

It’s impossible to conduct a discourse if different groups insist on the right to reinvent the world their own way. Just look around: As corporate cable “news” explodes, that’s the world you live in.

Tomorrow: Do major pundits understand the basics of our legal system?

Friday: The Times explains


  1. Bob, seriously, you're becoming an idiot about this. Morgan, nor anybody else, cannot, and nor should they, describe the entire complicated case in detail with every statement. That's absurd.

    And yes, the bottom line absolutely is that an unarmed teenager was shot to death. Whether there's a good enough excuse for that is another question, and it's the one the trial is supposed to sort out.

    1. Morgan said something that is not what you state.

      Morgan did not say that in essence this is about our sorting out why an unarmed teenager ended up being killed.

      Rather, Morgan said, that nothing else matters except that this unarmed teenager was killed and therefore his shooter must somehow pay.

    2. He put it in the form of a question -- " it right?". The case is, indeed, complex. Depending on where you set your bookends, you can see it in very different ways. That is, if you start at the point where Martin is on top of Zimmerman beating him severely (let's stipulate to that), then, quite likely, you'll be inclined to view this as a self-defense case. On the other hand, if you move out the bookend to where an unarmed kid goes to the store and then ends up dead, then you're more likely to search for culpability. I disagree with Bob here, for I think that it is a valid description of the essence of this case. Doesn't mean that Zimmerman did not act in self-defense.

    3. If Zimmerman obeyed police instructions to stay put (which the dispatcher recording strongly suggests he did) and Martin did indeed attack Zimmerman, then self defense is justified as is blaming the shooting victim. Don't attack people who might have guns and one radically improves one's chances of not being shot to death. This theory applies regardless of race, ice tea, skittles or hoodie.

    4. The situation is not so black and white in characterizing Trayvon Martin. He is 17, yes, but he manufactured a reason to go out into the rain, supposedly to buy skittles and ice tea, and more likely in order to call his girlfriend (who is not his girlfriend) and to smoke some grass, and to work off bored energy after being cooped up in a strange apt with family, while being punished for misbehavior at school resulting in his suspension, separation from his friends and supervision by his father. Somehow he wound up fighting Zimmerman, who frankly doesn't seem like a guy who would provoke a fight with a random teenager. My "bookends" incline me to view Martin as less than an angel and more as someone so lacking in judgment (as some teens are) that his actions contributed to his own death.

      His texts and phone contents suggest another interpretation. Coming from an environment in which fighting is used to establish status among males, it may be that Trayvon viewed beating up Zimmerman as a safe way to establish his own dominance in a new neighborhood in which he had no friends and may have felt threatened and vulnerable. Zimmerman may not have necessarily been the target because he was "stalking" Martin, but may have been convenient for attack to send a message to other youth in that new neighborhood that he was tough and not someone to mess with. The "sweetness" of his photos may have made that toughness more necessary for him to establish. Evaluating Zimmerman as a timid older man, he may not have considered the possibility that he was armed until it was too late, a fatal judgment error when Zimmerman defended himself.

      To be plausible, a theory about what happened needs to be consistent with as many of the established facts as possible. Morgan wishes to ignore all facts about Martin and anything about Zimmerman inconsistent with his preferred explanation. Bob's point is that tribal explanations are highly selective about which facts they acknowledge. Theories need to explain the facts. When facts are selected to fit preconceived narratives, those narratives are not theories at all, but propaganda (or more charitably, motivated self-deception).

    5. "... but he manufactured a reason to go out into the rain". Well, you kind of "manufactured" that framework. In any case, there's nothing wrong with going out into the rain to work off some energy. So, whatever Martin's "manufactured" reasons were, you can cut them off with Occam's Razor: it doesn't matter why he went out and bought ice-tea and skittles.

      " it may be that Trayvon viewed beating up Zimmerman as a safe way to establish his own dominance" -- you're kidding me, right? You're making up this pseudo-psychological explanation out of whole cloth.

      While the 17yo-unarmed-kid-goes-to-store-ends-up-dead framework may be lacking in detail, at least it doesn't embellish anything with psycho-babble.

    6. The anti Zimmerman mob sure gets testy over speculation which is funny because it is ALL THEY HAVE to support their agenda driven opinion

    7. "Bookends". If Martin never walked back to Zim's truck Zim might have felt better about staying in it instead of deciding he should do more to keep an eye on Martin as the dispatcher was suggesting he do.

