Part 3—Reports from the children's hour: When the children start to stampede, they engage in certain familiar, time-honored behaviors.
They disappear unhelpful facts. They're strongly inclined to embellish all the others.
Presently, we will see how Lawrence may perhaps have engaged in a bit of embellishment at the start of Monday night's "cable news" show. First, though, a brief note on the number and nature of the sources the Washington Post cited.
We refer to the Washington Post's original report about Roy Moore—the report in which Leigh Corfman said that she'd been assaulted by Moore when she was just 14.
The children have taken turns saying how great the Post's research was. In one particular, they've stood in line to embellish, distort and misstate this statement by the Post's team of reporters:
"This account is based on interviews with more than 30 people who said they knew Moore between 1977 and 1982, when he served as an assistant district attorney for Etowah County in northern Alabama, where he grew up."
Let's reread what the Post's reporters actually said. The reporters said that they had interviewed "more than 30 people who said they knew Moore between 1977 and 1982."
In that statement, the reporters didn't characterize what those "more than 30 people" had told them. More specifically, they didn't say, or even imply, that the more than thirty people had all described misconduct by Moore.
If you actually read the Post report, it seems fairly clear that most of these "more than 30 people" didn't describe misconduct by Moore, depending on what you choose to count as misconduct. Example:
Did anyone connected to that girls' softball team describe misconduct by Moore? If they did, why didn't the Post report what those people said?
Not since Plato, in his famous Seventh Letter, described the rise of "The Thirty" in Athens has a group of (more than) thirty people been discussed in such detail. But because the children were on a stampede, they quickly began overstating the role of this "more than thirty" in the Post's report.
This began in jumbled incoherence on Thursday, November 9, soon after the Post report appeared on line. Wolf Blitzer threw to Nia-Malika Henderson, who is transcribed as shown below:
BLITZER (11/9/17): Because there's been like 30 people the Washington Post interviewed, including these women who are now adults, who were girls at the time. You've read the article.For our money, Henderson's normally very bright. But that incoherent, press-backing statement represents the early excitement which obtains when a stampede is starting.
HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, you look at the Washington Post story, right?, on Roy Moore—30 people they talk to, corroborating statements, at the time, from the young woman who was in that lead, phenomenal reporters, three reporters on that byline, one of whom is Alice Crites, who's been attached to almost all of the Pulitzer Prize-winning stories that the Post has done over the last ten or 15 years. So yes, I mean, I think there is this standard and a lot of this stuff. I mean, you have Republicans essentially saying "Oh, we don't know if you'll even be believed." I think the question is what is the standard of believability? And it feels like journalists—many of whom are women who are doing some of this reporting at the New York Times, at the Washington Post, there is I think a pretty good standard.
In a murky rush of words, Henderson linked the thirty people to corroboration. By Friday morning, Chris Cuomo was referring to "thirty surrounding sources in terms of corroboration for their reporting."
Eventually, in his excitement, he had to be dragged down from behind by his CNN cohost, Alysin Camerota. Incoherent snap judgment looks a great deal like this:
STELTER (11/10/17): These rumors have existed in Alabama political circles for years. The Washington Post stumbled upon it, didn't seek it out. And eventually was able to convince these reluctant sources to speak on the record.Camerota, who's very sharp, was recently stolen by CNN. Normally, Cuomo is quite sharp too. CNN's morning show is a hundred times smarter than Morning Joe, to which it loses in the ratings.
CUOMO: Thirty of them, by the way. Thirty sources were cited in their reporting.
STELTER: Right. Four women, and then corroboration of these women's accounts, and then other sources on top of that.
CUOMO: That's why the "if true" thing bothers me because—
STELTER: How much more do you need?
CUOMO: Right. An allegation is a suggestion without proof. That's what that word means in the law. Their word, their accusation is proof, right? I mean, that—it's being ignored.
CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, it's not proof, right? I mean—
CUOMO: Sure. If a woman comes forward and said this happened.
CAMEROTA: This is evidence.
CUOMO: Yes. Someone coming forward with testimony is evidence. You could have other evidence.
But on this occasion, Cuomo and Brian Stelter were joining a stampede. Weirdly, Cuomo said that if a woman says something happened, that's proof! It fell to poor Camerota to drag him down from behind.
