NO JOURNALISM, NO JUSTICE: Lawrence O’Donnell wins the week!


Part 5—Cable star is correct on one point, horribly wrong on another: In theory, journalistic values are very important at a time like this.

What actually happened in Ferguson? It’s very easy to make up a story—perhaps a simplistic, pleasing story. This can be done from different perspectives. Such stories have already emerged.

It’s harder to ascertain basic facts. In theory, though, it’s important to take that journalistic approach at times like this.

What actually happened in Ferguson? What are the actual facts?

In our view, cable star Lawrence O’Donnell won the week, challenging the New York Times on one basic account of the facts. In the process, though, we’d have to say that O’Donnell has been horribly wrong with respect to a broader point.

Last night, O’Donnell challenged the Times for the second straight night. As of yesterday, even the New York Times public editor was saying he’d won his point.

Let’s get clear on the important way O’Donnell has been right. In a second post today, we’ll review the horrible way O’Donnell has been wrong.

Wednesday morning, the New York Times made a very significant claim in its featured, front-page report. Right at the start of her report, Frances Robles made the claim.

Hard-copy headline included:
ROBLES (8/20/14): Shooting Accounts Differ as Holder Schedules Visit to Ferguson

FERGUSON, Mo.—As a county grand jury prepared to hear evidence on Wednesday in the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer that touched off 10 days of unrest here, witnesses have given investigators sharply conflicting accounts of the killing.
Given the influence of the Times, that basic framework—“witnesses have given sharply conflicting accounts of the killing”—has already spread through much of the mainstream press.

Quite aggressively, O’Donnell has said that the Times failed to establish the truth of that important claim. Yesterday, public editor Margaret Sullivan basically said he is right.

We agree. Plainly, O’Donnell is right.

Let’s be clear on what we’re saying. It’s possible that witnesses actually have given “sharply conflicting accounts” to investigators. Last night, O’Donnell said such conflicts are the norm in investigations of this type. He said he still expects such “conflicting accounts” to surface.

O’Donnell has been making a different point. He has said that the New York Times hasn’t provided any examples of “sharply conflicting accounts” from witnesses to the killing. He says the Times hasn't shown that any such conflicts in testimony actually exist at this point.

On that point, we would say he is plainly right.

O’Donnell has overstated at times in the past two nights. In her own piece, Sullivan misstates the contents of the Times report in at least one instance. In other ways, she’s murky.

That said, O’Donnell is right in his basic complaint. On the assumption that facts are important, let’s get clear on what he has said.

In her rambling New York Times news report, Robles doesn’t attempt to define those “sharp conflicting accounts of the killing” until paragraph 26 (out of 37 total).

Earlier in her report, she has said that witnesses largely agree on several basic points. They agree that an altercation occurred at Officer Wilson’s car; that one shot was fired from within the car at that time; that Michael Brown then ran way; that Wilson got out of his car and fired at Brown as he fled.

According to Robles, witnesses largely agree on those points. This is where she says the “sharply conflicting accounts” appear:
ROBLES (paragraphs 26-31): What happened next could be what the case turns on. Several witnesses have told investigators that Mr. Brown stopped and turned around with his arms up.

According to his account to the Ferguson police, Officer Wilson said that Mr. Brown had lowered his arms and moved toward him, law enforcement officials said. Fearing that the teenager was going to attack him, the officer decided to use deadly force. Some witnesses have backed up that account. Others, however—including Mr. Johnson—have said that Mr. Brown did not move toward the officer before the final shots were fired.


The F.B.I., Mr. Bosley said, pressed Mr. Johnson to say how high Mr. Brown’s hands were. Mr. Johnson said that his hands were not that high, and that one was lower than the other, because he appeared to be “favoring it,” the lawyer said.

James McKnight, who also said he saw the shooting, said that Mr. Brown’s hands were up right after he turned around to face the officer.

“I saw him stumble toward the officer, but not rush at him,” Mr. McKnight said in a brief interview. “The officer was about six or seven feet away from him.”
Where are the “sharply conflicting accounts of the killing?” O’Donnell is right on his basic claim: In that passage, Robles provides no examples of any “sharp conflicts” in the witness accounts.

