When media-amplified stampedes begin!

FRIDAY, MARCH 30, 2012

The history of orgies: We’re off on a mission of national import. We don’t expect to post again until Monday morning.

In the meantime, we’ll recommend Gene Lyon’s column on the subject of Trayvon Martin’s death.

For our money, the most striking part of Lyons’ column involves his experience with orgies. Lyons isn’t a big George Zimmerman fan. But then too, he knows orgies:
LYONS (3/28/12): Untrained individuals like Zimmerman have no business packing heat, nor confronting strangers they deem suspicious. Trouble didn’t come to George Zimmerman; he went looking for it. At minimum, he acted like a damn fool.

However, I’ve also had the experience of writing a book about a media-amplified murder case that took place in my home state of Arkansas. What I learned was that when reporters and pundits set themselves up as amateur homicide detectives, not to mention as prosecutor, judge and jury, the odds against justice being served grow longer.

I can still remember where I was sitting and what the weather was like when I realized that a ballyhooed front page account of a murder trial in Little Rock’s dominant morning newspaper bore almost no relationship to the actual testimony and crime scene photos. It was that shocking to me. All the errors ran in one direction, casting suspicion on an innocent man for murdering his wife. He was eventually exonerated, but only after a harrowing ordeal.

Meanwhile, a veritable orgy of gossip, speculation and self-righteous moralizing swept the state. “You could ask the ladies under every hair dryer in every beauty shop in Arkansas if McArthur was involved, and they’d say yes,” one beleaguered police official told me. “They didn’t have to know the first thing about the case. They just knew.”
Later, Lyons wrote the book on the Whitewater pseudo-scandal, Fools for Scandal. That destructive episode also involved a long orgy of media-amplified speculation and gossip. Much of that national orgy occurred in the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Should George Zimmerman be charged with a crime? That question lies outside our area of semi-competence. But “media-amplified” orgies aren’t good—and they have been increasingly prevalent over the past twenty years.

WHO NEEDS JOURNALISM: MSNBC broadcasts a new, clearer tape!

FRIDAY, MARCH 30, 2012

Epilogue—And then, the new tape disappears: Normally, we don’t watch Martin Bashir’s daily MSNBC program, which airs at 3 PM Eastern.

If you’ve ever watched Bashir’s show, you probably understand why.

Yesterday, though, by happenstance, we watched the start of this program. As Bashir began the hour, he boasted that he had “an extended and newly released surveillance video” which showed “new angles, never seen before, of George Zimmerman being brought into the Sanford police station.”

Video of Zimmerman’s arrival had surfaced the night before, on Wednesday night. And it’s true—as Bashir’s “extended and newly released” video rolled, it did show “new angles, never seen before,” of Zimmerman’s entry.

Most strikingly, this new video showed close-ups of the back of Zimmerman’s head—footage which hadn’t been shown Wednesday night. Rather clearly, these close-ups seemed to show a fairly substantial goose-egg style lump on the back of Zimmerman’s head, with a fairly clear abrasion at its crown.

You too can watch this “extended and newly released surveillance video,” with its “new angles, never seen before.” To do so, just click here. The new close-ups are shown four times, starting at 2:45.

As you watch these close-up shots, you will hear Bashir and his guest, Joy-Ann Reid, as they keep stating the party line: There is no sign of injury to Zimmerman on these tapes! In fairness to Reid, and this is important: Reid wasn’t present in the studio. We would assume that she wasn’t able to see this new videotape.

Why did Bashir say the things he did? Go ahead! You explain!

Does the evidence on this tape mean that Zimmerman shouldn’t be charged with a crime? Not necessarily, no—it does not. But that involves a legal judgment, and we discuss the journalism here. In the journalistic context, these new angles seem to provide the best video evidence of the state of Zimmerman’s alleged injuries when he arrived at the police station that night.

(For the record, Bashir says that four hours had elapsed since the time of the shooting, the latest apparent mistake.)

Do you want to assess the state of Zimmerman's possible injuries? If so, these close-ups provide the best video evidence—much better evidence than the video which aired the night before. If you want to assess the rather obvious lump on Zimmerman’s head, this seems to be where you should look.

Despite that fact, Bashir kept insisting that there was nothing to look at on the new videotape, thus keeping the company line intact. And how odd:

By last night, the “extended and newly released surveillance video” seemed to have disappeared! This tape’s “new angles, never seen before,” had sunk beneath the waves. We saw those close-ups broadcast nowhere last night, although it’s plain, as you can see, that MSNBC does possess this new tape.

MSNBC had the new tape. Last evening, they chose not to air it. (Update/correction: The close-up was briefly shown on last night's Hardball. See below.)

Why didn’t MSNBC broadcast that tape last night? Based on this horrible channel’s 15-year performance, it’s not likely you’ll ever hear.

In this morning’s New York Times, Paul Krugman discusses the way he felt as he reviewed the Supreme Court’s performance this week. This is what he had to say about the work put on display by “several of the conservative justices,” including Justice Scalia:
KRUGMAN (3/30/12): As I said, we don’t know how this will go. But it’s hard not to feel a sense of foreboding—and to worry that the nation’s already badly damaged faith in the Supreme Court’s ability to stand above politics is about to take another severe hit.
“It’s hard not to feel a sense of foreboding,” Krugman says. He seems to refer to the posisble outcome of the current case. But he might also be describing the way legal norms and practices seem to be making way for a reign of pure tribal politics.

We share Krugman’s reaction—although the outcome of this case remains unknown. But in the past two weeks, we have felt that seem sense of foreboding as we’ve watched the astonishing work presented by MSNBC. If anything, we think the breakdown at this cable channel is more clear than that at the Court.

Is the Court making way for rule by the tribe? So are the people who pose as journalists on this horrible channel.

“Who needs journalism,” these droogs seem to say. “We’ll give you a pure tribal story.”

Update/correction: On last night's Hardball, the close-up view was cited at one point by reporter Ron Allen, with the close-up briefly shown. To watch that segment, click here.

Chris Matthews' analysis: "Oh."

Skittles watch: Soul of the Times!


The essence of millionaire culture: There are many questions to be explored and explained concerning the killing of Trayvon Martin. One example:

Do you understand the extent to which the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law affects a possible decision to file criminal charges in such a case? We don’t either! And we’ve seen very few serious attempts to examine that question on our cable “news channels.”

There are many questions to be explored, especially given the piles of misinformation which has been spewed to the public on cable. In the past few days, the Washington Post has begun to perform some basic reporting functions.

Then too, there’s the New York Times.

What issue does the Times examine today? Today, the Times examines the effect this event has had on the makers of Skittles!

Here’s the headline, and no, we aren’t making this up: “For Skittles, Death Brings Both Profit and Risk.”

People, we really aren’t making that up! The full-length news report appears above the fold on the first page of today’s “National” section. It's almost 1100 words long, accompanied by a photo. In our hard-copy Washington Edition today, this is the New York Times' only attempt to examine any issue raised by this high-profile case.

We've told you this for year after year:

The content of the modern New York Times represents the rise of an utterly fatuous upper-class culture. All the way back in 1992, Katherine Boo warned about the “creeping Dowdism” which was affecting the nation’s press culture.

Today, the nation is awash in rumor, confusion and misinformation about this very high-profile case. And the Times decided to let you know about the effect this event has had on Mars Inc., the makers of Skittles!

In truth, they can’t help themselves; this truly is who they are. On the professional level, the liberal world has failed to notice this cultural problem for the past many years.

Darlings! It simply isn’t done! Careers hang in the balance! Good jobs at good wages!

Tomorrow: Some good sound advice, from elsewhere

WHO NEEDS JOURNALISM: When millionaires quit on the facts!


Part 4—As Rachel Maddow correctly said: As Governor Perry said: Oops!

Last night, early in Politics Nation, Joy-Ann Reid of The Grio made a striking statement.

Why wasn’t George Zimmerman charged with a crime on the night he shot and killed Trayvon Martin? Reid discussed the way this decision was made by Sanford officials. She then added the following statement:
REID (3/28/12): We also learned that there was an instance where Zimmerman was taken back to the scene of the shooting. They did a re-enactment with him. But after all of that, the re-enactment, apparently they did look at his clothing and did take his clothing and his gun. But after the homicide detective talked to him, he didn’t believe him. So he prepared an affidavit—he actually did a written affidavit saying he didn’t believe him and he should be arrested.
Oops. Over the previous week and a half, MSNBC’s journalists had been insisting that police didn’t take Zimmerman’s clothing and gun—that their failure to do so showed that they had conducted a pseudo-investigation. Al Sharpton and Lawrence O’Donnell thundered about this point, with help from reliable sidekicks like Jonathan Capehart.

Even after the Orlando Sentinel reported that the Sanford police had in fact taken the clothing and gun, the thunder continued on this “news” channel. Lawrence O’Donnell’s thunder on Monday is especially instructive:
O’DONNELL (3/26/12): The Sanford police have made an obvious tactical decision. They have decided they have had enough of the criticism from the likes of me and the law enforcement professionals that I’ve had on this show and others who called their investigation an exercise in rank incompetence the night Trayvon Martin was killed ago, 29 days ago.

And so, the police have taken a time-tested police tradition in a situation like this. They don’t want to take it anymore. So you know what they’re doing now? They are leaking, leaking, what they believe is evidence that supports their foolish, unjustifiable position of allowing George Zimmerman to just walk free, walk free that night, and not collect any evidence from him, not his gun, not his clothing, nothing. Nothing from him on the night he shot and killed Trayvon Martin.
As usual, O’Donnell was stressing his own heroic role, even as he misstated the facts. Is there anything else this clown does?

We’ll guess that O’Donnell may have been right on one score in this statement. It may well be that people within the Sanford police force decided to start leaking information because they “didn’t want to take it anymore” from the likes of O’Donnell. But presumably, part of what they didn’t want to take was O’Donnell’s relentless misstatements—the misinformation he kept advancing even after Florida newspapers reported the actual facts.

