METAPHORS AND FACTS: Wilson wasn’t riding alone!


Part 2—Eleanor Clift’s false fact: Especially at times like this, our discourse will often be driven by false or unfounded facts.

These bogus facts are often transformed into “narratives”—selective stories designed to promote a preferred view of some incident.

Our discourse is often clogged with bogus facts. Often, these facts are put to partisan use—but where do those bogus facts come from?

Uh-oh! All too often, our bogus facts come from our major journalists. Consider one small example:

On Sunday, C-Span presented a lengthy program which it called a “Roundtable Discussion on Race in America.”

The discussion involved three well-known pundits. They were hosted by C-Span’s Peter Slen. To watch the discussion, click here.

On and on the discussion went. Roughly 96 minutes in, Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift said this about the militarization of police. We’ll highlight a blatant false statement:
CLIFT (8/24/14): Some jurisdictions, you know, big cities, need some of this armament. But Ferguson? It seems very much over the top and they seem like they are not at all trained to use it.

Taser—a Taser would have been much more effective in dealing with Michael Brown, but they say Tasers aren’t 100 percent effective. So maybe they ought to make them more effective.

Plus the fact there was a second police officer in the car with Wilson, I believe. That could be the backup with the gun. I think there is going to be some definite review of the procedures they used in Ferguson and whether those were the ones they were trained [in].
Did the “armament” in question belong to the Ferguson police, or to the St. Louis County police? We still aren’t clear on that point, which pundits routinely gloss.

We also cringed (so Digby wouldn’t have to) when Clift suggested that Tasers would have been a better tool in the case of Michael Brown. Unless we’re mistaken, the one prior instance of a Ferguson policeman killing a citizen involved the use of a Taser, not a gun, back in 2011.

Tasers are dangerous too. Depending on what occurred between Wilson and Brown, it isn’t clear that Taser use was necessary, appropriate or feasible.

Those are relatively minor points. We were most struck by Clift’s belief that Officer Wilson was riding with a second officer on the day he shot Michael Brown.

From this remarkable bungled claim, we quickly discerned an apparent fact: Eleanor Clift probably shouldn’t have been on TV discussing this high-profile matter.

Good grief! Fifteen days after Brown was killed, Clift still didn’t know the barest basics about the way the shooting occurred! And you probably know what happened next:

Wilson was by himself in his car that day. But none of the other C-Span participants corrected Clift’s misstatement.

Slen didn’t correct or question Clift’s error. Neither did her fellow panelists, Paul Butler and Armstrong Williams. As you know if you own a TV, that sort of thing just isn’t done to a pundit of Clift’s stature.

People! Professional courtesy!

Clift’s error won’t change the world. That said, somebody out there in C-Span land now believe a bogus fact because he saw Clift advance the claim as three other people looked on.

Clift’s error isn’t especially important. It doesn’t figure in any of the partisan narratives currently being voiced about this high-profile case.

This morning, in the Washington Post, we encountered a more significant error. We clicked a featured link from the Post’s web site and found Joshua Alston, a former Newsweek scribe, saying this about negative portraits of Brown:
ALSTON (8/25/14): The defamation machine is so predictable...

Cherry-picked details of [Brown’s] life may not matter for the inquest into his shooting. But that doesn’t make his character irrelevant. His character definitely matters.

It matters to the black people who are still alive, those of us who have to continue to muster the resolve to participate in and contribute to a country in which Brown was shot and left to languish, uncovered, for hours on the pavement.
Uh-oh! According to Sunday’s New York Times, it seems that Brown may have been left uncovered for perhaps 15 minutes. For background, see yesterday's post.

In typical fashion, the Times made little apparent effort to establish the accuracy of this claim, which theoretically lay at the heart of its front-page fact-check.

That said, it seems fairly clear that Michael Brown’s body did not lay uncovered “for hours.” And this particular fact really matters. It lies at the heart of a widespread narrative, in which the body’s lengthy exposure was a sign of contempt by local police for Ferguson’s black citizens.

Was the body “left to languish, uncovered, for hours?” Almost surely, no. But the Post is still publishing this claim—and there it was again last night, broadcast on CNN!

Once again, it was Van Jones who made this apparent misstatement last night. In the 11 PM hour of CNN Tonight, he told Don Lemon that the body was left uncovered “for four or five hours.”

