Reading Fox News responses to the Garner decision

Ryan J. Reilly’s pointed out on Huffington Post that Conservatives are generally confused and unhappy with the decision to not indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner. I was specifically looking at responses on Fox and noticed some interesting things.

I’ve been talking about filter bubbles over  on Facebook, and in continuation of that I compared my search results using both Google and Yahoo, particularly while attempting to find the rest of the clip of Gretchen Carlson talking about the tree lighting ceremony, which was trimmed down to that brief clip by Think Progress without any link to the full segment. I usually default to Google for my search results, with search history turned off (info on how to do it here) but with local web browsing history and cookies not erased. I almost never use Yahoo to search. I was interested to find that when searching with Google for results on Fox News I was more likely to get results from Slate, Salon, Think Progress, and similar sites talking about Fox as my top results than to get results from Fox itself; I sometimes click Slate and Salon links, and almost never Think Progress, but that is a site I see many people I know linking. Interestingly, many of those results were sourcing each other. In the example of the Think Progress clip, while searching “fox news eric garner gretchen carlson”, my top result on Google was the above linked Think Progress page; my top result on Yahoo was Gretchen Carlson’s page on Fox’s site, including a link to the original video, which is a significantly better response.

Watching the Carlson video in context, it says right at the beginning of the full segment why the tree lighting was relevant: Carlson was wondering why this news would be broken on the night of the tree lighting, and the answer is, it’s because there was a news leak that impacted when the Grand Jury decision was released. The rest of the segment is some pretty direct questioning of what happened. Arthur Aidala, who she is interviewing, in the Think Progress clip sounds like he’s pretty callously justifying the Grand Jury decision; in the full segment, it’s clearer that he’s explaining how the Grand Jury can make a decision that they agree is both wrong and concerning. They also go through how, even if (as has been theorized) Pantaleo’s chokehold was accidental, the extra time while the cops were not getting medical help was clearly not okay — the only question is if it was criminal or negligent. Additionally, I note that this soundbite picks on concerns about a party. I think it’s a good and respectful thing that the ceremony was delayed, but I think the way that Carlson’s question is being highlighted leans on femmephobic ideas that the stereotypically feminine work of pleasure is less meaningful than the stereotypically masculine work of protest. She’s asking, as a reporter should, what the impact of one thing will be on another thing that will probably be impacted. It’s not like it’s hard to find reasons Fox News should be ashamed. This is a misleading one being heavily shared among liberal/progressive people under clickbait headlines.

It’s more worthwhile to look at Aidala’s response. This is one of two videos where he is interviewed, and he’s the main person I saw that seemed to be going into any depth on ways that the Grand Jury might choose to not indict Pantaleo without racism playing a role. This means that his explanation of what happened is likely to be latched on to by white people who don’t want to consider themselves racist and don’t believe that this had to do with race.

Importantly, Aidala says this was all about money, about collecting taxes. Well, hey, Ann Coulter is saying the same thing. It’s a very Libertarian perspective. While many of the clips I saw specifically talked about the mismatch between the petty crime and the officer’s response, a similar mismatch exists in the case of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, and the conservative response there has been overwhelmingly in favor of Wilson’s killing of Brown. I suspect that a significant part of this being treated so differently comes down to Garner’s crime fitting the narrative of trying to make a buck and being kept from doing so because of taxes, and sin taxes in particular — that liberal plot! Regardless of what you think of taxes in general or cigarette taxes in specific, what matters here is that this is a case where committing a crime is being considered a reason to consent to being arrested, but definitely not a reason to be treated like this by cops. Good crimes versus bad crimes. But there remains the internal consistency from Conservatives that both men should have consented to arrest (working off conservative media interpretation and presentation here).

He also keeps coming back to the relatively minor majority of votes out of total members on a Grand Jury required to make a decision, and specifically highlights that only a portion of the members even have to be present for all of the evidence being shown. He then goes on to talk about the ease with which a prosecutor could therefore influence the jury one way or another. Carlson brings up the benefit of the doubt that may be more likely given to cops. There are some arguments here that could be interpreted as Libertarian as well, but this comes out to me as mostly leaning on the lawyers-are-liars argument which is aided by Aidala himself being a lawyer and, therefore, one who knows better. Did this lawyers-are-liars (or at least truth-stretchers) argument come up on Fox for Wilson, or are lawyers only liars when they do things we don’t like?

