A missed opportunity to stir liberal outrage

Four young white men from “good families” in a small Texas town beat up a mentally-challenged black man and dumped him in a field. He’s crippled for life; none of them will serve a day in jail.
Where’s the outrage?

I’ve been on the road recently, which has cut into both my blogging and my blog-reading. So I just ran across Orin Kerr’s calmly outraged and entirely correct response to the story of four young white men in Linden, Texas, who beat up a mentally challenged black man and dumped him in a field. Billy Ray Johnson is crippled for life, and his assailants are being let off without any of them spending so much as a day in jail. Note that the District Attorney thinks the outcome was just fine.

Arvin Tseng at Rebuttable Presumption is right to say that there’s no evidence that the assailants were racially motivated. But, as a thought-experiment, mentally switch the races of the assailants and the victim; can you imagine a similarly lenient sentence? I can’t.

It seems to me, as a non-lawyer, that the 14th Amendment guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” ought to include equal punishment for perpetrators of similar acts regardless of the race of the victim. But it seems that no one has standing to sue.

Just remember this the next time someone starts preaching about the moral degeneracy of the blue states.

It also says something about the myth of the liberal media that this story had almost precisely no “legs.” Nor did it make much of a splash in Blogtown.

One thing right-wing talk radio and the rest of the VRWC sounding-board apparatus are good at is making sure that everyone hears about outrages that stir conservative emotion. Our side has no comparable mechanism. I’m grateful to Orin Kerr for pointing the story out, but it seems to me a case study in failure on the liberal side of the aisle.

Footnote Calm outrage is a very difficult voice to pull off. Orin Kerr is a trained professional; don’t try it at home.

The mystery of the disappearing paragraph

Did Coburn’s top staffer just make a nearly criminal attempt to intimidate federal judges?

The print version, and early internet versions, of this New York Times story record a quite extraordinary threat by a senior Senate staffer (albeit of a junior senator) against Federal judges. That threat has been omitted from the current on-line edition. The difference between the two stories is whether Tom Coburn’s chief of staff called for the mass impeachment of federal judges who make rulings he dislikes, or whether he called for them to be imprisoned as well.

Here’s the original vesion:

“I am in favor of impeachment,” Michael Schwartz, chief of staff to Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, said in a panel discussion on abortion, suggesting “mass impeachment” might be needed.

Mr. Schwartz later singled out some of the federal judges who ruled in the Schiavo case as the first targets and said, “I hope they serve long sentences.”

The version now on line omits the second paragraph entirely.

Can anyone tell me how the difference came about? Is there a transcript of the conference available?

The threat of mass impeachment, and other attempts to interfere with judicial independence, seem to me to represent a dangerous Constitutional doctrine that is also likely to be massively unpopular with the voters, including many conservative voters old-fashioned enough to believe in a republic ruled by law. But it’s not something that should be beyond the bounds of debate.

By contrast, the threat to imprison judges for making rulings the speaker deems “incorrect” is at best on the borderline of a criminal attempt to intimidate the judges, if not actually across that border. If Schwartz said what he is quoted as saying, and if Coburn fails to dismiss him, Coburn ought to be subjected to a resolution of censure.

Update: the mystery half-solved

A reader writes:

A video recording of the conference on the judiciary is available on c-span.com.


At about 2:39:40, Mr. Schwartz does indeed say that he hopes two of the judges involved in the Schiavo case — District Judge Whittemore and Judge Birch of the Eleventh Circuit — will be impeached and that he hopes they serve long sentences. It’s a crazy thing to say, given Art. I, sec. 3, cl. 7 of the Constitution: “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.” So there are no “sentences” at all for impeachment convictions, let alone long ones. That clause goes on to say “but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.” But it’s beyond me what criminal law Mr. Schwartz could think the judges violated. Given the rhetoric about “judicial murder” we heard during l’affaire Schiavo, maybe he thinks they’re guilty of murder.

Right then. So the information in the missing paragraph is accurate. Obvious follow-up question: Why did it disappear?

The bloggers and the fake “fake memo” story

Remember this the next time the right wing tells you not to believe anything in those awful liberal newspapers.

It’s not surprising that Mickey Kaus’s insensate hatred of the mainstream liberal media should lead him to pretend that it’s Mike Allen of the Washington Post — rather than John Hinderaker, Michelle Malkin, Accuracy in Media, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, the American Spectator, William Bennett, and, of course, Mickey Kaus — who ought to be apologetically wiping the egg off their faces about the fake-memo-that-wasn’t.

But it is suprising that Eugene Volokh should be willing to be taken in by Kaus’s “I’m just a truth-speaking Democrat” shtick. I have no reason to doubt Kaus’s claim that he votes for Democratic Presidential candidates, but he spends the other 1460 days of each electoral cycle doing as much damage as he can to Democrats and the non-right-wing mass media.

