Thursday, April 30, 2015

THE WASHINGTON POST'S BLIND FAITH IN DUBIOUS AUTHORITIES

Jesus, you don't have to be an angry young demonstrator to be skeptical of this Washington Post story by Peter Hermann. Do you have even a passing familiarity with mid-century noir, James Ellroy, Richard Price, John Gregory Dunne? That should be enough. Has it not penetrated your consciousness in all your decades on this earth that police departments circle the wagons when one of their own is accused of wrongdoing -- especially when the accusations are accurate -- and that it's routine to promise favorable treatment to a dumb schlub in lockup who'll play ball?

But no, Hermann writes this up as if it comes from the most reliable of authorities, people who have no motivation whatsoever to distort the truth, and he offers only the barest hint of skepticism:
A prisoner sharing a police transport van with Freddie Gray told investigators that he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the vehicle and believed that he “was intentionally trying to injure himself,” according to a police document obtained by The Washington Post.

The prisoner, who is currently in jail, was separated from Gray by a metal partition and could not see him. His statement is contained in an application for a search warrant, which is sealed by the court. The Post was given the document under the condition that the prisoner not be named because the person who provided it feared for the inmate’s safety....
(Or, perhaps, so it will be harder for less credulous reporters to find out more about this prisoner and follow his increasingly less painful trajectory through the legal system now that he's done the cops this huge favor?)
It is not clear whether any additional evidence backs up the prisoner’s version, which is just one piece of a much larger probe.
That's it. That's as much skepticism as Hermann can muster.

Jayne Miller, a reporter for Baltimore's WBAL, is not having it.
WBAL's Jayne Miller told MSNBC that the Post’s story was “inconsistent with what we reported.”

“We have reported for some time that by the time that prisoner is loaded into that van, Freddie Gray was unresponsive. Secondly we have no medical evidence that Freddie Gray suffered any injury that would indicate that he had injured himself,” Miller told MSNBC's Chris Hayes on Wednesday night.

Gray was only in the van with the second prisoner for the final five minutes of the ride, Miller told Lawrence O’Donnell on Wednesday evening. There is “no evidence [Gray was] banging [his] head against van,” Miller tweeted....

Miller also pointed out that on April 23, Commissioner Batts said that the second prisoner had said Gray was “mostly quiet.”
Despite her skepticism, Miller won't speak ill of Hermann. She told Chris Hayes:
This is no problem with my buddy Peter Hermann at The Washington Post, who wrote this story. There is a search warrant that contains that information that's written by a Baltimore City police officer.
Yes, I'm not doubting that Hermann is reporting on a document that actually exists. But you can report it as one claim that needs to be carefully weighed or you can report it as The Official Word From On High, and Hermann chose the latter.

The document leak had the intended effect:



Fox, of course, is going wall to wall with this -- it's the lead story at three different Fox sites right now:







So there you go. If there's a trial for any of the cops in this case, now all you have to do is get one or two conservative white males on the jury -- they already "know" the cops are not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, because Fox says so. Acquittal guaranteed.

****

I find myself thinking of something Eric Boehlert wrote about the Post in 2004:
When [Robert Parry] went to Newsweek [as a reporter] in 1987, “it soon became clear they didn’t want to pursue the Iran-Contra story much at all. They didn’t want another Watergate -- that’s the way it was put. The magazine was owned by the Washington Post, and although people look back on Watergate as a crowning achievement, it was a very unpleasant experience to live through, and [publisher] Katharine Graham didn’t want to go through it again. So the feeling at Newsweek was, Let’s just take what the White House is telling us, the ‘mistakes were made’ explanation.”
The two situations aren't really analogous -- a White House can make life a lot more difficult for a news organization than a police department can, especially a police department that's not even in the news organization's home city. But the impulse to cover up for the authorities seems the same. Yes, important people -- our sources! -- failed to do the right thing, but, really, isn't it better for all concerned if we refrain from riling up the public by telling them the truth?