    8. Is Martin's act of aggression in circling Zim's car the first provocation? Is Zim following him the first? Is Martin punching him in the face the first?
      Maybe Zim calling the cops and staring is the first!


  2. I really enjoy your work, Mr. Somerby, but I notice you are now finally acknowleging that Zimmerman was following Martin.

    1. You're joking of course HB.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Below is my rewritten post to fix glaring grammatical error:

      Well, I went back and reread Bob's post. He acknowledges that Zimmerman was following Martin at first but no one, not even Zimmerman, denies that. I apparently wrongly inferred that you meant that Bob was accepting the claim that Zimmerman had continued to follow Martin after he was told by police dispatch not to. I see some evidence for that claim but no evidence that Bob has endorsed it--certainly not at the top of this thread.

  3. Have I missed something (I'm sure I've missed many things)?

    I've heard time and again that manslaughter was a choice of charges not available to the prosecution because Zimmerman admitted to shooting Martin -- deliberately, in self-defense. Not accidentally. The gun didn't go off while the two were struggling for it as in so many bad movies. Zimmerman took a loaded gun out of his pants, aimed, and shot the 17-year-old. He wasn't drunk. No wreckless abandon is alleged in toying with a deadly weapon. GZ consciously and deliberately delivered a bullet into the body of a living human being, causing his subsequent death.

    I heard several times because of GZ's frankness the prosecution had not choice but to charge him with murder. Now I'm hearing that the jury may go for manslaughter. Can the jury do that?

  4. A more accurate statement of the bottom line is a delinquent young drug user and gun and fighting enthusiast started a fight with a decent citizen who was forced to defend himself with a gun

    1. "more accurate"?

      A fairer person than you would at least admit that while they don't *know* that, it is at least true that it does comport with the facts we *do* know.

    2. Hah! Now there's an unbiased take!

      You're hearing only Zimmerman's take on this yet you have completely swallowed his story.

      Luckily we have cold hard rationalists such as yourself to stick to the facts.

    3. Only a racist or a moron would reach a different conclusion given the evidence

  5. Jeeves Stump,

    Where have you heard that manslaughter wasn't a possible charge? In Florida, manslaughter is an unjustified homicide committed with culpable negligence only. This is a lesser included charge to the one for which Zimmerman is standing trial for, namely, 2nd degree murder, a crime in which the negligence rises to the level of recklessness indicative of a depraved mind but for which there is no premeditation. I believe the judge gets to decide whether to allow the jury to deliberate on the lesser included charge. If the jury finds there's reasonable doubt as to depravity of mind, they can still convict on a lesser level of negligence.

    You seem to think that because Zimmerman admits to acting deliberately and not accidentally, then he's guilty of murder. But if Zimmerman testifies, it's likely he will say that he acted deliberately in shooting Martin but that he didn't mean necessarily to kill Martin, only to stop Martin from killing or seriously injuring him. Pulling the trigger of a loaded handgun is an inherently dangerous act, and it will be the prosecution's job to show that Zimmerman acted negligently in doing so, regardless of his claimed intention.

    One problem for the prosecution is that there are no eyewitnesses to the last moments of Martin's life. Until now. Imagine how grateful the prosecution will be for your testimony that the gun didn't go off as the two were struggling for it, that Zimmerman deliberately took the gun out of his pants and aimed to to shoot, "consciously and deliberately." Or not. Since everything you say is consistent with justification, assuming that Zimmerman feared for his life. But since you're so good at divining the physical circumstances, you should be able to accurately discern Zimmerman's state of mind. No hill for a climber as they say. Better hurry before the prosecution rests.

    You say you heard that Zimmerman's account forced the prosecution to charge him with murder. You probably think that's true because you heard it several times. May I ask where you heard it? The same place where you found out there was no struggle? Do you suppose that the special prosecutor might have charged Zimmerman with 2nd degree murder hoping that he'd cop a plea to manslaughter? I don't know, but you're obviously plugged into things, so I thought I'd ask.

    By the way, I like the phrase "wreckless abandon." Kinda sounds like a car you left behind but not because it was in an accident. Sorta contrasts with the train wreckful nature of your reasoning.

    1. deadrat,

      You attack Jeeves with withering snark for his certainty, but wasn't the tone of his post the exact opposite? You cut him to ribbons for where he gets his information. Well, there were 16,259 homicides in 2010 in the United States. May I ask you why you are so emotionally invested in this death? Might the place or places where you get your information be partly responsible for your vitrol toward a sincere question?