For the past two weeks, O’Donnell and Sharpton have aggressively pushed basic misinformation, using bogus claims to advance a preferred story-line. Last night, Reid finally said that the Sanford police had in fact taken the gun and the clothes.

No one on either one of these programs issued corrections of the false claims they had made for the past two weeks.

We don’t mean to pick on O’Donnell and Sharpton. Absurd misstatements have ruled the day as the acolytes of a tribal world advanced their tribe’s favored claims. This was Joan Walsh in Tuesday’s Salon, handing her readers a gong-show:
WALSH (3/26/12): The fact is, whatever turns out to be true, the president was right: This case looks like too many others where a young black man was gunned down for being a young black man. A 17-year-old was shot to death, and no one was taken to a police station to be questioned about it. It then took police three days to locate the dead boy’s family. Now they’re sliming him with anonymous leaks.
On the tapes which were released last night, you can see Zimmerman as he is “taken to a police station to be questioned”—as he’s taken there in handcuffs, no less! But even when Walsh’s piece appeared, it had been widely and reliably reported that Zimmerman had in fact been questioned at length, with re-enactments at the scene of the killing.

How does someone like Walsh write such tripe? For once, she ought to explain. One possible answer: The tribal world to which Walsh belongs no longer traffics in old-world items like facts. Consider one segment of Lawrence O’Donnell’s ridiculous program last night.

Midway through the program, O’Donnell interviewed Cheryl Brown, the mother of two teen-age children who made a 911 call during the incident which ended in Martin’s death. Brown’s 13-year-old son was an eyewitness to some of the events which preceded the killing. As of yesterday, the statements he has made to police and the press had been characterized by several major news organizations, including the Washington Post and ABC News.

His statements had been characterized in the Orlando Sentinel all the way back on March 16.

The fact that Brown’s son is now caught in this mess is part of the spreading tragedy. But how odd! When O’Donnell interviewed Cheryl Brown, he didn’t ask a single question about what her son had witnessed or said.

Why did O’Donnell skip past such obvious questions? We will offer a guess: The answer may lie in an exchange between Cheryl Brown and Sharpton four hours earlier.

Cheryl Brown also appeared on last night’s Politics Nation. At one point, Sharpton asked her to characterize the way her son was questioned by the Sanford police. Brown, a dignified, decent person, raised a specific objection:
BROWN (3/28/12): I mean, honestly, I’m not an expert in how to question a witness but I feel, knowing my son and knowing— I was present when they questioned him. I just don’t feel that it was done properly. I think there were some tactics used to maybe suggest some things to him that may be some leading him to say certain things that weren’t exactly what he would have told if he just were able to talk without them intervening or suggesting anything.

SHARPTON: When you say “leading things,” can you give me an example?

BROWN: Well, for example, they asked Austin if he could tell the race of the person lying on the ground. He said he could not see the color of their skin. They then proceeded to ask if he knew the color of the shirt that the person was wearing. And then they proceed to give him options of what color that shirt could have been. I don`t feel that they should have done that. I think they should have just let him tell the story with as much detail as he could remember. They suggested maybe it was black, maybe it was white, maybe it was red. I don’t think that that is information he would have been able to provide, especially since he said it was so dark that he couldn’t see the color of the skin. I don’t see how he could see the color of the shirt if he couldn’t see the color of the skin.
By yesterday, it had been widely reported that Brown’s son said the shirt of the man on the ground was red. This would suggest that it was Zimmerman whom he saw down on the ground. But you won’t be required to know such things if you watch O’Donnell’s program. You will hear, for almost two weeks, that Zimmerman’s gun and the clothing weren’t taken. Then, you will be kept from hearing that two eyewitnesses, one of them named, have said that the shirt of the man on the ground was red.

Did Brown’s son see this correctly? Is the other, unnamed witness telling the truth? We have no idea. Eyewitness testimony is often mistaken, and this event happened at night. Let’s say again—it’s part of the spreading tragedy of this case that a 13-year-old has now been dragged into the middle of a very emotional matter, with tribal and racial pressures arrayed against him.

(Cheryl Brown says she is “mostly black.” God bless Brown and her teen-aged children, who tried to help.)

It’s part of the tragedy of this case that a 13-year-old has been dragged in this mess. But O’Donnell has been picking and choosing and misstating facts all through the course of this spreading disaster, pimping himself for his courage and greatness as he does. In the passage we’ve quoted above, he complained about the “rank incompetence” of the police, even as he bravely continued to spread his disinformation.

That said, here’s an additional part of the tragedy:

O’Donnell is allowed to go on the air and behave in this ridiculous manner. This brings us to a troubling fact about MSNBC, a "news channel" which has been a disaster since the Clinton-Gore years:

In the past few weeks, MSNBC has implicitly made an announcement: Whatever it is, it simply isn’t a news organization at this point. It is no longer providing a service resembling traditional journalism.

Each night, this organization pretends to be giving you facts. But that plainly is not what it’s doing.

In 2009, Rachel Maddow lodged a complaint about the conduct of Fox News, which by then was directly involving itself in the promotion of political rallies. Her complaint was largely accurate, though she larded it up with silly scare language in which Fox was promoting a protest movement “against the U. S. government.”

Fox isn’t a news station, Maddow said. Basically, she was right in her analysis. But uh-oh! In these remarks, she was describing the culture which would be soon adopted by the directors of her own former news station:
MADDOW (10/23/09): Is Fox a news station? The answer to that is unrelated to the question of whether and which Fox hosts and correspondents express their opinion about the news. It is possible to express an opinion about the news and still cover the news responsibly.


Expressing an opinion about the news does not negate one’s status as a news reporter or as a correspondent or as a news anchor. The expression of opinion about the news is not the difference between Fox and the rest of the news media. The difference between Fox and news is that Fox is now actively organizing and promoting a protest movement against the U.S. government.


The difference between Fox and news is not that Fox has hired personalities and executives and producers share and express an opinion about the news, that they share an ideology. Opinion has always been a kissing cousin to news, and one man’s ideology is another man`s objective passion.

The difference between Fox and news, the way in which one of these things is not like the other, is that only one of these organizations is organizing anti-government street protests. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s perfectly legal as far as I know. It just makes Fox an opposition political outlet to the Democratic Party and the Obama White House rather than a normal news channel.

The exclamation point was put on that fact today when it was announced that the next round of Americans for Prosperity anti-health reform rallies—which we’ve highlighted on this show in the past—they will be headlined by Fox host John Stossel. Mr. Stossel is a paid contributor at Fox News. He hosts specials for them and he’s about to start his own primetime hour on their business channel. But not before he tours Arkansas, leading rallies against what our friends at American for Prosperity call the "dangers of government-forced health care."

This is a story that most of the media has gotten wrong so far. By not only defending Fox as if Fox is just a news network that has a right-wing point of view, but by ignoring what Fox does as a network that has nothing to do with the news. It’s a free country and Fox can do what it wants. God bless them and keep them.

But it would frankly be strange, it would be weird for the White House, for the U.S. government to treat a group that is organizing protests and rallies against it as if that group is just covering the news. It’s not.
Ignore the talk about “organizing and promoting a protest movement against the U. S. government.” The Obama administration is not “the U. S. government.”

Ignoring that cable excitement, Maddow was making a very good point. It’s a giant break with traditional practice when a news organization sends its personnel to promote political rallies.

But uh-oh! Before long, MSNBC was sending Ed Schultz to promote political rallies in Wisconsin. Sadly, this channel’s disgraceful conduct in the past two weeks shows where this sort of thing leads. It shows how much worse things can get.

The killing of Trayvon Marrtin was an important event. As we noted last Saturday, President Obama made a wise suggestion about how we should react. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/24/12.)

“It is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together—federal, state and local—to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened,” the president said. Speaking of Martin’s parents, he said this: “I think they are right to expect that all of us, as Americans, are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”

That said, MSNBC has refused to take this event “with the seriousness it deserves.” Their conduct has constituted a rolling clown show—a rolling journalistic disgrace. The clowning continued last night as a millionaire cable culture continued to tell us we don’t need actual facts—that speculation, misstatement and novelization will serve us just as well.

Who needs journalism? this channel has asked. We have a more pleasing product to sell you!

Thye're guessing that we will gulp this new food. In that, almost surely they're right.

Smile-a-while: The Man from Neutrino!


Overbye goes there again: We’re on a semi-reduced schedule this week, in service to a mission of national import.

That said, why not read the New York Times’ latest report from Neutrino?

Dennis Overbye (no relation) is that paper’s man from Neutrino. “Neutrinos come in three varieties,” he noted in yesterday’s Science Times section.

Why must they always create these divisions? We recommend yesterday's work.

WHO NEEDS JOURNALISM: The team of O’Donnell, Capehart and Blow!


Part 3—Triumverate straight outta Kafka: We’ll admit it. The analysts were disappointed by Kevin Drum’s take on the “controversy” surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin.

This is the heart of Drum’s reaction. Glumly, the analysts said he’d taken the easy way out:
DRUM (3/27/12): Has there been any public controversy in recent memory as disheartening as the Trayvon Martin case? I don't mean the killing of Martin itself, though. That's certainly disheartening, but it's hardly unique. I mean the political reaction to it.

A week ago, the worst I could say about right-wing reaction to the Martin case was that conservatives were studiously ignoring it. But that was a week ago. Since then, conservatives have entered the arena with a vengeance.
We agree with the highlighted sentiment. We think the treatment of the Martin killing has been deeply disheartening.

But in these highly tribal times, it’s easy to seize on the other tribe’s conduct. In his post, Drum focused on “right-wing reaction” alone—and he went wherever he had to go to find it. More specifically, he linked to Dave Weigel, who was complaining about the conduct of “the Twitter aggregator (yes, we've come to that point) Twitchy.”

