SOCIETY DOWN: Is Anderson Cooper a journalist?

FRIDAY, JULY 19, 2013

Interlude—Journalistic star fails to perform: Last night, Anderson Cooper refused to do his job.

It would have been painful to do his job, but Cooper is well compensated. He represents himself as a broadcast journalist.

There are certain unpleasant tasks such folk are supposed to take on.

Last night, through most of an hour-long program, Cooper kept walking away from those journalistic tasks. In particular, he kept refusing to challenge guests who were offering questionable accounts of a high-profile event.

What happened in Sanford on the night when Trayvon Martin died? At one point, one of Cooper’s guests offered this account while discussing the advice black parents are forced to give their children, especially their sons:
GUEST ON COOPER'S PROGRAM (7/18/13): The conversation that you have—that we have is, you know, we try to prepare them to become teenagers, to become upstanding citizens, and how to conduct themselves out in public.

But when you have a situation such as an unarmed teen getting shot in the heart for doing absolutely nothing, you know, you have to—you have to say to yourself, what is it that I can tell my child now? What kind of conversation do I tell him as far as going outside and conducting himself?
Is that what happened in Sanford that night? Did an unarmed teen get shot in the heart for doing absolutely nothing?

Is that what happened in Sanford? It’s possible! You can imagine a version of events in which that account is essentially accurate, at least in the moral sense.

But during the recent Zimmerman trial, the best eyewitness testified that the unarmed teen was pummeling George Zimmerman MMA-style just before he was shot. Zimmerman sustained injuries before the shooting, the unarmed teen did not.

On Monday night, a juror told Cooper that she thinks Martin doubled back and confronted Zimmerman—that Martin threw the first punch. “I think Trayvon got mad and attacked him,” the juror said, although she also said that no one knows exactly what happened that night.

Did an unarmed teen get shot in the heart for doing absolutely nothing? That’s what Cooper was told last night, again and again, in various iterations.

Each time, Cooper let the claim go. He never asked his guests to explain why they felt they knew their account was accurate. In this way, Cooper kept refusing to do his job, if he's an actual journalist.

He kept refusing to inform his viewers of the actual state of the evidence, which is rather limited. He kept refusing to tell his viewers what we do and don’t know.

Why did Cooper play potted plant? In fact, Cooper often fails to clarify key points, as high-ranking national journalists should automatically and skillfully do.

That said, it would have been tough to perform such normal tasks last night.

Cooper was speaking with Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, the grieving parents of Trayvon Martin. The statement we have quoted above was made by Tracy Martin, who seems like a good, decent man.

It would have been a difficult task to challenge or question their accounts of what happened that night. That said, their accounts routinely created a highly sanitized view of the evidence.

It would have been hard to do that. But Cooper proved equal to the task of avoiding his professional responsibilities. For forty minutes, he failed to challenge the statements of Martin and Fulton. He also gave a pass to the statements of Benjamin Crump, the Martin family’s attorney—for example, when Crump said this:
CRUMP: We have to ask our Department of Justice, Can little black and brown boys walk down the street and not have private citizens with guns profile and follow them and confront them? Because we need to know what the law is because we got to know what to tell our children. And if that is not the law, then the killer of Trayvon Martin should be held accountable for violating his civil rights. Because he had every legal right to walk down that neighborhood sidewalk and not be profiled and confronted.
For what it's worth, Martin had now become a little boy. That said, an obvious question arises:

Did Zimmerman “confront” Trayvon Martin that night? Little or no evidence to that effect was presented in the trial. The claim certainly hasn’t been proven.

If Cooper wanted to perform his basic journalistic tasks, he surely could have found a way to ask Attorney Crump about that statement. With Martin’s parents sitting there, this task might have felt awkward.

But if Cooper lacks such skills, why is he paid millions of dollars as a leading national journalist? And by the way:

Cooper has routinely failed to challenge or clarify even the most simplified accounts of what happened that night. Consider what Geoffrey Canada said on his Tuesday night program.

Canada is founder and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a sweeping attempt to bring basic services to a large group of low-income minority children. Until we’re shown otherwise, we will think that Canada is a highly admirable public player who is performing a great public service.