    2. Anonymous on 7/10/13 @ 3:34P,

      Perhaps you could enlighten me as to how the "tone" of Jeeves' statement of certainty "The gun didn't go off while the two were struggling for it...." is somehow the exact opposite of certitude.

      While you're at it, perhaps you could tell me how you know I'm "emotionally invested" in Martin's death. Every comment I make here is about the law or facts as reported in the press.

      The places I get my information are Florida statutes, precedents from relevant Florida court cases, the rules of the Florida judiciary, court transcripts, videotapes of testimony, and news reports. All available online and presumably available to Jeeves as well.

      Jeeves states that he might be missing something about the law. And he's missing two things -- an understanding of the differing elements between the degrees of homicide in Florida law and how lesser included charges work. I have no reason to believe that Jeeves is anything other than sincere about his confusion, I don't think there's anything wrong with asking sincere questions, and I believe my first two paragraphs answer his correctly and without an ounce of vitriol. I'm not a lawyer, so I may yet stand corrected by experts.

      I have reserved my contempt for someone who admits he doesn't understand the law, relies on hearsay instead of research, insists on his own speculative narrative, but draws conclusions with certainty nonetheless. Do you really think that where I get my information is responsible for my attitude?

    3. Sorry deadrat but your inane lengthy rant to Jeeves shows you to be an out of control zealot. His comment basically states a question, which you pretend is some profoundly ignorant rant of the sort that you yourself write here.

      Just look at your attack on the issue of his supposed comment that the "gun did not go off in a struggle", when Jeeves clearly stated that they were not struggling FOR THE GUN. Of course they were struggling, you deceitful idiot. (LW)

    4. Anonymous on 7/10/13 @7:07P,

      You and Jeeves deserve each other. As they say, lie down with ignoramuses, get up struck stupid. I'm an out of control zealot? Why is that? Because I understand the law? Jeeves basically stated two questions, both of which I answered. Didja miss that? Or didja not understand the answers? Or did you just not care in your rush to call me an idiot?

      As for the struggle, what are you on about? I quoted Jeeves correctly, that the gun did not go off as they were struggling for it. Is your failure to read for comprehension an isolated problem or part of larger cognitive issues? You might want to get that checked out. My objection to Jeeves is that his little story about the absence of a struggle for the gun and Zimmerman's "conscious and deliberate" aiming for Martin is just that, a story, or narrative as TDH is fond of saying.

      "Of course they were struggling," you say. Well, apparently you were there at the scene with your buddy in confident ignorance. Have you talked to to the prosecution yet?

      Was there a struggle? I don't know since I don't have your advantage as an eyewitness to the event. Judging from Zimmerman's injuries, there was some kind of physical confrontation. Did they struggle for the gun? I don't know. Good thing you and Jeeves do, eh?

      Why not go back and re-read what I posted? Sound out the big words if you have to. Then get back to me.

    5. DEADRAT,Here, a name synonymous with confused buffoonery:
      All parties have conceded there was a struggle. All parties have conceded they were not struggling over the gun (though that is a possibility only limited by no TM DNA present on the gun).

      That leaves only you baying at the moon and snarling at your superiors whenever you read something that your profound ignorance has not assimilated.

    6. Anonymous on 7/11/13 @ 7:59A,

      All parties have conceded there was a struggle. Zimmerman, with Martin. Jeeves and you with the concept of evidence.

  6. Zimmerman cannot have both acted in self defense and also be guilty of any crime.

  7. Somerby,
    How do you (and some of your commenters) "know" that Zimmerman told the truth to the authorities about what happened?
    I have read your posts and I see over and over that "Zimmerman said". I myself -and every one here- would never, ever say anything that is self exculpatory.
    If you shot someone might you tailor your story to justify your action? Me? Never.
    All I "know" is that Zimmerman followed Martin, first by car, then on foot. There was a confrontation. During the confrontation Zimmerman suffered injuries to his nose and the back of his head. During the confrontation Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest and killed him.
    What do you "know" that I don't "know"? Other than what Zimmerman said?
    I understand that you are very busy excoriating the "one true liberal channel" and may not have time to respond. But I would be appreciative if you could.
    God bless you and you commenters. Even the one(s) who link to racist sites.
    These persons are probably misunderstood. Or liberals just don't reach out to them enough. Or maybe, like at the "liberal" NYTimes, they are viewed with sneering contempt.
    Trayvon Martin is dead. George Zimmerman killed him.
    Apart from the above tell me what else you "know" that I don't "know".

