At the Times, Nellie Bowles gets it right: If you read only one news report today, we'll suggest that you read the front-page report by the New York Times' Nellie Bowles.
Bowles reports on the recent peaceful protests, mainly those in Seattle. Her report also touches on the nature of the peaceful protests in Portland and Minneapolis.
To her credit, and to the credit of the Times, her report starts to suggest the possibility that these protests, which were in fact largely peaceful, may not have been as thoroughly peaceful as we've maybe been led to believe.
Have we received an accurate picture of the extent of the peacefulness? In the past few weeks, we've started asking that question. This morning, with a Seattle dateline, Bowles' report starts like this:
BOWLES (8/8/20): Faizel Khan was being told by the news media and his own mayor that the protests in his hometown were peaceful, with “a block party atmosphere.”Is that anything like the picture you received from your favorite news orgs?
But that was not what he saw through the windows of his Seattle coffee shop. He saw encampments overtaking the sidewalks. He saw roving bands of masked protesters smashing windows and looting.
Young white men wielding guns would harangue customers as well as Mr. Khan, a gay man of Middle Eastern descent who moved here from Texas so he could more comfortably be out. To get into his coffee shop, he sometimes had to seek the permission of self-appointed armed guards to cross a border they had erected.
“They barricaded us all in here,” Mr. Khan said. “And they were sitting in lawn chairs with guns.”
We're going to guess that it possibly isn't. Therein a problem may lie.
We aren't suggesting that the peaceful protests weren't, on the whole, mainly peaceful. We aren't even asking whether they should have been peaceful.
We're asking a different question. We're asking if CNN and MSNBC gave you an accurate picture of what was occurring in those locales.
While we're at it, we'll ask the same question about news reporting in the Washington Post. And in Bowles' own New York Times.
In today's report, Bowles offers a startling portrait of violent conduct inside and around the largely peaceful protests. At one point, she describes some of what allegedly happened in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, the part of Seattle which was abandoned by police at one point:
BOWLES: Matthew Ploszaj, a Capitol Hill resident, is one of the complainants. He said his apartment building, blocks from Mr. Khan’s shop, was broken into four times during the occupation. The Seattle Police were called each time and never came to his apartment, according to Mr. Ploszaj...Remember—we aren't asking if the alleged conduct would be necessary, justifiable or even possibly good. We should also restate the fact that this alleged conduct occurred with the part of Seattle which the police had abandoned.
The employees of Bergman’s Lock and Key say they were followed by demonstrators with baseball bats. Cure Cocktail, a local bar and charcuterie, said its workers were asked by protesters to pledge loyalty to the movement: “Are you for the CHOP or are you for the police?” they were asked, according to the lawsuit.
The business owners also found that trying to get help from the Seattle Police, who declined to comment for this article, made them targets of activists.
Across from Cafe Argento is a funky old auto repair shop called Car Tender run by John McDermott, a big soft-spoken man. On June 14, Mr. McDermott was driving his wife home from their anniversary dinner when he received a call from a neighbor who saw someone trying to break into his shop.
Mr. McDermott and his 27-year-old son, Mason, raced over. A man who was inside the shop, Mr. McDermott said, had emptied the cash drawer and was in the midst of setting the building on fire. Mr. McDermott said he and his son wrestled the man down and planned to hold him until the police arrived. But officers never showed up. A group of several hundred protesters did, according to Mr. McDermott, breaking down the chain-link fence around his shop and claiming that Mr. McDermott had kidnapped the man.
“They started coming across the fence—you see all these beautiful kids, a mob but kids—and they have guns and are pointing them at you and telling you they’re going to kill you,” Mr. McDermott said. “Telling me I’m the K.K.K. I’m not the K.K.K.”
Later, Mr. McDermott’s photo and shop address appeared on a website called Cop Blaster, whose stated aim is to track police brutality but also has galleries of what it calls “Snitches” and “Cop Callers.” The McDermotts were categorized as both of those things on the website, which warned they should “keep their mouths shut.”
That said, the kind of conduct being described is well worth describing and pondering. We're asking if you think you've been given a reasonably accurate picture of this sort of behavior over the past several months.
What actually happened in Seattle, Portland and Minneapolis? At one point, Bowles speaks with an armed man named Rick Hearns, who now patrols that Seattle neighborhood as "a Black Lives Matter community guard."
What did Hearns think he saw during the peaceful protests? Hearns, and others, say this:
BOWLES: [Hearns] blamed the destruction and looting on “opportunists,” but also said that much of the damage on Capitol Hill came from a distinct contingent of violent, armed white activists. “It’s antifa,” he said. “They don’t want to see the progress we’ve made. They want chaos.”Hearns and others are saying it was antifa who engaged in that non-peaceful conduct. As McDermott put it, you would see "all these beautiful kids, a mob but kids—and they have guns and are pointing them at you and telling you they’re going to kill you.”
