GATEKEEPERS GONE: Lawrence O’Donnell in watchdog role!


Part 2—Competence gone:
Was there ever a time when the theory was accurate?

On balance, we’d say there was. At one time, we had a pair of powerful gatekeepers—Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley.

Neither man was crazy or dumb. If you or your message was crazy or dumb, it wasn’t likely that you could get it on the air.

Today, that gatekeeper system is gone. What Dr. Keith Ablow did last week is, by now, completely the norm.

What did Ablow do last week? He aired twelve minutes of manifest lunacy on John Gibson’s mid-day show on Fox News Radio.

For yesterday's post, click this.

Ablow played the shrink all through the hideous segment. With manifest lunacy, he described the America-hating thoughts which have been running through Barack Obama’s America-hating head.

Anyone can gin up stories like that. But when such stories are ginned up by a fairly well-known commentator on a major radio network—by a man who once had his own syndicated TV show!—many citizens won’t understand that they are hearing The Crazy.

In the days of Cronkite and Brinkley, people like Ablow weren’t allowed on the air. Performances like his weren’t broadcast by the nation’s major news organs.

Today, heinous work of this kind is completely the norm. For better or worse, our gatekeepers are manifestly gone.

Work like this is completely the norm. Salon pushed back against Ablow and Gibson, but major news organs did not.

Our biggest news organs can no longer keep such craziness out of the discourse. Nor are they inclined to challenge such conduct—to cast themselves in the secondary role of the vigilant watchdog.

For years, we’ve argued that our biggest news organs should treat such events as news. It’s news when major figures like Ablow toy with the public in such ways. It ought to be reported as news—but organs like the New York Times shrink from providing that watchdog service.

In one way, it may be just as well. It isn’t just that the New York Times lacks the will to play that role.

On balance, the newspaper also lacks the smarts. But then, so do the liberal watchdogs who are now part of our sprawling, incompetent corporate media.

What happens when major liberal stars cast themselves as watchdogs? Consider Lawrence O’Donnell’s attempt to challenge the Times last night.

Lawrence challenged a front-page report in Saturday’s New York Times. In that report, Michael Schmidt described some of what Officer Darren Wilson has reportedly told “investigators” about the killing of Michael Brown.

Schmidt cited anonymous government sources. This is the way he started:
SCHMIDT (10/18/14): The police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., two months ago has told investigators that he was pinned in his vehicle and in fear for his life as he struggled over his gun with Mr. Brown, according to government officials briefed on the federal civil rights investigation into the matter.

The officer, Darren Wilson, has told the authorities that during the scuffle, Mr. Brown reached for the gun. It was fired twice in the car, according to forensics tests performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The first bullet struck Mr. Brown in the arm; the second bullet missed.

The forensics tests showed Mr. Brown's blood on the gun, as well as on the interior door panel and on Officer Wilson's uniform. Officer Wilson told the authorities that Mr. Brown had punched and scratched him repeatedly, leaving swelling on his face and cuts on his neck.

This is the first public account of Officer Wilson's testimony to investigators, but it does not explain why, after he emerged from his vehicle, he fired at Mr. Brown multiple times. It contradicts some witness accounts, and it will not calm those who have been demanding to know why an unarmed man was shot a total of six times. Mr. Brown's death continues to fuel anger and sometimes-violent protests.
Schmidt sourced his information to unnamed government officials. He later said that his account of Wilson's statements did not “come from the Ferguson Police Department or from officials whose activities are being investigated as part of the [federal] civil rights inquiry.”

If it’s accurate, Schmidt’s report seems to include some new forensic information. Meanwhile, the reporter stated an important point in his fourth paragraph:

Wilson’s account of the struggle at the car does not explain why he fired at Brown multiple times after he left his car. That remains the major question in a potential criminal case. Wilson’s account of the fight at the car doesn’t resolve that question.

On last night’s program, O’Donnell cast himself in the role of watchdog concerning the Times report. In the course of a ten-minute monologue, he even made some accurate statements about various questions surrounding this case.

To watch the whole segment, click here.

