FRIDAY, APRIL 9, 2021
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.
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."