The Daily Debate - 7/17/2013

By Robert Tracinski

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July 16, 2013

1. Reasonable Doubt

2. Finding Out What's In It

3. Dispatches


1. Reasonable Doubt

It has long been obvious that mainstream media reporting on guns suffers from the fact that so many reporters are utterly unfamiliar with firearms. Their bias in favor of gun control is partly caused by an irrational fear of the unknown. That's why I favor a mandatory background check and three-day waiting period for all media commentary on guns.

All of this spills over to reporting about crime and particularly to stories about armed self-defense. Reporters who know nothing about guns are not likely to know anything about the use of guns for self-defense. They are not likely to have thought, seriously and personally, about what is moral and legal. By contrast, if you own a gun, you are likely to have thought about all of this in the first person.

When I first got a handgun for self-defense, a friend of mine gave me a very good book on "the legal, ethical, and practical use" of a gun for self-defense. It is a guide to when you are entitled and when you are not entitle to use a gun for self-defense, and much of it is advice about how not to use it, since even if your action is defensible, shooting someone is likely to turn your life upside down. Ask George Zimmerman about that.

This is why, when I first heard about Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin, I knew from years of following this sort of case with personal interest that the truth was likely to be murkier and more equivocal than what was being reported. In cases involving the use of deadly force, it is often very difficult for even the participants themselves to untangle exactly what happened, who was the aggressor and who was the victim, and how everything spun so quickly out of control.

Which is to say that there is a lot of room for reasonable doubt, not just in the courtroom but in the newsroom.

That's why I was gratified to see the scathing comments of an experienced criminal defense attorney complaining about the ignorance and sloppiness of the television reporting on the Zimmerman trial. I particularly appreciated this passage:

"As for the case, I think it's terrible that George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. That's a tragedy. I don't think he had to shoot him, and had one or two things been different (he didn't get out of his car, didn't have a gun, on and on), we wouldn't be here. I keep hearing Trayvon Martin would have killed George Zimmerman, I don't think so, but I wasn't there.

"You weren't there either. You don't know what happened, exactly. As much as you want to believe you were there and know what happened, exactly, you weren't, and you don't.

"Not knowing exactly what happened requires a not guilty verdict."

I also appreciated this thorough overview of the Marissa Alexander case, which has been cited as a kind of reverse George Zimmerman case in which the defendant didn't get off the hook, supposedly because she was black. But it turns out that the cases are very different, and that "stand your ground" self-defense laws—which the left has gotten very worked up over—have very little to do with either one.

In fact, if you go off of the op-ed pages, you don't need to search far to figure out why George Zimmerman was acquitted. The New York Times published a pretty thorough rundown of how the prosecution's case fell apart, piece by piece.

What disturbs me is that none of this shows up on the op-ed pages—at least not from anyone except a few conservative commentators who have expressed doubts about the case from the beginning. On the mainstream center-left, I haven't seen any acknowledgement that the case against Zimmerman was actually, legitimately weak, that there were real grounds for thinking he might not be guilty. What I see are acknowledgements that we have to accept the jury verdict, or acknowledgements that the case may have been hard to prove given the evidentiary constraints of the courtroom, or (largely ill-informed) moaning about how regressive Florida law is because it allows people to get away with, you know, defending themselves.

The closest I've seen to an actual re-evaluation of the case is the Washington Post's Richard Cohen admitting that he "can understand why Zimmerman was suspicious and why he thought Martin was wearing a uniform we all recognize," because "young black males"—of the type who wear hoodies, apparently—"commit a disproportionate amount of crime."

For his troubles, Cohen got branded as a racist. As James Taranto observes, folks like Eric Holder are always calling for a national "dialogue" on race—and it's a damn fool who believes them.

Yet even Cohen, who in some ways goes farther than I would in sticking up for Zimmerman, ends his column with this: "There's no doubt in my mind that Zimmerman profiled Martin and, braced by a gun, set off in quest of heroism." Really? No doubt at all—after en entire trial in which the prosecution set out to prove precisely these things and failed?

In fact, the Zimmerman case began failing from the very beginning. It began failing the moment we saw pictures of George Zimmerman. It was supposed to be the story of a prejudiced white redneck who initiated an armed conflict with a young black man out of pure racial animus. But then Zimmerman turned out not to be the square-jawed, blond, Teutonic Wagner-lover implied by his name. Instead he was half-Peruvian and obviously Latin American in appearance.