That said, it didn’t take long for Watchdog O’Donnell to go substantially wrong. Instantly, he battered the Times for “pretend[ing] it had a scoop” in its front-page report.

Now that our gatekeepers are gone, how competent are our watchdogs? Barely two minutes into his segment, this would-be watchdog said this:
O’DONNELL (10/20/14): The useful information in the New York Times article is the circumstantial evidence leaked by the government officials who told the Times that the FBI forensics tests show that the officer’s gun was fired twice inside the car, with the first bullet hitting Michael Brown in the arm and the second bullet himself him completely...

The Times then gets very confused about what those forensic findings mean. The article says it “contradicts” some witness accounts, but then fails to point out any contradictions, because the New York Times and its reporters do not seem to understand what an actual contradiction is in eyewitness testimony.
How competent are today’s high-profile corporate media stars? With our gatekeepers dead and gone, just how competent are our potential watchdogs?

Lawrence O’Donnell is very well-paid. He likes to say that he went to Harvard. He has been a major media figure for more than fifteen years.

But alas! Less than three minutes into his watchdog report, O’Donnell was flatly wrong:

In the passage quoted above, he mocked the Times for getting “very confused” about those forensic findings. More specifically, he said the Times “failed to point out any contradictions” in its report.

He said that the Times doesn’t seem to know what an actual contradiction looks like!

Gack! The Times report does specify at least one “direct contradiction” between Officer Wilson’s reported account and an eyewitness account. That contradiction is specified in the passage below. Did Lawrence read this report?
SCHMIDT: Few witnesses had perfect vantage points for the fight in the car, which occurred just after noon on Aug. 9. Mr. Brown was walking down the middle of the street with a friend, Dorian Johnson, when Officer Wilson stopped his S.U.V., a Chevy Tahoe, to order them to the sidewalk.

Within seconds, the encounter turned into a physical struggle, as the officer and Mr. Brown became entangled through the open driver's-side window.


Mr. Johnson's description of the scuffle is detailed and specific, and directly contradicts what Officer Wilson has told the authorities.

Mr. Johnson has said that Officer Wilson was the aggressor, backing up his vehicle and opening the door, which hit Mr. Johnson and Mr. Brown and then bounced back.

''He just reached his arm out the window and grabbed my friend around his neck, and he was trying to choke my friend,'' Mr. Johnson told reporters after the shooting. ''He was trying to get away, and the officer then reached out and grabbed his arm to pull him inside the car.''

Officer Wilson then drew his weapon, Mr. Johnson said, and threatened to shoot.

''In the same moment, the first shot went off,'' he said. ''We looked at him. He was shot. There was blood coming from him. And we took off running.''

Never, Mr. Johnson said, did Mr. Brown reach for the officer's weapon.
We don’t know what happened at the car, but that sounds like a fairly direct “contradiction” to us! But as he continued last night, O’Donnell acted as if the Times was only claiming contradictions concerning the number of shots which Officer Wilson fired.

On and on the watchdog went, explaining that witnesses are often wrong about the number of gunshots which get fired. He acted as if he hadn’t read the actual Times report.

O’Donnell has been a high-ranking media figure for fifteen years. Did we mention the fact that he went to Harvard?

Despite serial proclamations of greatness, Lawrence bungled quickly last night. In our world, the gatekeepers are gone—and the watchdogs are often incompetent or heavily biased.

Having said that, let us also say this: There was plenty to clarify about that Times report.

The Times report focused heavily on the struggle at the car. After the initial disclaimer shown above, it largely abandoned the central question which remains in this case—the question of why Wilson fired a large number of gunshots, killing Brown, after the struggle at the car was over.

There was a great deal to clarify in that report. But when he tried, our liberal watchdog was almost instantly wrong.

Cronkite and Brinkley are gone, long gone. For better or worse, no one can play the gatekeeper role at this time.

Our gatekeepers are gone, and even worse, our watchdogs just aren’t very sharp! That’s certainly true of the New York Times, a point we’ll examine tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Horrible front-page reporting

The Way We Are: We’re in Week 3 of our current award-winning series, The Way We Are. The series examines the way our discourse actually works, as opposed to the way we might hear it described by major media figures.