****

UPDATE: From Mother Jones:
And there's another reason to be skeptical. Information that comes out of jails is notoriously unreliable, for the simple reason that anyone in jail has a real incentive to get out; cooperating with the people who determine when they get out is an obvious way to score points. This report from the Pew Charitable Trust walks through the conflicts in detail. According to the Innocence Project, 15 percent of wrongful convictions that are eventually overturned by DNA testing originally rested on information from a jailhouse informant.

24 comments:

Victor said...

After Watergate, I think our MSM folks decided to rest on their laurels, and ever since, we get the same thing:
"Don't look back. Let's move forward."

Except in the cases of the teo Clintons, where it's "We always need to look back!"

As for the WaPo story, the writers credulity is staggering.

How many people have been executed, and how many people are still on Death Row, because another inmate was convinced s/he's get a lesser sentence if they helped the authorities with their case(s) against 'Prisoner X?'
Sometimes the authorities come to them with deals, sometimes they go to authorities with deals.
But these deals help DA's seal their cases, and lock someone up for a long time, like life, or put someone on Death Row.

The police, and other institutions, have been doing things like that for... ever?

Marty Johnson said...

Before you get your little nutsack all twisted in a bunch, I am a conservative white male. I don't believe the report for a minute. I'm glad Fox is reporting it. Get it out there. Get ALL the truth out there. Then sort it out. Liberals, on the other hand, want to stifle all versions of the truth, and make people believe what they believe is true. That is not how it is supposed to work in a free country.

Steve M. said...

Yeah, Marty? We want to stifle conservative media? If so, we're doing a piss-poor job of it. Last I looked, Fox was number 1 in the ratings for a decade and a half, not broadcasting from clandestine basements in the underground. Breitbart and Drudge and Free Republic and PJ Media and World Net Daily and Gateway Pundit and Hot Air and Twitchy and Red State ... how many of these have our jackbooted thugs shut down? Oh, right: none.

Philo Vaihinger said...

Really?

On zero evidence, you want us to believe the vast blue conspiracy arranged false testimony from this prisoner because it seems possible and, besides, authorities do that sort of thing all the time in the best police fiction?

Wow.

This is exactly how some people are urged to believe, about any particular case they hear about, that if a white cop shoots a black civilian the civilian is wholly innocent and the cop is a racist killer.

So I guess it suits you.

James Stapleton said...

Hey Marty a/k/a Twisted Little Nutsack... so glad you pointed out how you are superior to your gullible wingnut brethren. Doesn't getting ALL the truth out there necessitate doing actual journalism and checking sources, getting corroboration, etc.? That ain't what Faux News does. Conservatives, y'see, they want to just go with whatever some pathetic liar says as long as it backs up whatever propaganda point is the day's chew toy. Except for you, of course, because you are skeptical and fair and balanced, just like Faux.

Philo Vaihinger said...

On the other hand, as to the general practice of offering criminals breaks for testimony, it seems to me in principle such testimony is so unreliable it ought to be excluded.

Much and you and victor wrote.

The blue machine needs to understand from top to bottom their job is not to prevent crime or punish it by any means necessary but to do so by any lawful means consistent with the right of all affected - criminals, witnesses, everybody.

And they and prosecutors need to be discouraged from prosecuting people regardless of the strength of legitimate evidence just to get a win.

Those prisons have way too many innocent people in them, and it's not just on death row.

Professor Fate said...

Quote from Casablanca

RENAULT
I am making out the report now. We haven't quite decided whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.

Not a lot has changed. no?

Yastreblyansky said...

Philo, it doesn't take a very elaborate conspiracy to allege that a document we will never be allowed to see contains a statement by a person who will never be publicly identified that he heard something that some anonymous investigators (plural in the story) think might indicate something that just happens to exculpate the cops in the van. Like Ed Mullins anonymously selling the story of how the Bedford-Stuyvesant cop killer last December was an agent of the Black Guerilla Family. (An organization that is the subject of a lot of false rumors in the Baltimore disturbances, as it happens.)

Yastreblyansky said...

