Part 2—No false claim left behind: It’s good to be Professor John Blume of the Cornell Law School.
In 1984, Blume graduated from Yale Law School. Yesterday, the New York Times published a letter from Blume about the Zimmerman verdict.
When elite professors function this way, we’d call that “society down:”
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (7/16/13): Despite the rhetoric on both sides, the criminal justice system sometimes works as it is supposed to. George Zimmerman should have been charged. He ignored a direct police order not to follow Trayvon Martin, he initiated the encounter, and he intentionally shot and killed an unarmed teenager. His statements about the events were inconsistent, and there was evidence he was the aggressor. In legal terms, there was definitely “probable cause” to charge Mr. Zimmerman with second-degree murder.Incredibly, that letter was written by a Cornell professor—a Cornell law professor! Let’s consider the highlighted sentence, which has several remarkable aspects:
The prosecution presented its case, warts and all (with a few self-inflicted wounds no doubt), and the jury unanimously decided that there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt of Mr. Zimmerman’s guilt. Whether one likes the results or not, based on an objective assessment of the evidence, the jurors made the right decision. In short, the case played out as it should have.
Now let’s hope the civil justice system works just as well, and Mr. Zimmerman is sued, found liable and forced to pay damages.
At the New York Times letters page, a basic policy seems to obtain: No False Claim Left Behind! In fact, Zimmerman did not “ignore a direct police order” that night, as Professor Blume dramatically claims.
Zimmerman did not disobey such an order. This was directly testified to in the trial and has been widely reported.
We’ll grant you that the New York Times didn’t report what Sean Noffke said. But on June 24, the first day of the trial, Noffke, the young police dispatcher, testified about his conversation with Zimmerman on the night Trayvon Martin died.
By July 7, even Jonathan Capehart had heard about what Noffke said. This comes from Capehart’s high-profile fact-check in the Washington Post Outlook section:
CAPEHART (7/7/13): Those who fault Zimmerman have latched on to this back-and-forth with Sean Noffke, the operator, as proof that Zimmerman defied a direct police order.Duh. On the very first day of the trial, Noffke, the police dispatcher, testified that Zimmerman hadn’t been given an order. On cable, we’ve seen this basic point explained about ten million times.
Not so. Noffke testified on the first day of the jury trial that it is dispatchers’ policy not to give orders to callers. “We’re directly liable if we give a direct order,” he explained. “We always try to give general basic . . . not commands, just suggestions.”
So, “We don’t need you to do that” is different than a more direct “Don’t do that.”
Nor did it qualify as news when Noffke testified to this effect. For anyone who has followed this story, the fact that Zimmerman wasn’t given an order was established long before this.
On March 21 of last year, the Sanford police chief issued a statement noting that the dispatcher’s “suggestion” was “not a lawful order that Mr. Zimmermann would be required to follow.” That statement was made last year, in March of 2012.
Up in Ithaca, lost in his thoughts, Professor Blume hadn’t heard! He missed the initial statement last year, then missed the testimony by the dispatcher. He missed the ten million explanations on cable. He then missed Capehart’s fact-check.
Do you get the sense that Professor Blume may not be following this matter real closely? Despite this problem, the lofty fellow jotted a note to the Times. He misstated a basic fact of the case, then began to reinvent the basic story line.
Did Zimmerman “initiate the encounter” with Trayvon Martin that night? That’s what our lofty professor said, though he didn’t explain what he meant by the statement or why he thought he knew this. Note again the bowdlerized way he described the events of that night:
“He ignored a direct police order not to follow Trayvon Martin, he initiated the encounter, and he intentionally shot and killed an unarmed teenager.”
The first of those statements is false. The second statement is unfounded. The third statement is certainly true—but as in so many such recitations, the professor has simply dropped the other facts which explain the jury’s verdict.
His account would fit a case in which Martin was shot in the back, or by a sniper in a tree, or from a distance of several feet in the course of a verbal argument. In the professor’s account, no fight occurs. The fatal gun shot occurs, but no one sustains any injuries before the shot is fired.
It’s good being Professor John Blume! His knowledge of the case is so weak that he started his account of the shooting with a blatant false statement. But in spite of his manifest ignorance, Blume proceeded to tell the world what should happen from here.
He knows that Zimmerman should be sued, and that he should lose the case. These would be our questions:
Is there any chance that Cornell should be sued by the parents of this man’s students? Is there any chance that the Times should be sued for its incurable habit of printing letters which contain false facts?
At any rate, at the New York Times, it’s No False Claim Left Behind! But then, this habit is deeply ingrained all through the upper-end “press corps.”
Consider Judy Woodruff’s performance on Monday evening’s NewsHour. To watch the whole segment, click this.
