THE EMPATHY FILES: Perfect forgiveness, plus human resilience!


Part 2—Kristof’s account feels good:
In his latest New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof told a morally-uplifting story.

In one way, it’s a perfect story of perfect forgiveness. It’s also a story of human resilience. For part 1 in this series, click here.

Kristof’s story, which is familiar, tugged at the heartstrings. Judging from reactions in comments, it made many liberal heartstrings soar.

The story, which seems to be largely accurate, basically went like this:

Back in 1990, a young woman named Debbie Baigrie was attacked in the streets of Tampa by several teenagers one night.

One attacker, Ian Manuel, was only 13 years old. Despite his tender years, he had already been arrested sixteen times.

As part of a gang initiation, Manuel shot Baigrie in the face. The injuries required “10 years of repeated, excruciating surgeries” to Baigrie’s face and mouth, according to Kristof’s account.

Manuel was soon arrested again; he admitted shooting Baigrie. Despite his age, he was sentenced to life in prison without hope of parole.

Here’s where the story gets heartwarming. When Manuel was 14 or 15, he placed a collect phone call to Baigrie from prison. Baigrie accepted the call. A correspondence ensued.

From there, Kristof tells a perfect story of perfect selfless forgiveness. Based on comments, many readers were deeply moved by this perfectly shaped moral tale:
KRISTOF (12/14/14): Thus began a correspondence that has lasted through the decades. who would write to a person that’s tried to take their life,” [Manuel] wrote in one letter. “You are about one in a million who would write to a person that’s tried to take their life,” [Manuel] wrote in one letter.

Over time, Baigrie became friendly with Manuel’s brother and mother.
Baigrie began to feel sympathetic because, as she says: “When you’re 13, you do stupid stuff.”

“I wish I was free,” he wrote in another. “To protect you from that evil world out there.”

Baigrie was also troubled by the racial dimensions of the case. “If he was a cute white boy at 13, with little dimples and blue eyes, there’s no way this would have happened,” she says.

Her husband and friends thought Baigrie was perhaps suffering from some bizarre form of Stockholm syndrome. “People were saying, ‘you’re an idiot,’ ” Baigrie recalls.

Yet she persevered and advocated for his early release. When the Supreme Court threw out life-without-parole sentences for juveniles who had not committed murder, she testified at his resentencing and urged mercy. It didn’t work: Manuel was sentenced to 65 years. He is now scheduled to be released in 2031.
“Thus began a correspondence that has lasted through the decades.” Or at least, so Kristof said.

This is a perfect story of perfect saintly forgiveness. Baigrie, who is one in a million, rejects the skeptical reactions of her husband and her friends.

She becomes friendly with Manuel’s mother and brother. This being a column by the new-and-improved, racially-conscious Kristof, she’s inevitably troubled by what she takes to be the racial discrimination involved in Manuel’s original sentence.

Baigrie becomes the advocate for her assailant’s early release. Even today, twenty-four years later, she is working on Manuel’s behalf.

This story is built on an unusual base—the sentencing of someone who is just 13 to life with without hope of parole in an adult prison. As Kristof continues, the story becomes even more disturbing, then becomes a story of human resilience:
KRISTOF (continuing directly): Manuel, now 37, did not adjust well to prison, and his prison disciplinary record covers four pages of single-spaced entries. He was placed in solitary confinement at age 15 and remained there almost continually until he was 33. For a time, he cut himself to relieve the numbness. He repeatedly attempted suicide.

Returned to the general prison population, Manuel did better. He earned his G.E.D. with exceptional marks, including many perfect scores. He drafts poems and wrote an autobiographical essay, which Baigrie posted on her Facebook page. His mother, father and brother are now all dead; the only “family” he has left is Baigrie, who sometimes regards him as a wayward foster son.
The story becomes more horrible here. Manuel isn’t just sentenced to life without hope of parole. He then endures roughly 18 years of solitary confinement. Based on other journalistic accounts, Kristof underplays the psychological horrors of this type of confinement.

In obvious ways, this is a terrible story—but this is where the perfect story of human resilience starts. Kristof pleases us with his story of Manuel’s personal improvement, which is captured by Manuel’s “perfect scores” and those “exceptional marks.”

Can we talk? Everyone has seen this movie a hundred times. Unfortunately, it’s a Hollywood movie. In many ways, it’s brainless and simple-minded.

We don’t mean that people who are 13 years old should be sent to adult prisons. We don’t mean that they should be sentenced to life without hope of parole.

We don’t mean that someone who is 15 should spend the next 18 years of his life in solitary confinement. We agree with Baigrie’s statement about the stupidity of 13-year-olds.

