Unless you're living in a cave -- in which case, consider yourself very lucky these days -- you've probably heard about the five players from the St. Louis Rams who came out for yesterday's "game" against the hapless Oakland Raiders in the now-famous "hands up, don't shoot" gesture to support the Ferguson protesters. Apparently, the sight nearly caused poor Jeff Roorda, the formerly fired-for-lying ex-cop who became an elected official (there's a surprise) and St. Louis police union leader, to suffer a public fainting spell.
Roorda and his union -- which has already shown hostility toward free speech on the streets of Ferguson -- immediately begged the NFL to fine or otherwise punish the Rams players for their simple and powerful gesture. (The league, to its credit, immediately rejected this insane notion.) If Roorda and the St. Louis cops can't handle this episode, one can only imagine how it would have viewed THIS:
Perhaps it's fitting for our "Tale of Two Cities," too-often-separate and way-too-unequal America, but the last few months has been both the best of times for American journalism...and the worst of times. What's the worst? In an era when narrative truly matters, it's been far too easy for media outlets to spin inherently false ones, and too hard to put the genie of magical untruth back in the bottle.
Take The Only Story That Matters™...Ferguson. Since unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown was killed by now-ex-Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, we've seen the danger of both blatant falsehoods -- remember that supposed fractured eye socket suffered by Wilson, which never was -- and more subtle spin, with larger outlets like the New York Times contorting like a pretzel to tell the story from the officer's point of view. In a related matter -- the killing in Cleveland of 12-year-old Tamir Rice while brandishing a toy gun -- Cleveland.com somehow thought it was appropriate to report on the criminal record of Tamir's parents. Which just goes to show that if you're poor and black and dead in America, not just you but your family will be the ones to actually go on trial, more so than your killer.
But the sins of journalism in 21st Century America also help to illuminate the fact that so many people in my profession have performed so heroically on the Ferguson beat. Some faced rocks and other projectiles at the worst of the unrest, many were tear-gassed by the authorities, and a remarkable 20 or so reporters, photojournalists and live-streamers were arrested and detained in Ferguson, often when they were obeying orders and moving to a public sidewalk. These journalists have faced not just physical threats but violations of the 1st Amendment and their basic human rights -- all because they thought Americans needed to see the truth of what was happening in Missouri for ourselves, and not merely filtered by those in power.
Each and every minute felt like an hour. The first bulletin on Monday that the Ferguson grand jury had reached its decision -- and that it would be announced that night -- came around lunch time. All through the day, news anchors jumped back on CNN after every commercial break to declare breathlessly that word on the fate of Officer Darren Wilson was "just moments away!" As gray November skies turned a metallic black, Gov. Jay Nixon held a news conference to do nothing but voice his desire that reaction to this grand jury decision -- not knowing what it would be, of course -- would be respectful and tolerant.
Every few seconds, an overhead camera panned the crowd outside the City Hall in Ferguson, the suburb of St. Louis where an unarmed black teen named Mike Brown had been gunned down after a scuffle with Wilson on Aug. 9. And each time it looked like 50 to 100 more people had showed up -- tense, milling, waiting outdoors for hours on a chilly night to hear whether or not there would be justice for Brown's killing. The announcement was pushed back from 7 p.m. local time to 8 p.m., and then that hour came and TV cameras showed an empty podium for a dozen more minutes. Finally, St. Louis County D.A. Robert McCulloch emerged in his red power tie, brusque and arrogant, determined to get his brief and all-too-perfunctory words of concern for Brown's family to spin his version of the case -- and deliver the gut-punch that there would be no charges.
There were maybe 1,000 people massed outside the police station by then. Many wept and hugged each other, but their disappointment soon turned to anger. Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, burst into tears and started shrieking, while Brown's stepfather yelled, "Burn the bitch down." Within minutes, a police car was in flames and gunshots were echoing in the distance.
An area journalist made a really good point today about the stark hypocrisy of two local officials who had harsh words about the miscarriage of justice in Ferguson:
"I am perplexed and astounded that in this case, the prosecutor certainly took as long as he wanted to explain everything (and) I did not hear any explanation, or more importantly a justification, for why that young man was shot," [Mayor Michael Nutter] said, according to the Associated Press.
It was a remarkable sentiment coming from a mayor who has shown little interest — arguably none — in substantive reforms to his own city's criminal-justice system.
Did newlywed Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson get indicted for firing multiple shots into unarmed teenager Mike Brown? Or does he walk off into the sunset, after the inevitable "60 Minutes" interview? I don't know, and I'm busy working, but you can speculate among yourselves.
It keeps getting harder and harder to defend Pennsylvania's first-ever elected Democratic attorney general, Kathleen Kane. Maybe that's for some defense attorneys, it's getting easier and easier to defend your clients against Kane's office.
Take the Pennsylvania Turnpike...please. It's a difficult road to avoid if you're trying to get from these parts, in and around Philadelphia, to anywhere in the western or northern part of the state. When it was built, beginning in the 1930s, in the depths of the Great Depression, it was a marvel of modern civil engineering, and tolls were needed to make that happen...fair enough.
But in recent years (at least if you're like me and refuse to get E-Z Pass) you need to make sure you hit a cash machine before you enter the Turnpike...or maybe bring one along with you. It seems like the toll is always 10, 15, 20 percent higher every time I drive it, and I drive it pretty often; if you take it all the way to the Ohio border, you may need one of those microfinance loans.
"They would not listen, they did not know how. Perhaps they'll listen now."
The last time I heard the word "anarchy" tossed around so much was when the Sex Pistols' LP was released back in '76. There's several Republican senators and commentators who might have a coronary by the time the night is through, which can only mean that President Obama has issued his long-awaited, shocking-yet-not-at-all surprising executive order on immigration.
This is the political civil war that I predicted two days after the mid-term election. Has anyone checked on the status of Fort Sumter lately?
In the end, Obama's move will be judged on the three Ps -- policy, politics, and procedure. The policy, of course, is a no-brainer -- keeping families together and seeking a realistic solution to the plight of at least some of the 12 million strivers who are now trapped in legal limbo; the failure of Congress to come together on this has been a political meltdown of epic proportions.