KRISTOF VILLAGE: Gene Robinson traffics in facts!


Part 2—We didn’t know that was allowed:
Increasingly, our journalism is characterized by overreaction.

Also, by single vision—by the refusal to see an event from more than one point of view.

In this morning’s Washington Post, sports columnist Sally Jenkins provides a strong example. Then too, there’s the new slop at Salon.

Jenkins writes about an overreaction—the overreaction of a St. Louis police association to a gesture by five members of the St. Louis Rams.

Whatever you think of the players’ gesture, the police association overreacted in its official statement. The association asked the NFL to “discipline” the players for their gesture, which occurred at the start of Sunday’s game.

In its official statement, the association listed reasons for its reaction to the incident; those reasons are well worth reviewing. That said, the association misstated the nature of the evidence which emerged from the grand jury proceedings. Almost surely, they could have made a better case on their own behalf if they had reacted with more sorrow and a bit less anger.

Playing the role of the modern “journalist,” Jenkins proceeded to overreact to this overreaction. She found “veiled threats” from the police under every bed; that term is used in the Post’s synopsis of the column.

She ended her column as shown below. This strikes us as an example of classic single vision:
JENKINS (12/2/14): Five members of the St. Louis Rams made an edgy gesture on Sunday, and you may not agree with them. But they merely joined a long tradition of athletes using their celebrity for symbolic public protest, and the NFL was right to reject the call to punish them. Punish them for what, after all? For showing an alertness and sensitivity to current events in their community, and holding an opinion on them?
Alas! The police association didn’t say that the players should be disciplined “for showing an alertness and sensitivity to current events in their community, and holding an opinion on them.”

Jenkins skipped the nature of their complaint, which appeared in their official statement. As she did, she engaged in an act of single vision, in which all the merits and concerns involved in some case fall on the scribe’s favored side.

Single vision is everywhere in the current media landscape. Facts are selected and discarded to serve the pundit’s preferred point of view.

It’s painful to read and watch such work. And yes, this type of work is being done by pundits of the pseudo-left and the pseudo-right, despite the latest effort by Salon’s Elias Isquith to insist that this sort of thing is only done by Them.

This brings us to today’s good news. We recommend much of Gene Robinson’s work in his own column in the Washington Post.

Incredibly, Robinson attempts to traffic in information and facts. In this early part of this column, he discusses the large number of police killings in this country, as compared to the number of killings in other developed nations:
ROBINSON (12/2/14): According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, in 2013 there were 461 “justifiable homicides” by police—defined as “the killing of a felon by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.” In all but three of these reported killings, officers used firearms.

The true number of fatal police shootings is surely much higher, however, because many law enforcement agencies do not report to the FBI database. Attempts by journalists to compile more complete data by collating local news reports have resulted in estimates as high as 1,000 police killings a year. There is no way to know how many victims, like [Michael] Brown, were unarmed.

By contrast, there were no fatal police shootings in Great Britain last year. Not one. In Germany, there have been eight police killings over the past two years. In Canada—a country with its own frontier ethos and no great aversion to firearms—police shootings average about a dozen a year.

Liberals and conservatives alike should be outraged at the frequency with which police in this country use deadly force.
There is no greater power that we entrust to the state than the license to take life. To put it mildly, misuse of this power is at odds with any notion of limited government.
We wouldn’t use the term “outraged” ourselves. In part for the reason cited below, we’d use the term “deeply concerned:”
ROBINSON (continuing directly): I realize that the great majority of police officers never fire their weapons in the line of duty. Most cops perform capably and honorably in a stressful, dangerous job; 27 were killed in 2013, according to the FBI. Easy availability of guns means that U.S. police officers—unlike their counterparts in Britain, Japan or other countries where there is appropriate gun control—must keep in mind the possibility that almost any suspect might be packing heat.
The kinds of statistics Robinson cites always seem impossible, shocking. But as he notes, they reflect the “easy availability of guns” within our wider society, and the danger produced by that and other aspects of our national culture.

Police officers didn’t create those dangers, but they have to confront them. We’re always amazed by the certainty with which our headstrong pseudo-liberal youngsters, who have never served in such dangerous work, instruct and lecture American cops about the proper way they should be performing their duty.

How did you handle the danger of your job when you were a policeman? Because we’ve never been a policeman, we ourselves are somewhat slow to lecture those who are.