(Depending on where the 13-year-old lives, the stupidity to which he finds himself drawn may even involve use of guns.)

We don’t mean that Baigrie was wrong to advocate for her assailant. We aren’t judging Baigrie here. We’re judging Kristof’s journalism, which we think is very poor.

What was “wrong” with Kristof’s journalism on this heartwarming occasion? So many things that we won’t be able to examine them today.

For today, we’ll only say this. In our view, Kristof’s column was simple-minded in many ways, some of which we haven’t even mentioned.

This column was also perfectly built to divide the nation’s tribes—to drive a wedge between groups of people who bring different instinctive reactions to stories of this type. In our view, it’s easy to fashion a column like this—and it tends to make it harder for the nation’s warring tribes to come together to fashion improvements in the society’s practices.

What makes this column so thoroughly simple-minded? Tomorrow, we’ll look at the way Kristof takes us back to the 1970s—back to a set of simplistic, simple-minded bromides which helped create a conservative era the last time they were bruited about by lazy thinkers from within our own liberal tribe.

Kristof is a former Rhodes Scholar from Harvard. In our view, it’s very hard to discern these facts from his lazy, unhelpful work.

Tomorrow: “It’s our fault more than his,” Kristof unhelpfully said


  1. "In our view, it’s easy to fashion a column like this—and it tends to make it harder for the nation’s warring tribes to come together to fashion improvements in the society’s practices."

    Here's a challenge to the blogger. When you come back tomorrow, show one example of a difficult column fashioned to make it easier
    "for the nation’s warring tribes to come together to fashion improvements in the society’s practices."

    Just one column, Mr. Somerby. I know it isn't fashionable to ask anything of you in the comment box. But see if you can fashion together one example. Tired tribal warriors cry out for an example of peace and progress.

    1. "I know it isn't fashionable to ask anything of you in the comment box"

      Not fashionable? You mean because it happens so constantly, that it's become passe?

    2. Possibly the tiredest combox cliche of all times.

      "Stop writing about bad old Kristof and write about..."

      Yes, I see what you mean 11:46, that's very unfashionable old troll attire there indeed! But you wear it like it was new!

    3. A true Bob fan would have pointed to some examples of the columns requested by 11:46.

      These are the kind of intelligent TDH readers who often explain "what Somerby really means."

      Instead we have a couple of jokers throwing out the T bomb like tired tribal cheeleaders waving their pom poms at their keyboards while Mom shouts "your lunch is ready" in the direction of the basement.

    4. Ah, the troll gavotte -- whine about the fact the blogger has written about a topic the blogger has selected, get slammed for being clueless, and then whine some more about "Bobfans" who "explain what Bob really means."

      TDH isn't subtle. He pounds home what he really means, some would say obsessively. If you find that people have to explain his blog entries to you, you might want to work on that reading for comprehension.

      But we've got a new troll sign: if you point to a troll, you must live in your parents' basement.

      Well played!

    5. So deadrat, you point out a column someone has written which "makes it easier for the nation’s warring tribes to come together to fashion improvements in the society’s practices."

      My guess is you, like Somerby cannot. If you can I will send you a teenie tiny beanie to wear in your itty bitty basement that reads "World's Biggest Bobfan."

      I'll even get it at Disney so your ears fit.

    6. deady is almost as repetitive as the bald spot with a keyboard.

    7. TDH wants to whine about columns that are defective in some way. When he finally gets around to telling me what's wrong with Kristoff's column, I'll decide whether the blogger has a point. Which is more than I can say I'll be able to do with your comment. What's your point, that TDH should point out helpful columns, that he should write one himself if they don't exist, that he should stop criticizing bad columns because nobody every writes good columns? What?

      But troll points for "Bobfan in the basement."

      The beanie insult needs work. Absolutely, hilarious setup -- my nym is deadrat, so I must have rat ears. But a "beanie" from Disney would have mouse ears, not rat ears, and they would be on the outside, so presumably wouldn't help with the fit. But keep trying.

    8. You want your money back, GWB?

    9. deadrat could not do it. Somerby hasn't done it.

      But @ 7:20 did.

      Wait, you say. Isn't this just another of those "perfect stories?" You know, the ones which
      "make it harder for the nation’s warring tribes to come together to fashion improvements in the society’s practices?"

      Why does a story about a young, white, Christian Republican coming together with a young black gang banger make it harder for warring tribes to come together?

    10. You're right. I couldn't do it. To be fair, I didn't really try.

      But what is it you think @7:20 has done? As far as I can tell @7:20's story is pretty much like Kristoff's. As soon as TDH explains what he thinks is divisive about these kind of stories, I might get a clue as to what point he's trying to make. I'm not sure I'll be able to say the same about your point.

