The Chokehold of Liberty: How The Grand Jury Failed Eric Garner And America

This evening’s news that a New York grand jury could not find cause to indict a police officer, despite having video of him choking the victim, Eric Garner, is calling into question (again) the inadequate and unfair administration of justice as it is applied to African-Americans and other minorities.

Chokehold of Liberty:

This outcome is inexplicable. It is such a shocking miscarriage of justice that even some of the most stalwart conservatives are having trouble coming to terms with it. For starters, Bill O’Reilly said that Garner “did not deserve what happened to him.” And many of his colleagues on Fox News agreed.

Bill O’Reilly: Upon seeing the video that you just saw and hearing Mr. Garner say he could not breathe, I was extremely troubled. I would have loosened my grip.

Charles Krauthammer: From looking at the video, the grand jury’s decision here is totally incomprehensible. It looked as if at least they might have indicted him on something like involuntary manslaughter at the very least … The crime was as petty as they come. He was selling loose cigarettes, which in and of itself is absurd that somebody has to die over that.

Judge Andrew Napolitano: There was ample evidence to indict; and the grand jury made a grievous error by not doing so.

Greta Van Susteren: We don’t do the death penalty for selling cigarettes illegally on the street.

[Just added] Glenn Beck: How this cop did not go to jail and was not held responsible is beyond me.

Glenn Beck on Garner

Garner was strangled by an officer, Daniel Pantaleo, using a chokehold that violates the police department’s guidelines. His offense was selling single cigarettes, a crime on the order of jaywalking. And he cried out several times that he couldn’t breathe. It is absolutely unconscionable that a man can be killed under these circumstances without anyone being held to account by a court of law. The grand jury’s only role is to ascertain whether the evidence supports remanding the case for trial. They do not decide guilt or innocence. But if this video isn’t sufficient evidence to warrant a jury trial, then what on Earth is?

While the right-wing Fox News pundits above were moved to disagree with the grand jury’s decision in the hours following its announcement, a more recognizable Fox narrative eventually began to unfold. It took some time but they figured out ways to blame the victim as a criminal who was resisting arrest and was in poor health to begin with. Simultaneously they exonerated the cop as doing his job by confronting a much larger man and using a “safety belt” hold that doesn’t choke (in complete contrast to the video evidence). Now that’s the Fox News we know.

In the meantime, Republican pols came out of the gate swinging with New York congressman Peter King thanking the grand jury and attributing Garner’s death to his asthma. And the GOP congressman representing the Staten Island district where the death occurred also praised the obviously broken system. Rep. Michael Grimm said that…

“There’s no question that this grand jury had an immensely difficult task before them, but I have full faith that their judgment was fair and reasoned and I applaud DA Donovan for overseeing this case with the utmost integrity.”

It is fair to assume that Grimm’s opinion does not represent many of his constituents. And ironically, Grimm himself is currently under a 20-count indictment for business and campaign violations of law. When a man like Grimm is your defender, while Bill O’Reilly and other Fox News pundits have sympathy for the victim, there is something terribly wrong. Grimm was just reelected last month. Here is Rep. Grimm threatening to throw a reporter off of a balcony:

Rand Paul States The Obvious: The Republican Party Brand Sucks

Every now and then a politician will surprise people by saying something that is manifestly true. However, they often only resort to that strategy when it is also unarguably obvious or they have an absurd explanation for why the truth is what it is.

Sen. Rand Paul (KY-Tea Party) made just such a pronouncement yesterday while on the campaign trail for his Kentucky colleague, Mitch McConnell. The glaringly evident observation that Paul issued was that “The Republican Party brand sucks.”

Rand Paul

No, really? Who knew? Well, pretty much everybody except for GOP chair Reince Priebus and most of the cult-bound viewers of Fox News. Notwithstanding all of the media pouncing on President Obama’s low approval rating in recent polls, his 41% looks awfully good compared to the GOP’s ranking down in the low teens. So it’s understandable that Paul would seek to provide a tortured interpretation of reality to explain the public’s distaste for his party. And apparently it’s all the fault of colored folk.

Paul: For 80 years African-Americans have had nothing to do with Republicans. Why? Because of a perception. The problem is the perception that no one in the Republican Party cares.

Indeed there is a perception among African-Americans (and Latinos, and women, and gays, and youth, and seniors, and workers, and the poor) that Republicans don’t care about them. But it is a perception based on political reality. The GOP’s policies have been aimed straight at the heart of Americans who are not wealthy or otherwise privileged. When Republicans oppose raising the minimum wage, and cutting social security, and advocating tax reform that puts more money in the pockets of the rich while incentivizing corporations to send American jobs overseas, there will be a perception resulting from such deliberately harmful legislative practices.