In paragraph 27, Robles finally defines the (alleged) “sharp conflict.” Wilson says that Brown moved toward him (in a way he found threatening). According to Robles, “Some witnesses have backed up that account.”

According to Robles, some witnesses have backed up Wilson’s account of Brown's behavior. But uh-oh! “Others, however...have said that Mr. Brown did not move toward the officer before the final shots were fired.”

In that brief passage, you see the (alleged) “sharp conflict” on which this front-page report was based.

In fairness, a “sharp conflict” could be lurking in that account of the witness statements. It’s possible that “some witnesses” have echoed Wilson’s account in a strong way, saying that Brown rushed toward the officer, even perhaps with his arms raised as a threat.

That said, we have to imagine such witness statements, because Robles provides no examples. In her entire report, she provides no samples of what “some witnesses” have said as they’ve “backed up” Wilson’s account.

Are these alleged accounts of the killing really in “sharp conflict” with those of the other, named witnesses? Robles provides no examples of what these alleged witnesses have said!

Indeed, it isn’t even clear how Robles knows that “some witnesses have backed up [Wilson’s] account” at all. Has she heard some witnesses do that? Or is this simply what she’s been told by “law enforcement officials?”

Let’s review:

According to Robles, Wilson has said that Brown turned around, lowered his arms and began moving toward him. That is Officer Wilson’s account—and of course, it could be accurate.

That said, where are the witness accounts “backing up” that statement? We can’t have “sharply conflicting accounts” unless such accounts exist, and Robles doesn’t give any.

What are the “sharply conflicting accounts” upon which Robles based her front-page report? O’Donnell complained that no examples of such conflicts appear in her report.

Basically, the Times public editor agreed with this point. For ourselves, we would say that O’Donnell is plainly right.

O’Donnell has overstated at times in the last two nights. Sullivan, the public editor, made some basic misstatements and was sometimes murky.

But that important claim by the New York Times hasn’t been established. If we’re trying to nail down the basic facts, that claim has not been established.

We think O’Donnell has won his point. On a journalistic basis, we’d say he won the week. But in the meantime, the New York Times has managed to do it again! Once again, the Times has spread a framework through the press—a very important basic framework it plainly hasn’t established.

As usual, that front-page reporting by the Times was extremely weak. That brings us to the way in which O’Donnell, our man of the week, has been horribly wrong.

Coming next: O’Donnell is horribly wrong

Last night's segment: To watch O’Donnell’s segment last night, you can just click here.


  1. I think that NY Times article was vaguer than it might have been. That could be a result of lots of editors and reporters working on it.

    However, the article did point out the controversy over what I consider the key question: When Wilson shot Brown, was Brown approaching Wilson in a threatening manner or not?

    1. Approaching in any manner may be threatening if the cop has demanded that you freeze or halt or put your hands in the air or lie down on the ground (routine cop requests to fleeing suspects).

    2. We don't know what happened, but it's so counter- intuitive to think that an unarmed man rushed a cop who had fired at him.

    3. CeceliaMc, it's also counterintuitive to think an unarmed man attacked a cop with a gun. Google confrontations with cops and you'll find plenty of thugs rushing at cops who shoot them. These animals don't behave in a normal manner.

    4. It is counter-intuitive that CeceliaMc would comment since a commenter a couple of posts back said she had been driven away.

      There is way too much about this whole affair that is counter-intuitive, however. Except the posts themselves and comments here. Oh, and I guess the obligatory site visit by The Reverend Al Sharpton. They are an oasis of "stability" amidst the melting of liberal minds and crumbling of intellectual culture.

      That said I'll get back to reading the death notice for the west before gyrfalcon and hardindr show up. That would be too much.

    5. FYI, last January, gyrfalcon made mincemeat out of Somerby in Uncle Drum's combox debating "legitimate traffic study."'

