WEDNESDAY, APRIL 7, 2021
Top pundit quickly reacts: Yesterday may have been an unusual day in the Derek Chauvin trial. Then again, it may not have.
Was yesterday an unusual day in the Chauvin trial? That speculation arises from a statement by guest host Ali Velshi on last evening's 11th Hour.
Velshi was subbing for Brian Williams. At the end of the program's first segment, he teased the next segment as shown:
VELSHI (4/6/21): Coming up, the defense has its best day yet at the Derek Chauvin trial. But is it enough to leave a reasonable doubt with the jury? A former federal prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney join us next.
Say what? The defense had had its best day yet? On this campus, when the analysts hear something like that on MSNBC, they sit up and take notice.
That said, did the defense have its best day yet? Did it have a good day at all? Did it plant the seeds of "reasonable doubt" even in the mind of one juror?
Like Velshi, we have no idea—we have no way of knowing.
Was some sort of reasonable doubt being planted in some juror's mind? We have no way of answering that question. Just to be honest, neither did Velshi, and neither did Velshi's guests.
Tomorrow, we'll share the assessment which apparently triggered the copy Velshi read. But that assessment was pure speculation, like so much of the commentary one encounters on "cable news" programs.
At any rate, we had to chuckle at what happened when Velshi's segment began. His tease might have suggested that he'd be presenting a "fair and balanced" pundit panel, with a criminal defense attorney countering the "hang 'em high" views of a former federal prosecutor.
Tomorrow, we'll show you what the "criminal defense attorney" said as she started the segment's discussion. First, let's consider what happened on the trial's first day, when the prosecution, and then the defense, presented their opening statements.
The opening statements were made last Monday morning—on Monday, March 29. Such statements don't constitute actual evidence in a trial, but they preview of the claims and arguments each side will attempt to make.
Given the love we all have for our American legal system, you'd almost think that American journalists would want to report the content of those presentations before they started telling us rubes what we should think about them.
You'd almost think our journalists would want us the people to know what each side actually said!
Good news! At the New York Times, we thought John Eligon took that approach in his front-page news report on Tuesday morning, March 30.
There's no such thing as a perfect report, and Eligon's report wasn't perfect. That said, we thought he tilted toward professionalism in the way he described the opening statements—the opening statements of both sides.
Displaying a bit of Americanism, Eligon was even willing to report what the defense had said! He may have done so imperfectly, but there's no such thing as perfection.
With that in mind, what claims had defense attorney Eric Nelson made in his opening statement?
Perhaps surprisingly, Nelson had said that the evidence was going to show that Chauvin had followed department procedures in his use of force against the late George Floyd.
("You will learn that Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over the course of his 19-year career.")
That claim may have surprising. Given our love of American values, we're all going to wait to see the evidence Nelson presents in support of that claim.
Nelson made an additional claim about the actual cause of death. This takes us in a technical direction, but the attorney;s key statement was this:
"The evidence will show that Mr. Floyd died of a cardiac arrhythmia that occurred as a result of hypertension, his coronary disease, the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl and the adrenaline flowing through his body, all of which acted to further compromise an already compromised heart."
What was the actual cause of death? How should a juror's assessment of that question affect his or her verdict in this case?
Like you, we aren't medical specialists at this site. Were we jurors in this case, we'd have to listen, with great care, to the medical evidence presented during the trial.
Showing his love of American values, Eligon went so far as to report what Nelson had said about the cause of death. Here in this country, journalists want to get the information out before they start announcing their views—their views about a murder trial in which no evidence had been presented as of last Monday at noon.
Because we love our American values, we the people always insist that our journalists provide information first. But is that what happened at CNN right after those opening statements?
The opening statements had been delivered; CNN now began its discussion. We would describe what happened as follows:
John King made an extremely modest attempt to report what had been said. We'd be inclined to say that his selection of details favored the prosecution.
King then threw to legal analyst Laura Coates, and the following exchange occurred. Could a person possibly think that it was somewhat clownish?
KING (3/30/21): Mr. Floyd's final pleas of "I can't breathe" mushrooms, of course, into a national, indeed an international, conversation on race and on policing. Millions marching in a summer of discontent and disruption here in the United States after watching Mr. Floyd, a black man, being restrained with a white police officer's knee on his neck.
Today, that Officer Derek Chauvin faces multiple charges second degree, unintentional murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. It is a diverse jury hearing this case one black woman, two multiracial woman, two white men, three black men and four white women. They will decide his fate over a trial that could last up to a month.
Let's bring in right now our key contributors on this. CNN contributor Laura Coates, and Charles Ramsey, the former chief of the Philadelphia and D.C. Police Departments.
Laura, let me start with you and what you heard in the courtroom. This is just the opening statements. It is the beginning. Mr. Jerry Blackwell, the lead prosecutor, I thought making a very effective, methodical presentation about the nine minutes and 29 seconds, the final nine minutes and 29 seconds to Mr. Floyd's life, essentially saying that, whatever you think happened here, what you see with your own eyes is indefensible.
Mr. Nelson, Eric Nelson, the defense attorney, they're trying to say this is about a lot more than that. Mr. Floyd was there for a long period of time, he lied to police officers, he was high, he struggled with police officers and you have to take into account the officers were dealing with a crowd that they at least perceived to be a threat.
Just as a veteran attorney, your sense so far of the opening statements.
COATES: I give no weight to the defense's opening statement whatsoever...
Perhaps a bit heatedly, Coates proceeded from there. Day after day, we'd be inclined to describe her work as that of a "hangin' pundit."
King had made the barest attempt to report what the two sides had said. At this point, he hadn't even mentioned the fact that there would be competing claims about the cause of death.
Does King love our American values, or is he just another hireling of tribal corporate media? We ask that question for this reason:
He threw to Coates, and she made a statement we would regard as perhaps and possibly just a tiny bit clownish. Last evening, Velshi's segment about the trial proceeded in a somewhat similar way, even in spite of his tease.
Do we love our American legal system and our Enlightenment values? Or are we perhaps a somewhat comical mob, possibly milling about in the streets, vastly pleased by the chance to hear the preapproved tales we prefer?
Almost all our "cable news" works that way. Has trial coverage been different?
Tomorrow: CNN pundit blows right past a bit of videotape