That doesn’t mean that Canada can’t misstate, overstate, exaggerate or embellish in some particular circumstance, particularly in matters of high feeling. Tuesday night, on Cooper’s show, he made these highly instructive statements about the killing of Martin and the Zimmerman trial:
CANADA (7/16/13): In my world, everybody saw this as open and shut. They were like, a boy went to the store and somebody killed him, and that was wrong, and they should be punished. And it was so clear. He was unarmed, he was doing nothing. So we're all sitting there saying, “OK, so let me try and understand the other side.” People keep thinking that this is not my kids, my family, my community, this is happening to those folks in Florida. This is not happening to those folks in Florida, this is not just Sanford, this is happening all over the country. And people keep thinking it's somebody else's kids. The same way they could not imagine Trayvon being their kid, they can't imagine they need to talk to their kids and their community about this issue, because this really is a national problem.
Canada’s ultimate point wasn’t entirely clear. But as he started, he described an unfortunate situation—and he gave a absurdly simplistic account of what happened in Sanford that night.

Please! It was perfectly obvious from the beginning that this case was not “open and shut.” Self-defense has been a basic part of the law for a thousand years or so. Zimmerman had sustained injuries before the fatal shot was fired—and the best eyewitness had seen Zimmerman “getting the crap beaten out of him,” as the new showman Chris Hayes later colorfully said.

Also, the burden of proof was on the prosecution. This too has been a basic principle for a large number of years, though it's sometimes observed in the breach.

This case was never “open and shut.” It was never anything like that! If everyone in Canada’s world saw the case that way, it’s possible that someone has been misleading or misinforming the people in Canada’s world.

Could it be that such people got misled when they heard so many pundits describe that evening's events in the very way Canada did? We think Canada is an admirable public figure. But this was his account of what happened that night:

“A boy went to the store and somebody killed him. He was unarmed, he was doing nothing.”

If that was all that happened that night, this case truly would have been open-and-shut, at least on the merits. But that isn’t all that happened that night, despite endless presentations to that effect on cable.

From people as smart as some pundits are, those accounts can start sounding dishonest.

If Anderson Cooper is a journalist, he should have challenged Canada’s account. In the past sixteen months, many good people have been misled by a boatload of such accounts.

In the aftermath of the verdict, many children are being scared out of their wits in much the same way. Are they too being misled?

Time after time, people like Cooper have refused to challenge absurdly simplified accounts of what happened in Sanford. On Tuesday night, Cooper played potted plant with Canada. Martin’s parents weren’t there.

Is Anderson Cooper a journalist? Or is he a priest in an empathy cult, a keeper of preferred narratives?

Tomorrow: What did happen in Sanford that night? A highly simplified Standard Story was taking shape quite early.

What does journalistic cowardice look like: On Tuesday night, Cooper failed to correct an obvious howler. See our next post.


  1. "From people as smart as some pundits are, those accounts can start sounding dishonest."

    Not to your commenters, for whom any attempt to criticise or correct those accounts is what's dishonest, morally wrong and just downright boring and old.

    So the misstatements continue. But your commenters continue as well. They say: You've got to stop complaining about it, you jealous, irrelevant, tedious, unreadable hack.

    But those commenters of course have grown tired of you Bob, and therefore they will never be coming back here again, with notable exceptions.

  2. Why do so many of the left refuse to acknowledge that Trayvon had a role in escalating the situation into a physical confrontation? Or at least that the possibility existed that he did, based on testimony/evidence/etc?

    Of course that doesn't mean he *deserved* to get killed, but as the immortal line from Unforgiven says, "Deserve's got nothin to do with it."

    1. It does seem unfair to allow a teen to engage in anti-social behavior with small consequence and then land on him like a ton of bricks when he is not expecting any reprisals for his misbehavior. If fighting can get you killed (e.g., in a self-defense scenario or as the result of accidental manslaughter in the context of a fight), then we need to be more explicit that fighting is a bad idea. When TV entertainment and movies routinely show fighting as fun, exciting, manly behavior, how can we turn around and tell our kids that they should not engage in it? Trayvon deserved better guidance about how to conduct himself in a variety of contexts, from referring to whites as "Crackers" to leaving a 12-year-old alone when he was supposed to be babysitting him, to stealing and fighting. I appreciate that his parents feel grief, but seriously, where were they when he needed help learning how to behave in this world?

    2. Buried deep in the local coverage around the country are stories about meetings with black youth where they are being advised in exactly those ways by black pastors and other leaders, and with very little in the way of excusing Martin's behavior.

      You won't hear about it on any national TV show. It's "racist." More important, it doesn't provide the much needed funds for third vacation homes for Sharpton and Crump.