    6. Legitimate commenters can and do challenge Somerby. What makes them not trolls is that they engage the issues and don't use sarcasm or mockery to denigrate anyone but use argument to debate the issues being discussed. It doesn't matter that some trolls think Somerby is a hypocrite -- their constant namecalling is tiresome.

    7. Yes, we can't have sarcasm and mockery around here. This is The Daily Howler!

      Reminds me of a famous scene from "Dr. Strangelove."

    8. Read the Wikipedia page for the Daily Howler, which had to have been written by Somerby himself.

    9. @ 12:04 was no the real CeceliaMc.

  2. I'm shooting anyone who just broke my face knowing I was armed, is twice my size, and is rushing, stumbling, or falling close enough to grab my gun and blast the rest of my face off.

    1. The facial fracture thing is still unconfirmed.

    2. That's why we should all be glad you're merely an Internet tough guy and not a cop, 12:14

    3. The injury was publicly announced by the police chief. The extent of the injury is what is not known yet. I think someone official said there was no fracture (don't recall who). It doesn't matter much how badly the officer was hurt. Nothing hinges on that.

    4. 12:32, every cop would and should do the same. Anyone who wouldn't is what is commonly known as "stupid" or "stupid and dead."

    5. The chief also said nothing about how Officer Wilson's "swollen face" happened.

      But I find it interesting that he released the incident report about the shoplifting, but not the incident report about the shooting itself? Why? Because there is no incident report about the shooting itself.

    6. "12:32, every cop would and should do the same."

      Perhaps the only thing more pathetic than an Internet lawyer putting his ignorance on public display is an combined Internet mind-reader and authority on police procedure who claims to know exactly what "every cop would and should do."

    7. @ 12:21 is not the real CeceliaMc.

    8. Check your presumptions.

      It is too me.

  3. Interesting. Just last Wednesday, Somerby was saying this:

    Supplemental: Salon and Rothkopf get it right!
    WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 20, 2014

    Willing to ask, what is truth: We’re happy to say that the new Salon has done something journalistic!

    To convince yourselves, click here. A bright young kid named Joanna Rothkopf is the virtuous party. (Middlebury, class of 2012!)

    Working from a New York Times report, Rothkopf said there are conflicting accounts of the way Michael Brown came to be shot and killed. She said the grand jury which convenes today will have to figure out what actually happened.


    Yes, Bobfans. Your hero did go on to say parenthetically that the Times failed to say how "sharp" the allegedly contrasting testimony was. But then he heaped praised on even the Times report (though more on Salon reporting the Times report) because it fit his long-standing pleasing narrative.

    And what narrative is that? That "cable hosts" have already made their minds up about this case with a lot of evidence still unknown.

    1. You can safely skip reading this comment.

    2. 12:47 forgot to add, "because it is substantive, accurate, and calls nobody a name excet Bobfan."

    3. You must excuse Bob. He is torn between his hatred for the New York Times and his hatred for Lawrence O'Donnell.

    4. Why should I excuse Bob? He had a strong shot of Ripley in between to settle his nerves.

    5. Because comments aimed at making Somerby appear to be contradictory or hypocritical are not substantive. They are attacks on the blogger.

  4. The NYT article implied that the shooting may have been justified. I suspect that this aspect of the article was one reason for all the complaints. A lot of liberals are invested in the narrative that this tragedy is simply a case of racist police brutality against an innocent young black man.

    1. David, you will "infer" that a Sunday church bulletin that asks for prayers for both Wilson and Browm it "iplied" that "the shooting may have been justified."

    2. Of course the shooting is justified. An officer shot a fleeing suspect in the course of his duties after having been attacked. The only question is whether they will try him and find him not guilty or decline to prosecute and reinstate him after an investigation. The protesters probably understand this but haven't finished their looting and voter registration yet.

    3. This:

      "Of course the shooting is justified"

      is immediately contradicted by this:

      "An officer shot a fleeing suspect . . ."

    4. No it isn't. Not when you're a citizen in a town where a violent felon who is crazy enough to attack a cop with a gun after he violently robs a store is running away from the cop. The cop is justified in protecting law abiding citizens from the violent menace.