As far as we know, Robinson has never been a policeman either. He has served as a journalist, including in the 1990s, when he advanced the view of Establishment Washington by sliming Candidate Gore.

Perhaps because he has never served, we would say that Robinson is a bit too quick to blame police, in sweeping ways, for engaging in misconduct. Still and all, he’s presenting information today. This includes the following highlighted fact, which we found a bit surprising:
ROBINSON (continuing directly): But any way you look at it, something is wrong. Perhaps the training given officers is inadequate. Perhaps the procedures they follow are wrong. Perhaps an “us vs. them” mentality estranges some police departments from the communities they are sworn to protect.

Whatever the reason, it is hard to escape the conclusion that police in this country are much too quick to shoot. We’ve seen the heartbreaking results most recently in the fatal shooting of 28-year-old Akai Gurley, an unarmed man who was suspected of no crime, in the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project, and the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was waving a toy gun around a park in Cleveland.

Which brings me to the issue of race. USA Today analyzed the FBI’s “justifiable homicide” statistics over several years and found that, of roughly 400 reported police killings annually, an average of 96 involved a white police officer killing a black person.
It’s amazing how stingy we humans can be with the little word “some.” How badly would it have hurt to insert that word in the passage above—to say it’s “hard to escape the conclusion that [some] police in this country are [sometimes] too quick to shoot?”

For want of the simple word “some,” Robinson may seem to attack a whole profession in that passage. Sometimes, as occurred St. Louis, police organizations respond by overreacting to such representations.

We mentioned that highlighted statistic. The available numbers are imprecise, for reasons Robinson describes. But after consuming the highly tribalized work of the past few weeks, we were surprised to be told that fewer than 25 percent of police killings in recent years have involved white officers killing black people.

(Our preference would be that no police officer ever killed anyone.)

Fewer than 25 percent? Given the way facts are currently being sifted, that seemed like a surprisingly low percentage to us. (For our preference, see above.)

But then, everyone’s vision can be skewed when fiery pundits take turn overreacting to everyone else’s overreactions and overstatements, often in service to some tribal or corporate imperative. (Salon is more pleasing when all the facts tilt in one pleasing direction.)

Tomorrow, let’s return to Nicholas Kristof and the case of those NBA refs. Kristof continues to lecture the world.

Will his lectures be helpful?

Tomorrow: A missing statistic


  1. Bob doesn't get around to tell you those "reasons" for the police association reaction to the player's brief "protest," but instead he says those reasons are well worth reviewing.

    Here is the statement in its entirety:

    St. Louis, Missouri (November 30, 2014) – The St. Louis Police Officers Association is profoundly disappointed with the members of the St. Louis Rams football team who chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury this week and engage in a display that police officers around the nation found tasteless, offensive and inflammatory.

    Five members of the Rams entered the field today exhibiting the "hands-up-don't-shoot" pose that has been adopted by protestors who accused Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson of murdering Michael Brown. The gesture has become synonymous with assertions that Michael Brown was innocent of any wrongdoing and attempting to surrender peacefully when Wilson, according to some now-discredited witnesses, gunned him down in cold blood.

    SLPOA Business Manager Jeff Roorda said, "now that the evidence is in and Officer Wilson's account has been verified by physical and ballistic evidence as well as eye-witness testimony, which led the grand jury to conclude that no probable cause existed that Wilson engaged in any wrongdoing, it is unthinkable that hometown athletes would so publicly perpetuate a narrative that has been disproven over-and-over again."

    Roorda was incensed that the Rams and the NFL would tolerate such behavior and called it remarkably hypocritical. "All week long, the Rams and the NFL were on the phone with the St. Louis Police Department asking for assurances that the players and the fans would be kept safe from the violent protesters who had rioted, looted, and burned buildings in Ferguson. Our officers have been working 12 hour shifts for over a week, they had days off including Thanksgiving cancelled so that they could defend this community from those on the streets that perpetuate this myth that Michael Brown was executed by a brother police officer and then, as the players and their fans sit safely in their dome under the watchful protection of hundreds of St. Louis's finest, they take to the turf to call a now-exonerated officer a murderer, that is way out-of-bounds, to put it in football parlance," Roorda said.

