The left is very good at starting racial firestorms but, likeirresponsible campers leaving behind an unquenched campfire, they arenot so good at putting them out. What we saw in their handling of the Brown case is a rerun of the Martin case. The facts don’t seem to fit with the left’s views and even after substantial evidence comes to light showing what did happen, they refuse to believe it.
When St. Louis prosecutor Bob McCulloch devoted about 60 seconds of his 50 minute speech to the challenge posed to the investigation by the 24-hour news cycle and “non-stop rumors on social media” he was immediately castigated by a full complement of media progressives. Van Jones, Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Ryan Grim, Chris Hayes and David Corn–they all rushed to the keyboard to bash McCulloch. In fact, there is every reason to think McCulloch was right. The media treatment was reminiscent of another case, one that similarly fell apart for the left’s purposes.
Comparisons to the Martin case began with the NAACP which made the connection almost immediately. That comparison was more apt than the spokesman knew and not in the way he probably intended. In case the details are no longer in the forefront of your mind, recall that major news outlets repeatedly bungled the evidence in the Martin story and always in a way that made Zimmerman out to be something worse that he was.
You may recall when NBC News placed an ellipsis in Zimmerman’s 911 call which made it appear had offered Martin’s race as a reason he looked like he was “up to no good.” That version of events was aired several times including on the Today show. In fact, Zimmerman had mentioned Martin’s race only after the dispatcher asked him for a description.
Huffington Post and many other left wing outlets claimed they could hear a racial slur in another part of the 911 call. CNN enhanced the audio and their reporter claimed he could hear it as well. Then, a few days later, they backed off and the same reporter reversed himself. But the gasoline had already been poured on the fire.
ABC News published a video of Zimmerman entering a police station and claimed it showed no evidence of any wounds. Once again, the conclusion was that Zimmerman was lying. Then, a few days later, ABC enhanced the video and the wounds appeared. Unlike CNN’s reversal on the audio tape, the new ABC story didn’t make clear it was a correction to a previous story. Why take responsibility for an error if you can avoid it?
The NY Times initially reported that Martin could be heard screaming for help in the background of another 911 recording. The next day the Times added the fact that Zimmerman’s family thought it was his voice on the recording. Forensic evidence, eyewitness evidence and Zimmerman’s testimony all suggested it was Zimmerman calling for help, but to this day many believe what they first heard from the media, i.e. that it was Martin.
In the midst of this maelstrom of media malpractice, supposedly serious progressive commentators like Ta-Nehisi Coates were egging on the errors. (He claimed he could hear the racial slur.) Coates then tied a big bow on all of the junk reporting in a major cover story for the Atlantic which attributed pushback on all of the false media reports to a racist reaction to President Obama.
It was only after the trial was over than anyone bothered to ask Martin’s girlfriend who she thought had thrown the first punch that night. Rachel Jeantel replied, “In my mind, I believe Trayvon.” Huffington Post Live deserves credit for asking though it probably wasn’t the answer they were expecting. In any case, the admission by Martin’s friend that he likely escalated the incident to violence didn’t get a fraction the coverage the bogus reporting had received. The progressive media was only really interested in one story and this wasn’t it.
Outside the progressive media bubble there was some accountability. NBC News fired three people and was sued for its awful reporting. CNN and ABC got off easy (though as noted above it helped that ABC cheated by not telling readers their follow up was really a retraction and reversal of a major blunder on their part).
Looking back on all of this again you might see some similarities to the coverage of the Michael Brown shooting. Once again the media rushed forward with half-a-story. Brown was a gentle giant. An armed cop had shot the unarmed teen for no discernible reason, inviting speculation that there was an unspoken reason: racism.
It was initially claimed, in interviews aired by MSNBC and also by CNN, that officer Wilson had shot Michael Brown in the back as he was fleeing. These witnesses claimed Brown then turned and put his hands up but was shot dead by the advancing officer Wilson. This was a description of a cop committing a murder and, understandably, enraged people around the country.
Having thus established that Brown was the innocent victim of a police execution, progressives were furious when the police released video showing Brown committing a strong-arm robbery just a few minutes before the shooting. The image of the 6’5″ 290lb Brown intimidating and shoving a tiny store clerk who wanted him to pay before leaving his convenience store didn’t fit their narrative in which Brown had done nothing wrong.