Meanwhile the actual report of the police investigation, as opposed to anonymous leaks of what they may have found, is going to remain secret.

Professor Chaos said...

Wouldn't a prisoner being banged against the metal walls be sort of the whole point of the "rough ride?"

Aunt Snow said...

It makes total sense. If I were imprisoned inside a steel box, next to another steel box with another prisoner in it, if I heard banging on the walls, I'd naturally conclude that the other prisoner was trying to break his own neck.

Sure.

Philo Vaihinger said...

@ Yastreblyansky.

Steve M cites noir fiction and you cite a movie. High standards of evidence, those.

Still, my own view is that the video reported in the same Post piece established pretty convincingly that either of two things happened.

Either the cops kneeling on Gray broke his back before his ride in the van - which in that case may have been as quiet and harmless as originally reported - or the kneeling did part of the job and leaving Gray to bounce around violently in a deliberately cruel ride finished it.

It is possible the witnesses alleged testimony was suborned, of course, or even that it does not exist.

But supposing it exists and was not suborned then the witness could have misinterpreted the noise of Gray bouncing around from a rough ride as attempts to injure himself.

Either way, I would hope the cops DON'T get away with it, for a change.

Despite the story as liberals tell it, the problem of horrific police violence extends to cases, nationwide, in which both the cops and their victims come in all races and sexes.

Some white people I personally knew have been such victims, and one of them was killed by police.

Nothing was ever done about it, of course.

I don't personally know any black victims.

Philo Vaihinger said...

@ Y, sorry, that was Professor Fate.

Philo Vaihinger said...

Whoops. See this NYT report. He died of a broken neck.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/01/us/baltimore-protests-freddie-gray.html

Philo Vaihinger said...

Steve, you posted comment with a link to a story about the ME report and took it right down. Why?

Steve M. said...

Waiting for more detailed info.

Steve M. said...

From Mother Jones:

"And there's another reason to be skeptical. Information that comes out of jails is notoriously unreliable, for the simple reason that anyone in jail has a real incentive to get out; cooperating with the people who determine when they get out is an obvious way to score points. This report from the Pew Charitable Trust walks through the conflicts in detail. According to the Innocence Project, 15 percent of wrongful convictions that are eventually overturned by DNA testing originally rested on information from a jailhouse informant."

Chai T. Ch'uan said...

Careful readers of noir will not have failed to note that the source of the WaPo's dramatic scoop this week has clearly changed his story since April 23rd (last week):
https://mobile.twitter.com/jemillerwbal/status/593614899340824576

In additon to Ellroy, I highly recommend Gary Phillips and Jim Thompson.

Philo Vaihinger said...

About that ME report.

The one that radically changes the picture by saying Gray died of a broken neck and had a severe skull injury matching the shape of a bolt on an inside wall of the van.

Still not saying anything, Steve?

Philo Vaihinger said...

We don't know that the other prisoner was offered anything and the testimony, while still of uncertain value, is no longer wholly uncorroberated.

See that ME report.

The "heroes" of American polars are all thugs who belong in jail.

The best policiers are by foreign writers, Scandinavian, Japanese, Chinese, or even Brit like Phillip Kerr or Martin Cruz Smith.

Steve M. said...

Well, now the quoted arrestee says <A HREF="http://www.mediaite.com/tv/second-prisoner-disputes-claims-that-freddie-gray-tried-to-injure-himself/:>the police are putting words into his mouth.</A>

Philo Vaihinger said...

Not much of a takeback.

Professor Fate said...

Latest News per ABC - Grays' Death ruled a Homicide - Changes Including Manslaughter, Assault and False Arrest will be filed against the six officers involved.

Philo Vaihinger said...

City State’s Attorney Says Freddie Gray’s Arrest Illegal, Charges Officers

I think she's wrong about the arrest and the false imprisonment charges, but the rest sounds about right.

Why two counts, though?

I think the FOP is full of beans.

http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2015/05/01/city-states-attorney-says-freddie-grays-arrest-illegal-has-enough-evidence-for-charges/