What’s more, if African-Americans have had nothing to do with Republicans for 80 years, it may have something to do with the fact that throughout all of that time the Republicans have tried to suppress them by opposing the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, and other measures aimed at insuring a more equal society. Even today the GOP has been fiercely fighting to impose obstacles to voting for minorities and other citizens they fear will vote against the GOP. Why on Earth would any of these disenfranchised Americans have a positive perception of Republicans?

Paul, it should be noted, is specifically among those who have advocated for policies harmful to African Americans. In an epic debate with Rachel Maddow he argued his position against parts of the Civil Rights Act, although he later denied he ever took such a position. This disparity is certain to come up again should Paul enter the primary for the GOP nomination for president in 2016, as many expect that he will.

So it is small wonder that the Republican Party brand sucks. It is more surprising that anyone might still hold it in high regard. But for Paul to carry this message as if he were positioned to fix the branding is ludicrous. And the notion that the GOP’s problems are merely related to perceptions, rather than substantive differences with their historical and current platform, is really just another example of why the party is so out of touch.

FLASHBACK: Sean Hannity Speaks Out Against A “Government Gone Wild”

It was just four months ago that Fox News was covering the “second American revolution” at the ranch of tax-cheat Cliven Bundy. While the network was uniformly supportive of Bundy’s refusal to pay customary grazing fees, it was Sean Hannity who took the lead, featuring Bundy on his program numerous times, heralding him as a hero, and fiercely defending the militia movement’s embrace of armed opposition to law enforcement.

At that time, in the view of Hannity and other conservatives, it was the feds who were overstepping the bounds of decency and behaved like jackbooted thugs. To them it was the manifestation of a dictatorial state trampling on freedom and crushing liberty. Hannity milked the controversy for everything he could squeeze out in regular segments that he called “Government Gone Wild.”

Fox News Sean Hannity

From the right-wing perspective, the government went wild when it responded to a flagrantly delinquent white man in the cattle business who wants to mooch off of federal lands for free. Bundy has a vested interest in this as he owes over a million dollars in fees. Then, when this businessman assembles a posse of armed militia members to confront the tax collector, Hannity and his ilk line up behind the law-breaker and whine about government overreach. Here’s Hannity to Karl Rove:

“Let’s start with the Cliven Bundy situation. All right, maybe he owes grazing fees money. Do you surround his property with snipers and shooters, sharp shooters and tasers and dogs and 200 agents? Is that the way to handle it?”

“No,” says an obedient Rove. After all, it’s just a measly million dollars in grazing fees. And for the record, the federal agents of the Bureau of Land Management did not arm themselves until after they were confronted by Bundy’s militia who swore to kill those who came to enforce the law.

Jump forward to today and it’s the people going wild. The government is now believed to be acting appropriately by shooting an unarmed teenager to death. And his only crime was an allegation (unconfirmed) that he pocketed a few cigars. Then militarized police confront justifiably angry citizens who have no personal stake in the matter other than to insure that justice is brought to bear.

The presence of urban tanks, assault weapons, riot gear, tear gas, and other aggressive means of crowd control, are not considered to be indicative of a government gone wild anymore. Is it because the victim in this case is a poor, black kid, rather than a well-to-do white rancher?

Shameless self-promotion…
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Bill O’Reilly: “These People Don’t Want Justice.” And Who Knows “Those People” Better Than O’Reilly?

The turmoil in Ferguson, MO continues as another night of confrontation between residents and police brings tear gas, arrests, and Fox News’ demeaning characterizations of aggrieved protesters. Not surprisingly, the disparaging tone is set by Bill O’Reilly who enjoys nothing more than lecturing African-Americans on the moral decline of their culture. O’Reilly, who is on vacation, called into his own show to tell guest host Eric Bolling that he questions the sincerity of the protesters.

Bill O'Reilly

O’Reilly: “No justice, no peace? These people don’t want justice. What if the facts come out and say it was a justifiable shooting by the police officer? This guy was coming at them. What if they say that? You think these people are gonna accept that? They’re not gonna accept it.”

And there you have it. The definitive analysis by a recognized expert on the psychology of the angry black man. Clearly “those people” don’t want justice. And they won’t accept the results of a fair investigation because thugs like them are unable to employ reason and conduct themselves in a civilized fashion. And who would know better than O’Reilly who personally visited a restaurant in Harlem where he was surprised to learn that African-American patrons weren’t constantly screaming, “M-Fer, I want more iced tea.”