When a sympathetic NY Times piece mentioned in passing that Brown was “no angel” as a reference to his stealing, fighting, drinking, drug use and vulgar rap lyrics, the left swarmed the characterization and labeled it an example of “unconscious bias.” The Times‘ public editor and the author retreated saying they regretted the choice of words.
Meanwhile, the facts about the shooting gradually turned out not to fit the left’s chosen narrative. Claims Brown had been shot in the back collapsed in the wake of the autopsy report which showed Brown had only been shot in the front, i.e. while facing Wilson. The same autopsy report also cast doubt on claims Brown’s hands were up when he was shot. In fact, the evidence was consistent with Wilson’s claim that Brown had been charging forward, with his head down, when he was fatally shot.
Salon reported the inconvenient autopsy findings with a subheading which claimed they “complicate accounts in which Brown was running away from Darren Wilson.” Well, no. They don’t complicate those accounts. They simplify them by proving those accounts were false.
Progressives mocked the bruises on Wilson’s facebut haven’t gone so far as to deny he was punched at all. Even that admission is a problem for them since Brown’s friend (and the left’s favoritewitness) Dorian Johnson has repeatedly claimed Brown’s hands were never in the car at all. In an interview with MSNBC‘s Chris Hayes Tuesday, Johnson once again repeated this claim. Hayes is clearly aware of the contradiction with the evidence and briefly confronts Johnson with it before he backs off. But the obvious question–Where did the bruises on Wilson’s face come from?–doesn’t get asked.
Meanwhile, Wilson’s account of the shooting has been backed up by multiple witnesses. A month ago, after weeks of protests based on the earlier stories Brown was shot in the back or with hands up in surrender, the Washington Post reported, “seven or eight African American eyewitnesses have provided testimony consistent with Wilson’s account, but none have spoken publicly out of fear for their safety.”
Some of the other so-called witnesses turned out not to be witnesses at all. Thursday the AP published a report on some of the incendiary claims that were debunked during the grand jury process:
Some witnesses said Michael Brown had been shot in the back. Another said he was face-down on the ground when Officer Darren Wilson “finishedhim off.” Still others acknowledged changing their stories to fit published details about the autopsy or admitted that they did not seethe shooting at all.
An Associated Press review of thousands of pages of grand jury documents reveals numerous examples of statements made during the shootinginvestigation that were inconsistent, fabricated or provably wrong. For one, the autopsies ultimately showed Brown was not struck by any bulletsin his back.
Rather than report on the false claims of so many “witnesses,” the progressive media doubled down after the decision not to indict Wilson. Salon used this none-too-subtle headline, “White supremacy lives on: Ferguson decision confirms absence of legal and moral justice.”
While ignoring the false and contradictory witness statements, progressive outlets eagerly competed to suggest Wilson was lying about what happened. Vox‘s Ezra Klein wrote a piece based around the claim that Officer Wilson’s story as presented to the grand jury was just not credible. As evidence for this claim, Klein singled out a moment in Wilson’s grand jury testimony which he said was just not something a human would do. As Klein colorfully put it, “Every bullshit detector in me went off when I read that passage.”
The moment in question was the one when, in the midst of the fight with Wilson, Brown turned to his friend Dorian Johnson and handed off thestolen cigarillos. What Klein didn’t point out was that Brown’s friend had told the grand jury the same story. Klein’s piece was the top story on Vox all day. Tens of thousands of people shared it on Twitter and on Facebook. But just like ABC News during the Martin case, Klein chose not to publish a correction. Instead he wrote a new piece admitting (several hundred words in) he had been wrong. He added an anodyne link at the bottom of the original post such that people who only read the first piece still don’t know Klein’s centralcontention is in error.
MSNBC contributed a similar piece Thursday claiming Wilson’s story isn’t believable because real people don’t attack or charge an armed police officer. The piece makes no attempt to explain the bruises on Wilson’s face, the angle of gunshots (the front, not the back), the fact the final shot went into the top of Brown’s head, and multiple eyewitness accounts–all of which support Wilson’s contention that Brown did turn and charge him. Despite this, MSNBC‘s Adam Howard claims Wilson’s story “feels like a myth.”