    3. I'm really glad to hear that!

  3. Now comes forth Rachel Jeantel, saying she believes Trayvon Martin threw the first punch. This is after her testimony saying she was not alarmed when the phone cut off and she didn't hear from Martin because "I just thought he was in a fight."

    So now we have,

    Martin glaring at Zimmerman and approaching his truck. "Yup he's coming over here to check me out."

    (If legal acts of "approach," "pursuit" or "following" constitute the all important "initial provocation," as some of the anti-Zimmerman mob claims, there you have it.)

    Unfortunately for the lynch mob, not only are those acts not all important, they're not important at all.

    We have,

    The 4 minutes

    eyewitness Good

    Zimmerman's broken nose and bashed, laceratted skull

    Lauer tape with Zimmerman's anguished screams

    No injuries on Martin other than on his fists, and the gunshot.

    Of lesser importance but key is Jeantel's phone conversation, which is most revealing in the fact that it indicates what Martin was doing during those 4 minutes, and more importantly not doing (calling police, going home, running off). Martin wasn't afraid.

    Putting those facts together in a logical way will at the VERY least establish considerable doubt as to ANY wrongdoing on Zimmerman's part. in anyone who is aware of those facts and also has an IQ of 80.

    If someone STILL decides to throw in with the race hustling lynch mob for any reason whatsoever, knowing they have no evidence that the human being they have targeted as their scapegoat did ANYTHING wrong, is a scumbag whose opinions are not worth considering.

    1. Anon you are omitting relevant portions of her quote, just as you accuse the other side of doing. Rachel said that Trayvon threw the first punch AFTER Zimmerman attempted to grab him. The attempted grab could qualify as the inciting physical confrontation.

    2. She didn't have any evidence of either. Her first remarks on the matter, on the stand, were that she wasn't worried and thought he "just got in a fight."
      After testifying that he spoke first, and that he chatted on the phone with her and had reached the area of his stepmother's home.

    3. Well yes, this all boils down to the fact that we will never know for certain how the physical altercation began - the problem is that the left won't even acknowledge the uncertainty, least of all the possibility that Trayvon initiated.

    4. Our brains permit us to formulate certain likelihoods with the understanding that although he had 4 minutes, at one point Trayvon was at his house, at another point he was at the T where Zimmerman dropped his flashlight, and at another point Zimmerman had the crap beaten out of him.

    5. (And even if we choose not to permit our brains to put those facts together in any conclusive way, our morals or ethics should prohibit us from uttering anything that contributes to the lynch mob's unfounded effort to imprison George Zimmerman)

  4. Did Zimmerman "confront"?

    If we're talking about physical posture or approach, that was Martin who did that first.

    If we're talking about speaking, Jeantel said Martin did that first too.

    If we're talking about hitting, only Zimmerman had injuries of a physical attack. Once again, Martin.

    1. Some people suggest Zimmerman confronted by following with his car and by getting out of his car. These are legal actions but they can also be considered confrontational. If it were being done unobtrusively, it would be hard to see them as that because why would Trayvon think this was aimed specifically at him? If the following were very overt, intended to deter a potential burglary by making it obvious they were being watched, then Trayvon needed to call the police or go back to his home after running away, or go back to a public place, such as the 7-11 store. Women and young girls are often the targets of creepy-assed white guys. We know better than to engage them. If some creepy person is bothering you, the last thing you do is approach them, speak to them or hit them. All young kids are taught to run from creepy strangers who may be potential child molesters. Trayvon, being on the brink of adulthood, may have considered child-protective behavior inappropriate, but adult behavior is still to avoid such a person, report them to police, not take the law into their own hands by beating them up, especially without knowing why they are following you. Law enforcement officers follow, sometimes overtly. Potential muggers follow. Pedophiles follow. It doesn't matter what the motivation is -- you avoid them. So once again, Martin did the confronting.

  5. This case was open and shut, but as a self-defense case. Recognized as such by the police, as well as the corrupt prosecutors who chose not to follow through with a grand jury because they knew there was a high likelihood there would be no indictment given this case was even weaker than those involving a ham sandwich.

  6. Although I can agree that George Zimmerman is legally innocent, I am disturbed by the comments that suggest that everyone has the right to arm themselves and protect their neighborhoods by following around any suspicious persons (suspicious to them). Then, if the people they are following confront them violently, they can simply kill them (in self defense). This seems to me to be simply vigilantism. No police, no trial, just execution.