As we noted yesterday, Jones is very smart and very fair. That said, he continued to make this inaccurate claim a full day after the New York Times seemed to say that the length of time in question was maybe 15 minutes.

Needless to say, Lemon didn’t question Jones’ remark. On TV, it isn’t done.

(As we post, CNN still hasn’t produced the transcript of last night’s 11 PM hour, in which the channel exploded with “Breaking News”—with an apparent audiotape of the gunshots which killed Brown. CNN made major claims all through this hour. It ought to produce a transcript.)

Where do our bogus facts come from? All too often, they come from our top-ranking journalists.

In the case of Clift, these journalists may go on TV to discuss matters they haven’t been following closely. In the case of Jones, they may keep repeating a bogus claim even after it seems to get debunked in a New York Times front-page report.

Moderators and other pundits almost never correct or challenge such claims. In the world of ranking pundits, this just isn’t done.

All too often, our major journalists are the source of our many false facts. All too often, these bogus facts turn into important partisan narratives.

Last week, Joe Klein used the term “metaphor” as he described this familiar process. What did Klein mean by that term?

Tomorrow, we’ll review what he said,
warts and all. On Thursday, we’ll review an attempt at rebuttal.

Tomorrow: Metaphors and facts

We’ve changed our headline for the week: We’ve changed our headline for the week to streamline our topic. Some of the questions we previewed yesterday will be discussed in supplemental posts.


  1. Heads up for the trolls: This post isn't about the fact that pundits make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. It is about the fact that when a pundit makes a mistake on air, no one corrects the mistake. So the misinformation remains to confuse public discourse. So, there is no need for you to clutter up today's comments with examples of mistakes made by Somerby. We will stipulate that he has made factual errors, despite trying to be perfect, as we all do.

  2. The last thing anyone needs is for a ponce like you to tell the blogger's readers what the blogger is typing. There is no need for you to clutter up the comments with that.

    1. Do you know what ponce means? It is a derogatory term against gays. Is that really the word you want to use on a liberal blog? Hint: If you say yes, you are labeling yourself a major right-wing troll.

    2. What a queer use of that term. In my lexicon it could compliment a term frequently employed by the posh proprietor of this place. Instead of just saying "Maddow pimps piddle", he could say "The Puppy, ponce of the piddle pimper" to described another of the black child haters employed by MSNBC.

    3. You don't get to have a personal lexicon if your intent is to communicate with other people. The lexicon belongs to the language which in turn is part of the culture. All of this is shared.

    4. Anon 1251,

      Good points...except "ponce" has different and broader meanings than you claim.

  3. Well, there is one small problem here.

    Yesterday, Bob was quick to forgive the "very smart" and "fair" Van Jones for saying on Aug. 20 that Brown's body laid uncovered for four hours. After all, said Bob without producing any supporting evidence whatsoever, that story was already "widespread" and believed by "many." (Go ahead, Bobfans. Try to find out how "widespread" it was before Jones spoke it on national TV.)

    Today? Eleanor Clift says something wrong that doesn't really amount to a hill of beans and she is the Worst Person on Earth.

    I eagerly await Bobfans turning Clift into an important national spokesperson for progressive causes. I could use the mordant chuckles.

    1. Do you disagree that pundits should be more sure of their facts before making statements on national TV? Do you disagree that people there who knew better could and should have said something to correct that particular misstatement?

  4. Bear this in mind as we await Somerby's brilliant analysis of Klein's "metaphor."

    Absolutely nobody that I know of is claiming that Brown's death is a metaphor for 400 years of oppression. That's quite the strawman to mask Klein's laziness in failing to even consider, let alone examine, the long building tensions between the citizens and the police force of Ferguson to the point where the death of Michael Brown became a flashpoint to send people protesting in the streets.

    And bear in mind the now-familiar script that Klein follows as he puts yet another unarmed, dead black kid on trial and turns the shooter into the real victim.

    This whole thing might have disappeared from national news in a couple of days except for the spectacle of a fully militarized police force meeting citizens exercising their First Amendment rights by training fully automatic military-grade weapons at them.

    And sorry, Joe. It wasn't just black people who were horrified by that.

