Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sorta political: Why David Weigel deserves our contempt

David Weigel appears to be a nice guy. Whatever he appears to be, however, he is unquestionably biased. I mean that in the old fashioned sense of someone who is incapable of seeing the world aright. He does not distort the truth. No, he is so heavily invested in certain beliefs that he is incapable of seeing the truth in the first place.

And we can see that right from the first sentence of a piece he recently wrote on the Zimmerman case.
Alan Dershowitz takes a respite from hectoring Democrats about Israel to hector Democrats about how they ganged up on George Zimmerman.
If you go to the link Weigel provides above and search for the word "Democrat" you will notice it doesn't appear even once. So note right way that Weigel sees the Zimmerman case as a partisan dispute and not as a question of, for example, justice and truth.

Second we might ask what Dershowitz's views on Israel could possible have to do with George Zimmerman. Again, this is the way Weigel sees the world. It's not about examining individual cases in light of the evidence and arguments for them but a matter of being on the right side of a partisan struggle.

Moving on, I'd suggest you'd have to look far and wide to find a paragraph as detached from reality as this one from Weigel's piece:
Problem: Dershowitz is missing the reason why this became a national story in the first place. Had Zimmerman been arrested on the fateful night, this current discovery/autopsy process would have begun immediately. Benjamin Crump, the main attorney for the Martin family, has said that he only got involved in the case because he expected Zimmerman to be arrested, and he wasn't. That's how this became a national debate about "stand your ground" and the standards of the Sanford PD. That's why ABC News and other news outlets drip-drab-dripped out the details as they reported them. That's why the police chief resigned and the city distanced itself from the department's work. 
Notice how Weigel assumes the thing that needs to be approved. He says the whole thing became a national story because Zimmerman wasn't arrested. But the issue at the heart of this has always been whether or not Zimmerman should have been arrested. Weigel fails to see that there is a case to be made that the police did the right thing. Not, I hasten to add, that the police argument was airtight. No, Weigel doesn't even allow that maybe it wasn't crazy for the police to believe that there was not sufficient evidence to convict Zimmerman of a crime.

Not surprisingly, Weigel fails to see is that Dershowitz is arguing that the latest evidence suggests that Zimmerman should never have been charged in the first place. It's important that we now know that Trayvon Martin had THC in his bloodstream because that supports the claim that Zimmerman made to the 911 operator, and that anyone can clearly hear if they listen to it, that Martin was acting as if he were on drugs. Second we have injuries to Zimmerman's face and the back of his head which supports the claim that Martin attacked him.

Further, Dershowitz notes that the prosecutor knew this evidence existed when she filed her affidavit but didn't include it.  That's a really serious problem for a prosecutor has a responsibility to present not the best case for conviction but to present all the facts as she knows them.. That, combined with her statement that she wants to "do justice for Trayvon" does suggest, as Dershowitz argues, that the prosecutor is not living up to the professional and ethical standards she ought to be upholding.

And note that Dershowitz's point is not that Zimmerman is innocent. He doesn't know that and doesn't claim to know that. His point is that, legally speaking, the justice system is not supposed to be in the business of avenging Trayvon Martin and he is absolutely right about that.

Dershowitz doesn't mention, presumably because he thought he shouldn't have to, that there is also an eye witness who reports seeing Martin sitting on Zimmerman and punching him. A claim that is backed up by evidence that Martin's knuckles were scraped which is consistent with his having punched Zimmerman. And there do not seem to be any other injuries on Martin's body beyond those and the gunshot wound. (Which, incidentally, is a contact wound, also supporting Zimmerman's story.)

It's really odd that Weigel thinks Dershowitz doesn't understand "why this became a national story in the first place", as Dershowitz isn't talking about that but whether Zimmerman should have been charged. Weigel, like a lot of media figures, thinks what the media does is what really matters.

That said, this is somewhere Weigel really shouldn't go as the media behaved appallingly in this case. For the problem is not that the media drip-drab-dripped details out but rather that they rushed to judgment on the case. Worse, they made shit up by editing the 911 call so it looked like Zimmerman had pursued Martin ion account of his race, they used photos of Martin from a time when he was younger than he was the night of the incident making it look like a fight between the two men would have been very one-sided in Zimmerman's favour, they used audio tapes to suggest that Zimmerman had made a racist slur he had not made and they used the hitherto rarely used expression "white Hispanic" to describe Zimmerman who is, in fact, of mixed race. In short, they imposed a narrative on the facts from the very start.

It is, I should say, quite possible and even likely, that Zimmerman made serious errors of judgment that night but, and this is Dershowitz's primary point, all doubt here should go to the defendant. The legal system's job is not to determine the truth but to see if there is evidence to prove Zimmerman guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. At this point, we have not seen anything that even remotely suggests that such a case can be made. It could be, of course, that such evidence does exist and will come out during the trial, but we don't have it yet and the media have acted as if we did have it.

A further point that Dershowitz makes and Weigel doesn't respond to is the possible fall out from the media's shoddy behaviour here. Having stirred up such passions in the case, there is now a real possibility of a "not guilty" verdict should the case go to trial could lead to race riots.
As many see it, her additional job is to prevent riots of the sort that followed the acquittal of the policemen who beat Rodney King.

Indeed, Mansfield Frazier, a columnist for the Daily Beast, has suggested that it is the responsibility of the legal system to “avert a large scale racial calamity.” He has urged Zimmerman’s defense lawyer to become a “savior” by brokering a deal to plead his client guilty to a crime that “has him back on the streets within this decade.”
And that is a very real possibility. It's not hard to imagine the worst case scenario here. But if it does happen, the blame lies on the media who ginned this thing up in the first place.

Even crazier, as noted by Dershowitz, is the notion that Zimmerman's lawyer should forget about his client's interests and broker a deal whereby Zimmerman goes to jail to "avert a large scale racial calamity". Again, notice that the possibility that Zimmerman might have told the truth and the police initially reacted correctly isn't even on the radar screen for Frazier just as it wasn't for Weigel.

Go ahead and hate the media, they deserve it.

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