At the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates offered a similar complaint suggesting Wilson’s story was based on racist tropes (and therefore presumably not true).
Black people know what cannot be said. What clearly cannot be said is that the events of Ferguson do not begin with Michael Brown lying deadin the street, but with policies set forth by government at every level. What clearly cannot be said is that the people of Ferguson are regularly plundered, as their grandparents were plundered, and generally regarded as a slush-fund for the government that has pledged to protect them. What clearly cannot be said is the idea of superhuman black men who “bulk up” to run through bullets is not an invention of Darren Wilson, but a staple of American racism.
What Coates doesn’t say is that the idea of a black man running through bullets may not be an invention at all. In this case, it seemsto have actually happened.
Coates penultimate link goes to a piece by Jamelle Bouie at Slate which is probably the best of the mini-genre insinuating Wilson is a liar. After stepping through Wilson’s testimony, Bouie admits it is, “consistent with forensic evidence and eyewitness testimony.” However, just like the pieces at Vox and MSNBC, Bouie wants to propose an alternative explanation that involves racial stereotypes and myths of the “big black brute.”
Maybe Wilson is telling the truth. Maybe–like Zimmerman and Dunn and all the others–he faced a powerful black “demon” who wouldn’t stop and had to be killed. But this would be an incredible coincidence, or more likely, evidence of some terrible, criminal pathology among young black men. Which is to say, I doubt it’s true.
Instead, consider this: Maybe Wilson was an ordinary police officer with all the baggage it carries. Maybe, like many of his peers on the Ferguson police force, he was hard on black teenagers. Maybe, like many Americans, he was a little afraid of them. And maybe all of this–his fear, his bias, and his training–met Michael Brown and combined to create tragedy.
Despite being more evenhanded than the others, Bouie’s piece suffers from the same fundamental problem. He has already admitted the evidence fits with Wilson’s account and eyewitness testimony. Can the same be said of his alternative explanation? It’s not clear, in part, because Bouie doesn’t really spell out an alternative.
Assume Wilson’s demeanor provoked Brown in some way, which is certainly possible. How did that lead to Brown punching an armed cop? More importantly, how does it explain the fatal decision, moments later, to turn and charge an armed cop? How did Wilson’s “fear, his bias” as Bouie describes it, cause Brown tobehave in a way that was guaranteed to result in serious injuryor death? Bouie doesn’t say.
Bouie does make one specific claim about how things should have gone saying, “At almost any point in his confrontation with Brown, he could have called for backup and won control of the situation.” He doesn’t mention that, according to Wilson, he had already called for backup before the confrontation took place, and claims he was hoping to talk to the two teens about the robbery until backup arrived. But the situation escalated so quickly that the requested backup never had a chance to get there.
Mainstream media seemed less prone to egregious error than during the Martin case but it still made the same kind of dumb mistakes. For instance, NBC News‘ legal analyst Lisa Bloom jumped on a progressive meme being passed around on social media this week that Wilson had referred to Michael Brown as “it” in his grand jury testimony.
Reading the Ferguson grand jury transcripts, this one line haunts me the most. Darren Wilson re Mike Brown: “it looks like a demon.” IT
— Lisa Bloom (@LisaBloom) November 26, 2014
This was a misreading of what Wilson had said, as several people tried to point out. The “it” was a reference to the look on Brown’s face, not to Brown himself.
For those pushing the “Wilson called Brown an it”, theory, here is the full response from Wilson pic.twitter.com/VMkrFk8RtS
— My name is not Mandy (@MomMilkshake) November 27, 2014
When the left’s racial narrative gradually falls apart, just as it did during the Martin case, they retreat to claims of an unfair process or they claim that someone is a liar based on their own faulty BS detector. The more obvious explanation is the one the left, with few exceptions, refuses to contemplate, i.e. this was never the test case they wanted it to be.
There are real world consequences to the behavior by the progressive media. Early, incomplete reporting leaves behind an understandable residue of anger. Irresponsible attacks on the process based on feelings, BS detectors and misreadings of evidence (or ignoring evidence altogether) further stoke that anger. The real fires we see burning in Ferguson aren’t that surprising given the story the progressive media has tried to tell about this case. Even after those fires go out the damage will remain.