  2. I like the Times comment from RPE (to which I've added one word)

    How can we change the culture that creates children like Manuel? It's a very tough question. What I can tell you is that blaming it on racism, poverty and bad cops does nothing to address the real problem and will only help perpetuate it.

    1. Yes. Racism, poverty, and bad cops are not positive additions to our culture, but lazy, violent black people who don't respect the law would be with us even without them.

    2. "How can we change the culture that creates children like Manuel? It's a very tough question."

      Are we really so sure its just "culture" -- that genes play no role?

      I realize that even entertaining that possibility invites accusations of thoughtcrime, but at a certain point society should be willing to face the truth about the causes of racial differences in behavior, regardless of whether the answer may be one we don't want to hear.

      In that vein, Nicholas Wade's recent book "A Troublesome Inheritance" I fear is only the tip of the spear.

    3. The point is, there's more to gain by focusing on what actually helps, rather than looking for reasons to blame, to find fault, and to claim victim status.

      How do we get inner city children to focus, not on gangs, but on normal mainstream values, such as school, jobs, healthy relationships, etc.? Two organizations who were good at doing this are the Police Athletic League and, particularly, the Boy Scouts. If one wants to help create a culture that doesn't produce children like Manuel, it would be sensible to encourage these organizations. Instead, many liberals demonize the police and the Boy Scouts.

    4. Many liberals demonize the police and Boy Scouts.
      They do not make many liberal heartstrings soar.

    5. Damn the media for giving liberals the chance to demonize police!

    6. DinC,
      Where are your diatribes against GW Bush about ignoring 9/11, or were you just using the tragedy of 9/11 to score political points for your team?
      I find that almost never happens all the time with with conservatives.


    7. Berto -- are you referring to some comment I made on this thread? Or, are you going back to some prior thread? Can you expand your comment a little? Thanks.

    8. Here you go, Benny the Racist:

      A South Carolina judge on Wednesday took the unusual step of vacating the 1944 conviction of a black 14-year-old boy, the youngest person executed in the United States in the past century, saying he did not receive a fair trial in the murders of two white girls.

      George Stinney Jr. was convicted by an all-white jury after a one-day trial and a 10-minute jury deliberation during a time when racial segregation prevailed in much of the United States.

      Stinney died in the electric chair less than three months after the killings of Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 7.

      In her ruling, Judge Carmen Tevis Mullen said she was not overturning the case on its merits, which scant records made nearly impossible to relitigate, but on the failure of the court to grant Stinney a fair trial.

      She said few or no defense witnesses testified and that it was "highly likely" that Stinney's confession to white police officers was coerced.

      View gallery
      Aime Ruffner gets support from friends and family after testifying at the hearing to reopen the case …
      "From time to time we are called to look back to examine our still-recent history and correct injustice where possible," she wrote. "I can think of no greater injustice than a violation of one's constitutional rights, which has been proven to me in this case by a preponderance of the evidence standard."

      The girls disappeared on March 23, 1944, after leaving home in the small mill town of Alcolu on their bicycles to look for wildflowers. They were found the next morning in a ditch, their skulls crushed.

      Stinney was taken into custody that day and confessed within hours, according to Mullen's ruling.

      Last year, members of Stinney's family petitioned for a new trial. His sister, Amie Ruffner, 77, testified in a January hearing that he could not have killed the girls because he had been with her on that day.

      Citing the lack of a transcript from the original trial, no surviving physical evidence and only a handful of official documents, Mullen ruled instead to overturn the conviction outright.

      Ruffner and two other surviving siblings of Stinney, who were run out of town shortly after his arrest, were pleased with the outcome, said Stinney family attorney Matthew Burgess.

      "This is something that's been weighing on them for seven decades now," he said. "They are happy to hear that their brother has been exonerated."

      Prosecutors, who had opposed a new trial, were not immediately available for comment.

    9. Sure thing, DinC. I was referring to Friday's post, where you thought invoking 9/11 would make us all wet our pants like you do (or making believe you do to score political points for your team).
      Like lots of conservatives who try to play the 9/11 card, you (conveniently) forget that the President of the United States on the day of the tragedy that you claim affected you so much, thought so little of this terrible ordeal that he stonewalled and obstructed the investigation into how it happened---and then named Condi Rice his Secretary of State after she lied to the 9/11 commission.
      I'm asking to see links to your diatribes about how terrible this was, since you think we should wet our pants because "terrorism".
      As you may have figured out by now, I'm calling bullshit on your crocodile tears.


  3. "Kristof’s story, which is familiar....."