Meanwhile, Cuomo and Stelter made it sound like the thirty sources had all "corroborated" the charge, or charges, against Moore—a suggestion which is thoroughly murky and, it would seem, untrue. The Post reporters had never said that, but the boys had begun to stampede.
"How much more do you need?" Stelter excitedly asked. Exactly what Rolling Stone said!
Cuomo is normally much, much sharper than this. Camerota brought him back to his senses concerning the concepts of "evidence" and "proof."
That said, the stampede had clearly begun. In CNN's 11 AM hour, Kate Bolduan, grumpy anchor of At This Hour, raced down the Cuomo road:
BOLDUAN (11/10/17): What more is there to learn? That's the question a lot are asking today. I'm hearing from Republicans as well, what more is there to learn? If it's four people on the record, the then-14-year-old says—is on the record talking about what amounts to sexual abuse, back then, and 30 people corroborated their stories? And these—and this then-14-year-old, not that it should matter, says she's voted Republican in the last three elections and voted Republican for Donald Trump. What more is there to learn?Did thirty people actually "corroborate their stories?" That isn't what the Post had said, and it almost surely isn't accurate. But so what? A stampede was on!
"What more is there to learn?" Bolduan excitedly said. Exactly what the professors said about the Duke lacrosse case!
In fairness, the children simply can't help themselves at such times as this. We think of Chekhov's description of Gurov, in the beautiful story Nabokov said was possibly greatest of all:
Long and indeed bitter experience had taught him that every new affair, which at first relieved the monotony of life so pleasantly and and appeared to be such a charming and light adventure...invariably developed into an extremely complicated problem and finally the whole situation became rather cumbersome. But at every new meeting with an attractive woman he forgot all about this experience, he wanted to enjoy life so badly and it all seemed so simple and amusing.Anthropologically speaking, the children seem to "want to enjoy life so badly," or so the experts now tell us. The only way they can accomplish this end is by rushing off in their tribal group stampedes, embellishing and disappearing facts as they go.
All through these early days of excitement, pundits cited the thirty sources as proof of the claims against Moore. If you actually read the Post report, it's clear that most of those thirty people didn't "corroborate" what Corfman had said, nor had the Post attempted to say how many of The Thirty corroborated the claim that Moore had dated young women when he was 32, if that was the crime we were now pursuing.
No matter; a stampede was on! Finally, on Meet the Press, Elise Jordan achieved apotheosis.
There was competition that day. On ABC's This Week, host Martha Raddatz was making this baldly inaccurate statement, in which, to add a bit of amusement, the thirty people had somehow become thirty women:
RADDATZ (11/12/17): Let me say again, there are four women who were named and 30 women who have corroborated it.She went ahead and said it again! By now, thirty women had "corroborated it," whatever "it" might be taken to be!
Raddatz was saying that, and quite a bit more, on ABC. She was joined by Matthew Dowd in a prescribed rush to judgment.
Raddatz was talking a whole lot of smack. On Meet the Press, Jordan may have topped her:
JORDAN (11/12/17): It was so uncomfortable for Senator Toomey to try to defend these charges of pedophilia against Roy Moore. And he was forced to say the allegations were 40 years old—Heroically, Jordan didn't report a number! But now, viewers were being told that there were "eyewitnesses" who were backing up the charge of molestation, a charge only Corfman had brought.
TODD: In fairness, molestation doesn't—it isn't pedophilia. Molestation is— We looked up this legal definition to be careful. But it's "molestation—"
TODD: —when it's teens. When it's preteen, it's "pedophilia." We're having to debate this—versus pedophilia.
JORDAN: But when you're having to debate molestation, when you're having to defend someone who is accused of it, and who there are corroborated [sic] eyewitnesses backing up the case? It's a tough position to be in.
The Post had cited exactly zero "eyewitnesses" to this alleged assault. Todd, who was being so careful with his definitions, let Jordan's thrilling misstatement slide. Maybe Camerota should host a Sunday morning program!
We're just giving you a tiny sample of the ways the children ran with the Post's statement about the "more than thirty people who said they knew Moore" during the years in question. Those people had quickly evolved into "corroborating" sources, even into "thirty women," on their way to becoming "eyewitnesses" to a criminal act. But this is the way the children react when a stampede begins.
