Interlude—Pundits praising themselves: A funny thing happened midway through Charles Blow’s column this Monday.
His column concerned the Ray Rice case. Blow ended by taking a brave set of stands, as we’ll see at the end of this post.
Midway through, something strange occurred. In one brief shining sentence, Blow actually mentioned the courts:
BLOW (9/15/14): Now, there are many issues here.For that one brief shining moment, Charles Blow mentioned the courts. He quickly returned to the NFL, the organization whose deeply troubling, presumed-guilty conduct has dominated cable/pundit discussion of the Ray Rice case.
How was Rice able to avoid trial on the original charge? Why did it take the second tape for the N.F.L. to act more forcefully in the case? Did anyone at the N.F.L. see the second tape before it was made public? Could anyone have if he’d tried harder to find it? It seems that there were multiple failures here.
Blow isn’t just an NYT columnist. He’s also a CNN pundit. He has played an active role as his own pair of three-letter corporate entities have pounded away at a third.
On cable, there has been occasional discussion about the way Rice was treated by the New Jersey courts.
That said, there hasn’t been much. In the last sentence of the passage we’ve posted, Blow dismisses the conduct of the New Jersey court as one of the “failures” the rest of us, the very good people, have been forced to endured.
He doesn’t bother asking whether Rice’s diversion into a treatment program may have been a good idea. Bravely, he is soon thundering, as pundits do, saying this:
“We must treat intimate partner violence for what it is: a societal scourge that must be constantly called out and constantly condemned.”
Where do pundits get the stones to offer such challenging judgments?
We’ll return to Blow’s column shortly. Let’s focus on our basic question: Why is so much cable and pundit attention being directed to Roger Goodell? Why is so little attention being directed at the nation’s courts?
A cynic would say the answer is obvious: The NFL is a very famous organization. The organization is full of celebrities. It produces tons of good videotape.
Goodell is the head of the NFL; he was paid $44 million last year. This makes him a perfect target for an entertaining cops-and-robbers, Watergate-inflected tabloid chase.
What did Roger Goodell know and when did Roger Goodell know it? By last Friday, this framework was being widely offered as the focus of coverage on “cable news.”
Whatever motivated the adoption of this framework, we would say that it’s largely an entertainment framework. It aims us at the NFL and away from a range of institutions which are much more far-reaching and important.
Also much more boring, from the perspective of eyeballs and clicks.
How should our nation’s courts treat first-time offenders like Rice? Should the courts throw Rice in jail, the way the Sunny Hostins want? Or should the courts send such people into treatment programs, as was done in this case?
We haven’t seen a lot of discussion of that and related questions. (Blow stated his judgment in one sentence, failing to explain it.)
Instead, the focus went to Roger Goodell, wrapped in the language of the nation’s most famous bad-guy chase. By the end of last week, that chase was built around a “four-source bombshell,” an ESPN report that looks a bit phony right there on its face.
Just for the record, “bombshell” is an exciting word. Its use to refer to that hinky report can of course be seen as an entertainment function.
Out of respect for that dominant framework—What did he know and when did he know it?—we’re going to do you a favor tomorrow. Just this once, we’re going to let you ask us about Goodell’s business!
More precisely, we’re going to tell you what may have happened in that now-famous June 16 meeting. We’re even going to tell you what may have happened in the elevator that night.
We’re going to tell you what may have been said by Ray Rice and by Janay Rice when they met with Roger Goodell. We’ll discuss the meanings of three key words—punched, hit and slapped.
What may have happened in the elevator that night? We’ll even cite the part of last week’s much-discussed AP report which went wholly undiscussed!
In doing these things, we’ll take you outside the confines of the tightly restricted story the Blows have been thrilling you with. That story has been full of sanctimony and simple-minded restrictions.
That story has been all about the NFL. It hasn’t wasted much time on the courts, on or treatment programs, or on the possible role of moral suasion as we seek to convince men that they shouldn’t beat up on people who are smaller and less strong in the physical sense.