    I have never read a story like this at all.


      papers crap out this banal trope all the time.

    2. Well, now I have read this kind of story for the second time.

      Thanks for linking me to what you call "banal trope."
      I will ask why you characterize it as such.

      Perhaps it is because, in the case to which you linked, the victim, a white Christian Republican, in seeking to help a black gang banger involved in a violent crime at the age of 13.

      Do you believe such actions make it harder for the nation’s warring tribes to come together to fashion improvements in the society’s practices? Or do you think it is the press crapping out such banal trope which makes it harder?

    3. Well, how many more times do you want to read this kind of story dummy? I can provide with with 10 or 20 more if you want. Or you could research it on your own. Where is your intellect? Are you 12 years old? It's always a black perp! What planet are you from? Blacks and Mexicans are the only ones in this country who get locked up. Were you born yesterday? What is the matter with your brain?

  4. Can we talk? I haven't seen this movie once.

    It’s a Hollywood movie. It’s brainless and simple-minded. They all look alike.

    1. That said, did you mention that this heartwarming but terrible, true but comparable to untrue, perfect story is, alas, "simple-minded in many ways, some of which we haven’t even thoroughly simple-minded.... simplistic, simple-minded bromides."?

      You didn't???

      Gack! Tomorrow we must look for a third time at this lazy, unhelpful work.

    2. Why do so many people here think repetition is bad. In advertising it takes 7 exposures to an ad before someone is convinced to buy a product. In education, repetition is essential to learning. It is the foundation of memory.

    3. Nicholas Kristof told a morally-uplifting story...a perfect story of perfect forgiveness. It’s also a story of human resilience. Kristof’s story...tugged at the heartstrings.... it made many liberal heartstrings soar.

      The story, which seems to be largely accurate, basically went like this:

      the story gets heartwarming. ...From there, Kristof tells a perfect story of perfect selfless forgiveness.... this perfectly shaped moral tale:

      This is a perfect story .... the story becomes even more disturbing, then becomes a story of human resilience:

      The story becomes more horrible here....In obvious ways, this is a terrible story—but... the perfect story...

      Can we talk? Everyone has... In many ways, it’s brainless and simple-minded.

      We don’t mean... We don’t mean... We don’t mean ... We agree ...We don’t ....We aren’t. We’re judging....we think is very poor.

      What was “wrong” ....this heartwarming many things that we won’t be able to examine them today.

      For today, we’ll only say this. In our view.... simple-minded in many ways,.... even mentioned.

      perfectly built —stories of this type. In our view, it’s easy to fashion a column like this—... fashion thoroughly simple-minded?... a set of simplistic, simple-minded bromides... lazy thinkers from within our own liberal tribe.....In our view,....lazy, unhelpful

    4. I could provide with dozens of links to this story told over and over and over in newspapers and on the radio. It's true they all look alike. You haven't read it?? What the hell? I'm not saying Bob isn't Satan and doesn't deserve to produce just one column and KZ is right to defend the hardworking, committed and honest media but c'mon! That story is a perennial! Pull your head out.

    5. That story is older than dirt man.

    6. You are right @ 11:30. The New Testament is as well.

  5. In which Bob manages to say nothing about Kristof's column except that he'll say something about Kristof's column tomorrow.

    1. Are you talking about Bob's post on Monday or Bob's post on Wednesday?

    2. Was it the post about Kristof and Himmler or the one in which NBA referees blew the "R" whistle?

    3. @5:01P, Ask for your money back.

    4. Deadrat: URsooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

      effin FUNNY ........not

    5. Let's see if you can imagine how crushed I am that you think I'm not entertaining enough.

    6. deadrat is better than Bob. As repetive, but shorter and more brief mostly.

  6. Kristoff has a point of view, and a desire to move the discussion on an issue in a certain direction. Apparently, though, any attempt to actually do that makes him responsible for pushing the "two tribes" apart. We have often been struck, as we go about our daily lives seeing white people glued to Breitbart and Drudge, listening to Rush and Sean, repeating talking points drilled into them by Fox, how desperate they are to see the "two tribes" closer together, but vicious miscreants like Kristoff just keep pushing them apart.

    This reminds us of the universal concern trolling the "mainstream media" subjected the left to at the turn of the century. "The left" had to give in to the right on every issue, or IT (not the right) was responsible for any discord. We think Bob is essentially incoherent here, as was highlighted by the person above who made an excellent post with outtakes from Bob's own post. Bob has it seems, lost at least some of his invincible sense of righteousness, and the result is rudderless incoherence. We hope Bob finds a new purpose for his blog. But before he does that, he's going to have to face the fact that Nick Kristoff, like Rachel Maddow, and Keith Olbermann and Ed schultz before, isn't responsible for the "two tribes" and their oh-so-lamentable war against each other. He's going to have to grow up and face the world as it is. That might mean actually reading some of the overwhelming volumes of shit produced by the right, much of which, unlike Kristoff's work, doesn't even approach factual accuracy. If Bob actually cared about the oh-so-painful state of the "two tribes," he wouldn't focus al his attention on one of them -- the side that is, by the way, by far the lesser offender.