    5. Yep 2:02. And the violent felon's Granny should be locked up for not keeping the apartment fully stocked with cigarillos so the big fat thug stayed home instead of menacing a whole town.

    6. Animals in Section 8 housing have no sense of nor concern for the community.

    7. That's some broad brush handiwork, 3:00 and unfair. However, you're right about Michael Brown.

    8. I said nothing about Michael Brown @ 3:37.

  5. There's still no officer's report on the shooting.
    Too bad, because lots of folks here are invested in the shooting being justified.

    Also, they left Brown's lifeless body on the sidewalk for 4 hours. What do you think the point of that was?


    1. Same point Little Bill Daggett was trying to make with Ned?

    2. "A man who decorates the streets with the body of my friend had better protect his QuikTrip."

    3. Forensic investigations don't take 15 minutes in real life like they do on CSI shows.

    4. You really think they were doing a forensic exam of Brown's body for four hours in the street?

    5. I think they didn't move the body until they were done collecting evidence. Whether they were waiting for someone with the expertise to do that, or it took them that long, I don't know. I don't think they just said, "lets go grab a meal and pick up the body later," or "I hate these folks so let's just let the body sit here for a while," or some such.

      When there is a shooting in LA that shuts down a freeway, for example, it often takes at least that long before they are done and open up traffic again. I have no reason to assume they are goofing off or not motivated to get things moving for people, so I think that it can and does take that long to do the job.

    6. "I don't think they just said, "lets go grab a meal and pick up the body later," or "I hate these folks so let's just let the body sit here for a while," or some such."

      Why's that?

    7. Because (1) I have never seen people operate that way on any job, (2) people had to know this would be a high visibility case evoking public concern and would behave according, (3) most acts attributed to malice usually have other explanations, (4) those explanations are almost cartoonish in their characterizations of bigotry. Common sense suggests another explanation.

      I heard Bernard Parks being interviewed about Ferguson from a police chief's perspective (he was LA Chief of Police during riots there). He said one key problem in Ferguson was the involvement of many different organizations (city, county, FBI, Natl Guard) and no clear authority or lines of communication between leadership so that no one knew what others were doing and orders changed dramatically from day to day. In such a situation it is more plausible people were waiting around for someone from one of the other jurisdictions to arrive, sign off on something or give authority to move the body.

      That's why.

  6. WTF?

    On Monday TDH ended with this:

    "Tomorrow: Murder, she said"

    On Tuesday TDH ended with this:

    "Tomorrow: “Murder,” she said

    Later today: The Post limns those traffic stops"

    Are we not going to get any journalistic limning? Who is she?. Must she be obeyed? Is she pink and does she play with Nixon dolls in the houses of Journalist County?

    That said, who the hell is Chucky and how was he spawned?

  7. Somerby, you're confused.

    "Witness" and "eyewitness" are not the same. Those who claim to know Wilson's story are witnesses, but not eyewitnesses.

    Of course the NYT story did nothing to make that clear.

    1. I think in this case they're trying to create the impression that Wilson's version of events is supported by eyewitnesses other than Wilson. Throwing a bone to the law and order crowd.

    2. Chris Matthews said today that Wilson had a partner who witnessed what happened and made a statement.

    3. AnonymousAugust 22, 2014 at 9:31 PM
      Chris Matthews said today that Wilson had a partner who witnessed what happened and made a statement.

      "Witness" as in heard Wilson's story, NOT eyewitness who saw the shooting.

      Thank you for proving my point.

    4. Isn't that hearsay?

  8. Poor Bob. This isn't turning out the way he expected at all: the room for reverse race baiting is almost non-existent. His teeth must be ground down to nubs.

    1. Speaking of nubs, ....

    2. Yes, poor Bob. Doesn't know who to despise from one day to the next, so his blog turns into "As the Bob Turns" -- a parody of itself and a soap opera that stills fall far short of "The Trial of Poor Gov. Ultrasound."