TUESDAY, MAY 2, 2023
...what Joe Tacopina had done: Last Friday morning, early in the 6 o'clock hour, we were surprised (but also, possibly, not surprised) by what Joe Scarborough said.
We'd already read the New York Times report about the previous day's testimony in E. Jean Carroll's defamation lawsuit against Donald J. Trump. According to that news report, interactions between Carroll and defense attorney Joe Tacopina had been "curt but civil."
Now it was Joe Scarborough's turn to tell us what actually happened. Starting at 6:02 A.M., supported by seven reporters and friends, he spent ten minutes painting a picture which seemed to contradict what the New York Times had reported.
As we noted yesterday, Joe Scarborough told the world—or at least, he told our own blue tribe—what had actually happened. He did so three separate times. What had actually happened was this:
SCARBOROUGH (4/28/23): I'm just a simple country lawyer, but I would think that an attorney, in New York City, would not be screaming at a woman who is saying his client raped her.
And, and time and time again, as E. Jean Carroll was telling the jury this, this just horrific story about how she was raped, Joe Tacopina was, was berating her, yelling at her. The judge repeatedly had to call him off.
SCARBOROUGH: Danny [Cevallos], you're neither a country lawyer nor are you mediocre like me. So perhaps you can just verify for our friends at home, it's not good to yell at somebody who could have been a rape victim on the stand.
SCARBOROUGH: Right now, think about it. We talk about all these other cases that are going on right now. This may be a civil case, but this is a case involving Donald Trump raping somebody. Raping somebody.
We talk about payoffs to porn stars? This is a case where he has been accused by E. Jean Carroll of rape. He's not even showing up. His lawyer is screaming at the possible rape victim, and it's not going well.
According to Scarborough, Tacopina had spent the day screaming and yelling at Carroll. According to Scarborough, he'd done so "time and time again," berating her as he did.
Indeed, he had yelled at her with such frequency that the judge "repeatedly had to call him off!" As we ingested our morning joe, it seemed to us that this pretty much wasn't what the Times had said.
As is the custom in our nation's current pseudo-discourse, Scarborough was surrounded by seven helpmates as he spoke this morning. None of his seven associates asked him to provide a source for his claims or questioned what he had said.
Also, none of these sidekicks and hangers-on had been present in the courtroom the previous day. Scarborough hadn't been there either, but he seemed quite sure about his account of what had happened.
We were surprised, but possibly not surprised, by what the cable star said.
In all honesty, it didn't seem especially likely to us that Tacopina had been screaming and yelling at Carroll in the manner the cable star described. That said, in an admirable excess of caution, we decided to go back and reread what the New York Times had reported.
When we did, we found no mention of all the screaming and yelling which had occurred. Instead, a quartet of Times reporters were telling the public this:
WEISER ET AL (4/28/23): During the cross-examination on Thursday, tensions ebbed and flowed. Ms. Carroll’s interactions with Mr. Tacopina were curt but civil, with occasional flashes of irritation and anger.
When Mr. Tacopina used the word “supposedly” to describe her accusation at one point, it drew a firm rebuke.
“Not supposedly. I was raped,” Ms. Carroll said.
“That’s your version, right, Ms. Carroll, that you were raped?” Mr. Tacopina responded.
“Those are the facts,” she said.
At times during the cross-examination, Mr. Tacopina’s approach led to admonishments from the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court. “Come on, Mr. Tacopina,” the judge said at one point, later repeating that the lawyer’s questions were “argumentative.”
Another time Judge Kaplan told Mr. Tacopina, “You get to make a closing argument in this case, counselor, and this isn’t the time for it.”
According to the Times reporters, there were "occasional" flashes of irritation and anger—but on balance, those occasional flashes seemed to have come from Carroll herself, as would be completely appropriate.
The judge had admonished Tacopina "at times," the Times report had said. In all honesty, these seemed to be the kinds of admonishments which are fairly common during trials.
Also, then too, there was this:
There was no mention of the repeated screaming and yelling Scarborough had described for us in our cosseted blue tribe world. If Tacopina actually had behaved that way, the New York Times had decided to cover it up.
By now, a certain thought had entered our heads. It had begun to occur to us that Scarborough had perhaps been making it up.
Such behavior has been common as the so-called "democratization of media" has spread like kudzu over the land over the past three or four decades.
In fairness, we'd also been watching Deadline: White House on Thursday afternoon, when MSNBC legal analyst Lisa Rubin described what she'd seen at the trial. Rubin spoke with that channel's demagogue-adjacent ratings star, Nicolle Wallace.
Rubin had been present in the courtroom that day. As the Deadline: White House segment began, Wallace offered a brief overview of the day's events.
After that, for better or worse, this is what came next:
WALLACE (4/27/23): E. Jean Carroll on the witness stand is where we start today with some of our favorite reporters and friends.
Lisa, I start with you. Take your time and take us through the day.
RUBIN: The day was extraordinarily powerful, Nicolle, and what I would say is that Joe Tacopina was in some instances much gentler than folks anticipated. But he definitely tried his very hardest to shake up E. Jean Carroll...
Even in the context of an accusation concerning rape and its deeply destructive aftermath, Wallace wasn't willing to drop her branding statement about the way we were going to hear from "our favorite reporters and friends."
On this day, Rubin had been cast in the role of one of these favorite reporters. She started her account of the day in the manner shown.
For what it's worth, we'd have to say that Tacopina, as the defense attorney in this case, is supposed to "try to shake up" the accuser, though he must work within acceptable legal limits.
For better or worse, our legal system works that way. We'd guess that everyone secretly knows that.
That said, when Rubin was asked to take us through the day, she started by saying that Tacopina had been "much gentler" than anticipated. Also this:
Like the people at the New York Times, she never mentioned the screaming and yelling which Scarborough would later report.
As of last Friday at 6 A.M., we'd seen Rubin present that report. We'd read the New York Times.
Then, we saw what Scarborough said. Seven stooges sat around him on the set, happily earning their paychecks.
Increasingly, this is the way our failing, post-journalistic media discourse now works. The recipe for such moveable feasts is known to all:
Start with familiar Storyline. Then, embellish to taste!
As the week proceeds, we'll ask you to think about the kinds of productive discussions which could be taking place if people like Joe and the seven dwarves weren't clowning the world in this manner.
We'll ask you to think about the kinds of productive discussions which could be occurring—productive discussions about the best ways to handle allegations like this one, to cite one possible type of discussion.
Your lizard brain is going to tell you that what Scarborough said and did was correct. On the even brighter side, nothing we say here is going to change the way these thoroughly tribalized imitations of discourse now work.
Tomorrow: The Washington Post, the Associated Press, NBC News itself...