Elsewhere on Fox News, there was a story published on their website about the emergence of a video that Fox regarded as significant. Their headline said “YouTube Video Purportedly Captures Witness Backing Police Version In Ferguson Shooting.” Fox posted a link to the video along with a summary of the parts they considered important.

Fox News Video Backs Cop

For instance, the article reports that the video shows “a possible witness saying [Michael Brown] the unarmed 18-year-old charged at the officer who fired the shots.” That’s a pretty damning allegation, except for the fact that it occurs nowhere in the video. In the actual part of the video (Warning: very graphic content) that they quoted a background voice is heard saying…

(about 6:45) “I mean, the police was in the truck [sic] and he was, like, over the truck,” the man says. “So then he ran, police got out and ran after him. The next thing I know, he comes back towards them. The police had his guns drawn on him.”

There is nothing in there about “charging” the police. That characterization was invented by Fox News. In fact, the video account is consistent with other witnesses who said that Brown ran at first, then stopped and turned toward the officer to surrender. Of course, that version wouldn’t align with Fox’s more theatrical rendition of a raging animal on the attack.

From the outset Fox News has sought to portray Brown as a dangerous, possibly drug-addled, criminal. Likewise, they have cast the protesters in the most negative light. In a remote segment from Ferguson, Fox News reporter Steve Harrigan was particularly insulting, which did not go over well with a bystander.

Harrigan: “This is right now a media event, pure and simple. This is people running towards tear gas, running away from it. The dignified protestors went home at dusk. This is just child’s play right now.”

Bystander: “Say that shit. I don’t give a damn you’re on TV, say that shit,” the unidentified man cursed at Harrigan. “We see this shit every day. This is just child’s play? Who is the child playing with toys? That’s them.”

One has to wonder how Harrigan distinguished the “dignified” protesters from the children. Perhaps he had Bill O’Reilly on his cell phone giving him advice as the night wore on. Because a common thread runs through all of Fox’s programming. Those people are immature, violent, and unreasonable. Just look at how upset they get just because another unarmed black kid was shot by a white police officer. What do they want, justice? Well, no, according to O’Reilly.

Racist Guest On Fox News Is Offended That He Might Be Viewed As Racist

This weekend’s episode of MediaBuzz on Fox News featured a segment about the press coverage of the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, by a Ferguson, MO police officer. Host Howard Kurtz booked Joe Concha, a conservative from Mediaite, and Keli Goff, a liberal from The Root, to debate the media’s performance during the aftermath of the shooting (video below).

Fox News

Concha immediately went into a defensive posture from the comfort of his TV studio. He took the side of law enforcement against the reporters who have been exposing the realities in the field, at great personal risk, where a militarized police department was harassing reporters and tormenting the residents they are sworn to serve.

Concha’s tirade began by condemning Wes Lowery, a Washington Post reporter who was arrested for doing his job. Concha accused Lowery of deliberately provoking the arrest and backed up his assertion by saying that Lowery’s media appearances afterward proved his self-interest.

Concha: “And here’s how you know that this was all about Wes Lowery expanding his television career. Right after he was released from custody, It was all about Tweeting out, calling Maddow Now (whatever that is), going on national television, went on CNN, MSNBC after that, Fox News as well. This was a media tour, Howie, that was only rivaled by Hillary Clinton’s. All in the effort to give Wes Lowery’s byline a microphone, a future career, and nothing more.”

Zing! Concha managed to slip in a slap at Hillary Clinton while defaming a reporter who is actually engaged in the practice of journalism, as opposed to Concha who is engaged in the practice of character assassination. And not even Kurtz would abide Concha’s slander and ignorance of the profession.

Kurtz: Alright, I think that’s unfair. Wes Lowery is a good, solid reporter. He was deluged with requests to appear on TV, including from me. He only did a few of those. I don’t think this was as self-promotional as you do.”

When a reporter is arrested while covering a news story with national prominence, that is in itself newsworthy. It is not proper or ethical for the police to target journalists in an effort to prevent them from gathering and providing information about matters of public interest. Apparently Concha thinks otherwise. Keli Goff eloquently explained why it so important to have reporters on the scene covering everything that occurs, including police misconduct.

Goff: “With all due respect to Joe, I would hate to hear the kind of criticism he would have doled out about fifty or sixty years ago to the reporters who may have been a little slow to pack up their gear when they were covering another crisis, which was known as the civil rights movement.

Goff correctly pointed out that there were a lot of reporters who were assaulted during the civil rights movement and that they risked their lives due to their commitment to keep the people informed. She described Concha’s criticism of Lowery’s efforts to record the police officers as bizarre. And she went further to say that it would be irresponsible to NOT record such activity.

