TRIAL AND TOWN: The prosecution aired some unusual tape!


CNN blew past it: Was yesterday a turning point in the Derek Chauvin trial?

At this site, we have no idea. On the other hand, it's fair to say that that Storyline largely prevailed last night in the  "cable news" shows most widely seen in Our Town.

At issue was the testimony of a prosecution witness. In a front-page report in today's New York Times, his work is praised in this manner:

DEWAN (4/9/21): “I don’t think I’ve seen an expert witness as effective as this,” said Mary Moriarty, the former chief public defender of Hennepin County, who has been following the televised trial. “He appears to be the world’s foremost expert on this, and he explained everything in English, in layman’s terms.”

That's the assessment which was chosen to appear in today's news report.

On the merits, Moriarty's assessment of the expert witness may be perfectly right. Also, it may turn out that the testimony of this expert witness persuades the jurors—remember, it takes all twelve--to return a guilty verdict in the murder / manslaughter trial.

The expert in question is Dr. Martin Tobin, age 73, "a pulmonologist who specializes in the mechanics of breathing." Perhaps somewhat oddly, "this was his first time testifying in a criminal trial."

Moriarty's assessment of Tobin may be perfectly accurate. In saying that Tobin "appears to the worlds foremost expert," she may have overstepped a bit for those who may recall the ironic though time-honored description of Professor Irwin Corey, the famous comedian of the last century, as "the world's foremost authority" (full and complete total stop).

It may be that Tobin really is (something like) "the world’s foremost expert on this." He was certainly treated that way on "cable news" programs last night!

It may turn out that his testimony ends up producing a guilty verdict. As part of a more detailed report, Dewan gives this nugget account of what this witness said:

DEWAN: The prosecution used Dr. Tobin to pre-emptively poke holes in the defense’s argument that Mr. Floyd’s death was caused by his use of fentanyl, underlying heart disease and other physical ailments.

“A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died as a result,” Dr. Tobin said.

It may well be that everything Tobin said was perfectly accurate. For ourselves, because we love our American values so much, we'd like to see more of our "cable news" pundits offer such context as this:

When the defense finally gets to present its case, it may produce other "expert witnesses" who say something different. How might the jury respond to some such dispute? There's no way to know that.

Full disclosure! Watching the pundits on our "cable news" channels as they discuss this trial, we sometimes get a certain impression. It seems to us that they may love Our Town's preferred Storylines more than they love our treasured American values.

(We've often received the same impression from our high-end columnists as they discuss this trial.)

Often, these pundits almost seem annoyed by the fact that the accused is allowed to defend himself within our legal system. They love love love the stories we love, but they don't seem enamored of that.

So far, every witness in this trial has been a prosecution witness. By our lights, our corporate-paid pundits sometimes seem a bit remiss in failing to mention this fact.

When the defense gets to make its case, will some other expert witness dispute what this expert  has said? We have no way of knowing. But because we love our American values—and because we love our Enlightenment values—we're prepared to wait a week or two in order to find out.

(Not so within Our Town's upper-end press, where Al Gore said he invented the Internet, Hillary Clinton did whatever it was they said she did with those troubling emails, and Bill Clinton had an affair with "a 21-year-old intern." Today, we're served by the same unreliable narrators who treasured those tales in the past!)

Will the defense be able to create "reasonable doubt" about the prosecution case? Because we all believe so deeply in our treasured American values, we will of course be quick to insist on a "not guilty" verdict if such doubt appears.

For ourselves, we don't know if any such doubt will appear. For today, we want to mention something we saw as we watched CNN last week.

It was Wednesday, March 31—the third day of the trial. The prosecution was running lengthy chunks of videotape from the day George Floyd died.

We were struck by one chunk of tape. That evening, on CNN, Erin Burnett accurately described what it showed:

BURNETT (3/31/21): Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. 

Outfront tonight, "I can't breathe," the three-word rallying cry across the country and the world after George Floyd's death. 

Today, we heard it again and again. Floyd himself uttering those haunting words during former Officer Derek Chauvin's trial. Some never before bodycam videos coming out today, revealing the moments that led up to Floyd's death.