“Yes, we've come to that point,” Weigel wrote, mocking himself for tracking Twitchy—and failing to explain why he’d done so. In our view, Weigel seems to be completing his journey from right to left, peddling silly shit as he goes. But the analysts moped as they saw Drum take a pass on his own liberal tribe’s behavior.

Has the treatment of the Martin case been disheartening? It certainly has—but you don’t have to chase after Twitchy to illustrate that point. In the liberal world, the bad conduct has been right there on TV, conducted by high-profile players.

Do liberals and progressives still need actual journalism? Or do we live for tribal pleasures alone? Judged by journalistic norms, the conduct on MSNBC has been very bad—and this conduct has been performed by very well-known players.

Consider the conduct of prime-time harlequin Lawrence O’Donnell, whose interviews in the past two nights have defined a terrible breakdown in progressive intellectual norms.

Last Wednesday evening, O’Donnell defined his role in the Martin matter. He fashioned himself a “prosecutor” in this case, he told the liberal world (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/27/12).

Over the past two nights, O’Donnell has shown the liberal world what that means, and it hasn’t been pretty—or smart. Let’s start with some truly ridiculous conduct from Monday evening’s program.

O’Donnell interviewed Rene Stutzman, a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel. At 7:36 that evening, the Sentinel had posted a new report by Stutzman. In her report, Stutzman describes what George Zimmerman told the Sanford police about the events which preceded Martin’s death.

(Stutzman’s report has been updated several times. As far as we know, the original form of the report no longer exists on-line. To read the report as it now exists, click here.)

Was Zimmerman’s account to the Sanford police truthful and accurate? We have no way of knowing. But his account is an obvious part of this story. By normal journalistic standards, it would have been helpful for O’Donnell to use his interview with Stutzman as a chance to gain some clarity about what Zimmerman has said.

Instead, O’Donnell staged one his famous rants. Incessantly, he talked over Stutzman, just as Bill O’Reilly had done in an exchange with a liberal policy expert two hours before on Fox. O’Donnell claimed that certain parts of Stutzman’s report failed to establish the fact that she was reporting Zimmerman’s account of what happened. He said she seemed to be making statements as if they represented her own knowledge.

It may even by that this claim was true in some way or other, although Stutzman’s report was larded with attributions by the times we checked it on-line, three hours after O’Donell’s initial attack.

Were there shortcomings with Stutzman’s report? It’s always possible, though isn’t obvious from anything O’Donnell said Monday night. In the end, it’s impossible to know, because O’Donnell—a prosecutor straight outta Hell—incessantly interrupted and talked over Stutzman, refusing to let her speak. In her third attempt to defend her work, Stutzman finally chose to just keep talking as O’Donnell shouted her down. The reporter managed to say this much before she surrendered again:
STUTZMAN (3/27/12): Mr. O’Donnell, I think you’re misrepresenting the story as it’s published. In the second or third paragraph, Mr. O’Donnell, it says “the police account.”
In a perfect example of O'Donnell's method, Stutzman's statement does not appear in the MSNBC transcript. Where she spooke, you only see this: "(CROSSTALK)"

To watch this full segment, click this.

Three hours later, Stutzman’s report was full of attributions. No one could fail to understand that she was reporting Zimmerman’s account of what occurred, as related to her by “law-enforcement authorities,” not her own personal knowledge.

Was her original report lacking in some way? It’s certainly possible, although we have no idea. But one thing was abundantly clear Monday night—O’Donnell’s conduct was inexcusable, a break with all journalistic tradition. It was the work of a very stupid man, a surrender to Kafkaesque values.

On Fox, O’Reilly was behaving the very same way that nighty, shouting down a liberal policy expert who dared to disagree with him about Obama’s health law (Caroline Frederickson, president of the American Constitution Society). O’Donnell was aping the conduct of Fox, as he increasingly does.

Last night, Last Word was worse. In this case, O'Donnell assembled a trio of prosecutors to work over Joe Oliver, an acquaintance of Zimmerman who has been speaking on his behalf on various news programs.

Is Oliver worth interviewing at all? That isn’t entirely clear. But O’Donnell’s half hour with this character witness was a journalistic disaster, a tribunal straight outta Kafka. Joining O’Donnell, fellow prosecutors Capehart and Blow took turns working over the witness, creating one of the strangest interview sessions we’ve ever seen on TV.

How peculiar was last night’s session? If you choose to click here and watch the several segments, go ahead—just count the ways.

One moronic example:

Completely bizarre non-questioning questioning was directed at Oliver concerning some past place of work. We learned that Oliver once worked with Zimmerman. But we weren’t told where they worked, or what they did, or why this was deemed to be relevant.

We’ll take a guess, but it’s only a guess: It may be that O’Donnell struck some sort of deal with Oliver in which such questions would be off-limits. But as this very dumb cable host strutted and peacocked his hour on the stage, his viewers were never told the terms of any such deal. They were simply handed the very odd questioning which almost always occurs when our new Guignolian star shows off his courtroom chops.

Judged by journalistic standards, Blow and Capehart behaved like fools in support of O'Donnell. But then, consider something Capehart had said a few hours earlier, appearing on Politics Nation with Al Sharpton.

Capehart knows which side he’s on. But judged by journalistic standards, is he even minimally competent?

At one point, the following exchange occurred. For now, we’ll focus on the highlighted statements. As they watched this exchange, the analysts writhed for the world:
SHARPTON (3/27/12): It seems to me, Jonathan, after reading your article, if they are now saying, even one saying that Trayvon was reaching for the gun, another saying he was banging this guy’s head on the ground and there was blood, then why didn’t they keep Zimmerman’s clothes? It would seem to me that would be the first thing you would do is keep all the evidence because there would have had to have been blood on Zimmerman's clothes.

CAPEHART: Right. Exactly. You have a dead person lying on the ground. You have the shooter, who admits that he shot him. You have him in custody, in handcuffs, in the back of a car. You bring him to the police station. At no point are any tests done—not gun powder, not DNA testing, no photographs. Nothing of George Zimmerman’s clothes are done. And on the flip side, we know that a toxicology test was done on Trayvon Martin. But was one done on George Zimmerman? These are questions we don’t know.

SHARPTON: And I want to—and the thing that I would add to that is, if one was done on the deceased, on the victim, then why wasn’t one done on the shooter? And who decided that?

CAPEHART: Exactly. Exactly.
Capehart and Sharpton have focused on the Martin story for the past two weeks. Last night, they were still asking about the toxicology tests. They wondered why Martin was tested, but Zimmerman wasn’t.

They showed no sign of knowing why this might have occurred. This struck us as sad and strange.

If you’re even minimally competent, you’ve reviewed Stutzman’s March 23 news report, in which she addressed this very question. Writing in the Sentinel, Stutzman discussed five of “the most prominent misunderstandings” surrounding the Martin case. This was her third example:
STUTZMAN (3/23/12): The cops tested Trayvon for drugs but not Zimmerman.

True, according to authorities. Trayvon underwent an autopsy, the same as in every other suspicious death in Florida, and as part of that, was tested for drugs. Zimmerman was not tested because he was not arrested.
According to Stutzman’s report, Sanford police were following standard statewide practice in their testing of Martin. “Zimmerman was not tested because he was not arrested,” she wrote, suggesting, without directly saying so, that this is standard procedure too.

Is Stutzman’s reporting accurate? We have no idea, but we have an excuse—we watch MSNBC! By now, it’s utterly silly to keep pretending that no one has any idea why Martin, but not Zimmerman, would have been tested, if that’s what actually happened.

Sharpton and Capehart both represent very prominent news organizations; presumably, either man could get his phone calls answered. It would be very easy for Capehart to make a few calls concerning this basic point.

Sorry. Last night, Capehart was still expressing puzzlement about this very basic matter, while suggesting that something was very wrong with what the police had done. He showed no sign of knowing what Stutzman reported four days before. He didn’t report any way in which he himself has actually tried to get his question answered.

Capehart was playing a tribal role. But where had the journalist gone?

That said, the journalistic picture may have gotten worse in this morning’s Orlando Sentinel. Last night, Capehart and Sharpton continued to say that the Sanford police didn’t collect George Zimmerman’s clothing (see transcript above). Last week, this claim was routine on MSNBC, paired with the claim that the Sanford police let Zimmerman walk away with his gun.

On March 23, Stutzman reported that the Sanford police did take Zimmerman’s gun on the evening Martin was killed. This morning, in another “rumor”-debunking report, she says the claim about Zimmerman’s clothing isn’t accurate either:
STUTZMAN (3/28/12): Sanford police failed to collect key evidence in the case: the clothing of George Zimmerman, the gunman who killed Trayvon.

Not true, police said. They took his clothing as well as Trayvon's and packaged it for crime-lab analysis. A spokeswoman for Special Prosecutor Angela Corey would not disclose Tuesday where the clothing is now, but she wrote in an email that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement "is assisting with the processing of physical evidence.”
Liberal viewers of MSNBC have routinely been told that Sanford police didn’t collect Zimmerman’s gun or his clothing. If Stutzman’s reporting is accurate, both these claims were false. (For the record, Sharpton no longer seems to be saying that Zimmerman “walked away with his gun.”)

Last night, O’Donnell and his pair of Guignols played the journalistic fools, just as O’Donnell himself had done the night before. Just as this very loud fellow had promised, he had cast himself as a prosecutor, walking away from the journalist’s role. But this was a prosecutor straight outta Hell.

In real courtrooms, a prosecutor is balanced by a defense attorney—and a judge is sitting on the bench, poised to make fools like O’Donnell stop their ridiculous conduct. But Dorchester’s loudest favorite son doesn’t people his courtroom that way. He peoples his courtroom with the triumvirate of O’Donnell, Capehart and Blow—with folk who seem determined to further the tribal narrative, thus pleasing us liberal rubes.