    The SLPOA is calling for the players involved to be disciplined and for the Rams and the NFL to deliver a very public apology. Roorda said he planned to speak to the NFL and the Rams to voice his organization's displeasure tomorrow. He also plans to reach out to other police organizations in St. Louis and around the country to enlist their input on what the appropriate response from law enforcement should be.

    Roorda warned, "I know that there are those that will say that these players are simply exercising their First Amendment rights. Well I've got news for people who think that way, cops have first amendment rights too, and we plan to exercise ours. I'd remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertiser's products. It's cops and the good people of St. Louis and other NFL towns that do. Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play. If it's not the NFL and the Rams, then it'll be cops and their supporters."

    1. "musings on the mainstream "press corps" and the american discourse"

      NOT musings on the beliefs and attitudes of professional athletes and police association reactions to them.

      Anyone here could have looked these up, as you obviously had no trouble doing, if they were interested in reading them yet again. When you repost stuff like this here, you create an opportunity for hijacking the thread by shifting attention away from how Robinson and Salon and others have covered this event, onto the police association and the athletes and whether Wilson should have been indicted. We have discussed that already.

    2. "In its official statement, the association listed reasons for its reaction to the incident; those reasons are well worth reviewing."

      Somerby's own words. Then he goes after Sally Jenkins for "over-reacting."

      I'd say Jenkins' reaction -- "Punish them for what, after all? For showing an alertness and sensitivity to current events in their community, and holding an opinion on them?" -- was pretty spot-on when you actually read what she is reacting to.

      But of course, Somerby doesn't want you to. And here once again another one of his sycophants who doesn't want to either.

      How curious.

    3. The St Louis POA is profoundly disappointed with some members of the St Louis Rams. Probably not as profoundly disappointed as Michael Brown was in the last moments of his life and probably not as profoundly disappointed as Michael Brown's family. But, hey! Just because we're cops doesn't mean we don't have feelings.

      Five members of the Rams entered the field today exhibiting the "hands-up-don't-shoot" pose that has been adopted by protestors who are outraged that Darren Wilson turned a traffic infraction into a lethal shooting, killing an unarmed man who had stopped after initially fleeing the scene of a fistfight with Darren Wilson. We're going to pretend that the players' pose means that they think Brown was a total innocent and that Wilson murdered him. That way that we can present ourselves as the victim of a tasteless, offensive, and inflammatory display. Perhaps it's more tasteless to pretend that Brown's theft of cigars means that he deserved to be shot. And perhaps it's more offensive to claim that violent protests negate any concern for Brown's death. And perhaps it's more inflammatory for our militarized force to confront the populace. But that's as may be.

      Our Business Manager Jeff Roorda says, "Now that the mountains of evidence are in, evidence that would never have been presented to an ordinary grand jury, evidence that includes a minority of the witnesses claiming that Brown charged Wilson but not the evidence that we failed to preserve at the scene of the shooting, it's time to swallow whole the grand jury's conclusion that no probable cause existed to indict Wilson. So what if the prosecutors misled the grand jury into thinking it was legal for a cop to shoot dead a fleeing suspect?"

      We think it's outrageous that the Rams and the NFL asked for assurances that the St Louis Police Department would protect the fans and the players. Who are they to question our ability to calm crowds and control protests? Our officers have been working 12-hour shifts and had their Thanksgiving holiday cancelled. Sure, Michael Brown has had all his Thanksgivings cancelled. And so has that other guy we shot and killed a couple of weeks ago. But our members were looking forward to turkey, stuffing, and that sweet potato casserole with the melted marshmallows on top. Seriously, that stuff is really good.

      We realize that these players are simply exercising their First Amendment rights. Unfortunately, we can't do anything to stop people from exercising their rights, but we're going to try to pressure the NFL to punish them for doing so. That's the American way, isn't it? We also plan to reach out to other police organizations to enlist their input on the appropriate response. We realize that the police should really protect people's rights, but "appropriate response" sounds kinda threatening. And threatening is what we do best.

      Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play and any other football reference that we can use to trivialize this situation. Except maybe unnecessary roughness. That wouldn't be good.

    4. I feel insulted every time I see black people with their hands raised because they are saying they think all whites they encounter will shoot them for no reason. That is racist, false, and ugly to suggest. This has gone too far. A protest people might have sympathized with is now driving people apart.