    1. Were they also horrified by the fact that no protesters were shot -- in fact there were no serious injuries, unlike past riots. Is it the appearance of the equipment that bothers you or the outcome? Aside from cosmetics, the cops seem to have done a pretty good job keeping everyone safe, including protesters (compare types of injuries to previous so-called police riots).

      What long building tensions erupt when a team wins a trophy or the World Cup?

      It is ironic that so many people are protesting because Brown's body lay in the street for four hours, when most of the accounts I've read say that the main obstacle to removing the body was crowd control -- the actions of bystanders and the need to divert police to help control them. Even detectives were involved in crowd control, instead of investigating the crime. There is an irony that people first cause a delay then complain that it occurred.

    2. Yes, by all means, let's congratulate the cops for not massacring unarmed citizens. Why each and every one of them deserves a commendation!

    3. "When most of the accounts I've read say that the main obstacle to removing the body was crowd control - the actions of the bystanders and the need to divert police to help control them."

      Cites, please (and that's plural).

    4. I no longer respond to trolls.

    5. I don't know about covered or uncovered, but this was, in essence, a crime scene, or at least a potential crime scene. It takes a LONG TIME, usually hours and often much longer than four hours, to do all the careful photography and measurements, etc, to properly document it. And no doubt, police wanted to be extra-careful to document the scene where one of their own shot someone dead in broad daylight.

      Look up recent deaths and note how long, if the news reports give the info, how long it was before the body was removed from the scene. There have been many much, much longer than four hours.

      This is, please, NOT to excuse in any way what happened when Brown was shot to death. None of us knows the details because the police have given us almost none.

    -- they say "for part of the time" it was uncovered! -- no mention it was covered


    Anyone can find these and many more by putting the search terms body four hours uncovered Ferguson into Google and hitting Enter. It is easy to do check whether this story is "widespread" or not, unless you want to quibble about what widespread means.

    Somerby doesn't use "Worst Person on Earth." I usually see that from Atrios. He said she shouldn't be discussing something she doesn't know the basic facts about. Hard to argue with that, in my opinion.

    1. Do me a favor here. Go through your links and automatically eliminate the ones written AFTER Jones repeated this already supposedly "widespread" story.

      Now go through the remaining few and eliminate the ones that did not specifically state the body was uncovered for over four hours, like Jones repeated the story that "many" already believed. Sorry, but "for a time" doesn't count.

      If you've got anything left, then identify what comes from a mainstream media source -- which it surely must have since the story was "widespread" and "believed" by "many" -- instead of some guy pounding out a vanity blog in his mother's basement.

    2. Yes, as I said before, your purpose is to make some narrow point to attack Somerby. My point, which I stated at the time, was that this was the latest outrage created to stoke the furnace keeping Ferguson in the news, in aid of the civil suit that will no doubt be filed, especially if there is an indictment against Wilson. You seem less concerned about that than about embarrassing Somerby in some way. Maybe Jones is your BFF? So sorry your mom doesn't own a basement -- maybe you live on a concrete slab, like those of us in CA?

    3. NY Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Esquire magazine. All after the 20th. Going back and looking at the timeline, I think it would have been irresponsible to have written about this before the rioting ended because it would be perceived as trying to inflame the situation there, incite more rioting.

    4. Let's go through those links one by one:

      Boston Globe: Reprint of NY Times article, written four days after Jones repeated the "widespread" story. Specifically states that the body was covered at 12:15 p.m.

      Politics USA: Does state that the body was uncovered for four hours. Unfortnately for you, it was posted three days after Jones spoke. Fails the test as evidence this story was "widespread" before Aug. 20.

      Quartz: Posted Aug. 25. Also does not state that the body lay uncovered in the street.

      Esquire: Posted Aug. 22, again too late to prove the story was "widespread." Also only states that the body was left in the street. Does not say it was uncovered.

      Jezebel: BINGO! Dated Aug. 11, and it does say that Brown's body was uncovered for hours! Let's see how widespread and believed by many it got from there!

      Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: WOW! Dated Aug. 18 and says the body was uncovered! We're on a roll now!

      Addicting Info: Oops! Struck out again. Dated Aug. 24, and doesn't say the body was uncovered.

      Photograhpy Is Not A Crime: Dated Aug. 25. Another swing and a miss. I got tired of reading through his "open records" request. Does he ever get around to Brown's body?

      Facebook: Gimme a break!