Dearest darlings, it just isn’t done! In the world of celebrity broadcast news, you simply don’t correct inaccurate statements by your guests! That explains why Woodruff just sat there smiling when Christina Swarns offered an apparent false fact.
Swarns is from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. At one point, she told Woodruff this:
SWARNS (7/15/13): The second thing I would point out is, you know, the jury selection in this case. I don't understand how the prosecution believed that a jury of six white women was going to be favorable to its case against Mr. Zimmerman. So I think that was another error.Swarns was an endless embarrassment Monday night. Before we examine the highlighted phrase, let’s note an obvious fact:
To state what is blindingly obvious, the prosecution didn’t engineer or select the racial composition of the jury. Almost surely, it didn’t think that the jury’s racial composition “was going to be favorable to its case.”
Indeed, the prosecution was overruled and rebuked by the judge for its efforts to strike prospective white jurors. As a courtesy, we will assume that Swarns knew these things—that she was simply pimping criticisms of the prosecution as a way of advancing the claim that we need a new, federal trial.
As a courtesy, we’ll assume that Swarns was deliberately misleading Woodruff’s viewers. But put aside her ridiculous claims about the prosecution’s mistakes. Instead, consider the “fact” she offered about the racial composition of the jury.
Really? This trial was conducted before “a jury of six white women?” The court doesn’t release the race of jurors, but that is not the way the composition of the jury was reported at the time of its selection.
As best we can tell from a Nexis search, The NewsHour has never reported the jury’s racial composition. But everywhere else, news orgs reported that the six-member jury was composed of five white women and one woman who was black or Hispanic. That said:
Is it just our imagination, or is the claim that this was an “all-white jury” emerging as a new fake fact? We’ll offer a separate post on this emerging point.
At any rate, Woodruff just sat there and smiled when Swarns made this factual claim. But then, she also accepted the leading fake fact of this 16-month story—and this false claim was stated twice, first by Swarns and then by Jelani Cobb, another leading professor.
George Zimmerman was told to stay in his car! All pundits know they should say it:
SWARNS (7/15/13): What happened in Florida to Trayvon Martin was that Mr. Zimmerman looked at him walking down the street with a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea and determined that, based on those factors that he could see, this young man was a criminal.George Zimmerman was told to stay in his car! It has turned out to be the leading fake fact in this 16-month story. Woodruff accepted it twice Monday night, without correction or comment.
He warranted a call to the police, he warranted being followed, he warranted being followed, Mr. Zimmerman getting out of his car and following him down the street on foot, notwithstanding the fact that the police department told him not to get out of the car.
COBB: The fact of the matter is, whatever the conflict was, it was precipitated by Mr. Zimmerman. The police—the dispatcher told him not to get out of his vehicle. He proceeded to get out of his vehicle.
In fairness, we ought to acknowledge a basic fact. It may be that Swarns, Cobb and Woodruff believe that Zimmerman was told to stay in his car. Within our journalistic culture, the leading fake facts get repeated so often that major players end up believing that the fake facts are true.
In theory, these people are paid to know better. But Woodruff may have had no idea that this fake fact is false.
Crackers! Our modern “journalistic” system runs on fake facts! (And on the withholding of accurate facts.) In the past week, we have recalled the astounding fake facts which were invented in the summer of 2001—fake facts designed to make you think that Gary Condit murdered Chandra Levy.
In that instance, something unusual occurred—a professional journalist, Mona Charen, actually wrote a column debunking those fake facts. Under the circumstances, those fake claims were really quite astounding.
(For our real-time report, just click this.)
Just imagine! Imagine inventing a pair of fake facts designed to get someone accused of a murder he didn't commit! But that is plainly what happened that summer—and something like it has happened this year, as an old-fashioned lynch mob runs through the streets, shouting out claims which are false.
Jelani Cobb has been part of this mob. Why is he still a professor? Swarns, who was awful all night Monday night, is also part of that mob.
Meanwhile, up at Cornell, it’s good to be Professor Blume! He doesn’t know his ass from his ascot when it comes to the basic facts of this case. But the New York Times couldn’t run fast enough to put his false claim into print.
This is the way your discourse works. It has worked this way for decades.
Your discourse runs on Standard Fake Facts. All good pundits agree to state them. This is also the way lynch mobs work. And please understand:
Back in the day, the people in those southern lynch mobs thought their cause was righteous too.
Might we make the world’s most obvious statement? When a society tolerates this sort of thing, that society is on its way down.
Tomorrow: Where did the basic fake facts of this story come from?
A sign from the gods: In a wonderful sign from the gods, we note that Professor Blume has co-written a book with this title:
"A Modern Approach to Evidence."
That's what we've been talking about, over the past fifteen years.