The Post reports on George Floyd: For better or worse, you'll never see it any more clearly.
You'll never see the architecture of modern journalistic "discussion" laid out in a more explicit fashion.
In part, we refer to the practice we began describing, in the last century, as "the novelization of news." More specifically, we refer to a practice which might have been drawn directly from Wonderland:
Storyline first! the prevailing rule says. Information later.
It may not be narrative all the way down, but plainly it's "Narrative First."
We refer to the lengthy front-page news report in this morning's Washington Post, a front-page report which includes a wealth of new detail about the dreadful killing of the late George Floyd.
Readers are handed the storyline first. Right there in paragraph 2, still on the paper's front page, readers are told what they should think about everything which will follow:
EXPERIENCED REPORTER (7/9/20): George Floyd repeatedly begged police officers not to shoot him and complained of being claustrophobic as they tried to place him in a squad car in the minutes before he was killed on a South Minneapolis street corner in May, according to transcripts of police body camera footage from the scene released Wednesday."The transcripts make clear that Floyd was trying to cooperate with police." Readers are handed this storyline at the start of this morning's report.
The transcripts make clear that Floyd was trying to cooperate with police but was deathly afraid of them, at times telling them that he had had covid-19 and was worried that he was going to die because he couldn’t breathe while in their custody...
Readers are told that this is what they should think about the information which will follow. You'll rarely see a purer instance of modern press storyline.
Before we continue, let's make two basic points:
First, what follows is not intended as a criticism of George Floyd. It's not intended as a commentary on any of his behavior.
To the extent that what follows is commentary on anyone, it's intended as commentary on the behavior of the Washington Post. For ourselves, if we believed there were angels in heaven, we'd believe that one of them would surely be George Floyd.
Our second point would be this:
What follows is principally meant as a contribution to the science of anthropology. It's intended as a report on one of the ways our highly tribal, war-inclined species is strongly inclined to behave.
The major experts with whom we consult say this behavior was bred in the bone. However we may regard that claim, you'll rarely see a clearer example of the inclination to novelize all information—of the inclination to adhere to preferred tribal storyline even in the face of countervailing facts.
That said, let's try to remember! What follows isn't meant, in any way, as a commentary on Floyd. It's offered as a report on human instinct, especially during heavily fraught, tribalized times such as these.
At deeply fraught times, or so we've been told, we humans were especially inclined to cling to tribal narrative. So it was, we'd have to say, at the start of the Post's news report.
The transcripts make clear that Floyd was trying to cooperate with police? That's what Post readers are instantly told today. Concerning that statement, please note:
The transcripts don't suggest that Floyd was trying to cooperate. The transcripts don't help us gauge the extent to which Floyd actually did cooperate.
According to the opening statement, the transcripts make it clear that he was trying to do so. We're told that this is what we should think, a bit later on, when we read such excerpts as this:
EXPERIENCED REPORTER: Officers had responded to a 911 call from Cup Foods complaining of a customer who had passed a counterfeit $20 bill. Kueng and Lane were the first officers on the scene, and the transcripts show that a store clerk pointed them to where Floyd and two others sat in a parked car nearby.In that passage, it almost sounds like former officer Lane asked Floyd to show his hands five times without Floyd doing so.
Transcripts show that Lane approached the car and called on Floyd at least five times to show his hands, drawing his gun when he didn’t. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Floyd responded, according to a transcript of Lane’s body camera. “I didn’t do nothing. . . . What did I do though? What did we do, Mr. Officer?”
Was cooperation already missing? A few paragraphs later, the reporter tells us this:
EXPERIENCED REPORTER: The transcripts show that Floyd continued to ask officers not to shoot him as he stepped from his vehicle, and suggest that he struggled with officers as they tried to handcuff him.As we've noted, this isn't meant as a criticism of Floyd, or of his behavior. Concerning the Post's journalistic behavior, does that passage help "make it clear" that Floyd was trying to cooperate with the two officers then on the scene?
Does that passage seem to comport with the Post reporter's instant front-page storyline? For ourselves, we'd say it does not. Ditto for what comes next:
EXPERIENCED REPORTER (continuing directly): “Stop resisting Floyd!” Shawanda Renee Hill, a witness inside the car, called out, according to the transcript of the footage from Lane’s camera.Nothing about these events is funny, but it's hard not to laugh at the reporter's description of Hill as "a witness inside the car," as if Floyd had been driving an Uber that day and Hill had just been picked up.