    1. WORK to change gun laws!!

    2. Following people around is not illegal -- paparazzi do it to famous people all the time. You don't have the right to confront someone violently just for following you around. That is why actors are charged with assault when they attack paparazzi and break their cameras. If you confront someone else violently, whether for following you or saying something nasty to you or doing something you don't like, they DO have the right to use force to defend themselves, up to and including killing you. It is not vigilantism because it is the law. In this case, police were involved immediately and the initial investigation suggested to charges were warranted. Later, there was a trial.

      If someone attacks you violently and you are killed or injured as the result of that violence, where is your trial? Isn't that vigilantism? Couldn't Trayvon have used his cell phone to call the police and complain about Zimmerman if he had wanted to? Why was it OK for him to whupp Zimmerman for staring at him?

    3. If you have a sensible proposal about reforming self-defense law, let's hear it. HINT: Try to state it legalistically, without reference to this case.

      And, yes, for the most part "everyone has the right to arm themselves."

      For the most part, everyone has the right to be suspicious if they suspect something, and the right to "follow," and the right to defend themselves if they are "confronted violently."

      Honestly, I don't see how you're going to change those things, but let's hear your best effort.

    4. Why was it OK for him to whupp Zimmerman for staring at him?

      Because as Ann Coulter said, the racist white left has yet to recognize blacks as volitional human beings. The behavior of the racist white left around this case has created a reality in which Ann Coulter is accurate. Chilling.

  7. There are people who are well-paid to do just this, namely police patrolmen. George Zimmerman was part of a formal program, coordinated with the police, to perform some of the functions of a patrolman. In this case, it turned into a disaster. Nevertheless, I think we should be grateful to our fellow citizens who volunteer to make our communities a better place.

  8. It seems the purpose of the posts is to discuss the was the press fosters or fails to confront tribalist renditions of an event, complete with fabrications of fact.

    Many of the commenters, on either side, want to try the case, and exhibit the same tribal behaviors.

    Here are simple facts that cannot be denied. An armed adult on an unrelated errand spotted a young man walking in his neighborhood, decided he was suspicious and called the police. Instead of sticking to his role as a member of the "neighborhood watch" from his vehicle, he elected to follow the "suspect" in the dark. He ended up killing the "suspect" who, until the time the adult spotted him, was doing absolutely nothing wrong.

    Regardless of how many variable versions, seasoned or unseasoned with snippets of facts, the decision of an armed man to follow someone he decided was suspicious is the precipitating event. I could care less whether the adult with the gun was purple and suspected the ultimate victim, also purple, was suspicious because he was whistling and skipping.

    Let's engage in a hypothetical keyed from a real fact.

    Zimmerman once called police because he saw a garage door open. Presume he decided to go investigate for himself, poked his head inside, and was blasted by a startled homeowner with a shotgun. Who is to blame?


    1. If the homeowner reasonably believes he is in danger of serious injury or death, he has the right to shoot if he has no means of safe escape.

    2. "who until the time the adult spotted him, was doing absolutely nothing wrong." - This is not necessarily true. Zimmerman said Trayvon was in someone else's yard, looking into their window.

      "Precipitating event" is meaningless word salad. Zimmerman being conceived in his mother's womb is a precipitating event. Probably Trayvon was doing nothing illegal, but NEITHER WAS ZIMMERMAN. So who did something illegal first? If Trayvon threw the first punch, then its on Trayvon.

    3. George Zimmerman pokes his head inside. Neighbor thinks, there's Zimmerman, the guy I've been fighting about because my dog cornered his wife in his yard that time. I heard he carries a gun after that incident. Just now he said something disturbing to me like "I'm going to put an end to your bullshit." I don't know what that means. He's faster and bigger than I am, I'm 72 years old and can't leave my garage because the door to the house is locked.

      George's family could easily be out of luck in pushing for a charge and conviction under that scenario, even though a conclusion of justified self defense would be much less justified by facts and evidence than Zimmerman's case.

    4. "he elected to follow the "suspect" in the dark. He ended up killing the "suspect" who, until the time the adult spotted him, was doing absolutely nothing wrong."