      Riverfront Times: Yes! Dated Aug. 10. But uh-oh. Merely quotes a family member as saying Browns body was in the street for hours. Doesn't say covered or uncovered.

      So out of your long list, we come up with exactly TWO places that said, before Aug. 20, that Brown's body was uncovered for four hours.

      That's your evidence of "widespread" and "believed by many"

      By the way, if you want to avoid looking like a jackass in the future, don't post a long string of links then lie about what they say. Somebody may be enterprising enough to call you on your bullshit.

    5. Didn't lie about what they said. I allowed for implication when they said the body laid in the street under a hot sun for hours, I took that to mean uncovered (where it was unstated) or when they said it was in plain view, I took it to mean uncovered. I also took into account words like exposed. You were more literal -- no surprise there.

      I did stipulate that most of these were from after the 20th, as you'll read above, but maybe you were busy reading all the articles.

      Calling people liars over disagreements about meaning is not wonderful as a debate or conversational approach. You seem to think that anyone who does not agree with you about something or who interprets something differently is a liar. The word liar refers to a falsehood told deliberately to deceive with full knowledge that the information is false. That does not apply to disputes over meaning or facts in conversation where there is good faith but disagreement between two people.

      As John Wayne famously said in The Virginian: "If you wanna call me that, smile." Calling someone a liar has always been fighting words. So you need to stop that now.

    6. "I allowed for implication . . ."


    7. Hey, thanks for the lecture on the proper way to address a liar.

      But when you rush to Google, copy and paste the first page of links you see hoping that if you stack bullshit high enough it won't smell so bad, don't be too surprise when your honesty, work ethic and intelligence is questioned.

    8. If an article says the body lay exposed or festering in the sun for hours, it is fair to assume it was uncovered.

  6. @ 12:41...Do you mind if I call you "Googlehead" to keep you straight
    from others using your chosen name?

    Did you know if you Google the search terms "body four hours covered Ferguson" you get just about the same results?


    1. You don't get the people upset about the fact of it being uncovered. You get news reports but not outraged complaints.

      If you get almost identical results, why was it necessary to call me names? The person asking for evidence that this was widespread didn't use google at all to answer his own question. Not sure why.

    2. It would also help if "Googlehead" were bright enough to read the links to make certain they say what he thinks they say before making a fool of himself.

    3. "If you get almost identical results why was it necessary to call me names?

      You going for a double shot, or what?

      Here is a simple fact for you. Before the "smart" "fair" Van Jones made his comment, news reports that the body lay uncovered for four hours were made by an AP reporter, Jesse Washington, which was carried on ABC News website, and a CNN reporter, Victor Blackwell, who made the statement long after the protest disturbances began.

      Blackwell made the statement while introducing new cell phone video CNN obtained of the uncovered body lying in the street, crowds gathering, and misiformation spreading mouth to mouth, person to person. Like Jones, Washington and Blackwell are black.

      Did Bob choose to charge them with spreading misinformation. No, he attacked a female reporter who co-wrote an article with (for Bob readers) an unnamed male reporter in which the facts were presented accurately.

      We link you to the CNN report. Watch it and come back to tell us why you think the Ferguson and St. Louis County police personnel showed their "understanding" of how to deal with this situation from the very beginning.


    4. "The person asking for evidence that this was widespread didn't use google at all to answer his own question. Not sure why."

      There you go again! Shooting your mouth off without knowing what you are talking about.

      When I first read Somerby state his new narrative that the "uncovered body" story was both "widespread" and "many believed" it before "very smart" and "fair" Van Jones spoke it on Aug. 20.

      And like you, I found scant little to show it was even circulating at all before Aug. 20, falling far short of "widespread." On top of that, I found absolutely nothing to indicate that anyone believed it, let alone "many."

      Here's a lesson I learned from no less authority than Somerby himself back in his glory days when his blog was taken seriously.

      When anyone uses vague terms like "widespread" and "many" without defining them, your bullshit meter should be sounding an alarm.

    5. Ooops. Incomplete thought. Been reading this blog too long. Allow me to clarify:

      When I first read Somerby state his new narrative that the "uncovered body" story was both "widespread" and "many believed" it before "very smart" and "fair" Van Jones spoke it on Aug. 20, I went right to Google to see if I could find anything to support it.