      The grand jury did its job. Finis.

    5. I believe Bob playing the "hands up" card in this post caused a commenter ( @ 9:27) to write he is insulted and thinks all legitimate black protest is an indictment of all white people.

      In this manner Bob has performed heinously..

    6. No, deadrat did that.

    7. deadrats actionsresulted from a spell cast by KZ. Fortunately he was not wearing a hoodie and it was not reported as suspiciuous activity by a possibly armed rodent.

    8. @9:27P, You feel insulted by black people raising their hands? You think that a protest you never had the slightest sympathy for is what's driving people apart? Well, let's get that news to Ferguson. I'm sure none of the protesters would want to hurt your feelings, especially considering how swimmingly post-racial things were in Ferguson before Michael Brown had the bad judgment to run into some bullets. My guess is the protesters don't think all white people want to shoot them. Maybe just some of them with badges and guns. But I'm sure they'll drop the whole thing to preserve your feelings.

    9. @10:27, Did what? Something heinous?

    10. Aw, c'mon @10:47P, I thought @10:37P was guffaw out loud funny.

    11. The most disturbing thing about the POA's statement is that they apparently believe that escalating jaywalking into a dead kid in a matter of seconds was good police work.

      Point on that. In his interview with Stephanopolus, Wilson described going into some sort of state of "tunnel vision" where all he saw was Brown before he unloaded 12 rounds from his service revolver.

      To me, this means he had no regard who else might have been in his line of fire.

      And that, folks, is TERRIBLE police work.

    12. @10:40A, I think your "no regard for others" is too harsh. I've read about research that backs up Wilson's "tunnel vision" comment. Adrenaline blocks peripheral vision and causes you to focus on the threat while it pumps blood under increased pressure to the big muscles in the body so you can stand and fight or run. Finer motor skills are impaired. It takes constant training and practice to handle fire arms properly under these conditions.

  2. My former tennis crony, the late Joseph McNamara, had been a police chief, was a successful novelist and a pundit with a national reputation. McNamara wrote his final column, as he was dying from cancer, Never an excuse for shooting unarmed suspects, former police chief says

    Kansas City’s black community wanted to know, Why had this boy died for a nonviolent crime? My police department responded quickly: He should not have been fired upon.

    I reminded the media that I had announced in my first news conference as chief that I didn’t believe officers should use their firearms unless there was imminent danger to human life. I planned to rewrite the firearms policy, I had declared, so that officers were officially ordered not to fire except under those circumstances.

    Riot police clear a street with smoke bombs while clashing with demonstrators in Ferguson, MissouriAs soon as possible, we announced the official new policy. It prohibited police officers from firing at unarmed suspects. We cut back on all police use of military gear. We invited local community leaders to help shape police responses.

    In the wake of the new policy, police shootings fell dramatically, and crime declined as local leadership joined with police in speaking out against crime.

    I take Joe's word for it. With proper policies, police should be able to do their job without shooting unarmed people.

    1. They should make it a law then. Police are prohibited from firing their weapon whenever a group of criminals attempts to physically disarm them with overpowering force if it is suspected that one of them may be unarmed. In other words, give Mike Brown the gun and hope his buddy Dorian turns out to be a great guy interested in helping cops. Surely this will result in an improvement in the talent and diversity of incoming police recruits.

    2. You got so much straw, 220, you might consider opening up your own feed lot.

      Dinky, I checked you out with Joe and he said he never heard of you, much less cronied with you. Then again, he's not a shill ConTroll either.

  3. "in 2013 there were 461 “justifiable homicides” by police—defined as 'the killing of a felon by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.' "

    How many non-felons did the police kill?

    1. "In the past 50 years, the rate of black Americans killed by police has dropped 70 percent. In 2012, 123 African- Americans were shot dead by police. There are currently more than 43 million blacks living in the U.S.A. Same year, 326 whites were killed by police bullets."

  4. "But after consuming the highly tribalized work of the past few weeks, we were surprised to be told that fewer than 25 percent of police killings in recent years have involved white officers killing black people."

    Speaking of tribalized wor, read Robinson's column again before spinning it out of all meaning to fit your narrative.

    Robinson is writing about approximately 400 “justifiable homicides” by police—defined as 'the killing of a felon by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.' "

    Of that number, only 25 percent or so involved black felons.