(In this same way, the children embellished an endless series of statements by Candidate Gore on their way to electing Candidate Bush as punishment to that vile man, Bill Clinton. Along the way, they even slipped "invented" inside quotation marks—the one word Gore had never said in his one utterly pointless remark about the Internet! People are dead all over the world because of that prior stampede. The children can cause enormous harm when they stampede in this manner.)
In this case, we'll guess that the children have been stampeding after a guilty party, but they're on a stampede nonetheless. That said, it's always amusing to watch the children's hours. This brings us back to what Lawrence said at the start on Monday night's program.
Yesterday, when we left our story, two of Lawrence's guests had made peculiar remarks on Friday evening's program. Each set of remarks was weirdly inaccurate, a situation Lawrence made little attempt to address.
In October 2000, this same fellow went on the smelly old McLaughlin Group show and reissued an 11-month-old howler about what a big liar Candidate Gore was. That howler maintained the two-year stampede which led to vast death in Iraq.
Last Friday night, it was Lawrence's guests who were making the weird misstatements. Lawrence had been rewarded for prior misconduct by getting his own cable show.
This brings us up to Monday night, when Lawrence went back on the air, prepared to make a peculiar remark of his own. Earlier in the day, Beverly Young Nelson had alleged a brutal sexual attack on her person, an attack she said had been staged by Moore in 1977.
We think Nelson performed a great service that day. In response, Lawrence started with a statement which struck us as slightly peculiar:
O'DONNELL (11/13/17): And now, there are five—five accusers of Roy Moore. A fifth accuser of Roy Moore emerged this afternoon. And this time, the woman appeared before cameras and told her own story in her own words about what she says Roy Moore did to her when she was 16 years old.Was Nelson the fifth accuser of Moore, or was she the second accuser? Needless to say, it would all depend on what you thought Moore was being accused of.
For ourselves, we'd regard Nelson as the second accuser. She was the second person accusing Moore of committing a sexual assault, an extremely serious crime. The three other women Lawrence was counting had accused Moore of such heinous acts as buying them a glass of wine when they were 18 or 19 (the "accuser" in question wasn't sure), when 19 was the legal drinking age in the wilds of Etowah County.
Below, you see two "accusations." Should they be conjoined?
Accusation 1: Roy Moore committed a brutal sexual attack against my person.How similar are those accusations? To us, those accusations seem immensely different.
Accusation 2: Roy Moore bought me a glass of wine when I was maybe 19.
Indeed, what kind of person would conflate or conjoin these types of "accusation?" Can you see where our tolerance for press corps stampedes can take us, in our desire to enjoy life?
To us, those accusations seem extremely different. For ourselves, we'd be hard-pressed to describe Accusation 2 as an "accusation" at all.
But when the children stage a stampede, five is better than two. Five is a bigger number than two. It makes the story better, just as all those plays on the "more than thirty people who said they knew Roy Moore" did.
Our press corps has staged many stampedes since 1992. One of those stampedes sent George W. Bush to the White House. To this day, all the children agree that it simply can't be discussed.
Another one of the press corps' stampedes continues with the GOP's focus on the scary uranium deal. To this day, none of the children will discuss the disgraceful role of the New York Times in creating that mess. Another stampede has been extended this week as Michelle Goldberg writes an unintelligent column in which she heroically reaches a judgment which, truth to tell, she isn't positioned to reach.
This site began as press critique way back in 98. By now, this site has become anthropology. The conduct of the children in question is so comically strange that it leads a sensible person to realize that it involves the deepest questions about our very species.
The current stampede is a highly instructive stampede. In the next two days, we'll continue to ask these basic questions:
Are we looking at five accusers, or are we looking at two? If we're looking at five accusers, what exactly is the children's target being accused of?
This takes us to the two different tribes who have emerged from this stampede. On the one hand, we have the tribe which initially said "if true." They were opposed by the tribe of angry avengers who "can't tell the difference."
We'll also examine the crazy puritanical wave which tends to emerge, within our malfunctioning species, when matters like these are in play. For our money, William Saletan, who isn't crazy, went all in on this puritanism in a crazy piece which appeared at Slate just yesterday.
Are there five accusers, or are there two? Also, very importantly, how long should a journalist wait before reaching a judgment about a serious claim?
Spoiler alert! When the children stampede, they don't wait long. The Dimmesdales rush in behind them.
Tomorrow: The "if true" crowd is swiftly denounced in a time-honored "rush to judgment"