Part 3—One lawyer cites Thurgood Marshall: On March 19, 2012, CNN’s Sunny Hostin committed a heinous act.
Introduced as a “CNN legal analyst” and a “former federal prosecutor,” she went on TV and repeated what the lawyers had said.
Referring to the killing of Trayvon Martin, she said the 911 tapes, which she had heard, told her that “this child was murdered in cold blood and there are several witnesses to that murder.”
Soon, Hostin was telling Brooke Baldwin what she thought she had heard:
HOSTIN (3/19/12): And the bottom line is, you hear a warning shot, Brooke, and then you hear a voice pleading and a cry. And then you hear another voice [sic] and you hear the pleading stop. So that— And you also have these other people saying that the man in the white shirt—which is what Zimmerman was wearing, we know that Trayvon Martin was wearing a red sweatshirt—that the man in the white shirt was on top of the other person. And so that tells me that he was on top of this boy, young boy, not even an adult, an unarmed young boy, takes a step back and shoots him in the chest.Hostin said she was horrified. If CNN was run by journalists, they would have been horrified too.
You cannot avail yourself of a self-defense claim when you are the first aggressor, you start a fight, even if you're losing it. You cannot avail yourself of that.
And so in hearing all of these tapes, I’m convinced that I’ve heard a murder. That, and a murderer that is walking around our streets free without being arrested. And so I’m just—I’m horrified.
As it turned out, Hostin didn’t hear a warning shot on those 911 tapes. Only one shot was fired that night, though Hostin said she heard two.
This means that her detailed tale of “cold-blooded murder” (Baldwin’s term) was also bogus. Whatever he may have done that night, George Zimmerman didn’t fire a warning shot, then “take a step back” from “an unarmed young boy” and “shoot him in the chest.”
Hostin told a lurid tale; her lurid tale was wrong. But that wasn’t her only misstatement as she described the horror she was feeling.
Uh-oh! On the night in question, Trayvon Martin wasn’t wearing a red sweatshirt; it was Zimmerman who was dressed in red. Somehow, Hostin had gotten the clothing turned around in her head. But so what? This factual error had her convinced that, after firing that warning shot, Zimmerman had “taken a step back” and shot a young boy in the chest.
Hostin’s tale was lurid but wrong. Journalistically, her conduct was heinous. But one other thing is abundantly clear—this lurid, heinous, inaccurate story came to us straight from the lawyers. On March 17, the Orlando Sentinel quoted Natalie Jackson, one of the Martin family attorneys, telling this lurid, inaccurate tale about the two gunshots. That same day, the New York Times got very excited and passed the story on to its readers, with its reporter, Lizette Alvarez, directly saying that she had heard two shots.
Alvarez hadn’t heard two shots. But millions of people were being disinformed by a lurid, false tale which came from the lawyers.
Before long, Hostin was back with another false claim. She sourced it to the lawyers.
On March 20, Hostin told CNN’s Carol Costello that she had “the opportunity to speak with one of the Martin family attorneys this morning for about 30 minutes.” (Hostin described the attorney as a “she.”) Soon, Hostin was making another false statement:
HOSTIN (3/20/12): Let me also say this, that the family attorney told me that they are awaiting toxicology reports from Trayvon Martin's autopsy to dispel any notion that he was perhaps on drugs and that Zimmerman was allowed to leave the police department in the clothes that he was wearing that night, which means that any evidence that could have been gathered from his clothing is now lost. So that also is something that is somewhat troubling to this family.In fact, Zimmerman’s clothing was kept by the Sanford police that night. But Hostin kept repeating this false claim, attributing it to the lawyers. This produced this assessment, later that day, from the pathetic Wolf Blitzer:
HOSTIN (3/20/12): As a former prosecutor, Wolf, you know, I've handled investigations and this is just odd that in a shooting death of an unarmed teenager that leads don't appear to have been followed. My understanding is that the girl that was speaking to Trayvon Martin on the phone for minutes during this altercation has not yet been interviewed by the police.“At least on the surface?” In reality, CNN’s evidence didn’t rise to that level. Blitzer was kidding himself, flattering his channel—and disinforming the public.