Do liberals need journalistic values? Do we need the service of journalists—of people who will pursue the actual facts of a case, applying reasonable measures of fairness and logic? Or is it all tribal all the time now? Is it all about creating stories which pleases the dullest mind?

That strategy might be good for business. Is that the strategy this cable channel has now selected?

When it comes to the killing of Trayvon Martin, you really don’t have to go to Twitchy to find people behaving badly. Prominent people are behaving quite badly all over the One True Liberal Channel, as that channel increasingly chooses to pattern itself after Fox.

Tomorrow: What Maddow once said about Fox

Quick review: Three basic questions:

Did Sanford police take Zimmerman’s gun? Did Sanford police take Zimmerman’s clothing? Should Zimmerman have been tested?

Capehart, a journalist, still doesn’t seem to have any idea. One final question:

Why not?

Additional reading assignment!


We don’t know if it’s true: Did George Zimmerman tell Sanford police the truth about the events of February 26?

We have no way of knowing. But in this morning’s edition, the Orlando Sentinel reports what Zimmerman has told the police. This is the news report which had O’Donnell aping O’Reilly on last evening’s Last Word. (Early last evening, the report was posted on-line.)

Has Zimmerman been truthful? We don’t know. According to the Sentinel, this is what he has said.

The state of the nation’s schools: The 31-year itch!


The Washington Post catches up: We’re on a semi-reduced work schedule this week due to a matter of national importance.

For that reason, we’ll take this occasion to clap ourselves on the back. Our reason:

On Sunday, the analysts semi-derisively cheered as they read the Washington Post. Across the top of page A11, they read this banner headline:

“Suspicious test score across U.S. raise questions of cheating”

The headline sat atop an AP report. To read it, just click here. Then click one more time.

Why the semi-derision? We tried to recall: When did we first discuss this general problem in the Baltimore Sun? We tried to recall, then checked.

Ah yes—it was February 1981! To read the text of our ancient report, just click here. In fact, we had cited this general problem in the Sun before—and we had been talking to Sun reporters about this matter for years. But this was a complete column.

We cheered as the Washington Post caught up! Based on this 31-year lag time, we can now make a Daily Howler projection: The Post will report the rise in the nation’s NAEP scores at some time in or before the year 2043!

This morning’s puzzler: How do we the people view the individual mandate!


We’d have to say it depends: In this morning’s New York Times, three journalists report the results of a new survey concerning the health care law. To read the report, click here.

At first glance, we were most struck by Americans’ view concerning the individual mandate.

Oof! In response to question 3 in the survey, 67 percent of respondents said they wanted the mandate “overturned.” More specifically, 38 percent said they wanted the entire law overturned. An additional 29 percent said they wanted just the mandate overturned. (Given those choices, only 26 percent said they wanted “to keep the entire health care law in place.” To review the full survey, click this.)

The New York Times featured those results in its accompanying graphic. But uh-oh! The Times also featured the responses to survey question 11. In response to that question, 45 percent said they approve of the individual mandate; 51 percent said they disapprove.

Does this involve a contradiction? If only 51 percent of respondents “disapprove of a provision in the 2010 health care law that requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance by 2014,” why do 67 percent want to see the mandate overturned? Do you think a contradiction is involved? Or can you find your way out of this apparent puzzler?

For ourselves, we’re still pondering. A person might want to have the whole law overturned even though he or she doesn’t disapprove of the individual mandate. Does that explain the apparent puzzle? Is the apparent contradiction a mirage?

It’s possible. After all, in response to another question, 36 percent say they approve of the health care law; 47 percent say they disapprove, with the rest having no opinion. But if 36 percent approve, why do only 26 percent say they want the entire law to survive? Do some people approve of the overall law even though they disapprove of the individual mandate?

You won’t get any help from the Times! In best fashion, the Times selected these semi-puzzling results to feature in their graphic. But in the accompanying news report, not a word is said about the semi-puzzles lurking in the data they chose to feature.

We’re not saying they should have explained. Like Paul Reiser, we’re just saying.

In response to another question: 48 percent of respondents say they "understand how the law will affect" them and their family.

Saying this doesn't make it so. We've never been entirely clear on the purpose of such survey questions.

WHO NEEDS JOURNALISM: O’Donnell’s new role!


Part 2—Journalist dons a new hat: Watching the press corps assemble the facts is often a troubling experience.

Yesterday, we considered a factual conflict about George Zimmerman’s gun (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/26/12). Today, let’s consider the way the press has reported the facts about Zimmerman’s phone calls.

On February 26, Zimmerman made a call to the Sanford police concerning Trayvon Martin, whom he considered suspicious. This phone call was part of the tragic set of events which ended in Martin’s death.

But this wasn’t Zimmerman’s first such call to the Sanford police. Way back on March 17, Lizette Alvarez reported a background fact in the New York Times:
ALVAREZ (3/17/12): Mr. Zimmerman lives in the predominantly white gated community where the shooting took place. A criminal justice major in college, he often patrolled the streets in his car. In the last 14 months, Mr. Zimmerman had made 46 calls to the police, officials said, reporting everything from alarms and disturbances to reckless driving and, most commonly, a ''suspicious'' person.
Alvarez sourced her fact to the Sanford police. That same day, the Miami Herald reported the same fact. The Orlando Sentinel soon followed suit: According to the Sentinel, Zimmerman “contacted police 46 times in the past 15 months, the [Sanford police] reported.”

Zimmerman had made 46 calls to the Sanford police since the start of 2011. Is that fact accurate? We would guess that it is, but we aren’t entirely sure, in part because we follow the work of other American news orgs.

The upper-end American press corps is a bit like New England weather. If you don’t like the facts, just wait a while:

On March 19, the CNN Wire reported this fact: “According to Sgt. David Morgenstern of the Sanford police, Zimmerman called 911 46 times since 2001” (our emphasis).

On March 22, the Associated Press reported this: “Zimmerman, who was captain of the neighborhood watch and licensed to carry a gun, made 46 calls to police since 2004, according to department records” (our emphasis).

On March 23, the Washington Post repeated that claim in a front-page report: “He called the police department at least 46 times since 2004 to report everything from open garages to suspicious people.”

So it goes when the mainstream press corps assembles the simplest facts. In this instance, everyone agreed on the number of calls—Zimmerman had made 46. But depending on what news org you checked, he had made that number of calls since 2001, 2004 or the start of 2011.

On Sunday, matters got worse. This isn’t a hugely important fact, but in such an emotional matter, almost all facts will be put to good use by folk who have taken a side. On Sunday, Ben Jealous, head of the NAACP, offered a version of this fact on Meet the Press, one of the nation’s most famous news programs.

Almost surely, Jealous’ factual claim is wrong. But his factual error was used to advance a certain view of this case:
JEALOUS (3/25/12): George Zimmerman needs to be locked up and no matter how we feel about these laws, this law isn't what gave permission for him to do this. What gave permission was a, a chief and a force in that town that was willing to misconstrue this law to the benefit of somebody who they had talked to 46 times in 56 days. I mean, they should have known something was off with this guy when, when he had called the cops 46 times just this year.
By Sunday, Zimmerman had called the police “46 times in 56 days”—46 times just this year. And this factual claim was being advanced to help us form a view of this case—to help us see that Zimmerman must be a bit of a nut. Alas! David Gregory just sat there and took it as Jealous made his factual error—an error which served a particular outlook. No one challenged Jealous’ statement, as CNN’s Don Lemon had done at the start of the week when this claim was first advanced.

On March 18, Lemon spoke with Goldie Taylor. Like Jealous, she had a point to make:
TAYLOR (3/18/12): It's worth noting that George Zimmerman, since January 1st of this year, has called 911 46 times. In any—

LEMON: I think it was 2011.

TAYLOR: In any jurisdiction, even 46 times in a year, two years, make that five years, that person would have been named a nuisance caller.
Taylor was willing to settle for two years—or even for five! But as she started, she embellished a fact to advance the idea that Zimmerman was a bit of a nut.

In this case, Lemon corrected her error. One week later, Gregory and his all-star panel let Jealous’ misstatement go.

Despite his errors, Jealous has always struck us as a decent, well-intentioned man. (He rushed to criticize Shirley Sherrod after Andrew Breitbart slimed her.) We’ll assume he was acting in good faith when he made his misstatement on Sunday—a misstatement he originally made on March 22 on CNN, with insinuation attached. (On that occasion, Soledad O’Brien didn’t correct him.) That said, does it matter if facts like these are correct? Facts which aren’t all that important?

Presumably, yes—it does matter. But especially in an emotional case, various hustlers, dimwits and clowns will work quite hard to play you, enacting a culture which has ruled cable "news" over the past fifteen years. The facts they state they will often misstate. They’ll fail to state many other facts—the facts which don’t serve their preferred story-line. Perhaps most importantly, they’ll work very hard to keep you from seeing how many facts are unknown.

They do this in service to various gods—but not to the god of journalism. Consider the work of Lawrence O’Donnell on last Wednesday night’s The Last Word.

This was the day of the “million hoodie march,” a demonstration in New York in remembrance of Trayvon Martin. Midway through his program, O’Donnell turned to a pair of guests, each of whom was wearing a hoodie.

(To watch this segment, just click here. We cringed, but only to keep from laughing. Your results may differ.)

Back to O'Donnell's performance: After playing tape of Martin’s parents, he made a bit of a fashion statement. Then, in a truly remarkable statement, he explained his own role:
O’DONNELL (3/21/12): Trayvon Martin’s parents speaking at a rally in New York tonight. With me now, Goldie Taylor, of NBC`s TheGrio.com, who was at that million hoodie rally tonight in New York, and the host of Make It Plain on Sirius XM Radio, Mark Thompson, who will be at the rally tomorrow with Reverend Sharpton in Florida.

