NO JOURNALISM, NO JUSTICE: O’Donnell (almost) does it again!


Part 4—Provides some actual journalism: What actually happened when Michael Brown was shot and killed?

Yesterday, the New York Times offered a front-page report on that topic. As we noted yesterday afternoon, the 1500-word piece started like this:
ROBLES (8/20/14): 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.

Some of the accounts seem to agree on how the fatal altercation initially unfolded: with a struggle between the officer, Darren Wilson, and the teenager, Michael Brown. Officer Wilson was inside his patrol car at the time, while Mr. Brown, who was unarmed, was leaning in through an open window.

Many witnesses also agreed on what happened next: Officer Wilson's firearm went off inside the car, Mr. Brown ran away, the officer got out of his car and began firing toward Mr. Brown, and then Mr. Brown stopped, turned around and faced the officer.

But on the crucial moments that followed, the accounts differ sharply, officials say...
Speaking in her own voice, Frances Robles reported that witnesses to the shooting “have given investigators sharply conflicting accounts of the killing.”

As we noted yesterday, we don’t know how sharply these accounts actually differ. When Salon was willing to cite this report, we thought it was worth noting.

Last night, Lawrence O’Donnell assailed the New York Times report as “a terribly misleading, badly crafted story about witnesses to the killing of Michael Brown.” He presented an 11-minute segment in which he sharply criticized the Times report.

One of O’Donnell’s remarks last night struck us as basically silly. (Hint: Every Wednesday, the Times presents its weekly Dining section.)

Some of O’Donnell’s critiques strike us as being off point. He also omitted and miscast a few basic points.

But O’Donnell offered some strong critiques of the Times report. If you’re willing to watch with a critical eye, his segment is very much worth watching.

As is often the case, MSNBC is dawdling this morning with respect to the posting of transcripts. At its own transcript site, the channel hasn’t even posted O’Donnell’s transcript from Tuesday night, let alone the transcript of last evening’s program.

Nexis has Tuesday night’s transcript up—but based on past performance, there’s no way to guess when last night’s transcript will appear. For that reason, we won’t be able to show you all the text from last evening’s program which is worth considering.

That said, let’s take a heavily paraphrased look at some of O’Donnell’s main points.

For starters, O’Donnell criticized the Times on a very basic matter. Its report failed to mention, let alone quote, the eyewitness account of the killing provided by Tiffany Mitchell on last Thursday’s O’Donnell program.

In two detailed segments, Mitchell reported what she saw as Brown was shot and killed. As he began his critique of the Times report, O’Donnell provided a videotaped excerpt of what Mitchell said.

To watch Mitchell's first segment, click here.

With respect to the claims in the Times report, O’Donnell’s critique begins with the passage we’ve already posted. He offered a comment about this particular part of that passage—a comment which was accurate, though not entirely relevant:
ROBLES: Many witnesses also agreed on what happened next: Officer Wilson's firearm went off inside the car, Mr. Brown ran away, the officer got out of his car and began firing toward Mr. Brown, and then Mr. Brown stopped, turned around and faced the officer
According to O’Donnell notes, Wilson had already committed a crime if he fired at Brown while Brown was running away. We don’t know the relevant Missouri state law, and O'Donnell cited none. But we would assume that his claim is probably accurate.

Later in his segment, O’Donnell made the same point about another passage from the Times report. We highlight the relevant part of this passage, in which Robles reports an interview with an eyewitness:
ROBLES: A man who lives nearby, Michael T. Brady, said in an interview that he saw the initial altercation in the patrol car, although he struggled to see exactly what was happening.

''It was something strange,'' said Mr. Brady, 32, a janitor. ''Something was not right. It was some kind of altercation. I can't say whether he was punching the officer or whatever. But something was going on in that window, and it didn't look right.''

Mr. Brady said he had been interviewed by county investigators, but not the F.B.I.

Mr. Brady said he could see Mr. Johnson at the front passenger side of the car when he and Mr. Brown suddenly started running. Mr. Brady did not hear a gunshot or know what caused them to run. But he said he did see a police officer get out of the patrol car and start walking briskly while firing on Mr. Brown as he fled.