It’s hard to tell whether Kaus picked up such a visceral dislike of the liberal side of the Democratic Party during the Clinton Administration’s intramural welfare wars that he now actually prefers the ruling plutotheocrats to any Democrat who isn’t Joe Lieberman, or whether he just figured out that being the Democrat to go to for an anti-Democratic quote was a good niche in the media ecosystem, guaranteeing Mickey well-paid leisure courtesy of whichever Fortune 500 company owns Slate at any given moment. But the bottom line is that he virtually never favorably links to, or is linked to by, anyone to his left, and never, never, never criticizes a media story that has a pro-Bush spin.

So Eugene’s phrase “Kaus, no Republican loyalist, writes … ” sounds a good deal like “Benedict Arnold, no Tory, says …” or, perhaps, “Leon Trotsky, no friend of capitalism, asserts … ” It’s one thing to find someone genuinely on the other side as a general matter who agrees with you about some specific point; it’s another to quote a professional turncoat and act as if that were the same thing.

Glenn Reynolds sums up:

This tells us two things we already knew: The press will publish stuff without much in the way of authentication, if it thinks it makes Republicans look bad. And Republicans really were interested in politicizing the Terry Schiavo matter.

But of course it tells us a third thing, which Glenn would rather not mention: that the “liberal media bias”-mongers will publish reckless charges with no authentication at all, if it makes any media outlet not in thrall to the conservative wing of the Republican Party look bad.

Right now, John Hinderaker looks considerably less credible than Dan Rather. The only difference I can see is that Rather eventually confessed error and got forced out, while Hinderaker is unapologetic and still going strong, catching links from Instapundit.

The Martinez Schiavo memo:
    Not really that hard to figure out

It all makes sense. Harkin saw the memo, but didn’t want to embarrass Martinez, who was on his side of the Schiavo matter. Some other Republican gave it to a Democratic colleague out of disgust, and doesn’t want to be known as a turncoat.

Sen. Tom Harkin has now confirmed that the Republican talking points on the Schiavo affair — the ones that the right blogosphere and wingnut press have been charging were a Democratic dirty trick abetted by the liberal media — were, in fact, given to him by Sen. Mel Martinez. Martinez has admitted as much and (as is his standard practice) chosen a staffer to scapegoat for it.

You might expect the reaction from the right-wing bloggers and other purveyors of the “liberal media bias” idea to be “Ooops! We overstepped on this one. We’ll be more careful next time.” But while you’re at it, you might as well expect a pony, too.

John Hindraker of Powerline, his dreams of Rathergate II in ruins around him, has come up with a defensive line of even-more-than-normal silliness: “Why didn’t Harkin speak out earlier”?

The answer isn’t far to seek. Harkin, let’s recall, was on the feed-Terri side of the question, like most of the leadership of the disability-rights community. He had no reason to want to embarrass Mel Martinez, who was leading his side of the fight. But when the Washington Times ran a story yesterday triumphantly reporting that all 55 Republican Senators denied having seen the memo and that only Harkin among the Democrats said that he’d seen it — along with a headline using the word “fake” and an assertion by Robert Bennett of Utah that the whole thing was an “invention” — Harkin was forced to choose between having his own credibility questioned and fingering Martinez, who had already gone on record denying that he’d ever seen the memo.

So Harkin did finger Martinez, who admitted that what Harkin said was true while continuing to express confusion as to how such a naughty memo could have found its way into his pocket.

It’s virtually certain that Harkin was not the source of the original ABC and Washington Post; stories. According to CBS, the memo got into the press because a Republican Senator who received it was outraged enough to share it with a Democratic colleague, whose staffers then gave it to the press, or who shared it with someone else’s staffers who gave it to the press.

The pattern isn’t hard to figure out: the outraged Republican surely doesn’t want to be known within his (or her) caucus as a turncoat, and is maintaining a discreet silence modified only by a simple exculpatory “No” to the Washington Times. The Democrat whose staffers put the memo out doesn’t want to have to answer questions about which Republican gave him or her the memo. The reporters know most or all of the names involved, but got the memo under pledges of confidentiality and don’t want to violate those pledges.

Really, unless you start with the assumption that any reporter who doesn’t work for Rupert Murdoch is a vicious, partisan liar, it all makes perfect sense.

Does Mickey Kaus know something I don’t?

What’s the relevance of Hillary Clinton’s sex life to he Kerik affair? None, that I can see.

At the request of Rudolph Giuliani, who would like to be President of the United States, George W. Bush, who is currently the President of the United States, nominated Bernard Kerik to be Secretary of Homeland Security, which ought to be an extremely important job.

Later it came out that Kerik had an extremely badly blotted copybook, both personal and official, of the kind that even the most cursory sort of background check would have discovered. This wasn’t just someone who did something dumb once and exposed himself to a journalistic “gotcha”; this was a walking textbook of conduct disorder.

Kerik is presumably no longer going to be a public figure, but facts about Kerik are clearly relevant to the evaluation of Bush and Giuliani.