Now, the videos are disturbing and graphic because you keep hearing Floyd repeating that painful phrase, all too familiar phrase, as he's being arrested and placed into a police car.

Burnett did play the videotape. Its contents weren't quite as new to the world as she may have suggested, but the tape did show exactly what she described:

During the horrible events of that terrible day, the tape showed Floyd repeatedly saying, "I can't breathe," as he aggressively struggled and resisted placement in a squad car. It showed Floyd repeatedly saying "I can't breathe" before he was placed on the ground and held down by Chauvin's knee.

The officers' bodycam videos were new to the world that day. We're fairly sure that other footage of those same events had appeared last summer. Such footage was largely disappeared, except by conservative pundits. 

At any rate, the content of the videotape was clear. A bit later, Burnett described it again:

BURNETT: I want to go now to [our CNN] legal team. They're going to be with us throughout the trial. Areva Martin and Elie Honig. Appreciate both of you.

And Areva, it is really hard to watch this footage, and you just keep hearing those same words again and again. It's so haunting as officers tried to get Floyd into the police car. Before he's even pinned down, he's screaming out he's claustrophobic, he can't breathe. 

For whatever it may be worth, that is what the video showed. Before the late George Floyd was pinned down; as the officers tried to get him to take a seat in a squad car; before Chauvin held him down with his knee, Floyd was already saying, repeatedly, "I can't breathe."

Burnett's description was perfectly accurate. Quickly, a bit of background:

As part of the channel's devotion to Storyline, CNN had played a leading role, back in May 2020, in telling people here in Our Town that Floyd never resisted arrest.

For quite some time, the corporate hirelings here in Our Town pleased us with that inaccurate claim. By now, everyone from Chief Arradondo on down has noted the (largely irrelevant) fact that he did resist arrest—for example, that he struggled, with substantial force, to avoid being placed in that squad car.

That obvious fact may not matter at all with respect to Chauvin's possible guilt. That fact does matter as we assess the way our "press corps" functions, including the way it functioned in the first few days of this horrible case.

The late George Floyd did struggle and resist that day. In itself, that fact may be wholly irrelevant. 

But as he struggled and resisted, he was in fact repeatedly saying, "I can't breathe." As Burnett noted, and as the tape showed, he was saying that well before he was placed facedown in the street, with Chauvin's knee initially holding him down. 

Why in the world was he saying that even before he was being held down? In a classic press corps performance, Burnett kept reporting that fact, but she also kept failing to note its possible oddness and its possible significance.

At that point, was Floyd merely pretending that he couldn't breathe? In Thursday morning's news report, the Washington Post said that possibility was raised during Wednesday's court session.

At that point, was Floyd pretending he couldn't breathe? Obviously, we have no way of knowing—but if we had to guess, we'd guess the answer is no.

If we had to guess, we'd make a different guess. We'd guess that he already was having trouble breathing—and we'd wonder what an expert witness might say about that next week.

At CNN, Erin Burnett blew right past the somewhat peculiar fact which she accurately described. Her legal experts blew past it too. This is the way such experts behave on Our Town's "cable news" programs.

(We regard Honig as one of the most extreme of Our Town's many "hangin' pundits." These are the kind of experts who kept telling us that Mueller had Donald J. Trump dead to rights and that he had surely obtained all of Trump's tax records. How we loved those pleasing stories, which we heard night after night!)

Erin Burnett stuck to Storyline. We'd guess that she did so honestly—that it simply didn't occur to her that the fact she was describing could in some imaginable way undercut Our Town's preferred Storyline.

Will some such argument be made when the defense gets to make its case? We have no idea, but because we love our American values so much, we're prepared to wait a few weeks to see what does get said.

Our Town's pundits frequently play by different rules; they've done so for three or four decades. They don't always seem to love our American values. Often, they don't even seem to remember what we all claim those values are.

We'll make one final point:

Temperamentally, we don't like seeing people go to prison, though we know it must sometimes happen.