What happened next could be what the case turns on...
“What happened next could be what the case turns on?” According to O’Donnell, that is “the most egregious passage in the New York Times article.”

What makes that sentence egregious? According to O’Donnell, Officer Wilson had already committed “an illegal use of deadly force,” “a crime,” by firing on Brown as he fled.

O’Donnell savages “the New York Times” for failing to note that fact. He says that law enforcement officials “tricked the Times” into ignoring those first reported shots.

We don’t know the relevant state laws, and O’Donnell didn’t cite any. That said, it’s the killing of Brown that’s at issue here. By all accounts, the killing of Brown occurred after Brown turned back to face Wilson.

For that reason, it seems to us that O’Donnell wanders off point a tad at this juncture. In the most obvious sense, it seems to us that Robles is right: Barring convoluted legal argument, what happened when Wilson fired the killing shots is presumably “what the case turns on.”

Let's move to a new point:

Throughout the segment, O’Donnell made a basic claim. He said the Times failed to show that witnesses have offered sharply conflicting accounts of what happened.


In the passage posted above, Robles quotes Michael Brady, an eyewitness to the shooting. But uh-oh! O’Donnell then played tape from Brady’s interview with Anderson Cooper last night.

Cooper’s transcript is already up. For that reason, we can show you the transcript of what O’Donnell’s viewers saw.

This is Brady speaking to Cooper, as re-aired by O’Donnell:
BRADY (8/20/14): By the time I get outside, he's already turned around, facing the officer. He's balled up, he had his arms like under his stomach, and he was like half way down, like he was going down, and the officer lets out about three or four shots at him.

So like I said, just like the body—I took a few pictures and a video about how his body is on the ground, just like with his arms tucked in. That's how he got shot or whatever. But like I said before, he went down, he was already like this, and he took like one or two step going towards the officer and he, like I said, let go about three or four more shots at him.
From Officer Wilson’s point of view, that seems like unflattering testimony. It sounds like Wilson fired the final shots after Brown was largely disabled.

That said, O’Donnell instantly misquoted Brady as he continued. He then assailed “the New York Times” for what it had written, without having any way to know what Brady may have told Robles.

O’Donnell also omitted one part of the Times report, in which a second witness, James McKnight, is quoted telling the Times that Wilson “was about six or seven feet away from [Brown]” during this final confrontation. The relative propinquity might tend to tip the scales in Wilson’s favor.

It isn’t easy to assemble facts, to perform actual journalism. We think we see some obvious problems with O’Donnell’s report from last night.

But we think he helped define the issues which will have to be settled by anyone who wants to determine what actually happened here. We think he performed a service.

Final point:

As he started and as she ended, O’Donnell heaped mandatory praise on the wondrous Times. Expressing shock at its lousy report, he said this as he closed:
O’DONNELL: The New York Times normally uses the best reporting standards of any news org. I have never seen the New York Times used by police this way...
Funny he should say that! When Trayvon Martin was killed, this very same New York Times quickly got used by civil rights lawyers, in egregious ways. It falsely reported that two shots were fired, a warning shot and a "kill shot."

When it comes to domestic affairs, we’d have to say that the New York Times doesn’t maintain wondrous reporting standards. By rule of law, Lawrence may have felt that he was required to say different.

What actually happened that day? Assembling facts can be hard! Making some errors as he went, Lawrence advanced the ball.

Tomorrow: We try to summarize some basic trends in the coverage


  1. The left press's dog seems to have eaten the Doctor's report on Wilson's injuries. Shameful.

    1. Well, since you've chewed on it, how about spitting out a link.

    2. Yeah, what does Fixed Noise have to report on it?


      No evidence about any aspect of this case has been released by police pending presentation to the grand jury. As described here, the officer was taken to the emergency room, which will have records of whatever injuries he sustained.