      Between the following and the killing you left out a whole lot of stuff, such as the beat-down Zimmerman experienced at the hands of Martin. Martin did do something illegal -- he hit Zimmerman. So far, nothing alleged against Zimmerman is remotely illegal -- there isn't even any evidence he hit Martin back. You mention the first punch, but there is no evidence Zimmerman threw any punch. Trespassing onto other people's property and looking into their windows is illegal too, but there is less evidence Martin did those things beyond Zimmerman's word and the pictures of stolen items on Martin's cell phone.

    5. 12:39, GZ is not legally innocent; there's no such thing; he's legally not guilty.
      "No police; no trial; just execution" That's not what they law says, but that's how it often works in practice when the killer kills the only rebuttal witness. This is not a bug; it's a feature.

      1:27P, No, the homeowner gets to kill the intruder whether there's an escape route or not. Thanks to the NRA, in public, too. The difference is that the presumption of reasonable fear rests with the homeowner but not with the person in public.

      1:30P, the way the law is written, neither of them might have been the provoker. All that's required is reasonable fear even if mistaken. They both could have been reasonably fearful and mistaken as to the other's intention when they stood face to face just before things became irreversible.

      1:37P, in your scenario, GZ is trespassing on private property, and the homeowner is presumed to be reasonably afraid of intruders. GZ's family would have no chance of getting the homeowner tried, and it's practically a slam-dunk self-defense case.

      1:42P, M was under no legal duty not to throw the first punch if he'd been threatened and was reasonably afraid. We have only Z's word about M's trespassing, and he's a very interested party. The pictures on cell phones are not evidence of trespassing

    6. @10:05pm re 1:42pm-- I believe that M is not allowed to physically assault Z just because he felt threatened, though. It has to be "reasonable," which is open to interpretation, I imagine. But the mere presence of Z is not enough, in a public place. (I'm not sure we're in disagreement here.)

  9. the decision of an armed man to follow someone he decided was suspicious is the precipitating event.

    As Bob said, a suspicion, even a false one, is not morally wrong and neither is keeping an eye on the suspected person.

    By the way, the "precipitating event" to the following was Trayvon Martin glaring at Zimmerman, and "coming to check out" Zimmerman.

    You simply don't have an argument. There is not a "both sides" here.

    1. Martin glared at Zimmerman because Zimmerman was following him. Being followed is threatening, whether or not you have some kind of bad intent. Martin's apparent reaction, to assault Zimmerman, was extreme, but it was foreseeable that there could be some reaction from a person being followed. Zimmerman's perfectly legal behavior, in spotting a suspicious person and following him, created a situation that Zimmerman couldn't handle and Martin died.

    2. So you're saying Martin was forced to attack Zimmerman, forced to break his nose, forced to pound his head on the pavement -- because "some reaction" is going to happen if a person is followed?

  10. The Martin/Zimmerman story you hear on television and read in the media is the Seinfeld version. "Trayvon Martin went to buy Skittles...yada yada yada...George Zimmerman killed him."

  11. so rachel assumed that trayvon threw the first punch. why would she assume that? did trayvon like to fight?

  12. You are worse than Anderson, assuming that Zimmerman told the truth about everything. Zimmerman was in no danger of losing his life. His 'injuries' were insignificant. I am white and 73 years old and I can see that this was simply a case of kill the black boy and get away with it. And yes, 17 is a boy.

    1. People are often killed from blows to the head. You placed the word 'injuries' in quotes, as though to say that the damage he had sustained to his head were not injuries.

  13. 1st: Thank you for this thoughtful essay on irresponsibility in journalism. I was born in the early 70's, so I don't know what public discourse was like earlier in the century, but I doubt it was much more thoughtful. There simply must be a better way to speak publicly about all subjects. The profit motive in journalism is a source of much of the confusion that journalism spreads--but that's much the same as in any area of human communication. There are benefits to supplying one's interlocutors or audience (from small private groups of friends, to communities, to nations and the world) with stories (in the widest sense) that fit in with what we think we already know about the world, or with interjecting humor. It seems to me that people simply are uncomfortable with being serious about what we see and say.

    Journalists should be BETTER at being serious and responsible than the general public. Instead, they seem to me to be more skilled at making some of the moral errors that people-in-general make when they speak to one another: The desire to be witty, the desire to play into stereotypes of all kinds, the desire to enact "revenge" against societal enemies, the desire to flatter their viewers, the desire to over-simplify. It really gets at the heart of human nature itself. If seriousness (not to say "dourness") were rewarded socially, that would be a great thing.

    Let's dare to be boring.