I haven’t followed the “love nest” part of the story carefully. (The “mob ties” part of the story seemed exciting to me, which may say something about me.) Pehaps the original implication that Kerik improperly converted an apartment designated by a private as a rest area for police and firefighters to his own private (as it happened, adulterous) use was wrong, and that in fact all of his extramarital boffing was done on his own dime.

(What we know, apparently, is that Kerik, as police commissioner, asked one of the local landlords, a police buff, to donate an apartment as a rest area for police and firefighters, that the landlord did so, and that Kerik later rented the apartment for himself, including carrying on his love affair. What we don’t know is whether the dallying started before or after Kerik started paying rent.)

If all that was involved was adultery, that doesn’t constitute a legitimate news story, though renting a space overlooking Ground Zero for that particular purpose does strike me as a little bit weird. If, however, the Police Commissioner of New York was using an apartment that he requested be made available for the use of rescue workers for his own private purposes, that’s a different matter.

That the sexual angle gives it a special tingle for the tabloids — which, today, includes the broadsheets — is no doubt true, but not dispositive. It’s still about using public office for private gain.

However, if Mickey Kaus wants to argue otherwise and Glenn Reynolds wants to agree with him, I’ll concede they have an arguable point.

But Kaus, with Reynolds cheering, doesn’t just criticize the press for going after Kerik. Kaus says, “I especially look forward to the paper’s multiple-reporter investigation of Hillary Clinton’s erotic life when she runs for Senate in 2006.”

Now, there are two possibilities here, and I’m not sufficiently well plugged-in to know which is right. The first is that Kaus knows something discreditable about Hillary’s sex life — or even that something discreditable is in fact common knowledge in the haut-gossip networks to which Kaus belongs — and that Kaus is using the Kerik story to hint about it. The other is that Kaus knows nothing discreditable about Hillary’s sex life, but is willing to leave his readers with the impression that he does.

Either way, I find it pretty disgusting. Kaus’s media-criticism point, insofar as it has substance, gains nothing from the mention of Hillary’s name except for attracting the attention of Reynolds and others who can’t decide from day to day whether they hate Hillary Clinton slightly more than they hate the New York Times or whether it’s the other way around.

At least Kaus hasn’t previously made it a practice to talk about the erotic lives of political figures, so he would have had some standing to object when other journalistic outlets do so. Now, of course, he has done exactly what the people he criticizes have done, but without doing any actual reporting to go with it.

As to Reynolds, last seen continuing to retail baseless rumors about Sen. Kerry’s sex life, with the name of the woman falsely accused, even after they had been thoroughly discredited — when both Kerry and the other Drudge victim in the case denied everything, Reynolds merely linked to an early Clinton denial about Monica — he has no standing whatever to complain about anyone else’s journalistic ethics in this regard.

I should note that I have been a huge un-fan of Hillary Clinton, and regard the idea of running her for President as suicidal for the Democratic Party. Anything that knocked her out of contention would be, as far as I’m concerned, good news; on the past performance, she’d make a terrible candidate and a horrible President.

But that doesn’t make this sort of journalistic sneak-attack legitimate.

Update here.

Believe the children! (Sometimes)

On p. B1 of Friday’s Los Angeles Times, as story headlined “Some Priests are Suing their Accusers” reports that a priest accused of having molsested a girl three decades ago has filed libel suits against the law firm which posted on its website the complaint naming him and against the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which has distributed and posted leflets identifying him as a sexually abusive priest.

The story, scupulously balanced in the usual journalistic fashion (it reports opposite assertions by interested parties without providing any evidence that would help the reader decide who is right), is built on the theme that such suits resemble the SLAPP suits that developers use to intimidate those who organize to try to block their projects.

[The Napa Valley News reports the same story without any reference to SLAPP but with some additional detail: the accuser was eight years old at the time of the asserted molestation, didn’t come to recall the event until many years later, and is the only person to have accused this priest.]

Also on page B1 is a report on the sentencing of the three 11-year-old-girls who falsely accused a man of having molested them, as a result of which he spent eight months in jail.

Commentary seems almost superfluous.

But if it’s true, as reported, that 4400 priests have been accused of sexual misconduct, it would be extraordinary if at least several of those complaints weren’t false. And why should the victim of a false report be unable to sue for libel, merely because the report is about something especially awful that lots of people resembling the libel victim actually did?

The story about the priest suing says the name of the woman whose complaint lies at the center of the story “is being withheld because The Times generally does not publish the names of victims of sexual abuse.” Petitio principii, anyone?

None of this changes the basic facts of the priestly molestation story: a widespread problem (4% of all priests have been accused, most of them, no doubt, accurately) covered up due to the cynical and well co-ordinated efforts of the Church and the cowardice of the press: an unworthy cowardice, to be sure, but one well-founded on the willingness and capacity of the Chuch to exact retribution.

But the priest in this story (whose name is being withheld because it’s my policy to withhold the names of libel victims) isn’t a political counter; he’s a human being. And it looks to me no worse than even money that he has gotten, and continues to get, a raw deal, from the newspapers and — if his suit is dismissed under the anti-SLAPP law — from the legal system.