Kristof agonistes: Nicholas Kristof stirred a bit of a mini-debate with his recent column about the absent professors, who ought to help out a bit more.
For our previous post, click here.
In the debate which Kristof stirred, Josh Marshall described his decision to leave the academy. We remembered what the old, extremely smart Marshall was like before he was kidnapped and replaced.
That said, we began having visions of Kristof in Hell when we read the latest piece at Salon by Professor Brittney Cooper.
Cooper’s piece concerns the Michael Dunn murder trial. More specifically, she pens some thoughts in academese about Creshuna Miles, one of two jurors who have been interviewed about the trial.
The problem here starts with a journalist. Miles was interviewed for CNN by Alina Machado, whose work was completely incompetent. As aired by Anderson Cooper, this is the way things started:
MACHADO (2/20/14): What did you think of Michael Dunn?Say what? Already, Miles has said at least two things which seem perhaps contradictory:
MILES: I honestly think he was a good guy. I think he's a good guy. I don't think he hates everybody. I don't think he walks around wanting to shoot everybody. I think that he made bad decisions.
MACHADO: You still think he's guilty of murder, though.
MILES: Yes. I really think he's guilty of murder, but not guilty as charged.
MACHADO: First degree. You don't think he's guilty of first degree?
MILES: I think he's guilty of second degree. I was convinced. I was honestly convinced that he was in self-defense until he chased the car down and started shooting it more. That's where my decision-making process comes, well, even if initially you didn't have an opportunity to take yourself out of the situation, to stop, running behind a car and shooting more, that's where you completely push your limits.
She has said she thinks Dunn was guilty of second-degree murder, presumably in the case of Jordan Davis, the only person who died.
She has also said that she thinks Dunn was acting in self-defense “until he chased the car down and started shooting it more.” But self-defense is a defense against murder. For that reason, it’s hard to know why she says Dunn was guilty of murdering Davis, who was shot and killed in the first part of the incident, before Dunn shot at the fleeing car.
We can imagine a clarification of this. Machado didn’t seek one.
Miles also says that she thinks Dunn was “guilty of murder, but not guilty as charged.” We have no idea what that means.
Machado inquired about none of this. As aired by Cooper, this is the way the interview continued:
MACHADO (continuing directly): Which person, which witness made the biggest impact for you?And so it went from there. Based upon the transcripts we’ve seen, Machado never attempted to clarify any of this instant confusion.
MILES: Actually Rhonda Rouer. You can tell she was nervous, she was shaking, she was trembling.
Did Miles even vote for a murder charge against Dunn? Based upon this bungled interview, we have no clear idea.
There’s one other part of the interview which ought to be noted. Near its end, the question of race was botched:
MACHADO: The protests [against the verdict], you mentioned to me when we were chatting on the phone, that you—that's the real reason why you came out here.What did Miles mean when she said “this” wasn’t “a white and black thing?”
MILES: Yes. Because I just want everybody to understand that everybody is making this a white and black thing. And it's not. In our decision-making process nobody brought up, not one race. Never. It was never brought up.
MACHADO: If this case wasn't about race, then what was it about for you?
MILES: It was about justice.
MILES: When I walked into it, I just wanted to bring justice to whoever it was. If it was Michael Dunn I wanted to bring justice to him. If it was Leland, Kevin, Tommy or Jordan, I wanted to bring justice to them.
Plainly, she seconded another juror who had already said that race wasn’t discussed during the deliberations. Beyond that, what did she mean by the statements we’ve posted?
The answer is quite unclear. On some other CNN shows, this additional brief exchange was aired, on a stand-alone basis:
MILES: I never once thought about, “Oh, this was a black kid, this was a white guy,” because that was—that wasn't the case.The connections there are quite unclear too. We’ve found no transcript where Machado tried to clarify Miles’ ideas about the possible role of race in the killing of Davis. Nor have we found any complete transcript of the interview.
MACHADO: So, the people who say here's another white guy who got away with shooting and killing a black kid, what would you tell them?
MILES: I would tell them that they really should knowledge themself on the law.
In our view, Machado thoroughly bungled this interview. On CNN, people like Anderson Cooper just plowed ahead, pretending not to notice.
Then, along came the professor.
In our view, Professor Cooper is every bit as unhelpful as Journalist Machado was. This is the way she starts her piece at Salon:
COOPER (2/25/14): Last week, Creshuna Miles, Juror No. 8 in the Michael Dunn trial, gave an interview to CNN about the jury’s partial verdict. Although she believes that Michael Dunn is guilty of second-degree murder, a lesser charge for which the jury had the option to convict, she insisted that the case was “not about race,” that it never came up. Moreover, she believed Michael Dunn to be essentially “a good guy,” who made “bad choices.”Cooper says Dunn’s statement about self-defense was “startling,” but she doesn’t specify why. She doesn’t seem to see that the statement may seem to contradict the claim that Dunn was guilty of murder.
Startlingly, she also indicated that until Dunn ran down the street chasing Jordan’s three friends, she actually believed that Dunn acted in self-defense.
She doesn't wonder what Miles meant when she said Dunn was “guilty of murder, but not guilty as charged.”
Whatever! After that first two paragraphs, Professor Cooper proceeds to drop a series of bombs on Miles’ 21-year-old head. This is the part of Cooper’s analysis which made us weep for Kristof:
COOPER: I’m not angry with Creshuna Miles. But I know her thinking, uninformed as it is, is dangerous. I know the justice system relies on the willing racial performativity of black people who are willing to discount the importance of race in matters such as these. Much like patriarchy requires the complicity and willing participation of women to continue, racism requires the complicity and willing, if unwitting, participation of black and people of color to continue.“Performativity,” we mused. Is “performativity” a word?
In normal English, it isn’t a word; in academese, it is. According to the leading authority on the subject, performativity “is the process by which semiotic expression (in language or a symbol system) produces results or real consequences in extra-semiotic reality, including the result of constructing reality itself.”
And not only that! “In the frequently cited Butlerian vein of performativity, gestures and speech acts do not express an interior identity; they perform that very identity and even its assumed quality of interiority.” Summing up, then, performativity “reverses the idea that an identity is the source of more secondary actions (speech, gestures). Instead, it inquires into the construction of identities as they are caused by performative actions, behaviors, and gestures.”
Kristof wants the professors to help out more. We used to say things like that too.
Then, we read some work at the new Salon. We began reforming our view.