    4. So did the left's dog eat FOX's anonymous source? Better have that dog put down!

    5. Witnesses to Brown's attack on Wilson are not only reported by Fox. Just the orbital bone fracture. It is safe to conclude that Brown did assault the officer and struggle with him, resulting in Brown running away and Wilson firing at him.

      Fox may be less credible than other sources. However, ignoring facts you don't like makes the left no better than Fox. That has been one of Somerby's complaints over time.

    6. No, it is safe to conclude that Wilson killed Brown but the circumstances are unclear. There is no circumstance where Wilson is a murderer because that crime requires intent and premeditation (1st deg) and the requirements of his job would make it hard to demonstrate that. It is inflammatory language being used to generate heat, fuel the lynch mob. At best, Wilson did his community a favor by removing a violent felon from the streets. A cop who winds up having to kill someone is not automatically a shitty cop and saying so "at best" punishes someone for doing difficult work. It displays a stunning lack of empathy for a person who is performing dangerous public service on a daily basis.

    7. It's as safe to conclude that Wilson is a shitty cop, as it is safe to conclude that Brown did assault the officer.


    8. Salon and the Huffington Post have portrayed Brown's shooting as a cold blooded murder, the obvious result of a U.S. filled with white racist. Start with Brittney Cooper and work your way from there.

    9. Anonymous August 21, 2014 at 3:35 PM,
      Thanks for the insight about murder having to be pre-meditated. I didn't realize that. Although, if Brown had wrestled Wilson's gun from him and shot Wilson to death with it, I find it hard to believe Brown couldn't be charged with murder because it wasn't pre-meditated.
      Also, if you shoot a liquor store clerk to death during a robbery, you can't be charged with murder because it wasn't pre-meditated? That doesn't sound right, but it could be.


    10. 2nd degree murder, not 1st degree. Intentional but not premeditated. Assuming it was not self-defense or done to stop him from harming someone.

    11. Not that it applies to this case, but there is also the felony-murder rule in which 1st degree penalties can apply. It also does not require pre-meditation.

      This involves any death that occurs during the commission of a felony. For instance, you and your buddy try to rob a liquor store. Your buddy gets shot and killed by the owner. You can be charged with felony-murder.

      I point that out 3:35 because there is no person so close-minded as to think he already knows everything, including and especially the law.

      There really is no person more ignorant than an Internet lawyer.

    12. You know nothing, Jon Snow.

  2. I saw O'Donnell's report and am happy to see you fairly portrayed it without a digression into past sins you feel the MSNBC Infotainer had committed.

  3. It is not against the law for the officer to shoot at a fleeing suspect if he believes that suspect may be a danger to others. The fight in the car preceding flight may justify Wilson's belief that Brown was a danger to others and the use of force to stop him.

    This issue is discussed with quotes from law professors, police and court rulings here:

    1. Good to know it's legally justifiable for a police officer to shoot Wilson, since it's easy to see him being a danger to others.


    2. Wilson is the cop. Is that a mistake or are you being an idiot?

    3. Berto obviously meant to state Brown instead of Wlson. Get a grip.

    4. Yeah, Wilson should be shot. Cold blooded killer.

  4. Forget flying electric cars and robot sex partners for a moment. When is science going to come up with a viable non-lethal weapon to replace these primitive fire sticks that propel masses of lead into human bodies?

    We've been stuck with internal combustion for over 100, but we've been slaughtering each other with these souped-up slingshots for well over half a millenium. Big dangerous animals we can render harmless with dart guns;t human beings we have to kill. The 2nd Amendment says nothing about bullets. Let's take a tip from Star Trek and let people have their damn guns, but take away their ability to kill -- and I mean cops, too. Let homeowners stun prowling black teenagers. Let cops stun fleeing black teenagers. Let neighborhood vigilantes stun black teenagers. Let black teenagers stun black teenagers. Let Ted Nugent stun various species of delicious hooved animals, and maybe the occasional black teenager. But let's come up with something that will help us cut down on the some of the killing. Come on, science, let's move forward a little. Jeez! Put the next big Apple knickknack aside for a moment and focus on this.

