FRIDAY, APRIL 30, 2021
...in the case of one recent death: This morning found the Washington Post's Paul Butler—a good, decent person—walking through the streets of Our Town with a rope in his hands.
Butler's a good, decent person. We'll discuss his new column at some later point.
For now, we prefer to discuss a recent shooting death—and the way the facts of that shooting death were parceled out to us the Townies. At issue is a basic question:
Are we able to handle the truth here in the streets of Our Town? Major experts consistently say that the answer is surely no.
Our brains aren't wired for that, despondent scholars routinely insist. They point to the ways we "novelize news"—the ways we create pleasing, reconfigured stories which drive preferred tribal narrative.
(In truth, the word "preferred" is ours. These experts tend to say "mandated.")
It's hard to believe that these experts are right, but their credentials speak for themselves. At their suggestion, we'll discuss one of the recent shooting deaths which was deemed appropriate for public consumption here within Our Town.
On April 20, Ma'Khia Bryant, age 16, was shot and killed in Columbus, Ohio.
Did we mention the fact that she was only sixteen? Based on videotape of the incident, she was involved in a violent dispute at the time she was shot and killed.
This violent dispute was taking place outside the home where Bryant and one of her sisters were living in foster care. On April 21, the New York Times and the Washington Post offered initial reports about the basic facts of what had occurred.
We were struck by some of the ways this incident was reported. First, though, we note the fact that the Post's David Von Drehle broke every rule in the book.
On April 24, Von Drehle wrote a searching opinion column about this fatal incident. He considered various aspects of what had occurred.
In a break from current practice, Von Drehle displayed the ability to wonder about Ma'Khia Bryant's life. He also wondered about the many children of Columbus, Ohio, but also of that whole state.
Who was this teen-aged girl—this teen-aged girl who was shot and killed during a violent fight? As one part of a wider column, Von Drehle offered this:
VON DREHLE (4/24/21): Of Ma’Khia, we have this shard that feels important, though we don’t know exactly how or where it fits. She was in foster care. Relatives describe her as an affectionate and loving person with hopes of being restored to her mother’s custody. Even so, any path to foster care is traumatic.
It is to the credit of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) and the state legislature that improving Ohio’s foster care system has been a priority in recent years. But it has been a priority because foster care in Ohio—like foster care virtually everywhere—falls far short of the needs of its clients.
And while we don’t know the specific needs of this particular child, we know that in 2018, in Franklin County, where Columbus is the seat, nearly 14,000 reports of children in crisis were received. Of those, some 6,000 involved reported physical abuse, more than 2,700 involved neglect, 1,349 involved reported sexual abuse and 1,500 involved multiple offenses. The numbers were rising, according to social workers, as a result of the epidemic of opioid addiction among parents.
Nearly 14,000 reports of "children in crisis" in Franklin County alone!
Von Drehle had the decency to wonder about those children's lives. But of one thing you can be sure—you'll never hear about this topic as Rachel Maddow chuckles and clowns her way through another prime time hour.
Maddow has been on one of her roller-coaster "highs" of late. The chuckling and the "open mike night" performance style have been endless and obnoxious—disrespectful of the (failing) world in which we all live.
You won't be hearing about foster care on Our Town's favorite TV shows. Or perhaps in the New York Times, though this morning's Washington Post offers a front-page news report about foster care in Ohio.
We haven't read that news report yet, although we certainly will. It may start to answer some of the questions we've had since this recent death occurred.
We've had questions about Ma'Khia Bryant—about who this young person was, about how she ended up in the situation in which she would lose her life. In the first paragraph we've posted, Von Drehle was also wondering about those questions, even as he offered that statistic about the 14,000 "children in crisis" in Franklin County alone.
Fourteen thousand! In one county alone!
In that same first paragraph, Von Drehle also referred to the now-standard assessments from the now-standard family members—the standard reports about what a great kid this young decedent was.
As he did, Von Drehle linked to a thoroughly standard overview report in his own Washington Post.
The report to which Von Drehle linked opens in a thoroughly standard way. Credentialed experts describe this mandated journalistic style as uncaring, novelistic, repulsive:
LUDLOW ET AL (4/23/21): Ma’Khia Bryant beams at her mother in a TikTok clip, then throws her arms around her neck. As Beyoncé’s “Dance for You” plays in the background, the teen lip-syncs the lyrics: “I’ma take this time to show you how much you mean to me, ‘cause you are all I need.”
It’s an intimate moment between mother and daughter, who were working hard to reunite after Bryant was placed in foster care, family members said.
“They had a close bond,” said Don Bryant, a cousin of Ma’Khia’s mother. “Ma’Khia was just an all-around good person.”
This ugly report goes on and on, then on and on, with an array of family members describing what a great kid this youngster was. Also, with such "Storyline porn" as this:
LUDLOW ET AL: On Thursday, family members struggled to make sense of the killing, at least the third fatal shooting by Columbus police this year.
Don Bryant said he had a hard time recognizing the teen seen in the police video lunging at others. He does not “condone any violence,” he said, but he called the officer’s decision to open fire disproportionate.
