SATURDAY, APRIL 10, 2021
Let's call this gong-show off: In Saturday morning's New York Times, Tim Arango did a decent job reporting the Derek Chauvin trial.
What happened during Friday's court session? Arango's report starts like this:
ARANGO ET AL (4/10/21): In a trial where many key figures have spent hours on the stand, the prosecution whipped through one of their most anticipated witnesses, the doctor who performed George Floyd’s official autopsy, in a mere 50 minutes on Friday.
The reasons for their haste became clear as the witness, Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner, refrained from placing the sole blame for Mr. Floyd’s death on the police as he testified in the trial of Derek Chauvin, a former officer charged with murder.
In his testimony, Dr. Baker said police restraint was the main cause of Mr. Floyd’s death, but he also cited drug use and heart disease as contributing factors, saying that Mr. Floyd died “in the context of” the actions taken by three police officers as they pinned Mr. Floyd to the street for more than nine minutes.
“In my opinion, the law enforcement subdual, restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of those heart conditions,” he said.
Question: What the heck is "law enforcement subdual?" Your answer appears below.
For now, we ask that question for this reason—when Will Wright penned this companion report on the same page of today's New York Times, he quoted Dr. Baker saying something different:
WRIGHT (4/10/21): Mr. Floyd had a larger heart than most people, Dr. Baker said. It required more oxygen to continue pumping blood throughout the body, especially during a high-intensity situation like the one Mr. Floyd experienced when being pinned to the asphalt for more than nine minutes. “Those events are going to cause stress hormones to pour out into your body, specifically things like adrenaline. And what that adrenaline is going to do is it’s going to ask your heart to beat faster. It’s going to ask your body for more oxygen so that you can get through that altercation,” Dr. Baker said. “And in my opinion, the law enforcement, subdural restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of those heart conditions.”
On the same page A11, on this very same day, Arango and Wright are quoting the same Dr. Baker as he makes a single (very important) statement in court. But they differ on one key word, and they even punctuate their quotations is dueling ways:
The statement according to Arango: “In my opinion, the law enforcement subdual, restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of those heart conditions,”
The statement according to Wright: “In my opinion, the law enforcement, subdural restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of those heart conditions,”
According to the one account, Floyd's death was partly caused by "law enforcement subdual." According to the other account, Floyd's death was partly caused by "law enforcement," followed by a second cause—"subdural restraint."
In print editions, the dueling quotations sit side-by-side on the very same page. You'd think some editor might have noticed this by now, but the contradiction still exists online. Can't anyone here play this game?
With that, we return to our initial question: What the heck is "law enforcement subdual," the formulation Arango (correctly) placed in Baker's mouth?
"Subdual" is a word you won't see or hear every day. That said, it's almost surely the actual word Dr. Baker was using.
In this context, the word "subdual" simply means "the act of subduing or of being subdued." Dr. Baker was saying that the death was caused, in major part, by the fact that Floyd was subdued by law enforcement that day.
How do we know that that's what Dr. Baker was saying? Simple! When he prepared the official autopsy report for the late George Floyd, he referred to "law enforcement subdual" in written form in his official Case Title. You can see the report right here:
CASE TITLE: CARDIOPULMONARY ARREST COMPLICATING LAW ENFORCEMENT SUBDUAL, RESTRAINT, AND NECK COMPRESSION
That was the written title of Baker's written report. In this morning's New York Times, Wright bungles this language two separate times—first in quoting Dr. Baker, then in quoting the testimony of Dr. Lindsey Thomas.
Even by late in the afternoon, no editor has noticed this yet. We'll guess they're out at the Hamptons.
Our view? "Subdual" is a fairly hard word to parse. In our view, Baker might have been more understandable for the average Joe if he had referred to "law enforcement apprehension."
That said, our observations are these:
Wright has been charged with recording the key "Takeaways" from each day of this extremely high-profile trial. Today, he misquotes two important witnesses and no one at the Times has noticed.
No one has noticed, even though one of his bungled quotations flatly contradicts the corresponding quotation offered by Arango, which appears on the same page in the Times' print editions.
Meanwhile, how many readers understood the term "law enforcement subdual" when it appeared at the start of Arango's report? We're going to guess that many people were puzzled by the unexplained formulation. (Clearly, Wright seemed to have no idea what he was talking about.)
"Subdural" is an actual word. It's even a medical term, but it makes no apparent sense in this context.
What did Wright think he was reporting? We have no idea. Meanwhile, at the very top of our upper-end food chain, no one at the New York Times has noticed this error.
On the brighter side, what difference could it possibly make? It's only a super high-profile, highly-charged trial, with one person's life at stake!