We don't like to see people sent off to jail. Here in Our Town, our cable shows spill over with the ancient tribal desire to see The Others locked up.

Last night, Lawrence wanted to see Matt Gaetz locked up. He wanted to see Donald Trump locked up, and Derek Chauvin too.

After conducting those discussions, he broadened his brief a bit. Weeping experts say that this is the way our brains are wired.

This is never going to change, despondent top experts have said.

More on Professor Corey: According to the leading authority on Professor Corey's career, Mort Sahl once described him as  "one of the most brilliant comedians of all time." 

Corey's persona was designed to poke fun at reflexive deference to academic authority. Full disclosure! Our paternal grandfather, Rufus "Colonel Al" Somerby, sometimes appeared under the name Professor Wormwood, though in a slightly different context.

One last note on Professor Corey. We don't know if this is true:
For an October 2011 interview, Corey invited a New York Times reporter to visit his 1840 carriage house on East 36th Street. Corey estimated its resale value at $3.5 million. He said that, when not performing, he panhandled for change from motorists exiting the Queens–Midtown Tunnel. Every few months, he told the interviewer, he donated the money to a group that purchased medical supplies for Cuban children. He said of the drivers who supplied the cash, "I don't tell them where the money's going, and I'm sure they don't care."..."This is not about money," [his agent] said. "For Irwin, this is an extension of his performing."
We don't know if that's true.


  1. "Perhaps somewhat oddly"

    Somerby throws in these kinds of remarks with no justification or explanation. There was nothing odd about the pulmonologist testifying for the first time at a trial. In fact, it suggests that he is not a "professional witness" and thus less likely to be dependent on testimony for his income.

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  2. "recall the ironic though time-honored description of Professor Irwin Corey, the famous comedian of the last century, as "the world's foremost authority" (full and complete total stop)."

    This joke was on Corey, not those who actually are experts in some specific field. Equating Tobin with Corey is dirty pool, thumb on the scales, blatant dismissal of the expertise of this witness, on the basis of nothing whatsoever.

  3. "It may well be that everything Tobin said was perfectly accurate."

    Ah, yes. We've read about this "expert" testimony, dear Bob.

    By our lights, it feels like he'd overdone it. A lot. He doesn't sound impartial at all. He knows, to the second, when the suspect died, just from seeing his eyes in the video. Puh-leeze.

    On the other hand, it's possible that the jurors (fearful for their lives) are so terrified of the possibility of having to declare officer Chauvin not guilty, that they might use any excuse to avoid it. And so the prosecution gives them this Tobin guy, as an excuse.

    Who knows, dear Bob. We'll see.

  4. Nice.
    Chauvin's "defense" is that the guy who's neck he kneeled-on for 9+ minutes, because he felt threatened by him, was actually dying in front of him from a drug overdose and medical condition.
    Where did his lawyers get their degrees, Trump University?

    1. Chauvin will walk. Most likely onto another police force.

      This is America, after all.

  5. "It seems to us that they may love Our Town's preferred Storylines more than they love our treasured American values."

    Bending over backwards to maintain the innocence of a police officer who abused his authority and killed a man is not a "treasured American value."

  6. If someone is saying he cannot breathe, you don't put him on the ground with a knee on his neck, further restricting his airway. You call a paramedic.

  7. Somerby suggests that Floyd may have been faking when he claimed he could not breathe, then he claims that Floyd's other medical problems may have caused his death, not Chauvin's knee. Somerby cannot have this both ways. If Floyd was faking respiratory distress, then Chauvin killed him. If he was not faking, then Chauvin killed him too. Calling this "script" doesn't change that fact.

  8. "Corey's persona was designed to poke fun at reflexive deference to academic authority."

    Actually, Corey made himself look like Albert Einstein. Is that someone who deserves to be poked fun at? Does Somerby think Einstein didn't know his stuff?

    What is the point of mocking academic experts? Once there are no experts, it is easier to convince people of anything you want them to believe. There is no one left to oppose the demands of autocracy and the content of conspiracy theories, like the ones about our current pandemic. Shall we all poke fun at Dr. Fauci or do we perhaps need him to help us understand our current crisis?