To us, The Way We Are seems grim. For all previous posts, click here.


  1. Officer Wilson thought he could hit the kid with his car, and there would be no repercussions for his actions.
    Shitty cop.

    1. The kid was walking in the street. He thought there would be no repercussions for his actions.
      Shitty kid.

    2. The kid was walking in the street while black. He thought there would be no repercussions for his actions.

      Fixed for accuracy.

    3. Walking in the street is both stupid (because dangerous) and illegal. Are you saying he didn't know that because he was black? Sounds racist to me.

    4. oops. Left off the judgement on the kid.

      The kid was walking in the street while black. He thought there would be no repercussions for his actions.
      Naive kid.

      Fixed for accuracy.

    5. The kid was walking in the street to inconvenience others and assert his own consequence. We know this because he refused to move to the sidewalk when asked to do so. That is not naivety.

      Please check your accuracy.

    6. Have you seen the state of sidewalks in this country since Reagan came along to tell us collecting taxes to invest in our communities is theft?

    7. Doesn't explain why he chose to challenge the authority of the officer like that. Since supposedly all black boys get "the talk" what was he about? Not just being a kid, black ir otherwise.

    8. "We know this because he refused to move to the sidewalk when asked to do so."
      In "post-racial" America, (hitting) assaulting a black kid with car door = asking.
      Don't argue with me, Anonymous at 12:22 PM, I'm agreeing with you.

    9. Don't you read Somerby? Just because black boys get "the talk" means it sinks in. What do you think the "gap" series was all about. If you liberals quit worrying about "segregation" and get to talking about "education" this type of event would be less egregious.

    10. @12:39 Darian Johnson says the officer first asked them to clear the street. He said they told the officer they didn't have much farther to go and did not move to the sidewalk. That is when the officer pulled his car around in front of them and opened the car door (into them according to Johnson). So, the refusal came first, then the driving the car in front of them (from its original position beside them). This is not from Wilson's testimony but from Johnson's.

      I'm gratified that you are agreeing with me, but we should still have the facts stated correctly.

  2. You blame Somerby for the quality of his trolls?

  3. OMB (Picking between Harvard Larry and Harvard BOB)

    "The Times then gets very confused about what those forensic findings mean. The article says it “contradicts” some witness accounts, but then fails to point out any contradictions" Harvard Larry

    "We don’t know what happened at the car, but that sounds like a fairly direct “contradiction” to us!" Harvard BOB

    "This is the first public account of Officer Wilson’s testimony to investigators..... It contradicts some witness accounts.
    The officials briefed on the case said the forensic evidence gathered in the car lent credence to Officer Wilson’s version of events." NY Times

    Is BOB justified in dropping the "Gack" bomb in this episode of "The WayWeAreArgue Gatekeeper"? We just don't know.

    Harvard Larry seems to go one step beyond the Times. The Times says what causes the contradicition is the testimony of Officer Wilson.
    Harvard BOB says Wilson's leaked version contradicts the witness Dorian Johnson whom the Times, paraphrasing, is said to have told investigators "Never, Mr. Johnson said, did Mr. Brown reach for the officer's weapon."

    Clearly H. BOB is right. Wilson's supposed claim Brown reached for his gun contradicts Johnson supposed claim Brown did not. And the Times said the contradiction came from Wilson's version.

    Clearly H. Larry is right. Using H. BOB journalistic practice, he relies on the reference of the Times to the forensic evidence giving credence to Wilson's version. The forensic evidence does not contradict any version of anyone's testimony. H. Larry is using the BOB weasel words
    "suggest, imply, and seems" in their silent form. (We, of course, are using the BOBfan technique of telling you what Larry meant to say in his silence but did not.)

    But forget the war between the Harvard Boys. Why did BOB side with the NY Times when they clearly said "contradicts some witness accounts" and the only example the Times and BOB cite is one detail of one witness account. Can we talk? Clearly the singular versus plural
    should be discusssed by BOB in the many posts on this topic which should follow. We know for a fact the Times has erred mightily in crime coverage before, dating all the way back to the Genovese case.