    1. Would you tell a very detailed lie right after an event knowing the police were interviewing eyewitnesses at the same time and with no knowledge as to what was recorded on phones, video cameras? If Z's story matches all eyewitness accounts told at the same time but unknown to him and audio of events also matches, does that cause your brain to regard his story as more credible? What about testimony from law enforcement who tried to find holes testifying they thought he was truthful? What about willingness to give numerous statements without lawyering up? Anything happening in your brain other than attemps to create fantasy alternatives?

    2. Isn't it funny that many of the observers of this trial who liberally throw the epithet "racist" at others, base much of their judgements of possible actions on groaningly ridiculous stereotypes?

    3. There were several witnesses and there is also information about Martin himself, including his tox screen, the contents of his cell phone, and the facts of why he was visiting his relatives in Florida, his prior behavior at school, and so on. In support of Zimmerman's account, there is physical evidence and corroboration in the form of his past behavior and actions, his physical injuries, and the recorded conversations with the police. It isn't just a matter of what he said in his statement but the consistency between what he said and all of the various forms of other evidence available.

    4. ANON 4:45...You are on the right tract. Read Hannity's Interview with Zimmerman (in evidence at trial) and you will learn more about Z's actions than the trial testimony afforded. Hannity actually was probing (gently), but brought out that even by Z's account, that Z refused to identify himself to TM when asked, that Z "grabbed" for his "pant's pocket" (which may well in fact have been grabbing for his gun) after refusing to identify himself, and stated that TM hit him after that grabbing action. But there's more...You can even see the emergence of the "looking for a house number" excuse originate when Hannity challenges him on why Z continued to follow TM after the dispatcher discouraged it.

      Z also stated that his yelling because he thought police were already there and that would identify his location.

    5. Which eyewitness? Who has been identified as an eyewitness?
      The lady whose 911 conversation has been central in the trial says (understandably) that she was reluctant to venture outside her house.
      Good (another neighbor) talks to 911 just as Martin was being killed. He testifies that the person in the red coat (Zimmerman) is below the person in the gray hoodie (Martin). OK. Is that the state of the combatants throughout the entire confrontation? I don't know. I'm sure you do.
      Martin's mother, after hearing the 911 tape, says that it is her sons' voice. Martin's father(after hearing for the first time his son being killed) says no, that is not my son's voice. Then later he changes his answer. What racists!
      God bless you.

    6. Thepat positioning is all that is in EVIDENCE of the struggle. And that Zim was getting his ass kicked, or maybe Trayvon was pulling weeds

  8. Interesting contrast: MSNBC says the prosecution "might have to settle for a manslaughter charge against Zimmerman". OTOH the National Review says, "The question is no longer whether or not George Zimmerman will be convicted of murdering Trayvon Martin, the question is what will happen after he is acquitted."

    It's safe to predict that, whatever the verdict, a lot of people will be surprised and disappointed.

    1. I think the NRO will be more interested in whether Martin killed himself.

  9. Bob,
    I realize that as a southern white male who grew up in the 50s that you may not understand people's outrage at an unarmed black teenager being shot and killed but that doesn't mean you have to take everything that Zimmerman says as the truth.

    1. Outrage over only those facts without considering further facts is invalid and insane.

    2. AnonymousJuly 10, 2013 at 7:26 PM, your implication that Bob is insensitive to mistreatment of blacks because he was raised in the South is offensive and ignorant. Bob chose to spend many years teaching in inner city Baltimore schools. As a Harvard graduate, no doubt he could have gotten a job that was more remunerative and less challenging.

      I wonder, AnonymousJuly 10, 2013 at 7:26 PM, what gives you the moral authority to imply that Bob is a racist. What sacrifices have you made to help poor black children?

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. I don't remember a case so lacking in evidence that has been so propagated by some in the media. Morgan bought into the early misinformation and can't let it go.

  11. In other news, Zimmerman's MMA instructor is offering "The Zimmerman Training."

    I can save you lots of money on the training:

    Step one: Stalk strangers at night, while armed.
    Step two: Fight like a girl.
    Step three: Pull a gun and shoot the person you stalked.

    Hundreds of dollars saved, and only one life lost! Such a deal.