    While we're on the subject, every time I read Howler complaining about the unavailability of transcripts, I wonder if he hasn't heard of science's latest triumph -- the DVR. Sometimes I picture this Howler guy as a crazy old homeless person living under a bridge with nothing but the contents of his shopping cart and an old Nexis machine he "found" somewhere.

    1. Read Digby's take on tasers. Riot control now includes water cannons, rubber bullets, and weapons using sound, plus a bunch of types of armor to protect officers. That is part of why these current "protests" have had far fewer fatalities than prior riots of the 60's & 70's. Technology has been advancing. These advances are generally decried by liberal voices, like Digby, because they are not foolproof. Someone will have an allergic reaction to that dart gun.

      On your second complaint, have you ever tried to trascribe a conversation? It is very time-consuming. Transcripts are not the same as video recordings. Further, what you think you hear said may be different than what someone else hears. If there is a written transcript from the source, there are no debates over what was said because the transcript coming from the source itself is considered authoritative on what was said. I'm sure Somerby has a DVR.

    2. Until then, don't attack police officers.

    3. People complain that the bean bags shot by riot police hurt.

      People should have the right to burn down buildings, attack police with rocks and bottles (with or without kerosene), spit at police, mayors, attorneys, victims or random bystanders and call them names, block traffic and commerce and keep everyday citizens prisoners in their homes, and generally make a big nuisance of themselves whenever they are angry about something. It is guaranteed by the 1st Ammendment, right? Also, they have the right to do this whenever their team wins or loses a sporting event. That's in the Constitution too, right?

      If they get arrested while doing this stuff, the police have no right to treat them like other prisoners are treated. They should say please and thank you and never force anyone to comply with any order when they are resistant (or non-compliant out of incomprehension). They have the right to a phone call (that's on TV) and they cannot be put into cells with actual criminals. They cannot be denied food until mealtimes or made to sleep on hard surfaces without good pillows. All that is in the Constitution too, right? And they should be able to leave whenever it isn't fun any more.

    4. Forgot to mention -- they also have the right to steal stuff when they are mad at someone. That's in the Constitution.

    5. Yeah, and you also have the right to destroy all the straw men you can eat. It's in the 1st amendment, so have fun with it!

    6. If you haven't heard these things said, you aren't listening to enough talk radio.

    7. One second of talk radio is too much.

  5. "According to O’Donnell notes, Wilson had already committed a crime if he fired at Brown while Brown was running away. We don’t know the relevant Missouri state law, and O'Donnell cited none. But we would assume that his claim is probably accurate."

    His claim is probably not accurate. A fleeing suspect may be shot if he is dangerous.

    1. Now that we've fed the google machine with 100 more instances of "he fired at Brown while Brown was running away", can we put this deliberate misinformation to bed? Only the thoroughly discredited Dorian Johnson claimed to have seen this (along with the one-armed choke-grab and the violently-opened door-bounce), but the autopsy proved none of the shots were to the back.

      Kind of says a lot when Salon's attempt to be even-handed (to the protests of their commentariat) STILL includes this whopper.

    2. Thank dog you aren't Salon, or you'd really be upset at this whopper:
      "... but the autopsy proved none of the shots were to the back."
      Talk about facts not in evidence.


    3. Yeah, the autopsy shows that he was shot in the front while his hands were up. Great police work.

    4. The autopsy is neutral about the position of his arms.

  6. Another flaw in the Times article is to underplay Wilson's injury . Somewhere in the middle of the article, the Times wrote wrote

    However, law enforcement officials say witnesses and forensic analysis have shown that Officer Wilson did sustain an injury during the struggle in the car.

    We know from other sources that Wilson's injuries were quite serious, but the Times says nothing about that. (Note that Wilson's serious injuries do not justify killing Brown. However, they're a significant part of the story.)

    1. "(Note that Wilson's serious injuries do not justify killing Brown. However, they're a significant part of the story.)"

      If Brown had surrendered and were standing before Wilson with hands in the air, Wilson could not shoot him because he was injured. Witnesses state that Brown was running away. That means that someone sufficiently violent to attack a police officer to the point of injury was leaving the scene, with the capability of inflicting injury on others. That is where Wilson's duty is to apprehend Brown and prevent him from attacking others using deadly force if necessary.