Next Kurtz raised the question of whether the volume of coverage was exacerbating the tensions in Ferguson. Concha quickly agreed that the television networks and the Internet were “fueling the flames” and then focused his criticism on MSNBC’s Al Sharpton, who went to Ferguson to beseech the protesters to remain peaceful. Then Concha began an exchange that reveals much about what is wrong with television news coverage.

Concha: “The bottom line is that it is now a cottage industry when a white cop shoots a black kid. Or, we saw it with Trayvon Marin last year, CNN, HLN quadrupled their ratings because of these sort of events. And ISIS and Gaza is happening somewhere overseas. This is domestic. A cheap and easy narrative. And that’s why we’ve seen the coverage go where it has.”

Goff: You call it a cottage industry, those of us who have African-American men in our family consider it a crisis, Joe. It must be nice to have an experience in this country where you can dismiss it as simply coverage.”

Concha: “You don’t get to do that to me, Keli. You’re calling me a racist on national television?”

Huh? When exactly did Goff call Concha a racist? It is telling that Concha perceived this imaginary insult and used it to flip the whole segment to one where Goff was doing something to him. After belittling the significance of the shooting of Mike Brown, Concha is now the making himself the victim. This is where Kurtz jumped in to tell Concha that Goff had not called him a racist. Concha later apologized for “overreacting” with regard to the charge of racism, but he never apologized for the underlying remarks dismissing the shooting, disparaging the reporters covering it, and referring to coverage as “cheap and easy.”

It’s a good thing that Goff was there to counter the insensitivity and aversion to ethical journalism as represented by Concha. And it’s a good reminder of why it’s necessary to not only have journalists in the field who are devoted to informing the public, but to have them in the studio as well to smackdown jerkwads like Concha.

Shameless self-promotion…
Get Fox Nation vs. Reality. Available now at Amazon.

Fox Nation vs. Reality: You Don’t Have To Defend Laws That Are Unconstitutional

Whenever Fox News encounters an issue that offends their rightist ideological biases, their automatic response is to construct a deliberately misleading campaign to distort the facts. But sometimes the facts make it too difficult for them to refute in terms simple enough for their dimwitted audience to grasp. And in those times of difficulty, Fox simply decides to make up arguments that have no basis in reality.

Fox Nation

For more examples of Fox’s rank dishonesty, read Fox Nation vs. Reality.

The Fox Nation website is often the first place that these rhetorical concoctions show up. Take for example the article they posted claiming that Attorney General Eric Holder advised the nation’s state attorneys general that “You Don’t Have to Enforce Laws You Don’t Agree With.” Anyone who knows how Fox works has already figured out that Holder said no such thing. What he said, as reported by the New York Times, was that, “[S]tate attorneys general are not obligated to defend laws that they believe are discriminatory.”

Notice the difference in these quotes between the words “enforce” and “defend.” What Holder was talking about was whether or not state officials are obligated to defend the constitutionality of laws that are being challenged in the courts. He never suggested that the laws as enacted should not be enforced by local police agencies while they are in effect. Holder was merely pointing out, quite correctly, that no state is required to mount costly and time consuming defenses of laws that it believes do not pass constitutional muster.

The Fox Nationalists, however, were incapable of presenting a valid argument against Holder’s actual remarks, so they altered them to create the appearance that Holder was advocating that states neglect any laws that they don’t like. And rather than linking to the original source in the New York Times, Fox linked to the ultra-conservative blog Townhall, whose assessment of the controversy was utterly false:

Townhall: Attorney General Eric Holder is taking the lawless attitude of the Obama administration and passing it down to state attorneys general. Yesterday during an interview with The New York Times, Holder said state attorneys general do not have to enforce laws they disagree with, specifically when it comes to the issue of gay marriage.

Once again, that is not even remotely what Holder said. Enforcing the law as enacted in the state is an entirely different matter than defending the law against constitutional challenges in federal courts. Holder himself demonstrated the principle behind this position last year when he declined to defend the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The Supreme Court later struck it down as unconstitutional. So Holder was right, and his position prevented the waste of scarce resources on a vain mission to defend the indefensible. Nevertheless, the law was fully enforced up until the Supreme Court issued its ruling.

The editors and producers at Fox News know the difference between the concepts of enforcing and defending a law. They are intentionally misrepresenting the facts in order to disparage Holder and the Obama administration. And they are exploiting the fact that their viewers are too partisan and incurious to discover or understand the truth. That is not how ethical journalism is done. But then, Fox News has never been much of a proponent of ethical journalism.