Thank you both for joining me tonight.

You know, I had the hoodie on all day. And at about 9:25, as I was heading down here, without even thinking about changing it, I realized, you know what? I feel like a prosecutor tonight. I better dress like a prosecutor. And—and you know, that’s the way I’m feeling about it.

I just want to get your reactions to what you have heard so far, what you heard from Mr. Bonaparte, the city manager. He has the authority to fire this police chief right now tonight, before he goes to bed. He’s—you’ve listened to him. He’s approaching this very carefully.

What do you think, Goldie? More carefully than he has to?
Needless to say, Taylor lit into Bonaparte, the action she had been booked to perform. But consider the remarkable statement O’Donnell made before asking his question:

In a fawning, presumably bogus statement, O’Donnell suggested that he too had planned to wear a hoodie that night, changing his mind around 9:25. (Viewers who simply believed this claim should have their cable cut off.)

Had O’Donnell planned to wear a hoodie? Everything is possible. But there’s little doubt about the meaning of his second remark. According to this loudest of men, he wasn’t doing the work of a journalist this night.

O’Donnell was working as a prosecutor! He said he dressed in a suit and tie so he would look the part.

Question: Should the anchor of an evening “news” show perform the role of a prosecutor? We hadn’t seen a journalist advance such a claim since July 2000. A quick bit of background:

In a typical lynch mob performance, Tim Russert had savaged Candidate Gore for the full hour on Meet the Press. Some of Russert’s facts were wrong—and many of his facts were massaged. Embarrassing trivia were spindled and mutilated, producing prepackaged results.

Result? In the days which followed, the mainstream “press corps” spilled with praise for Russert’s wonderful work (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/25/00). This is part of what Margaret Carlson said as she mocked Gore and clowned for her brilliant pal, Don Imus:
CARLSON (7/20/00): Russert was a prosecutor. And while people don't like the press...Russert was like a prosecutor, and he did a very good job.
Russert was a prosecutor, she cooed. But was that Russert’s job?

Russert made many mistakes that day—but he spun the hour in the way the mainstream “press” wanted. In the past two weeks, O’Donnell has played the same sorts of games, including his deeply ridiculous effort on last evening’s program.

Tomorrow, we’ll review last night’s work. But O’Donnell’s declaration last week forces us to ask a question: Should O’Donnell work as a prosecutor when he hosts his program each night? Or should he restrict himself to the traditional role of a journalist?

O’Donnell is one of our biggest and loudest fools. He has been so for a very long time. But his statement last Wednesday night raises a question:

In tribal times like these, do we need actual journalism?

Tomorrow: O’Donnell and O’Reilly

What would a Martian say about the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza!

MONDAY, MARCH 26, 2012

Would they call him the rational animal: Due to the prominence of the Trayvon Martin case, we’re going to suspend our examination of the ancient claim that we humans are the rational animal.

That said, what would an apocryphal visitor from Mars say about Chris Cillizza?

Last Friday, we offered a post about this truly ridiculous column—a column which represents the Standard Thinking of our Establishment Press Corps. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/23/12.

In his column, Cillizza discussed some of the silly stories the press corps has used, down through the years, to define major White House contenders. The crackpot “logic” of this guild was there for all to see.

Why does the guild adopt these ridiculous tales about our presidential contenders? They’ve been playing the game this way for the past forty years.

Why do they behave this way? And what would a Martian think?

On Sunday, David Corn explained why they do it. He appeared on Reliable Sources, where he was asked to discuss last week’s frenzy about Etch a Sketch.

“Was the media frenzy over this Etch a Sketch business a little over-done?” Howard Kurtz asked. Eventually, Corn gave the standard response about the guild’s ongoing culture:
KURTZ (3/25/12): The Etch a Sketch—the stock in the Etch a Sketch company tripled [last week]. I still can't believe that! And the problem here is that this gaffe, mistake, bad choice of toy, played into the media narrative of Romney's candidacy.

CORN: Yes. Well, at least he didn't call him Mr. Potato Head. Maybe that's next.

I mean, much of journalism is really about shorthand. Reporters spend all day covering long speeches and following this, we go to congressional hearings, we go to press conferences, and it's all about distilling that down in a way that consumers can sort of observe what journalists and others think are the top priorities.
Why did they tell us that Muskie wept? Why did they tell us that Bush the Elder looked at his watch? Why did they pimp all that crap about Gore?

Corn put it the nicest possible way. But this is what he was actually saying:

It’s all about distilling things down so that voters can be told what we journalists think of the candidates.

In Cillizza’s column, we can see how absurd these famous stories have sometimes been. But these tales have defined presidential politics since the day Muskie wept—although we were finally told, some fifteen years later, that he may not have wept at all!

Candidate Muskie may not have wept! But as David Broder explained, that famous claim distilled things down into a very important shorthand. The claim “distilled” a judgment concerning Muskie—a judgment which had been reached, in private, by the insider press.

Twenty-five years later, did Al Gore say he inspired Love Story? Well actually, no—he didn't. The same explanation is obvious, starting with the Frank Rich column which introduced this destructive shorthand.

What would visitors from Mars say about Chris Cillizza’s column? Would “rational animal” come to mind? Or would they throw back their heads and laugh at us, as Homer’s gods always did?

The Cillizzas have been pimping this bullshit for decades. Every major American “elite” has agreed not to notice or tell.

Tribe time: Krugman hears the hoos!

MONDAY, MARCH 26, 2012

Kristof says they’re crazy: Paul Krugman’s new column is very important. It would be a very good thing if people were exposed to its content.

For that reason, we would say this: It’s too bad about his opening:
KRUGMAN (3/26/12): Florida’s now-infamous Stand Your Ground law, which lets you shoot someone you consider threatening without facing arrest, let alone prosecution, sounds crazy—and it is. And it’s tempting to dismiss this law as the work of ignorant yahoos. But similar laws have been pushed across the nation, not by ignorant yahoos but by big corporations.

Specifically, language virtually identical to Florida’s law is featured in a template supplied to legislators in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed organization that has managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence (only recently, thanks to yeoman work by the Center for Media and Democracy, has a clear picture of ALEC’s activities emerged).
Truly, that’s an astonishing statement. Because we’re discussing a Florida law, Krugman says it’s “tempting to dismiss it as the work of ignorant yahoos.” He rejects the idea because similar laws have been pushed (and adopted) “across the nation,” in various other states.

Is that really what Krugman meant? It’s fairly clear that that’s what he said. But then, how about Nicholas Kristof’s offhand assertion in last Thursday’s column:
KRISTOF (3/22/12): Of course, political debates aren’t built on the consumption of roadkill. But they do often revolve around this broader moral code. This year’s Republican primaries have been a kaleidoscope of loyalty, authority and sanctity issues—such as whether church-affiliated institutions can refuse to cover birth control in health insurance policies—and that’s perhaps why people like me have found the primaries so crazy.
You’ll have to read the full column for context. But Kristof seems to say he finds it “crazy” when Republicans ask “whether church-affiliated institutions can refuse to cover birth control in health insurance policies.” Can that really be what he meant? It seems to be what he said.

(For the record, President Obama has given his answer to Kristof’s question: Yes! For better or worse, “church-affiliated institutions can refuse to cover birth control in health insurance policies.” Is Obama crazy too?)

Kristof’s remark was a bit of a flippant aside. Krugman’s presentation strikes us as an unfortunate ongoing drift in his work. But Krugman’s column today is very, very important. Just a guess, and your results may differ: Ruminations about regional yahoos increase the chances that Krugman’s content won’t make its way outside the tribe.

“Stand Your Ground” laws have been adopted in states all over the nation. Such laws are most prevalent in the red states, but some analysts include Illinois, Michigan, New Hampshire and Washington among the states which have adopted such laws. That said, even if such laws were confined to the brightest red of the red states, dismissive remarks about ignorant yahoos are a striking form of journalism, especially when they contain a regional cast.

Krugman has long been our side’s MVP. In our view, this jibe doesn’t help—and it carries a hint of the northeastern yahoo, a familiar type to various folk in various parts of the land.

WHO NEEDS JOURNALISM: Who needs the facts!

MONDAY, MARCH 26, 2012

Part 1—In search of George Zimmerman’s gun: On Saturday morning, the Orlando Sentinel did a rather modest fact-check concerning the death of Trayvon Martin.

For the Sentinel, this is a local event. Its reporters were on the story long before the national press—though that doesn’t mean that its reporters are always right, of course.

In this instance, Rene Stutzman discussed five “prominent misunderstandings” concerning this high-profile case. The first concerned George Zimmerman’s gun. We were surprised by what we read:
STUTZMAN (3/24/12): There is a great deal of misinformation surrounding the Trayvon Martin shooting. Here are some of the most prominent misunderstandings:

Cops returned the gun to shooter George Zimmerman.

Untrue, according to police. Sanford Officer Tim Smith handcuffed Zimmerman, and then pulled from a holster in Zimmerman's waistband the black Kel Tec 9 mm PF9, a semiautomatic. The gun is now in the possession of authorities, officially part of the evidence in the case.
Say what? The Sanford police took Zimmerman’s gun? We were surprised by that statement, but then we have an excuse:

We watch a lot of cable.

Let’s be clear—for ourselves, we still don’t know if the Sanford police took George Zimmerman’s gun. But all last week, we heard a contrary claim on MSNBC—and the contrary claim was used to drive a particular portrait of this unfolding story.

Was Zimmerman allowed to keep his gun? As best we can tell, the claim got its start on MSNBC on Tuesday, March 20. Al Sharpton spoke with Kendall Coffey, a Florida legal figure:
COFFEY (3/20/12): What kind of investigation took place here? Did they get the evidence from different witnesses? Did they really do the ground work so they could undertake an aggressive interrogation? Or did they just listen to the guy’s self-serving statement and say, “OK. You say it was self-defense, that’s good enough for me?” And I have a pretty clear sense of what the FBI is going to think of the kind of slipshod investigation that apparently happened here.