    1. the result is rudderless incoherence

      How does it feel to be immune to irony? I always wanted to know.

    2. Does it feel the same as being redundantly repetitive, like TDH? Or rodently small minded, like some commenters we get to read for free?

    3. redundantly repetitive

      I see what you did there. And "rodently small minded." My nym is deadrat, and rats have small minds. Funny stuff.

      I asked first, but I'll answer. The repetition feels familiar. And somewhat boring, but it's a service I provide. And for free, although some people act as though they deserve more than what they paid for it.

      It's possible that I'm small-minded, but there's no evidence of that in my pointing out that a blogger gets to write about what interests him.

      Your turn.

  7. Barack and Michelle are offended someone thought they were a waiter or Target worker. What's wrong with being a waiter or a target worker? Ah, "progressives" and their equality and empathy!

    "I tell this story – I mean, even as the first lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn't see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her. Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn't anything new," Michelle Obama, who is 5'11", said.
    She also said that her husband, Barack Obama, was asked to get coffee when he was wearing a tux. "He was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee," she told People.

    1. When I am in Amsterdam tourists ask me for directions. Should I be offended?

    2. Where do you get the idea that either was offended or thought there was something wrong with wait staff?

    3. Anonymous @11:33P,

      Yes, you should. Tell the tourists "Krijg de tyfus."

    4. deadrat, thee were described as racial indignities experienced by black people.

      Every professional woman has been asked to get the coffee. No one seems to care much about that. Apparently only black people get to be offended by people's category errors.

    5. As a professional man I feel slighted that nobody thinks I can fetch things.

      Things were not much better when I was an amateur man either.

    6. First of all, Michelle Obama related the two anecdotes, one about herself and one about her husband, and she said nothing about her husband's reaction. That Barack Obama was offended about being taken for a waiter is something you simply made up. Maybe he was, or maybe he was just amused. In the Target story, it seems that the woman knew who MIchelle Obama was. The trip was "publicized," and she wasn't "disguised." But the woman wanted help with something out of her reach. She didn't see a first lady; she saw someone who was 5'11" tall. Michelle Obama basically says, "stuff happens," and again, you've decided that she was offended.

      Your comment actually tells me more about you than these anecdotes tell us about the Obamas, but let's pretend otherwise and assume that Barack Obama was offended by being mistaken for a waiter. Do you suppose that the offense might have less to do with waiters than it has to do with the fact that his skin color trumps his identity, no matter what fame and status he's achieved?

      You've imputed offense to black people who have expressed none, and from there leapt to the conclusion that they feel that only black are allowed to take offense. How did you do that?

      I once heard Carl Rowan, the African-American journalist relate the story that he was mowing his lawn in an upscale Washington neighborhood, when a man pulled his car to the curb, rolled down his window, and asked Rowan, "How much do you get for mowing a lawn this size?" Rowan said, "Oh, they don't pay me, but the lady of the house lets me sleep with her."

      Maybe Rowan was angry and looked down on people who mow lawns. He didn't say.

    7. Cut it out Deadrat. You know if Michele had been mistaken for a rocket scientist she wouldn't have bothered telling People magazine. She is offended over being mistaken for someone of lowly status. Typical libocryt. Deal with it.

    8. Again, the story of Michele Obama's offense is the story of your own offense at Michele Obama, not hers about being mistaken for someone else. You might want to deal with your own projected prejudices before lecturing me on what I need to deal with.

      Just a suggestion.

  8. This story of a white woman trying to salvage the life of a young black man lured into crime as a child sure does cause conservative commenters's sphincters to tighten and their fingers to explode in rage at the keyboards.

    Why does Bob write easy multiple part posts on these rare events when he knows it only divides us further?

    1. Not everyone who is aware that you're an idiot is a conservative.

  9. Why is Bob's CAPTCHA system so f'c@^d U)>?

    1. I can get the house numbers, but the previous distorted text was very difficult for me to read. The new checkbox+text is easier. Is it just me?

  10. While everyone breathlessly awaits Part 3 in the Kristof scandal, might we muse on a blog which has devoted more posts to the New York Times Luxury Conference than media coverage of the Senate Torture report?