    And as Robinson clearly writes in a passage that Somerby did not highlight:

    "The true number of fatal police shootings is surely much higher, however, because many law enforcement agencies do not report to the FBI database. Attempts by journalists to compile more complete data by collating local news reports have resulted in estimates as high as 1,000 police killings a year. There is no way to know how many victims, like [Michael] Brown, were unarmed."

    1. You clearly think you would be a better blogger than Somerby. Go start your own blog and see how many people want to read it.

    2. You clearly don't think much and have even less to say. But at least you are consistent and persistent.

    3. I like Somerby and I like this blog. I don't like your comments. It is that simple.

    4. Yes, you do. And you are. And it reflects on those
      who share the former but do not wish to be viewed as the latter.

    5. See your comment @ 10:47 for reinforcement.

  5. I would be interested to see which, if any, of the five Rams players involved in the Hands Up display are stopped by police in the St. Louis area in the next year.

  6. Here's a case from a couple of years ago that's quite parallel to the Brown shooting, but with the races reversed.

    I cannot understand why the Brown shooting became more of an issue than the hundreds of others shot to death by policemen. I suspect that in some other cases the victim was more innocent and the shooter had less justification. Yet, this one case got the attention of everyone in the country from the President on down.

    1. I cannot understand why the Brown shooting became more of an issue than the hundreds of others shot to death by policemen.

      Yes, we know.

    2. If you know, why don't you enlighten us?

    3. You obviously don't know. The rest of us know what
      deadrat is talking about.

      Speaking for the rest of us, deadrat, carry on.

    4. Obama learned from Rahm Emanuel who said, "You never let a serious crisis go to waste." Even if that crisis is based on a totally erroneous "Hands Up" narrative, it is just too good to pass up.

  7. "Hands Up" Ram Kenny Britt has a long association with law enforcement. Britt has accumulated eighth arrests since he became the first Rutgers player ever selected in the first round of the NFL draft in 2009.

    "I'll be the first to admit I got caught in some difficult circumstances, and made some bad decisions in my past," Britt told the Nashville Tennessean in May. "But all that changed me as a person, and I learned from it and got stronger from it."

    Participating in a false "Hands Up" Michael Brown narrative while wearing a Rams uniform indicates Kenny still prefers to antagonize law enforcement.

    1. It wasn't Britt's black skin that antagonized the St. Louis cops, it was his "hands up" gesture, which is like a public FU to the cops.

      Here is an oddity. The commenters keep suggesting that Wilson should have run from the encounter by using the gas pedal to leave the scene, or avoiding the interaction by letting the two walk down the middle of the street. Doesn't that make them not only cowardly but also derelict in performing their job? Are cops supposed to avoid antagonizing black youth with attitude?

      Why cannot protesters understand that all citizens should be avoiding confrontations and not antagonizing each other as they live side by side? That's why the crimes of Brown are important to white people -- because they suggest Brown didn't care about not antagonizing others. These football players are sending that same message.

      If black people do not want to live in harmony with others, they will experience conflict and it will be unpleasant for them because they do not have sufficient power to win such a battle. That is what the riot-gear of the police means.

      This is a no-win situation for black people who will not respect others, or see disrespect as a way of asserting their own needs. It just doesn't work. That's why the current protests are not accomplishing anything except antagonizing many white people. That's why Brown is a poor symbol of the need for change.

    2. Charles Barkley's take on the situation.

    3. Well, here's the thing, @1:26P, in this country a public fuck you to the police is Constitutionally protected. If you're interested, you may look it up. I suggest you start at the beginning of the list of amendments. if you get to the second one, you've gone too far.

      Who's suggesting that Wilson should have run from the scene or not stopped black kids walking in the middle of the street? People are suggesting that perhaps a traffic infraction could have been handled in such a way that gunfire wasn't necessary. While it's true that you can't legally hit a cop who you think is hassling you, it's also true that cops can't kill fleeing suspects because they're fleeing. So once Brown ran, no one should have been killed. Follow in your car, call for backup, whatever.

      Do me a favor, will you? If you don't want to listen to what some of your fellow citizens are telling you, at least stop pretending to speak for "white people," and stop lecturing black people on living in harmony with others and on what symbols and gestures they need to adopt to avoid antagonizing white people.

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