TUESDAY, APRIL 20, 2021
Above all, never explain: There was quite a bit of complexity to the Chauvin trial.
The medical testimony was complex, principally concerning the cause of death. Beyond that, there's a complex bit of legal logic draped around this trial.
Where does legal complexity enter the scrum? To illustrate a basic point, consider a hypothetical:
Suppose a police officer arrests someone on a perfectly valid basis. As an act of mercy, he gives the person he has detained a peanut butter sandwich.
The detainee eats the sandwich. It turns out he's severely allergic to peanuts, and he dies as a result.
Is this officer guilty of a crime? Plainly, his behavior was one of the principal causes of the detainee's death.
No, it wasn't the only cause—but it was one of the causes! The detainee wouldn't have died that day except for the officer's sandwich.
Presumably, no one would think the police officer should be charged with a crime. But given the way Minnesota state law has been explained on CNN, it seems to us that the officer would have committed a crime!
What's the law in Minnesota according to which Chauvin has been charged with murder? On CNN, "hangin' pundit" Laura Coates kept insisting that Chauvin would be guilty of murder and/or manslaughter just so long as his conduct was one of the causes of the late George Floyd's death.
Chauvin's conduct didn't have to be the only cause. It didn't even have to the principal cause. Just so long as it was one of the causes, that meant Chauvin was guilty, Coates said and said, then said and said, then said a hundred times more.
Coates said it again and again and again. But that would mean that the cop with the peanut butter sandwich had committed a "homicide" too.
What does Minnesota law actually say? Yesterday, the prosecution offered its account of the relevant laws involved in the charges facing Chauvin. After that, defense attorney Eric Nelson seemed to be sketching out a quite different view of the matter.
Beyond that, Nelson seemed to be arguing that Derek Chauvin's actions that day were, in fact, consistent with department policies of the Minneapolis PD. Putting it another way, a great deal of material needed explaining when yesterday's presentations were done.
Instead, Our Town's pundits and analysts entered the scene. And they entered the scene, as they typically do, all spilling from inside one big giant clown car.
On CNN and MSNBC, these analysts exist for one reason only—to guarantee that we never hear anything but tribal dogma. This brings us to the stylish car from which Brian Williams emerged.
In last evening's opening segment, Williams featured three reliable pundits, the kind who are guaranteed To Say The Exact Same Things.
His first, completely respectful question went to Marilyn Mosby (!). At some length, she praised the utter brilliance of the prosecution's closing argument.
Then, Williams turned to Cynthia Alksne. When he did, our biggest and most sardonic clown sardonically "asked" her this:
WILLIAMS (4/19/21): Cynthia, it's never good when your closing argument—I'm talking about the defense here—goes on for so long that the judge has to interrupt you because, in effect, you're lost the jury, and he calls a 30-minute lunch break only to let you continue after the break.
That being established as a predicate, what did you make of the defense argument?
That being established as a predicate! According to experts in rhetoric, it was right up there with the famous, "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"
That was Brian's "question." And of course, having heard her host establish the predicate, Alksne knew where to go next:
ALKSNE (continuing directly): Oh my God! I thought I was listening to the Lincoln-Douglas debates, they were so long...
Alksne sputtered forward from there, trashing the horror of Nelson' blather. That's how it works in Our Town.
For the record, this particular talking point was cherished all over our "cable news" channels. There were very few attempts to explain any possible points of medical or legal dispute.
The defense attorney spoke too long! This talking point was general. It stems from what seemed like a strange decision by Judge Peter Cahill.
Cahill has seemed perfectly sensible all through the course of the trial. Yesterday, though, he did a slightly strange thing. He let Eric Nelson start his closing argument for the defense at 11:40 A.M. Minneapolis time—just twenty minutes short of noon.
The decision struck us as odd. There was no time limit on the closing argument, and a defendant's rights were at stake. Needless to say, we all cherish our American legal system, which seeks to protect such rights.
Wouldn't it have made better sense to start lunch a little bit early, then let Nelson offer his closing argument without fear of interruption, and without jurors growing hungry?
In our view, that would have made better sense. At any rate, Cahill interrupted Nelson for lunch shortly after 2 P.M. Minneapolis time. This meant that Nelson's argument was delivered in two chunks—and this launched a thousand quips from our pundit flotilla.
Did Nelson talk too long? Everything is possible! That said, we've ciphered the total amounts of time used by the prosecution and by the defense. The numbers look like this:
Total length of closing arguments:
Prosecution: Two hours, 25 minutes
Defense: Two hours, 48 minutes
How dare a mere defense attorney dare to go on so long?
For what it's worth, Our Town's pundits have often complained, down through the years, when targeted parties have gone on too long. They hate to listen to speeches or arguments. They bore extremely quickly.
There's one other thing they will not do—they will not try to explain things! They exist to recite bits of script. Nelson went on too long!
This morning, we actually saw defense attorney Danny Cevallos make a scary suggestion. We saw this happen on Morning Joe, where Cevallos was allowed to speak for maybe eleven seconds.
Uh-oh! Cevallos actually tried to explain his view of relevant state law. "If the knee is legal, that is a defense against all charges," he inappropriately said.
Cevallos was silenced after that. He's the one "legal analyst" on MSNBC who doesn't automatically say What Everyone Else Just Said.
We have no idea how the relevant laws work. That's because we watch the channels which prevail in Our Town.
We did see Brian ask his "question." He may be our best-dressed clown.
The other memorized point: Is it possible that Chauvin's conduct that day actually was consistent with department training and policy? We have no idea, for reasons explained above.
That said, every pundit in Our Town knows how to dismiss such thoughts. Chief Arradondo testified that the conduct was wrong!
Of course, this killing happened on Chief Arradondo's watch. Whatever the truth of these matters might be, the chief is an interested party in this matter, though no such thought will ever darken the spotless minds catered to in Our Town.
Our general view? A lot remains to be explained, but we don't do that here. This is the way our brains are wired, major top experts all say.