SHARPTON: Well, I think you’re right, Mr. Coffey. Because when you look at the fact that this guy left with his gun, when you look at the fact that we are told that the victim who is Trayvon Martin, was left in the medical examiner’s office for several days, they never even picked up his cell phone to call the numbers to find out who he was, while his father was calling around to hospitals trying to find him. How can you do a thorough investigation when you didn’t try to find out who the victim was and you listen to a self-serving statement by Zimmerman and he walks away with a nine millimeter?
According to Sharpton, Zimmerman walked away with his gun—and this fact was used to advance the claim that Sanford police ran a slipshod investigation. For the record, the factual claim had been advanced one hour earlier on Hardball, by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.):
CLEAVER (3/20/12): I was mayor of Kansas City for eight years. We have not had an incident like this in Kansas City, Missouri, in a couple of decades. One of the reasons is we`ve had good police chiefs. But the other—if a police officer shoots a civilian, a person, even if it`s justifiable, if it`s a justifiable shooting, the police officer is immediately suspended with pay.

This man was able to shoot and kill a kid and then walk away with his gun.

MATTHEWS: I know. I know, sir.
Was Rep. Cleaver’s highlighted statement accurate? We don’t know—and you can feel certain that Matthews didn’t.

But people, please! This is Hardball! Matthews quickly agreed.

Did Zimmerman walk away with his gun? This certainly isn’t the most important fact in this very important case. But this claim was advanced all week, used to drive a particular portrait of the investigation. On Wednesday night, Sharpton appeared as a guest on The Last Word. He and Lawrence O’Donnell advanced this assertion, even as Sharpton complained that the police had been misstating facts:
SHARPTON (3/21/12) What's even more appalling, not only did they not make an arrest, they let the guy go with a gun, with the murder weapon. “You can go.” And they start becoming his defense spokesmen.

In these documents that you read to Mr. Bonaparte, they start advocating on behalf of Zimmerman. I mean, it is outrageous. You have the police chief saying this is what Zimmerman was facing. This is, in fact, what happened.

How does he know that? He did not talk to people—he did not talk to witnesses. There’s no corroboration. But he states this as fact.

He, in fact, became the spokesman for Mr. Zimmerman.

O’DONNELL: A gun like that, you want to take it over. You want to take ballistic tests on it. You want to figure out exactly what the range of fire was, how far away was this from the entrance wound. None of that’s being done.
Were Sharpton and O'Donnell right? We don't know. That said, O’Donnell’s performance on Wednesday night struck us as MSNBC’s worst of the week, a point we plan to discuss tomorrow. For the record, it seems that police did speak to witnesses, despite Sharpton’s somewhat vague claim.

Did Zimmerman walk away with his gun? We don’t know, but on that same Wednesday night, Rep. Corrine Brown made the claim on Sharpton’s program. On Thursday night, O’Donnell advanced the claim again, speaking with the lawyer for Trayvon Martin’s parents:
O’DONNELL (3/22/12): And attorney Crump, are you worried about what we’re going to be able to re-construct given the amount of evidence that's been lost, we do not have immediate access after of the crime to the gun, to ballistic tests on that gun? We don’t have immediate access to the clothing of Zimmerman which is relevant because they say there is evidence in those clothing of blood and grass stains indication of altercations. I’m just looking at things in the police report that we do not have access to that make—that are made reference to in the report?

CRUMP: You know, Lawrence, you’re absolutely right.
By Friday night, Sharpton was opening his program with the claim about the gun. “Welcome to Politics Nation,” he said. “I’m Al Sharpton. Tonight’s lead, 27 days since the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin and still the man responsible has not been arrested. He is still walking free, still with his gun, still with his gun permit. Each day he remains free is an outrage.”

Later, Sharpton advanced the claim again. “He not only has not had his gun taken or his permit, he had the police chief becoming his spokesman.”

(Note: According to Stutzman's report in the Sentinel, Zimmerman does retain his gun permit, although the police took his gun.)

Was Zimmerman allowed to keep his gun? As of this morning, we simply don’t know. This certainly isn’t the most important fact about this case—but in typical press corps fashion, a wide array of basic facts have been misstated and/or selectively presented in the past week, especially among those journalists who have adopted an advocate’s role as this story unfolds.

In many precincts, a set of questions was implicitly raised as this case was discussed last week. The most basic questions would be these:

Who needs journalism? Who needs the facts? Does anyone really need all the facts? Or can we survive on novelized tales, novelized stories which are shaped to fit a particular outlook?

Can we exist on novelized tales? People like Matthews have played it that way for a very, very long time. Across the spectrum of major elites, our “elites” have agreed not to notice.

Tomorrow: O’Donnell defines his role

Refusing to do what Obama suggested!


Chris Matthews assembles the facts: Yesterday afternoon, Barack Obama made a decent person’s sane statement concerning the death of Trayvon Martin.

This is what the president said in response to a question:
OBAMA (3/23/12): Well, I'm the head of the executive branch and the attorney general reports to me, so I've got to be careful about my statements to make sure that we're not impairing any investigation that's taking place right now.

But, obviously, this is a tragedy. I can only imagine what these parents are going through. And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids. And, you know, I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together—federal, state and local—to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.

So I'm glad that not only is the Justice Department looking into it, I understand now that the governor of the state of Florida has formed a task force to investigate what's taking place. I think all of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out how does something like this happen. And that means that we examine the laws and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident.

But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. And, you know, I think they are right to expect that all of us, as Americans, are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.
According to the president, “it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together…to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.” With respect to Trayvon Martin’s parent, the president said this: “I think they are right to expect that all of us, as Americans, are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”

Will all of us take these events with the seriousness which they deserve? Will all of us, even our cable pundits, “pull together to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened?”

We thought of the president’s words when we played some Hardball last night. Early in his opening segment, the program’s blustery host authored a typical statement:
MATTHEWS (3/23/12): Well, finding out what happened is probably the first— Maybe I’m different than a lot of other commentators. I want to find out what happened. I mean, you have to find out in court, ultimately, but formally—but what happened in this terrible case?

The guy is armed. He knows he has this "stand in—stand in—stand your ground" law on his side. He’s acting like some kind of pseudo-policeman. He has no authority whatever. And yet he’s on some kind of neighborhood watch thing. It is a toxic mix, and he seems to have a point of view that’s clear that this guy is a criminal.
Classic Matthews! He said he was “different than a lot of other commentators” in that he “wants to find out what happened.” He then quickly made several statements of “facts” which aren’t in evidence.

(To watch this full segment, click here.)

Did Zimmerman “know he has this ‘stand your ground’ law on his side?” More precisely, did such knowledge affect his conduct? It’s certainly possible—but Matthews of course doesn’t know one way or the other. Nor does he seem to know that he doesn’t know.

But then, there’s a history there.

Over the past fifteen years, Matthews has invented facts for a living, in ways which have served his cable channel’s shifting agendas. For years, he invented his facts in service to the right wing. Now, he invents his facts “on our side,” and we cheer him on.

Matthews’ rather dumb declaration was just an opening. A truly wonderful Hardball moment occurred a bit later on, when Matthews tried to establish the fact that Zimmerman muttered a racial slur in the course of this deadly event.

Did Zimmerman utter a racial slur? At this point, we don’t know. But Matthews is working on our side now. In the following Classic Hardball Moment, Matthews plays a tape to establish this claim—then says that his staff has mistakenly cut the tape short.

What follows is the official MSNBC transcript, exactly as published through Nexis. It isn't yet available on-line:
MATTHEWS: Now let’s listen to something that I think is serious business. Here is a tape, which we here have boosted the sound so you can hear something that this guy, Zimmerman, says under his breath.

It sounds to me, on listening to it a couple times, like the "F" word, which we don`t speak on television, and another word which is clearly recognizable to anyone watching right now as a racial slur. Let’s listen to the tape.

911 OPERATOR: OK, which entrance is that that he’s heading towards?
911 OPERATOR: Are you following him?
911 OPERATOR: OK, we don`t need you to do that.

MATTHEWS: Well, we cut it off there. I don’t know why we cut it off there.
Matthews said we would hear a racial slur. When he couldn’t hear the racial slur, he assumed that his staff had cut off the tape before the slur occurred.

In fact, the staff had not cut off the tape. Matthews simply couldn’t hear the alleged racial slur, which MSNBC has transcribed in this manner: (INAUDIBLE).

The full tragicomedy develops as the conversation continues. Michelle Bernard assures us we certainly would have heard the slur if the show had played it:
BERNARD (continuing directly): Yes, I have listened to the enhanced version of the tape. For whatever reason, it was cut off here. But if you—

MATTHEWS: No, it was apparently—

WILLIAMS: It was the initial part where he`s whispering under his breath. Obviously, it sounds like he’s moving—“F-ing”—


BERNARD: I’m going to say it. I don’t think we should hide it. The American public needs to know. If you listen to that tape, he says "F-ing coon" under his breath. That is a racial slur.


BERNARD: It is unmistakable. It is undenial—if you listen, undeniable, if you listen to the unenhanced version. That in and of itself makes it a hate crime. That’s why the Justice Department is involved. It’s why the FBI is going to have to investigate this case.
One guest, Joe Williams, seems to know that the tape, as played, did include the alleged slur. But Bernard, who doesn’t understand this, provides a Classic Hardball Moment. Assuming the tape was truncated, she assures us that we would have heard the slur, if we had listened to the enhanced version of the full tape.

In fact, we had just listened to the enhanced version of the tape—and she had failed to hear the alleged slur. About a minute later, Matthews, apparently cued by producers, gives his guests a second chance to clamber on board with the message.

