MONDAY, APRIL 5, 2021
The role of American values: Yesterday morning, on CNN's Reliable Sources, national correspondent Sara Sidner engaged in some unusual conduct.
Sidner was asked to describe what it's like to cover the Derek Chauvin trial. In the course of giving her answer, Sidner actually cited some basic principles of the American legal system—of "Americanism" itself.
SIDNER (4/4/21): Inside of that courtroom, it is about the rule of law, and it is about the prosecution trying to prove their case. And we have to remember, they must prove their case.
Derek Chauvin doesn't have to prove anything. The prosecution has to prove its case and his defense attorney, Derek Chauvin's defense story, has to poke holes in it and that's what's been happening back and forth. This is our legal system. You inside that courtroom are innocent until proven guilty.
Say what? We're sure that Sidner is well-intentioned. But can any of that be true?
Sidner made her unusual claims early in yesterday's program. Here on our campus, the young analysts glanced about, befuddled, in startled surprise.
According to Sidner, Derek Chauvin—the defendant in this murder / manslaughter case—"doesn't have to prove anything."
Sidner claimed that it's the prosecution which has to prove its case. She seemed to be saying that Chauvin, as the defendant, is regarded as "innocent until proven guilty," at least "inside that courtroom."
"This is our legal system," she even surprisingly said.
For ourselves, we were surprised, yet not surprised, by the young analysts' reactions.
On the one hand, the analysts are young and inexperienced. It's entirely possible that they've never heard anyone make such claims.
Also, the youngsters have been exposed to a great deal of punditry about the Chauvin trial. To the extent that this punditry has emerged from the major news orgs within Our Town, it was likely to have betrayed little awareness of, or allegiance to, our basic American system.
Is someone accused of a crime "presumed innocent" within our legal system? Is it really up to the prosecution to prove the claims it's making?
Can it really be true that the prosecution has to prove its case "beyond a reasonable doubt?" Even more incredibly, do all twelve jurors have to agree on a guilty verdict?
Is it even possible that our system is based on the extremely weird precept known as Blackstone's ratio (but also as Blackstone's formulation)? According to the leading authority on that musty formulation, the precept goes like this:
It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent person suffer.
Who could ever think something like that? Surely none of us liberals!
At any rate, according to that leading authority, this formulation was published in the 1760s. Surely, the analysts said, the formulation no longer holds!
We can't blame the analysts for being surprised by Sidner's unusual statements.
They'd watched a lot of cable news pundits during the first full week of the trial. Beyond that, they'd read the work of the "hangin' columnists" who stand in line, at the Washington Post and the New York Times, to express the values of Our Town when it comes to this high-profile event.
Watching those pundits and reading those columnists, a youngster would rarely get the idea that our system is based on the values Sidner described. Watching those pundits and reading those columnists, a person would almost surely end up thinking something else.
We pause for this quick note:
It has long been known that we the people may not be amazingly well informed about the basic precepts of our (admittedly failing) American system.
Other surveys have sometimes shown that we the people may not always agree with some of those basic precepts. Also, of course, there's no requirement, within our system, that anybody has to agree.
That said, it may be a bit surprising to see the way our cable pundits treat the basic principles of Americanism when they go on TV and perform for us the cable subscribers—more generally, for those who live in Our Town.
This week, we'll take a quick look at the way our upper-end pundit class has been discussing this high-profile trial.
In our view, the work has tended to be poor. Every so often, up pops someone like Sidner, leaving our staffers confused.
We'll now confess to something we thought as we read this morning's newspapers. This is Our Town on Stupid, we thought on several occasions. More charitably, we also thought this:
This is Our Town on Traumatization.
(We've rarely thought, in the past week, that we were looking at Our Town on Adult Expertise.)
However a person might assess the charges against Chauvin, it seems to us that this trial has deeply challenged the pundit class in Our Town's finer locations. Anthropologists have told us this about the work we've observed:
This is the way our brains are wired, these top scholars and experts have told us. For the most part, all in all, this is the best we can do.
Tomorrow: Pundit reacts to last Monday's opening statement