      Before you object that there is no evidence Brown would have injured others, note that he had already injured a police officer and a convenience store clerk. That is the significant part of this story -- Brown's actions. We expect the police force to protect the public by removing violent people from situations where they hurt others. It does not matter whether Brown attacked an officer or a clerk (or a neighbor or companion or girlfriend or relative or anyone else). Brown was attacking people and witnesses have said they saw him do it. And, there is video of him doing it.

      It is a flaw in reporting and in the responses of people like the protesters in Ferguson that they do not support police officers in the course of doing their job. Whether police officers are too zealously stopping African American drivers during traffic stops, or calling protesters names, changes nothing about this situation. Why is Wilson being vilified, having to live in fear, worrying about his family and his job, because he tried to stop a violent person from fleeing back into the community to harm others? I think David underplays the seriousness of the crime Brown committed by attacking (1) a police officer, (2) a convenience store clerk, (3) others -- since it is unlikely this behavior emerged out of thin air on one day without similar behavior having been tolerated, condoned, excused, or otherwise overlooked in the past.

    2. He injured the convenience store clerk so badly the convenience store clerk never called the cops about it.

    3. How can that make any difference at all after Brown assaulted Wilson? That, all by itself, is a violent felony.

      You cannot use "didn't call the cops" as the standard for how serious a crime is. In some neighborhoods, witnesses and victims are intimidated and fear for their lives if they report crimes, so they don't. That doesn't make those crimes insignificant.

    4. My understanding is that Brown punched Wilson in the face (doing substantial harm) and ran some distance off. He then allegedly returned and charged at Wilson. (This is supported by the fact that Brown was not shot in the back.)

      Even if it's established that Brown was charging at Wilson, I think his distance might make a legal difference. If he was close, the shooting was more justifiable than if he were still some distance away. We do know that Brown was not right on top of Wilson when Wilson shot him, because there were no powder burns. According to a source found via google:
      At the 3-5 foot range the gunshot residues may only consist of a few trace particles and make determining the firing distance difficult if not impossible.

      As the firearm gets closer to its target the residue concentrations increase and the actual size or diameter to the pattern gets smaller. At around 18-24 inches most firearms will start to deposit considerable concentrations of gunshot residues that may or may not be visible to the eye.

      At distances of less than around 12 inches heavy concentrations of visible gunshot residues will normally be deposited.

    5. You are a lying fool.
      No orbital fracture of Darren Wilson's eye socket, nor bruised eye socket.

      The fact that the cowardly troll whiners give you a pass and view you as legit demonstrates their idiocy.

      Have a nice day.

    6. No information has been released about Wilson's injury.

    7. What sources said wilson alleged injuries were allegedly serious? Newsmax or Fox news? Wilson wasn't injured.

    8. What sources said wilson alleged injuries were allegedly serious?

      The blog Gateway Pundit, Fox News, and a local news station.

      BTW no source disputed this. That is, no source said Wilson's injuries were not serious.

  7. Whenever there is more than one witness to an event accounts will differ, sometimes in seemingly important ways. So it is not "news" that accounts differ. It's not even unusual for media to report the accounts in inaccurate ways. Actually, this is probably a lot better than it was in the heyday of print media, when reporters had to write everything down. In this respect TV has improved things because if the news programs have any video they will usually show it.

    1. When there is only one witness to an event, that witness may be accurate or wrong. Without comparison, there is no way to know, yet eyewitnesses are believed by jurors (and others) more than 70% of the time, even when they identify the wrong person and report false facts, even when they have personal characteristics that should give rise to skepticism (e.g., poor eyesight, bad viewing conditions, poor memory).

    2. According to the Innocence Project, the wrongful conviction rate due to eyewitness evidence is 75%.

    3. matty, what is the rate of claimed innocence by those rightfully convicted?

    4. What is the rate of claimed innocence of those wrongfully convicted?