He plays the same piece of tape again. This time, they all hear the slur!
BERNARD: You can hear it very clearly on the tape. The police ask him, Are you following this person? And he says yes. They say, We don’t need you to do this. He keeps doing it. Then you add in what sounds like him saying “F-ing coon."

MATTHEWS: No, I heard it. And it’s not just “sounds like.” Anybody watching this show, if they were sitting in my office a few minutes ago, listening—

BERNARD: Would have heard it.

MATTHEWS: —would have heard it. It’s—

Let’s do it again. It’s the "F-ing" word followed by a word we all recognize, unfortunately, as racially evil, really. Go ahead.

BERNARD: It is evil!

MATTHEWS: Let’s listen. Let's listen.

911 OPERATOR: OK, which entrance is that that he’s heading towards?
ZIMMERMAN: The back entrance. (INAUDIBLE)
911 OPERATOR: Are you following him?
911 OPERATOR: OK, we don’t need you to do that.

BERNARD: You hear it! He says "F-ing coon!" They said, We don’t need you to—we don’t need you to do that. He continues to follow him. And you put all that together along with Trayvon speaking with his girlfriend, and she’s saying, Run from him—


BERNARD: You have motive, and it’s clearly based on racial bias.
Given a second chance with the same tape, Bernard was now able to “hear it.” She said so quite emphatically, with Matthews in agreement.

Did Zimmerman utter a racial slur? For ourselves, we don’t know. But “facts” have always been assembled this way on the disgraceful show, Hardball.

Of course, this is part of a longer tradition in our American history.

Certain types of “neighborhood watch groups” assembled their facts in such ways all through our brutal history. This often ended in the vicious behavior which defines so much of that history.

Matthews pretends to be upset by such past conduct now. This represents his new scripting.

Matthews has always assembled his facts in this manner, of course, no matter which side he was playing on. Here’s our question:

Is Matthews doing what Obama suggested? Is he taking the death of this child “with the seriousness it deserves?” Is he trying to use the tools of his craft to “get to the bottom of exactly what happened?” Is he trying “to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened?”

No, he isn’t doing those things. Such conduct simply isn’t part of his moral/intellectual makeup.

Currently, Matthews plays on our team. But he has never behaved as Obama suggested, and he never will.

The power and the glory: Matthews has a bit of a history here.

In 1999, he invented so many fake facts about a certain journalist that an armed man apeared at his home, apparently planning to kill him.

Luckily, the journalist wasn't home and the armed man was arrested. Did we note that Matthews' facts were false? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/20/99.

Anyone else would have been chastened by this near-miss. But a few weeks later, Matthews started assembling fake facts about nuclear physicist Wen Ho Lee. Death threats followed.

In those days, Matthews was assembling "facts" to take Bill Clinton down. He spent two years inventing "facts" to take out Candidate Gore.

Today, the gentleman plays on our team. He assembles his facts for us.

Chris Cillizza, right in your kisser!

FRIDAY, MARCH 23, 2012

Thereby protecting the guild: Is anyone more disingenuous—more dishonest—than major mainstream “journalists?”

In this morning’s Washington Post, Chris Cillizza pretends to explain why certain “gaffes” have a long shelf life while other “gaffes” don't. This is Cillizza’s explanation—an explanation which isn’t:
CILLIZZA (3/23/12): All political gaffes are not created equal.

Some come to define campaigns, while others disappear in a single news cycle (or sometimes less).

So what differentiates the gaffes that enter campaign folklore from those that even the most committed political junkies struggle to recall a few weeks after they happen?

It's actually a relatively simple answer: Gaffes that matter are those that speak to a larger narrative about a candidate or a doubt/worry that voters already have about that candidate.
In the highlighted passage, Cillizza pins the blame on “voters.” Gaffes stick around if they reinforce something the voters think.

In some cases, this may even be true. But much more often, “gaffes” are seized upon or invented by the press corps; they stick around if they reinforce a judgment the press corps favors. Nor do these tales have to make any sense if the press corps wants to advance them. Just look at three of the examples Cillizza presents.

Cillizza’s first classic example:
CILLIZZA: Recent (and even not-so-recent) political campaigns are filled with gaffes that prove [my] point.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's order of swiss cheese on his cheese steak mattered because the senator from Massachusetts already was fighting against the idea that he was out of touch with average Americans.
Really? Ordering swiss cheese on a cheese steak means a person is “out of touch with average Americans?” Cillizza’s explanation is utterly daft; you'd have to be insane to believe this explanation. But then, this “gaffe” was an artifact of the press corps itself. It didn’t come from the voters.

Repeat: That world-class crap about Candidate Kerry came from the small tiny brains of the mainstream “press corps.” Another alleged example:
CILLIZZA: George H.W. Bush looking at his watch during a presidential debate in the 1992 campaign mattered because there already was a sense in the electorate that the incumbent president was aloof and uncaring.
Really? If a person look at his watch, that means he’s “aloof and uncaring?” Would voters advance such a puddle of piss? In fact, the press corps drove this silly piddle. If it had been left to the voters, nothing would have been said.

Here’s a third example from Cillizza. This one is especially gruesome, in its own special way:
CILLIZZA: Edmund Muskie's tearing up in New Hampshire during the 1972 presidential campaign mattered because it reinforced the idea kicking around in political circles that the Democratic senator from Maine was emotionally unstable and prone to bursts of temper. (The one and only David S. Broder wrote extensively about the Muskie crying episode in his book "Behind the Front Page.")
In this case, Cillizza doesn’t even try to blame the voters for this hoary old groaner. He says Muskie’s alleged crying jag reinforced an idea which was “kicking around in political circles.”

In fact, the idea that Muskie was emotionally unstable had been kicking around among certain journalists, as Lou Cannon explained in a book, embarrassing himself in the process. And good grief! In 1987, “the one and only David Broder” wrote an article in the Washington Monthly admitting that he wasn’t sure if Muskie ever cried at all! “In retrospect, though, there were a few problems with the Muskie story,” Broder very weirdly wrote. “First, it is unclear whether Muskie did cry.”

For Broder’s astonishing story, click here. He notes that Cannon decided that Muskie was unstable while the two men played poker together. And he notes that he doesn't know if Muskie cried at all, ewven though he made a giant big deal about the claim in real time.

Is Cillizza unaware of this astounding confession? Or does he feel that “voters” can’t be told such things even now?

We began critiquing these life-forms on a daily basis in 1998. At that point in our life, we had no idea that anyone could be as dishonest as these people are. In public education, in entertainment, we had never encountered life-forms like these. This morning we get the perfect example, sloshed at us by Cillizza.

Bottom line: Within the guild, they always say it was somebody else’s doing or fault! When they made up two years’ worth of tales about Candidate Gore, they kept insisting that the stories came from “Republican opponents” or “late night comics.”

Sometimes, those stories began at the RNC—but they got their long life from the press corps itself. This was the press corps’ war against Gore. They won’t tell the truth to this day.

Almost always, these dumb-as-rocks stories are given long life by the boys and girls of the “mainstream press.” Cillizza is simply lying again. These silly stories come from him and his colleagues, our most repellent life-forms.

Also today: In the very same Washington Post, Melinda Henneberger also recalls the tale of George Bush checking his watch.

Are they human? Where do they come from? Who or what made them this way?

Something else we heard last night, over on their tribal channel!

FRIDAY, MARCH 23, 2012

Could Castro possibly win, part 2: The two tribes have their alternate realities, as Krugman semi-explained this morning. (He only mentioned the other tribe’s alternate state.)

On our own liberal channel, it’s all comfort food all the time. But uh-oh! Over on their tribal channel last night, we saw Dick Morris say the following things. We thought again of Michael Corleone, wondering if Castro could win:
MORRIS (3/22/12): The other thing, Greta, that I mentioned here earlier that is just absolutely incredible is that the Republicans are sweeping the U.S. Senate races. Sweeping them! They need to pick up three or four seats, depending on who the vice president is, to control the Senate.

Right now, there are eight seats currently held by Democrats where Republicans are in the lead, and some of those are incumbent seats, like Missouri, where Sarah Steelman is 10 points ahead of McCaskill—10 points ahead of McCaskill!

Usually, you'd say, “Well, she's behind, but McCaskill's under 50.” In this case, Steelman has 51 and McCaskill has 41. In Ohio, I'm sorry—Josh Mandel is 4 points ahead of Sherrod Brown, the Democratic senator. In Florida, Connie Mack is 6 points ahead of Nelson, the Democratic senator.

If the election were held today, the Republicans with probably pick up eight seats, lose one or two, and end up with a net of six, which is incredible!

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you raise—I mean, Missouri, Senator McCaskill, that's a really interesting race and how it'll affect the general election because she was very quick to come out and support President Obama over Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Then she embraced health care, and then no sooner had she embraced health care and been one of the sort of the stewards of it that suddenly, they passed something, I forget what it was—in August 2010, I think, like, 93 percent of the people in Missouri were opposed to the health care, some overwhelming number.


VAN SUSTEREN: So she's really on the rail so that it certainly looks like if she's losing by 10 points now, Missouri doesn't look like it's going to be a stronghold for President Obama come November.

MORRIS: No. And my whole point, Greta, is that right now, the head-to-head of the president against Romney is a little bit obscured because Romney is not the candidate and because they're going through this civil war that's going on in the Republican Party. Once that ends, I think Romney will move up smartly.

But to understand what's really happening in terms of incumbents and Democrats in the United States, you look at those Senate races. I would expect right now that an incumbent senator might be under 50. He might be only 8 or 10 ahead of his Republican challenger.

But you have Nelson behind Mack in Florida. You have McCaskill behind Steelman in Missouri. You have Tester behind Rehberg in Montana. You have Brown behind Mandel in Ohio. And then in open seats in North Dakota, Nebraska and Wisconsin, you have, and you have—and Virginia, you have the Republican ahead.

