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.Is that what happened in Sanford that night? Did an unarmed teen get shot in the heart for doing absolutely nothing?
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? 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.