That is what the Martin family attorney told me. I thought that was remarkable. I think it's also remarkable that their attorney told me that George Zimmerman was not tested for drug and alcohol. That he was allowed to leave the police station, Wolf, with the very clothes on that he had that night. So any forensic evidence that may have been on his clothing to help or harm him, in fact, is just not there any longer.
BLITZER: Yes, it sounds, at least on the surface, that there's no investigation, no serious investigation by the Sanford Police Department.
Hostin’s claims came from the lawyers, and those claims were wrong. Hostin made other errors this week; this includes her gullible, unquestioning reliance on the claims of Mary Cutcher, the lawyers’ favorite ear-witness.
Indeed, the fact that she kept calling Martin a “boy” (a “child”) was part of the lawyers’ basic scripting of the developing novel. In the interest of brevity, we will assume that our basic point has been made.
Alas! Anyone who follows this case will quickly discover a basic fact. Right from the start, the national reporting was drowning in misstatements of fact—and those misstatements almost always seem to track back to the lawyers.
The lurid false tale of the two gunshots was the most egregious of these misstatements; the initial report by the New York Times is one of the most heinous bits of “reporting” we have ever seen. But news orgs ran with the lawyers’ misstatements as a pleasing fable developed. This has tilted the way the events of that night have been reported and understood, right to this very day.
Potemkin “fact-checkers” have agreed not to notice this problem. So did the New York Times’ public editor turned public cheerleader, when she praised her great newspaper for its treatment of this case.
The lawyers sold a pile of fake facts. This leads us to an obvious question:
Why did the lawyers do that?
Alas! When Joyce wrote the fifteen stories found in Dubliners, he saw a “moral and intellectual paralysis” all through his native Dublin. When Camus imagined Oran in the grip of a plague, he explained why a range of citizens ignored its warning signs.
When it comes to the killing of Martin, a wide array of our own Dubliners have played active roles in the spreading of lurid, false tales.
Reporters have played a basic part in this process. So have the press corps’ alleged fact-checkers.
Angry citizens have played a key role in the story’s spread. So have the nation’s professors, those who have spoken and those who have not.
So have we pseudo-liberals, of course. We seem determined to prove that we’re ditto-heads too, just like the folk we once mocked.
That said, most of those false or bogus tales began with the family lawyers. Why did the lawyers advance those false claims?
Of one thing you can be quite sure—no one in the mainstream “press corps” will ever ask that question! Indeed, no one is ever going to mention the fact that the lawyers spread misinformation right from the start of this case.
In this instance, the “press corps” quickly accepted the lawyers as the authors of their Official Group Story. And when the “press corps” behaves that way, there is no looking back.
(In 1992, the “press corps” built its Whitewater scandal tales around the claims of a small group of Republican crackpots in Arkansas. In March 1999, the “press corps” took its cues from the RNC as it created an instant novel in which Candidate Gore was the world’s biggest liar, just like President Clinton before him.)
In this case, the lawyers told a lot of false tales. But why did the lawyers do that?
No one is going to ask them! But we may have gotten a hint from an interview with Jasmine Rand, one of the family lawyers, on July 15, two days after the verdict.
The interview was conducted by Greta Van Susteren, who would have done a better job if she had been less annoyed with something Rand said.
Van Susteren challenged Rand, on general principles, when Rand criticized the Zimmerman jury. (For fuller transcript, see our next post.) But the most intriguing exchange came in the wake of that challenge, when Rand referred to a precept which dates to the great Thurgood Marshall.
Rand described herself as “a social engineer.” What did she mean by that?:
VAN SUSTEREN (7/15/13): You're a lawyer, right?Van Susteren made a telling point about those “millions of people;” see our next post. But we were struck by Rand’s remark about being a “social engineer.”
VAN SUSTEREN: And the whole point of the jury is that we assign the job to weigh the facts. We draft them. We make them sit there. Lot of times, they don't want to be there. We then present the evidence, and the judge then says, “Here's the evidence, here's the law,” instructs them on the law, and it's their duty—it's not mine, it's not yours, it's not anybody else's in the community, but it's the jury's duty to weigh them. And all of a sudden, suddenly, afterwards, you say they can't do their job?