  7. And why am I not surprised that you consideer catching both you and Somerby telling blatant lies is merely a "narrow point."

    Somerby constantly accuses others of a blatant disregard of the truth to advance their own narrative. Funny how he never seems to apply that rather simple standard to himself

    1. OK, this is your troll manifesto. If you cannot conduct polite conversation, you will find that no one will engage you except the other trolls. Have fun in troll ghetto.

    2. The Winner!
      3 sentences and 3 troll references, all in the name of "polite conversation."

      A true troll whiner.

    3. Plus introducing the term "ghetto" to our combox hood.

      Can't beat dat.

    4. Hear that, Bobfans? One of your own has stepped forward and appointed himself as your master. Better do what he says, or he'll get all stompy-foot.

    5. How did he lose the other one? War? Pestulence?Industrial accident? Skateboarding mishap?

  8. You know, Eleanor Clift, like Susan Rice, was attacked for comments she made about Benghazi. Like Rice, her comments were factually accurate. But others in the media attacked her. Bob let her get attacked in silence.

    Shame on Bob. He just doesn't care about white women.

  9. "Clift’s error isn’t especially important."

    Like the New York Times on Sunday, it took Bob 20 paragraphs to get to the point that this tidbit of information on a program which has the television audience equivalent of Bob's blog readership, is unimportant.

    1. Don't you just love it when Bob devotes and entire post to matters that aren't "especially important"?

  10. "Roughly 96 minutes in,"

    And Bob runs to his blog to alert his fans about a matter that isn't "especially important."

    1. Yes. A 1 hour, 47 minute C-SPAN discussion on Race in America. With panelists Eleanor Clift, Armstrong Williams (yep, THAT Armstrong Williams) and Paul Butler.

      And 1 hour, 36 minutes into it, Somerby finds GOLD!

      Any reed in the wind, eh Somerby?

    2. Bob was once on C-Span. Back in the glory years.

    3. Yes, he was. Wasn't he pushing his book in progress about the 2000 election?

  11. So much anger. Does it really matter? Bob really have an influence on anything? Why get so bent out of shape over a blog that is written for free?

    1. Because once upon a long time ago, this blog was actually important.

    2. That's not an answer.

    3. Never let the daily hower get you down. If it does, as it has for many of the people here today, look at yourself. There is something going on within yourself that drives the anger not the comments here. To get that upset about this blog just doesn't make sense. Read a book like war and peace or listen to some of the early Elliott Smith albums. Don't freak out on this dudes!

    4. Walk or spend some time withpretty girl. Enjoy the great world. Watch some amateur boxing on TV. Don't waste your life getting angry on an insignificant blog.

    5. Remember, you are right as you have proven and Bob and his fans are wrong. You have been given the intellectual firepower to see through their stupid beliefs. Use this firepower to your advantage Don't get bummed out about it! Remember, they are jackasses. You are the one with the brains. Use them to make some more money, get laid, or do something great. Don't waste it here! God.

    6. Very interesting case of projection going on here. These would also be very good questions/suggestions for our host blogger who pours his anger out for public consumption on a daily basis.

      But of course, Bobfans, his angry nonsense is justified! After all, he has made it his mission in life to save us from NYT op-ed writers and MSNBC hosts. And where would we be without him showing us the true path to enlightenment?

    7. 7:03 - Don't worry about others. Don't let Bob and his FANS trouble you. Look at yourself. Work hard at what you do. Escape from these thoughts which are illusory yet still torture you. You're wasting your life. (If Bob is too and his wretched fans, it does't matter) Please stop letting these thoughts trick you into fulfilling your destiny.

    8. 7:03 - there's a way out of the metal ghetto in which you have been toiling for so long now. you have to get up early (4am) and study every day though. start with imitation of christ. work your way up to bhagavad gita (penguin classics version) everything you need to know is in there. no need to suffer any longer. life is too short, there's no reason to. the masters spelled it out for us. it will get better. say what you have if you have to bob and his fans but do it with peace and not anger knowing it is illusory all. have a good day man.

    9. Great name for a goth-rock band: Metal Ghetto.

  12. Take up skydiving.

    1. Without a parachute.

    2. I did that the other day. Skydived without a parachute. It was one of those indoor deals. It was like, whatever. Still, it was infinitely better than getting worked up over a comment on blog.