In fact, Hill seems to have been a friend or acquaintance of Floyd. At this point, the transcript suggests that she thought her friend was resisting arrest.
As the Post reporter continues, Hill's view is further fleshed out:
EXPERIENCED REPORTER (continuing directly): As Kueng walked Floyd across the street, Lane asked Hill about Floyd’s behavior. “Why’s he getting all squirrelly and not showing us his hands and just being all weird like that?” he asked, according to the transcript.It isn't clear what Hill is talking about by the end of that passage. But when Lane suggests that Floyd's behavior seems somewhat odd, Hill doesn't seem to disagree.
“I have no clue, because he’s been shot before,” Hill said.
Lane asked whether Floyd was “drunk” or “on something.”
“No, he got a thing going on, I’m telling you, about the police,” Hill replied. “He have problems all the time when they come, especially when that man put that gun like that.”
Later, we're told this:
EXPERIENCED REPORTER: According to the transcripts, the officers tried placing Floyd in the squad car, but he resisted, repeatedly telling them he was “claustrophobic” and had “anxiety.” He begged to be released from his handcuffs, promising he wouldn’t hurt anyone. “Y’all, I’m going to die in here,” he told them. “I just had COVID man, don’t want to go back to that.”First, Hill explicitly seemed to say that Floyd "resisted." Now, though, the reporter does! She says it in her own words!
By then, Chauvin and Thao had arrived as Kueng and Lane were struggling to get Floyd in the car...[A]t one point, an unknown officer sought to intervene, according to the transcripts. “Man, you’re going to die of a heart attack,” one of the officers told Floyd. “Just get in the car.”
Meanwhile, the two rookie officers were "struggling to get Floyd" into their police car. This is what the reporter says we can glean from the transcripts!
By now, former officer Derek Chauvin has arrived on the scene. When he does, the events of the day take a disastrous turn.
For the record, the Post reporter describes several instances in which Lane, the rookie cop, tries to get the experienced veteran to stop killing Floyd. In their own front-page report in this morning's New York Times, Oppel and Barker provide more detail about these several attempts.
So it went in this morning's Washington Post. If you watched Lawrence O'Donnell last night, you saw a remarkably selective reading of these tragic transcripts.
Needless to say, Hill's statement that Floyd was "resisting" wasn't mentioned by Lawrence at all. Lawrence included only one fleeting reference to Lane's suggestions to his superior officer that he should stop killing Floyd.
"So it tended to go among this highly tribal species," our highly credentialed advisers have said. They speak in the past tense at such times, as pitiful wailing emerges from the caves in which they now seem to live.
With respect to this morning'a report in the Post, these experts have told us this:
Rarely will you see the essence of journalistic "discussion" so clearly carved into stone:
Readers are told what they should believe right at the start of the lengthy report. Readers are handed the storyline first. A torrent of contradictory information comes later!
As some may struggle to recall, none of this is meant as a criticism of the late George Floyd.
(Experts say that humans generally longed to hear their tribal storylines, and tended to have a very hard time focusing on anything else.)
This isn't even meant, in the main, as a criticism of the Washington Post.
It's true that, in Sunday's editions, the Post published a lengthy report by an inexperienced rookie reporter. The rookie had been sent out to pretend that the paper cares about the lives and interests of black kids.
Mainly, though, it seems that she'd been told to stick to approved storyline. Or some editor may have stepped in.
Our sources tell us that this was done because the Post's more experienced reporters have been told to focus on offensive costumes worn by well-intentioned people at Halloween parties past. They've been asked to compile lists of well-intentioned people the Post may be able to get fired from their jobs for Thought Crimes of this type.
This left it to a rookie reporter, one year out of college, to report on a (prestigious) public school and on the lives and the interests of black kids.
That reporter graduated from Harvard last June (class of 2019). Before that, she prepped at Georgetown Day. Not that there's anything wrong with it because, of course, there isn't.
There is something wrong with letting an inexperienced non-specialist report on the interests of black kids. That said, our journalistic elites have always played it that way, and they always will.
There's little sign that the cub reporter knows much about the problems of public schools and low-income schooling. That said, she knew the prevailing storyline—and in this world, it's "Storyline First."
This isn't the kid reporter's fault. We shouldn't even "blame" her editors, our future experts insist.
These experts say that all these players should be listed among Styron's "beaten and butchered and betrayed and martyred children of the earth."
In Sophie's Choice, Sophie Zawistowski was one such person, but so were many others. That's the most humane way to view these events, these weeping top experts have said.
Tomorrow: "Discussions" of police shootings