But the point at which the trial really fell apart was the testimony of Trayvon Martin's friend Rachel Jeantel, when she revealed that Martin had referred to Zimmerman as a "cracker"—a pejorative term used by blacks to refer to whites. So the prosecution had failed to provide evidence that Zimmerman was motived by racial animus—but they did provide evidence that Martin was motivated by racial animus. It raised the question of who was profiling whom. That should have been the moment when the case fell apart, not just inside the courtroom, but outside of it.

But the mainstream left-leaning media had its cherished "narrative," and they weren't going to let go of it. Having missed the glory days of the civil rights movement, they are eager to revive it by describing Trayvon Martin as the successor to Emmet Till and Medgar Evers, as a latter-day martyr in the cause of racial equality.

And if you interfere with this narrative, whether you're a Florida juror or a Washington Post columnist, woe betide you. At Salon, a fellow named Paul Campos, who is allegedly a professor of law, offers this highly nuanced interpretation of the case.

"Trayvon Martin was stalked by George Zimmerman because he was black. Trayvon Martin is dead because he was black. George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin because the boy Zimmerman killed was black.

"If you deny these things, you are either a liar or an idiot, or possibly both."

Yes, and if you think that's an argument, you are either a liar or an idiot, or possibly both.

I don't know exactly what happened with Zimmerman and Martin. It is possible that Zimmerman was an overzealous crime-fighter who initiated the conflict by acting in a way that was threatening to Martin. It's possible that he didn't mean harm but made a few bad decisions which set off the conflict; I consider this the most likely interpretation. And it's possible that he was just a guy doing his best to protect his neighborhood from rising crime, and that it was Martin who, out of fear, resentment, or his own racial animus, sought out the conflict.

Not having been there, going only from what could actually be proven, I can't say for certain which one it is. But I can say for certain that I have a reasonable amount of doubt about it. I suspect that those who can't say so have been so eager to validate their narrative that they have pre-judged the case—even as they lecture the rest of us about prejudice.


2. Finding Out What's In It

Nobody pushed harder for ObamaCare than the unions—which makes the latest big news especially ironic.

Three labor union leaders, including the Teamsters' Jimmy Hoffa (the one who's still alive), have written an open letter to Democratic leaders in Congress demanding a fix to protect them from the very law they supported.

"The letter was penned by James P. Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Joseph Hansen, international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union; and Donald 'D.' Taylor, president of UNITE-HERE, a union representing hotel, airport, food service, gaming, and textile workers.

"'When you and the President sought our support for the Affordable Care Act,' they begin, 'you pledged that if we liked the health plans we have now, we could keep them. Sadly, that promise is under threat.... We have been strong supporters of the notion that all Americans should have access to quality, affordable health care. We have also been strong supporters of you. In campaign after campaign we have put boots on the ground, gone door-to-door to get out the vote, run phone banks and raised money to secure this vision. Now this vision has come back to haunt us.'...

"'The unintended consequences of the ACA are severe,' they continue. 'Perverse incentives are causing nightmare scenarios. First, the law creates an incentive for employers to keep employees' work hours below 30 hours a week. Numerous employers have begun to cut workers' hours to avoid this obligation, and many of them are doing so openly. The impact is two-fold: fewer hours means less pay while also losing our current health benefits.'"

Unintended consequences? Perverse incentives that create nightmare scenarios? Jimmy Hoffa is going to have to join his local Tea Party group. The way he's talking right now, he'll fit in just fine.

But it's not the unintended consequences that are the problem. It is the intended consequences. A lot of us warned at the time that the purpose of ObamaCare was to blow up the market for private health insurance, leaving people to look to government to fill their needs. But this leaves the unions in a lurch, because one of the most important things they promise their members is the ability to negotiate better employer-provided health coverage—and now they're beginning to realize that ObamaCare makes that kind of coverage a thing of the past.

I guess we had to pass the law so they could find out what's in it.


3. Dispatches

Given my criticisms of the media coverage of the Zimmerman trial, I should acknowledge an exception on another issue: David Leonhardt in the New York Times acknowledges that Americans are genuinely divided on abortion.

The middle class is disappearing—into the upper class (or actually the upper middle class).

There is a rising cohort of young millionaire entrepreneurs in Africa.

Is China's declining growth rate still overstated?

Will Edward Snowden actually end up undermining Internet freedom by helping his new friends in Russia and Venezuela?

Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom" makes journalists look bad.

Ten rules for succeeding in Washington, DC. None of which I am following, thank goodness.


—Robert Tracinski

The Daily Debate

edited by Robert Tracinski

Brought to you by RealClearPolitics.

Robert Tracinski is also editor of The Tracinski Letter.

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