(Standard cable pundit drivel, mostly from sports pundits: “A man should never put his hands on a woman!” How about never “putting our hands” on anyone at all?)
For whatever reason, the story you’ve been handed on cable has focused on the NFL, its star running back and its wealthy commissioner. Last night, Chris Hayes suggested the discussion should range farther afield.
Hayes was certainly right on that point. We were struck by the way his pundits reacted.
Hayes played tape of a 911 call from a woman who was being beaten. She was being beaten by her husband, Mark Fuller, a sitting federal judge.
Hayes played that very instructive tape. He then drew an instructive conclusion.
To watch the whole segment, click here:
HAYES (9/16/14): So let’s just not—let’s not mistake here that this is a Ray Rice problem, this is a Baltimore Ravens problem, this is an NFL problem. This is going on across all— I think it’s an important reminder here that folks not allow themselves to feel like, “Oh, it’s the NFL.”We very much agree with Hayes on that point. That said, Hayes and others on his channel had just spent an entire week focusing on the NFL, largely to the exclusion of a wider and richer discussion.
They even ran with that shaky ESPN report as they chased after Goodell, who they had selected as their targeted bad guy. One week into this entertaining chase, Hayes gave an important reminder. He told folks they shouldn’t be misled by this limited framework.
Hayes then threw to Slate’s Mike Pesca, a good decent person who played the pundit role to perfection as he delivered his answer.
It’s bred in the cable pundit’s bones! Our cable pundits are always right. Their targets must always be wrong:
PESCA (continuing directly): Sports is often a lagging indicator of societal opinion but sometimes it can be a leading indicator as well. And what we’re doing now is focusing attention that needs to be focused.The night before, Lawrence O’Donnell mistakenly said that NFL players abuse at a rate so high that it is “amazing.”
The NFL, especially their board, was behind the times. Now they’re getting right on the issue
I will say that when the NFL defends itself and says things like “I don’t think our players abuse at a higher rate,” I don’t think that’s good enough. Given how many resources they have, they should be abusing at a much lesser rate.
But that said, I think it’s all, cliché or not, a useful conversation.
Was that comment “good enough?” Of one thing we can feel quite certain. It was “close enough for cable!”
Pesca’s reply is a classic example of Pundit Think. Even when they work in clichés, they’re conducting a useful discussion!
Meanwhile, in the first highlighted sentence, we see the classic rule of Pundit Think:
The target must always be found to be wrong, in every possible way. In the cable version of Salem Village, every fact about the target must heighten our sense that he’s guilty.
The very bright Tara Dowdell is one of our favorite cable pundits. After Pesca spoke, she jumped in with additional praise for the job our pundits are doing.
Judge Fuller is in a diversion program too. Is such treatment a good idea? By the way, Fuller’s case went public on August 11.
Why has cable been discussing the running back Rice and ignoring the federal judge Fuller? That audiotape from Fuller’s wife is extremely instructive too.
Back to Blow, who dismissed the role of the courts as a failure in the Rice case, while offering no discussion. Below, you see the way he ended his column.
Blow was painting by the numbers, as cable pundits tend to do:
BLOW: If there is anything to be optimistic about, it is this: According to a Department of Justice report issued in April, “The rate of domestic violence declined 63 percent, from 13.5 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older in 1994 to 5.0 per 1,000 in 2012.”If we are reading that passage correctly, Blow was willing to criticize Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens and executives in the NFL.
We can push these numbers even lower, but first we need people like Rice, the Ravens and those in the N.F.L. to behave more honorably than they have in this case.
Where does a pundit get the stones to voice such daring judgments?
Tomorrow: Just this once, we’ll let you ask us about the NFL’s business
For extra credit only: In our view, Blow toyed with Janay Rice in his column. That starts with his smarmy use of her skirt, extends to his sense that she has had no agency in the various things she has done.
“It is hard to feel anything but sadness for her,” Blow says of Janay Rice at one point.
It’s hard to feel anything but sadness? Has he tried feeling respect?