What in the world did he mean?: For ourselves, we've long suggested taking the songwriters' advice:
"Try a little tenderness," the songwriters said, long ago. In 1966, Otis Redding made the song a modern-day classic. But the song was first recorded in 1932!
When Michael Brown charged Officer Wilson, we suggested that Officer Wilson should have thrown his gun far away and just run for his life. (We were told that you can't police that way, and that's probably true.)
In more recent events, we don't know why you'd arrest someone on suspicion of passing a bad twenty-dollar bill (as opposed to issuing a summons). That said, we're assuming that would have been a by-the-books arrest, though we've seen no one discuss the topic.
Friday night, in Atlanta, we would have favored having Office Brosnan—the first officer on the scene, the one who didn't fire his gun—drive the late Rayshard Brooks home after impounding his car and issuing a summons. Again, though, we'll assume that was a by-the-books (attempted) arrest in what the Washington Post describes today, atop page A1, as "a DUI stop."
(Saturday evening, on CNN, we saw two lawyers aggressively suggest, again and again, that no sobriety test had been given. Today, the New York Times seems to report that one officer conducted a seven-minute sobriety test, followed by a separate breath test. Under current rules of the discourse, lawyers are allowed to get mad and make inaccurate statements, making people even more angry.)
Drifting a bit afield, we don't know why so many people want to get Michael Flynn locked up, given the current state of the reporting. Then again, we suppose we do know why so many people seem to want that so much.
If prosecutors were all like us, we'll guess that no one would ever end up in prison! Yesterday morning, on CNN, we saw James Clyburn say that we should "reimagine policing." We'd like to see that reimagining occur, with the related goal of "making things better for everyone."
For everyone! Even the others!
With these softhearted desires explained, we return to our primary topic—the nature of our public discourse. In our view, the state of the discourse is very bad, and new rules for our conversations are likely to make matters worse.
We'll be taking a look this week at Wesley Lowery's reported suggestion—the suggestion reported by Ben Smith in last Monday's New York Times:
SMITH (6/8/20): Mr. Lowery’s view that news organizations’ “core value needs to be the truth, not the perception of objectivity,” as he told me, has been winning in a series of battles, many around how to cover race. Heated Twitter criticism helped to retire euphemisms like “racially charged.” The big outlets have gradually, awkwardly, given ground, using “racist” and “lie” more freely, especially when describing Mr. Trump’s behavior. The Times vowed to remake its Opinion section after Senator Tom Cotton’s Op-Ed article calling for the use of troops in American cities infuriated the newsroom last week.Should that be the core value of news organizations? Should a news org's core value be "the truth, not the perception of objectivity?"
On its face, we aren't real sure what that formulation means. But especially at times as fraught as these, we humans tend to create new roads to incoherence.
Facts get sifted. Logic flies. The repetition of approved claims is general—and those approved claims don't necessarily have to be coherent or subject to parsing.
The latest events, those in Atlanta, take us to a very dangerous place. Barring the miraculous, nothing will save the public discourse, but also the nation, from what's going to come.
Out of all the turmoil which has already come, out of the turmoil sure to follow, we're still most struck by something we saw Jelani Cobb say last week.
Last Wednesday night, Cobb was speaking with guest host Stephanie Ruhle on MSNBC's The Beat. When Smith wrote the essay in which he quoted Lowery, he described Cobb, now 45, as the "elder statesman" of "a critical mass of black journalists...steeped in the history of race and the history of police violence in this country."
That's how Smith described Cobb. For her part, Ruhle has come to strikes us as being sharper, and more direct, than the average cable news bear.
Those were the players; they were discussing the killing of George Floyd and similar events. For our money, Cobb made the most striking statement of the week as the conversation proceeded. This is what he said:
COBB (6/10/20): One of the things that happens here is that African-Americans are disproportionately likely to have contact with the legal system on multiple fronts. And the greater amount of contact lends itself to greater possibilities of incidents like this happening.As students of the public discourse, we thought that was the most interesting thing we saw someone say all last week.
And so what we see here is disproportionate. And–but there's–
One other point that I have been making a lot, I have been making all the time, is that one of the reasons that this problem has been allowed to persist is that people have the perception that this is a black and brown problem.
But if you were to discard all of the incidents involving black and brown people, what you would find is, there are a heck of a lot of white people, unarmed white people, who are killed by police each year.
We have a fundamental problem with policing in this country, whose most extreme violent forms are witnessed in how we see black and brown people treated by law enforcement.
Actually, it was one of the two most interesting statements. As students of the public discourse, we'd say that Lowery's statement, as quoted by Smith, was the other such remark.
Back to Cobb:
"There are a heck of a lot of white people, unarmed white people, who are killed by police each year?"
We wouldn't necessarily agree with that statement, though it's a matter of judgment. But even as Lowery's quoted precept may point the way to increased incoherence, Cobb's highly unusual statement(s) do something very different.
In his highly unusual statements, Cobb points toward some basic facts—basic facts with which many people may not be familiar. At times like these, many such facts may tend to disappear—except perhaps on the other channel, the one the others watch.
To the extent that it's really a nation, our nation is almost surely headed for very difficult times. It seems to us that we're badly in need of a fuller, more intelligent discourse.
In the midst of this turmoil, Cobb made several unusual statements. What in the world was he talking about? What in the world did he mean?
Tomorrow: Imagining a survey