    And what gatekeeper has ever stopped Harvard BOB from making the same leap from actual statement to implied statement, as Harvard Larry clearly did here. The Times did not say the forensic evidence
    contradicted witness accounts. They merely said it gave credence to Wilson's version, which "contradicts witness accounts." Even though H. Larry seems right that it does not, they seemingly did not clearly say the forensic evidence itself was the source of contradiciton.

    Crime coverage. "It's a fuzzy business" concluded Morstan.

  4. I credit Somerby for the quality of his supporters.

  5. "Wilson’s account of the struggle at the car does not explain why he fired at Brown multiple times after he left his car."

    No explanation necessary. When he tried to take the cop's gun he opened season on himself. There's only one reason a crook tries to take a cop's gun and that is to kill him with it. From that point on, as explained here previously, Wilson had a right and a duty under Supreme court rulings in Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor to kill the murderous thug.

    1. Or at least to subdue him until he and his mates could sodomize him with a broomstick for being an arrogant little prick.

    2. Not funny iedsmar. There is no evidence or reasonable basis to accuse this particular officer of being that kind of cop.

    3. "There is no evidence or reasonable basis to accuse this particular officer of being that kind of cop."
      There is evidence he shot the kid when the kid was no longer a physical threat to him or others.
      There is a reasonable basis to believe he's exactly that kind of cop.

    4. The kid was wounded. Everyone knows wounded animals are dangerous. Officer Wilson was trying to protect the public from a wounded animal.

      Or how about this: he was so moved by the plight of Brown's suffering from the gunshot wounds, that he decided to finish him off, like they do horses in Westerns (the coup de grace was even a shot to the head, as far as I can tell). It was a mercy killing.

      Either way, Officer Wilson was clearly the good guy here, while Brown was either an animal or a thug. No, he was an animal AND a thug. Let's make sure we're taking advantage of our anonymous status on the internet and getting all our favorite words for Scary Black People out there, since even anonymously, we can't use THE word, the one we really think. It's cathartic, pisses other people off, and cheap.

    5. Nice post, DipsoFacto. We know that Brown had assaulted a convenience store clerk and presumably he assaulted Officer Wilson. Are these two assaults sufficient? Was Wilson justified in believing that Brown running loose posed a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others?

      In my mind, they might provide sufficient justification for 1 or two shots. But, I don't see how 6 shots can be justified.

  6. It's still possible the reason the cop backed up was not the jaywalking but the robbery. I.e. it could be that after he had passed the two young men he heard on his radio that a guy resembling one of the jaywalkers had just robbed a convenience store.

    1. It's still possible the cop thought he was stopping another 911. I mean, if we're going to bend over backwards to justify the cop killing the kid, let's go all the way.

  7. I blame Somerby for the quality of his trolls and supporters, who alas, are often the same people. "David in CA," some of the anonymous people who post racist shit -- Bob, through his own willful perversity, attracts people like that like bookstores with coffee shops in them attract marginal personalities who just hang around aimlessly while thinking they are doing something constructive. If Bob had a positive purpose here, he would likely attract a different class of commenter. But he don't.

  8. The commenters at Kevin Drum's site aren't any better. I don't think the sins of the commenters should be visited on the blogger.

  9. Drum's another guy who has earned bad commenters. Bad bloggers get bad commenters.

    Does Drum still get angry whenever the left (to Drum, "the left" means influential bloggers, for reasons I'll soon point out) actually displays some fire over an issue? Back in the day, it was the only thing that got a rise out of him, usually eliciting an "it makes me want to scream," or "can we all just slow down here????. Increased poverty, lost elections, an inept Democratic Party, a stupid, disastrous war, none of these things drew anything out of him but a chart, and a half-hearted "tsk-tsk." But other bloggers getting fired up about something, well, that might mean he'd have to pretend to get fired up as well, or people might get the idea that he doesn't actually give a shit, beyond making sure his easy paycheck keeps coming in so he can lounge around in sweatpants.

    TL/DR version: Drum has a positive purpose?

  10. Why must truth be sacrificed when these other bloggers get"fired up"? Digby has become unreadable.