Many of the business owners on Capitol Hill agreed: Much of the violence they saw and the intimidation of their patrons came from a group these business owners identified as antifa, which they distinguished from the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The idea of taking up the Black movement and turning it into a white occupation, it’s white privilege in its finest definition,” Mr. Khan said. “And that’s what they did.”
We can't vouch for the accuracy of these accounts. We'll note again that much of Bowles' report in centered in Seattle, though she also cites "interviews with shop owners in cities like Portland and Minneapolis."
How accurate are these reports? We can't tell you that, but we can tell you this:
As we've noted in recent weeks, we've seen harbingers of this report on Tucker Carlson's routinely crazy Fox News Channel program.
Warning! Carlson stages gruesome personal meltdowns on a nightly basis. He tosses off insults with lots of name-calling, along with crazily sweeping ascriptions of motive.
Carlson routinely behaves in these ways. Most of the time, it seems like he actually means it.
That said, we've also seen reporting on Carlson's program from people who don't seem to be crazy. Often augmented with video footage, some of this reporting has led us to wonder if the news was perhaps being sanitized in other regions of the modern upper-end "press."
This morning, Bowles' front-page report describes various types of conduct we've seen described in recent weeks on Carlson's program. On several occasions, these reports have come from local people who didn't seem to be crazy, insane, disordered, deranged or even basically nuts.
We'll now mention someone else who is echoed in today's report. We refer to William Barr, who was ridiculed in our own tribal regions for suggesting that antifa was somehow playing a role in destructive, non-peaceful protest conduct.
This morning, Bowles describes a range of players in Seattle making a related claim. That includes Hearns, the armed security guard who is, or then again possibly isn't, connected to BLM.
Where does the truth lie here? We can't tell you that. All along, our view has been this:
It's hard to see a good way out of this ongoing mess.
That said, we'll link you to two other reports you might want to ponder. We'll start with Roger Cohen's op-ed column in today's New York Times.
Cohen compares our own disintegrating society to Lebanon's fully failed state. Hezbollah flags are widely seen there. Along the way, he also describes a recent ride through the American South:
COHEN (8/8/20): In June, after months confined in New York, I drove south toward Dixieland. I was reminded of American vastness. I crisscrossed rural Georgia and saw a different flag, the Confederate flag, here and there; and I drove on a stretch of highway named for Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America; and I saw Confederate monuments that spoke of states’ rights, but never of slavery, and claimed the lost cause was somehow not lost; and I listened to Americans whose language and values suggested a culture war so intense as to shred any shared national lexicon."Lebanese fracture is not American fracture," Cohen instantly says. But as he drove across the South, he saw, if only "here and there," the flag of a different polity.
That also may be true, here and there, across the Pacific Northwest. In this case, the flag would be that of antifa as our less than perfect union dissolves into a Balkanized array of furious small warring tribes.
For the record, that has long been the dream of a certain group on the fringe which we associate with Ron Paul. The dream is of a continental nation separating up into three thousand tiny small localized states.
We regard that as a crackpot dream, but now we may have one of our own. In our own tribe's crackpot dream, there will be no more police. Things will be peaceful all the way down, with social workers and adjunct professors at long last fully in charge.
Cooper and Cuomo and quite a few others may be helping us dream that dumb dream. As they kept insisting that the protests were peaceful, were they possibly hiding that antifa flag?
It seems to us that we've reached a point where the propaganda is general. As anthropologists keep telling us, it's easy to spot the propaganda when it comes from the other tribe. It's harder to spot the propaganda when it comes from corporate-paid multimillionaires who are constantly assuring us that they're totally on our side.
For our money, Cooper and Cuomo have become unwatchable; Carlson is or pretends to be nuts. To review the work of the man of the left Carlson interviewed last Tuesday night, we'll recommend the transcript of this interview from the National Review.
Michael Tracy recently drove across the country reviewing the scope of the damage from all the peaceful behavior. We can see no good way out of this mess, but we'd say that Tracy's findings are well worth considering.
We can see no good way out of this mess. It's propaganda all the way down, along with threats that, if people like the McDermotts talk, those peaceful kids with all their guns are going to burn their world down.
We aren't asking if you think that such conduct is necessary. We're asking you if you think that such conduct is being described in the upper-end, anti-Trump press.
We'd say that Bowles got it right today by challenging a simplified story. Sadly, the most significant part of her report may be this highlighted sentence:
BOWLES: Many are nervous about speaking out lest they lend ammunition to a conservative critique of the Black Lives Matter movement. In Portland, Elizabeth Snow McDougall, the owner of Stevens-Ness legal printers, emphasized her support for the cause before describing the damage done to her business.People don't want to tell the truth because of the tribal imperative. If they say that Barr might be right about something, idiots kids with their verbal guns will say that they're on Barr's side.
That's the way it always ends, despondent anthropologists kept saying. We ants split up into red and black ants and at some point there's no turning back.