    Somerby is an asshole. He had a difficult time at Harvard and has never forgiven his professors for knocking a big hole in his inflated self-esteem, for the insult to his ego caused by having to do hard intellectual work (instead of coasting on his glibness).

    Acting out his own personal problems by attacking the intellectual class in our society is dangerous while we have a know-nothing leading the Republican party and propaganda outlets masquerading as news stations. Somerby is working for the forces of evil and Al Gore would not approve.

    A pulmonologist is someone who has completed medical school and a residency in internal medicine, followed by a fellowship that provides specialization in pulmonary medicine. After training they must be board certified, which means passing an exam on their specific area of medicine. Recertification by taking an exam occurs after that, periodically.

    But Somerby wants us to believe that it is only our hyped up regard for authority that gives this man credibility, not his experience treating those with breathing problems. He wants us to think that just anybody can call themselves a Professor, as Corey did, and no knowledge is required.

    Somerby is a huge asshole.

  9. Corey made himself look like an absent-minded professor. Among other things. Not Einstein.

    You're also pretty nuts.

    1. Look at a picture of him -- notice the hair.

    2. The stereotype of the absent-minded professor was popularized by Einstein. Before that, professors were men with glasses wearing tweed jackets with elbow patches and smoking a pipe with a book in hand. Not at all absent-minded.

  10. "Last night, Lawrence wanted to see Matt Gaetz locked up. He wanted to see Donald Trump locked up, and Derek Chauvin too."

    People who break the law should go to jail.

  11. "Every few months, he told the interviewer, he donated the money to a group that purchased medical supplies for Cuban children. "

    Why do Cuban children need medical supplies when Cuba's health care system is supposedly a model for the rest of the world?

    This sounds apocryphal. Which leads us to ask why Somerby would repeat such a story while resolutely refusing to believe the most likely things about Floyd's death?

  12. This article suggests that Somerby needs to be listening to different anthropologists:

  13. Somerby: "We don't like to see people sent off to jail. "

    There is no evidence that Matt Gaetz understands that his alleged actions were wrong. What would you do with him besides jail, to ensure that he didn't repeat his crimes?

  14. You'd think that someone in the MSM would mention that this fact might have made Floyd short of breath.

    1. Why do you think this matters?

    2. For the obvious reason I mentioned.

    3. Being out of breath didn't kill him, Chauvin did.

    4. Well, thank you Judge/Juror/Execution, but I'd wager that the defense is going offer up an argument that's a bit more complex than your thoughtful summation.

    5. 8:14 That depends. Is Sidney Powell available?

    6. We all saw the video, Cecelia.

    7. His lawyers could also continuously point out Chauvin is white and Floyd was black.
      That's usually enough of a defense for a cop.

  15. Let’s say Floyd had bilateral pneumonia. Which he didn’t. Perhaps he would have been better served by stating “I can’t breathe, officer, because I have pneumonia.” Chauvin, respecting the severity of this medical condition, would surely have let up in well under 9 minutes, and if not, perhaps Floyd would have been better served by specifying “I carry the billable ICD-10 code of J 18.9!”. That certainly would have moved Chauvin to let up in well under 9 minutes. Lacking that detail, the jury, knowing that Chauvin is a real stickler in these matters and goes strictly by the book, would likely move to acquit.

    1. Yes, it’s a puzzle as to why we don’t dispense with judges, juries, and trials in general and just let allow woke liberals to degree a guilty sentence based upon how things look to them.

      The Minnesota police did have a policy of restraint that involved rendering an aggressive subject unconscious via pressure to the neck (not the trachea) with an arm or leg.

      It is not an implausible argument that this technique might have been more dangerous than it is already with a subject who is high on fentanyl and harboring a SARS virus, as well as other pre-existing medical conditions.

      This is worth a mention from our media. It does have to do with reasonable doubt. It can have an effect on which charge the jury upholds, if any.