“There are other disengagement techniques that police could have used here,” said Bryant, who has served on the Mansfield, Ohio, city council. “I’m a supporter of police, as former city councilor. I understood their moves, their tactics, what they do. I just don’t understand what happened here.”
Ma’Khia Bryant was loving and affectionate with family, Don Bryant said. When he ran in a recent election for mayor of Mansfield, she texted periodically to see how his campaign was going, he said.
“She laughed a lot,” said Ila Bryant, Ma’Khia’s great-grandmother, adding that the teen did well in school. “Intellectually, she was very intelligent,” she said.
“But she didn’t even have a chance to live her life or make decisions,” Ila Bryant said. “Justice was not done.”
We're sure that Don Bryant is a good, decent person. So of course are the four journalists whose names appeared in the byline to this standardized "report."
The journalists were too polite to ask a slightly awkward question. If this deserving kid was so affectionate and so all-around great, why hadn't she been living with him, or with one of the other relatives who had offered the journalistically mandated standard accounts?
LUDLOW ET AL: Ma’Khia Bryant’s grandmother Jeanene Hammonds said she raced about 10 minutes to the Columbus foster home after receiving a call from her upset granddaughter late Tuesday afternoon. She said Bryant told her that an adult woman who used to live in the home had returned for a visit and an argument had ensued over the house being messy.
Both Bryant and the woman were holding knives, Hammonds told The Washington Post in an interview. Investigators have not commented on whether anyone on the scene other than Bryant had a weapon or was threatening anyone.
Hammonds said she was devastated by the shooting of her granddaughter. “This was a 16-year-old child,” she said, “a sweet, loving person.”
Officials identified the officer who fired shots as Nicholas Reardon and said he has been taken off street duty while the investigation proceeds.
According to various ranking experts, the various "narrative chunks" were all neatly in place in this standardized overview piece. The decedent was a lovely kid. Ther officer had overreacted.
News reporting by the New York Times exhibited similar narrative elements. Neighbors and family members who had no particular way to know what they were talking about expounded about the injustice the police officer had wrought.
In Our Town, this has become standard practice. But only in the case of the shooting deaths Our Town is told about.
Why had Ma-Khia Bryant, age 16, been in that foster home? On the evening of April 22, CNN's increasingly gruesome Chris Cuomo seemed to say that he would find out.
He had arranged to stage the standard interview with Ma'Khia Bryant's mother. Midway through his show, he offered this truly ridiculous tease for the upcoming segment:
CUOMO (4/22/21): Look, here's what we know. We're going to talk more about the Ma'Khia Bryant story. Why?
It is not a great case to show police not doing the right thing. But because of that, confusion for people. "I don't get why are—why are people upset about this?"
Well, one, you lost the kid. Two, because it seems like there's never a good ending, it never goes any other way. And when you lose a kid, a family loses everything, OK?
Ma'Khia Bryant had a mother. She's here tonight. Who was her kid? Why was she in that house? What does her loss mean? Next!
"Next!" he barked, in the trademark manner designed to rope us in.
Meanwhile, hopeless! "It isn't a great case to show police not doing the right thing," Cuomo absurdly said. Weirdly, this fading star seemed to be saying the quiet part out loud.
In fairness, Cuomo also seemed to say that he'd be getting some answers:
"Why was she in that house?" Cuomo seemed to say that he was going to ask!
After a commercial break, the interview proceeded. To our eye, it seemed that Bryant's mother may be intellectually or emotionally challenged. Needless to say, Cuomo never asked the question he'd teased.
He did the standard interview. But then, the structure of these interviews is wholly mandated by now.
Cuomo even ended with this. He'd like to be a social worker, but the pay isn't quite as good:
CUOMO: And I am very sorry for your loss.
BRYANT: Thank you.
CUOMO: All right. You know how to get us. If there's any way that we can help, we're a phone call away. God bless going forward.
This is the way Storyline is now performed in Our Town. In fairness, we've come to wonder if Cuomo was damaged by his episode of Covid. To our eye, he doesn't even look like himself at this point.
We were surprised when experts referred to these constructions as a form of "Storyline porn." As for Maddow, she proceeded in her normal way last night:
She staged a version of open mike night for maybe the first twenty minutes. The last twelve minutes of her hour broke down like this:
Four minutes of ads at 9:48, followed by four minutes on Navalny. After that, four more minutes of ads.
Experts say the repeated Navalny takes are a version of "sincerity branding" designed to smooth off the clowning. We find these claims hard to believe.
On the TV shows most loved in Our Town, you won't be hearing about all those kids who are living in foster care or worse. You won't be challenged that way on TV—at least, not over here in Our Town.
The death in the road not traveled: According to this news report, another teenager was recently shot and killed. According to that report, he was shot and killed on April 13 while he lay on the ground, already having been shot.
Reading between the lines a bit, it sounds like this teen—he too was 16—may have been having some sort of mental health breakdown.
Was something wrong with that policeman's behavior? We can't answer that question. But we can tell you this: You haven't heard a word about that teen shooting death, and you never will.
Our Town is pure Storyline now. Our Town is Storyline all the way down, top major experts keep saying.
We might be able to handle the truth, but there's little chance that we'll be asked to. Our brains are wired for this other game, major top experts have said.