RAND: I have a greater duty beyond being an attorney, and that's to be a social engineer. And when the law doesn't get it right, I believe that we have the right to peacefully and morally, conscientiously object to the decision of the jury.
That doesn't mean that we believe that it's going to be overturned, or that it will, or that we don't respect the decision that those six people made. But there are millions of people out there who don't agree with that decision. So it's not just the legal team.
Van Susteren thought the remark was ominous. In this case, perhaps it was! But it dates to the early days of civil rights lawyering, to Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall, each of whom has been quoted saying this:
“A lawyer’s either a social engineer or he’s a parasite on society.”
Marshall grew up within a mile of the place where we sit placidly typing. His elementary school shares a zip code with our sprawling campus.
At a very dangerous time, Marshall showed the way lawyers can use the law and the Constitution to further the cause of racial justice. Perhaps most famously, he was chief counsel in Brown v. Board of Education, which helped change American life.
Very few people will challenge Marshall’s work as a “social engineer.” In a similar vein, a post from Low Moral Ground, which we’ll excerpt below, includes a description of Rand’s career which makes us want to admire her.
Having said that, let us also say this: Marshall and Houston climbed the mountain in the pursuit of social justice. Marshall used the term “social engineer” to describe his own legal work.
Tirelessly, Marshall sought social justice, just as Rand surely believes she is doing. But did Marshall ever invent a pile of fake facts in his work as an engineer?
Did Marshall ever invent false facts to make a police department seem racist? Did he ever invent fake facts to get a man charged with murder?
In this case, the lawyers did those things, with the “press corps” cast as stenographers. Whatever may explain their motives, their conduct was extremely bad, and it has had wide-ranging consequences:
Terrified parents have terrorized children about the ways they might be killed, just for buying some candy. The jurors are forced to hide from the public, even as Rand continues to offer bogus accounts of the facts of the case in the course of criticizing their judgment. (The verdict was “a tragedy,” she has said.)
Reports have appeared of beatings offered in retribution for the Zimmerman verdict. If someone ends up getting killed—and obviously, that could happen—does Rand want to go on TV made repeat all the fake facts she has stated just since the verdict was given?
Right from the start, citizens have been made very fearful, and very angry, on the basis of tons of fake facts. In his work as an engineer, when did Marshall do that?
By his own description, Marshall was a social engineer. But Marshall wasn’t a liar and he wasn’t an hysteric. You can decide which description best explains the lawyers’ misstatements in this case—misstatements the “press corps” simply adopted as they decided to let the lawyers craft their latest group novel.
Hysteric or liar? You be the judge. Marshall and Houston were neither.
Tomorrow: Dubliners inflamed
Friday: The towering silence
We agree with this assessment: Brett Wilkins writes Moral Low Ground, “an anti-corporate, anti-war social justice site featuring news you won't see in the corporate mainstream media.”
We recommend Wilkins’ reaction to the flap about “social engineering.” As he closes, he praises Rand for her commitment to racial justice. But he offers some good sound advice:
WILKINS (7/16/13): Social engineering may be beneficial, even essential, for achieving racial justice in America. But engineering the truth is anathema to justice. Moral Low Ground applauds Jasmine Rand for not only acknowledging a legal responsibility that transcends any individual case, but also for dedicating her life’s work to using the law as an instrument for social change. From mass incarceration to discrimination and disparities in policing and arrests, wealth and income, lending, housing, health care, education, employment, and the application of capital punishment, black (and brown) Americans still face towering obstacles to equality. But Rand must also take care not to resort to the sort of hyperbole–the claims that George Zimmerman was a “racist” who “hunted,” “stalked,” “murdered,” even “lynched” and, ludicrously, “assassinated” Trayvon Martin– which does a disservice to the greater cause of social justice to which she has dedicated her legal career.“Hyperbole” is a pleasant term for what the lawyers did. It’s hard to avoid the thought that they may have been lying early on, with the “press corps” typing their claims.
Thurgood Marshall struggled and won. Tell us when this giant lied or peddled a stream of fake facts.