      I’m aware that you want all the media analysts to utter the statement that Corby said 4/9/21 8:01pm, and solely that, but that’s not good analysis. It’s isn’t analysis at all.

      It’s alright to have a point of view as to the guilt of Chauvin, but you should be able to distinguish that from what happens in a trial. Distinguish it at least to the point where you don’t have to dismiss bloggers or anyone else doing that as being engaged in making excuses for killers.

      But you can’t because you folks really aren’t liberals anymore.

    2. I'm sure Osama bin Laden would agree with Cecelia if he could.

    3. We should wait for the police to ask us to just defund them instead.

    4. And your expertise regarding fentanyl? I have administered it for sedation for 30 years. You have zero clue as to what “high on fentanyl” looks like. When a person is pleading for his life while handcuffed and on the ground, it doesn’t matter whether he has residual detectable virus from a prior infection, COPD, asthma or the common cold.

    5. "Yes, it’s a puzzle as to why we don’t dispense with judges, juries, and trials in general and just let allow woke liberals to degree a guilty sentence based upon how things look to them."

      That makes as much sense as letting the police mete out justice.

    6. Unamused, all those factors will matter, if only in the sense that the jury must be disabused that they matter.

      I’m sure Floyd’s physical state does matter and the fact that he could talk through the process of allegedly being choked matters and must be explained.

      Which is why the media shouldn't wave such info away as though they were you claiming special authority on a blogboard.

    7. "Perhaps he would have been better served by stating “I can’t breathe, officer, because I have pneumonia.”"

      Had he not been a moron and Darwin Award winner, he would've been better served by not resisting arrest.

    8. Mao,
      He would have been best served by being white.

    9. Are Chauvin's lawyers abandoning the "I felt threatened" defense? Does that ridiculous nonsense no longer work on juries?

    10. Stop with economic anxiousness, Mao.

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. You can argue that Floyd had risk factors for death from asphyxiation including recurrent or residual COVID or the presence of opioids in his system all you want. A patient pleading for his life should not have to explain to anyone that he has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The other argument, that his lawyers may be 21st century Johnny Cochranes is separate from this. Name calling with terms like “woke liberals” does not advance your argument, honey. I would refrain from that lest you called an unoriginal parrot.

    1. “ I would refrain from that lest you called an unoriginal parrot.”

      Well, I’d try not to cry.

      What will be argued is that a policy of rendering aggressive subjects unconscious had been followed in a way that would be unlikely to cause death in a predominance of people. Even if the prosecution says that Chauvin used the maneuver for a longer time than approved, such a defense can still make a difference as to a second or third degree murder conviction.

      Discussing actual possibilities in actual cases rather than just making pronouncements is what legal analysts should do.

      Yet as with the hate crime debate with Robert Long, the media doesn’t fully analyze these factors (because they must not utter heresy) until they are forced to touch on them because the argument has been made in court.

      That’s why so many people are utterly astounded when a verdict comes down that differs with everything they had been told on tv.

      You guys behave like that daily on this blog and call such discussion an abandonment of liberal propriety by the blogger.

      It’s freaking whack.

    2. This is rich, coming from someone who cried crocodile tears for looted businesses last Summer.

    3. Antifa did this last night while there was people in the building.

      I know - meh.

    4. Antifa did this last night while there was people in the building.

      I know - meh.

    5. Antifa did this last night while there was people in the building.

      I know - meh.

    6. If you're sucker enough to fall for Right-wing "economics", getting you to believe in Antifa is kids play.

    7. Right. They’re like Fight Club.

    8. Right. They’re like Fight Club.

    9. Antifa is too anti-fascist for the Right.

  18. So much that the anonymous commenters, especially, do in this comment section is “freaking whack,” Cecilia, but I take your point. Somerby is guilty of overestimating both the intelligence and liberal integrity of so many people on this blog. But as put off as so many of them almost daily claim to be, they never seem to just seek out a blogger they like better; instead, they always seem to hang around to bitch and moan another day, seemingly in perpetuity.

    1. I think they would say that it’s a living.

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