This is presaging, setting up to be an absolute wipeout for the Democratic Party! And people aren't saying that, but if you look at the data, it's showing it.
We thought of Michael Corleone in Havana again. Two questions:

How much of that is accurate?

If it's accurate, do you think they’ll say so on our tribal channel? Or will they simply keep clowning around about the height of those trees?

Krugman’s concern and the Etch a Sketch clowns!

FRIDAY, MARCH 23, 2012

Chris Matthews has fun in Havana: Paul Krugman tackles a wide range of topics in this morning’s column.

We’ll guess he tackled too many. In this brief passage, he attempts to refute that claim about Obama and energy prices:
KRUGMAN (3/23/12): Before we get to the larger implications of this endorsement, let’s get the facts on gas prices straight.

First, the lie: No, President Obama did not say, as many Republicans now claim, that he wanted higher gasoline prices. He did once say that a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions would cause electricity prices to “skyrocket”—an unfortunate word choice. But saying that such a system would raise energy prices was just a factual statement, not a declaration of intent to punish American consumers. The claim that Mr. Obama wanted higher prices is a lie, pure and simple.
That just isn’t good work—unless you belong to the tribe.

As a courtesy, we’ll agree to forget that unfortunate word. But if Obama proposed a plan which he said would make energy prices rise, we can’t imagine why it would be a “lie” to say that he “wanted higher energy prices.”

You might say the claim is misleading somehow. You might say there’s more to the question—that Obama’s proposal was on balance a good idea, despite the rise in energy prices which would be involved.

But why would it be a “lie” to say he wanted (or proposed) higher energy prices? Only the tribe will understand. But increasingly, that’s who various players address, as Krugman goes on to explain, quite correctly:
KRUGMAN: In fact, the conspiracy theories are proliferating so fast it’s hard to keep up. Thus, large numbers of Republicans—and we’re talking about important political figures, not random supporters—firmly believe that global warming is a gigantic hoax perpetrated by a global conspiracy involving thousands of scientists, not one of whom has broken the code of omertà. Meanwhile, others are attributing the recent improvement in economic news to a dastardly plot to withhold stimulus funds, releasing them just before the 2012 election. And let’s not even get into health reform.

Why is this happening? At least part of the answer must lie in the way right-wing media create an alternate reality. For example, did you hear about how the cost of Obamacare just doubled? It didn’t, but millions of Fox-viewers and Rush-listeners believe that it did.
It’s true. Conservatives hear all manner of bullroar from Fox and from Rush. We don’t know if “important political figures” really believe that global warming is a gigantic hoax. But regular people do believe that—and major political figures are willing to say they do.

This is what happens when media figures pimp pleasing bullroar to the rubes. Speaking of which:

Last night, we watched Chris Matthews waste half an hour clowning around about Etch a Sketch and other piffle. (Romney said his wife has two Cadillacs! He said the trees are just the right height!) It was an easy way to kill time—and Matthews is stunningly lazy.

It made liberal viewers feel good.

We liberals were getting the comfort food we’re served each night on Hardball. But uh-oh! At one point, Republican strategist Todd Harris made some non-tribal remarks—remarks which ought to be troubling:
MATTHEWS (3/22/12): All this stuff is him. The couple of Cadillacs, the trees are the right height, thinking that $340,000 a year is not, is really pocket change. That’s who he is. You can deny that?

HARRIS: Well, I think there are two issues. The first is, have they stepped on their own story repeatedly? And I think it's indisputable that that has happened.

I think the larger issue—and it’s not fun to talk about, doesn’t make for great television. But the larger issue is whether it matters. And I would argue that, despite all of this, it hasn’t really mattered. It hasn’t slowed his very methodical process towards getting the nomination.

MATTHEWS: So the methodical speeches he has prepared for him by his staff is what we should listen to, not what he says—

HARRIS: No. But what I’m saying is, has any of this disqualified him? Is President Obama running away in a head-to-head?


If he’s as terrible as everyone is saying that he is, then why is the president barely beating him?
Oof. Harris asked a painfully relevant question, while noting that it makes better TV to clown around and have good fun talking about those Caddies.

Matthews simply continued to clown. So did his favorite monkey, McMahon. You’ll never be troubled with questions like those on The One True Liberal Channel.

Here’s the thought which crossed our mind when we watched Harris say that (and a few other things) last night:

In Godfather II, Michael Corleone finally wonders—is it possible Castro could actually win?

He asks the question at a meeting. Hyman Roth tells him to hush.

Everyone knew it couldn't happen. The parties continued in Havana. And then, omigod!

Despite all the clowning, it did!

THE EMPIRE’S LOW IQ: Spawn of Leona!

FRIDAY, MARCH 23, 2012

Part 4—The New York Times doesn’t do taxes: What the heck did Paul Ryan propose concerning federal taxes?

If you read the New York Times, you have little idea. Yesterday, the Times spilled over with news reporting about a random Etch a Sketch comment. But for the second consecutive day, our greatest newspaper had little to say about Ryan’s tax proposals. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/22/12.

Years ago, Leona Helmsley told the world that taxes were for “the little people.” Who knows? Perhaps that view prevails even today at the New York Times! But then, it may have been for the best when the Times took a pass on Paul Ryan’s proposals.

Consider what happens when the New York Times does try to discuss federal taxes.

Since one day after the dawn of time, federal taxes have played a central role in our national politics. On March 14, Eduardo Porter devoted his weekly Economic Scene column to one part of federal tax practice.

Porter discussed the way “tax expenditures” (tax loopholes, tax breaks) tend to favor higher earners. A great deal of our public discussion concerns those parts of federal policy which favor lower earners, with conservatives making invidious claims about all the freeloading that is involved. For that reason, Porter had chosen a highly worthwhile, if somewhat challenging, topic.

That said, does the Times know how to talk taxes, even after all these years? Porter had a worthy subject. But quickly, this text appeared:
PORTER (3/14/12): At first glance the budget does seem heavily tilted to take from the rich and redistribute to the rest. Taxpayers in the top fifth of the population shoulder three-quarters of the federal tax burden and receive only about 10 percent of entitlement spending, according to calculations by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution’s Tax Policy Center, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Families in the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution pay less than 1 percent of taxes and receive about 60 percent of entitlements.
Yikes! Were the highlighted claims correct? Is it true that “taxpayers in the top fifth of the population shoulder three-quarters of the federal tax burden?” More strikingly: Is it true that “families in the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution pay less than 1 percent of taxes?”

Frankly, we weren’t sure. Beyond that, we weren’t even sure we knew what Porter meant!

When Porter referred to “the federal tax burden,” which federal taxes did he mean? Presumably, he meant all federal taxes, including so-called “payroll taxes.” But he didn’t specify what he meant, and trust us—Times readers had no idea.

We were even more puzzled as Porter continued. When he said that the bottom 40 percent “pay less than 1 percent of taxes,” we assumed he meant “less than 1 percent of federal taxes.” But once again, he didn’t specify that—and if he meant “less than 1 percent of federal taxes,” did that include federal payroll taxes?

No idea.

To our ear, “less than one percent of all federal taxes” sounded rather low. But then again, we didn’t know—and things got a bit more confusing as Porter continued.

Later in his report, Porter explained what percent of their income “the bottom 20 percent” would pay “in all federal taxes.” This represented a third construction concerning what taxes were being discussed.

To this confusion, let us add two glaring typos in our hard-copy Times, only one of which has been corrected on-line.

Outcome: We were left with a presentation which we found rather confusing.

Can we talk? This seems like a very careless way to discuss such major issues. As everybody understands, claims that lower earners don’t pay their fair share represent a major part of right-wing propaganda. Just for the sake of clarity, journalists should be very careful how they approach such topics.

Concerning that bottom 40 percent: Before you tell us what percentage of “taxes” they pay, it’s always a good idea to let us know what percentage of national income they receive. In many instances, amazing statistics get less amazing real fast when this fact is included.

In this case, we still weren’t sure what kinds of “taxes” Porter actually meant. Once again, is it really true? Do families in the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution really pay less than 1 percent of all federal taxes? Is that what Porter meant?

To this day, we simply don’t know. Therein lies a major problem, one which eclipses the Times.

Are we self-impressed human beings really “the rational animals?” If that were the case, you’d think we’d have an accessible way to answer these questions by now. Questions like these have driven our politics for the past many years. If we lived in a slightly rational world, accessible data bases would exist where such basic information was available.

Question: Do you know where you can go to answer such basic questions? Frankly, we do not. In the case of Porter’s column, we spent more than an hour googling around trying to answer our basic question: What percentage of all federal taxes are paid by the lower 40 percent of earners?

Based on our googling, we’re fairly sure it’s more than one percent. We’ll guess that Porter’s statistic referred to that group’s share of federal income taxes. But we still can’t say for sure. Eventually, we stopped looking.

(What percentage of income is earned by the bottom forty percent? Do you know where to go to find the answer?)

Question: What kind of society functions this way, decade after decade? The Hannitys pimp their invidious claims, convincing listeners that “those people” are failing to pay their fair share. But our biggest newspapers take a slacker approach to such questions—and no one gets around to creating a digest of basic information.

The information is available somewhere, of course. We’ll guess that Kevin Drum knows where to find it. But where do we the average folk turn? And in what kind of world is such basic information so maddeningly hard to find?

Let’s be clear. We aren’t suggesting that Porter was trying to reinforce Hannity’s claims. As a general matter, the thrust of his column went in the other direction. But we were struck by the slacker approach he took to such basic questions, with editors’ consent.


In what kind of society do we all live? Was it constructed by rational animals?

Why do progressives put up with this shit? And does the soul of Leona Helmsley live on at the New York Times?

Next week: Professors and corporate-picked liberals