So, I think these two arguments — that this was a ‘good crime’ where Garner’s only real failing was in not immediately agreeing to be arrested, and that when legal decisions don’t go your way it’s the fault of the lawyers who lie and take advantage of jury members — are going to be important to watch for, especially as the Wilson and Pantaleo cases get compared.

This clip from Bill O’Reilly is the only clip I saw which, before showing the video of Garner’s killing, gave any warning about the video being shown. He also showed the longest clip with the most context and audio. It remains disturbing. It’s also a bit standout because where other reporters made extensive points about the decision being “baffling” and “incomprehensible”, but absolutely not related to race, O’Reilly doesn’t seem to consider the jury decision incomprehensible. In fact, his segment seems mainly to exist in order to emotionally show acknowledgement that Garner’s death could be considered wrongful in the same breath as it could be considered unrelated to race. To make this point he interviews shouts over Tavis Smiley, who unfortunately mostly only gets a few words through: he twice states that it’s illegal for the NYPD to use chokeholds (rather than banned) and that that is the law Pantaleo broke, and when O’Reilly challenges him on that, Smiley tries to edge out by saying that O’Reilly is splitting hairs. Smiley’s talking point here was both off topic and not factual, so the whole thing was easy to derail. Frustrating to watch for the peanut gallery but a good lesson, especially as O’Reilly generally lets his guests talk long enough for good sound bytes and then talks over anything that isn’t byte-worthy, whether by coincidence or by intent. The lesson here is, the chokehold point is an easy derail in defense of Pantaleo, even if that’s only because the word “chokehold” reliably shows up in headlines after the word “apparent” or “alleged” unless it’s a source like Think Progress. (Lawyers are lying or at least stretching the truth except when they’re on your side, and the media too, right?) Some Conservatives are leaning on the possibility that it was an incidental and temporary chokehold on the way to something else, while others are fine with calling it a chokehold, but they tend to be uncomfortable with the level of force used either way, much more uncomfortable with the apparent lack of response to Garner’s statement that he couldn’t breathe, and significantly concerned with the delay in getting medical attention.

This Bret Baier segment including a talk with Charles Krauthammer is a good example of a lot of the segments I was seeing: people both flabbergasted at how this happened yet adamant that race wasn’t a factor. This looks to me like a significant wave of people facing a challenge to their core beliefs. I’m having trouble parsing out if this is mainly a belief that bad cops will be stopped, or a belief that the legal system will take care of them in the event of ‘good crimes’, or what, but I do note that there isn’t a lot of defense of Pantaleo other than to resist arguments universally against chokeholds, and I didn’t see anyone calling Pantaleo a bad cop or a good cop.

Shepard Smith generally leans left relative to the rest of Fox (for starters, he doesn’t seem to need to say “alleged” about the chokehold), but Andrew Napolitano, who talks to Smith in this segment, is a pretty far right Libertarian whose comments about slavery are such that when I searched on Yahoo for “judge andrew napolitano slavery” my only first-page result that was not pointing to the Daily Show taking him to task for those comments was a Stormfront forum post celebrating him (in a Google search, I got a more diverse selection of posts pointing back to the Daily Show, and had to go to page two before I found an interview with Napolitano on the site for the Ron Paul-endorsed Young Americans for Liberty). Naturally, I am fascinated! Napolitano makes a specific point of contrasting this Libertarian-friendly scenario with the killing of Michael Brown by describing Garner as nonviolent and unarmed while describing Brown as reaching for Wilson’s gun. He also goes back to the taxes point, saying: “This is a case of a poor, sorry individual doing nothing more than selling untaxed cigarettes, and as a result of government intervention, he is dead.” After that quote, the segment shows a positive photo of Garner grinning. This is a case that is already being harnessed for Libertarian talking points, and the narrative is believable without bringing up race, and this matters.

The first reason this matters is, I think, obvious to people like me who observe race playing a role in what happened: it’s another case of people finding ways to minimize and deny the modern existence and impact of racism. What if this really is a case where race did not play a role in what happened? I think this is a derail best described with a story:

Two people are walking through the woods, when one is bitten by a venomous spider. The one who has been bitten soon sits and then lies down, saying to the other, “Something is wrong! I can’t feel anything. My arms are numb, my legs are numb, my fingers and toes and everything!”

The other says, “You’re talking to me. Clearly, everything is not numb.”

The one says, “But I can’t feel myself talking!”

The other tickles the one’s neck, and the one twitches and laughs in response. The other says, “You can feel me tickle you. You’re lying. Get up.”

The one says, “I don’t understand why I can talk or feel you tickling me, but I still can’t get up and I don’t think I can feel anything else.”

The other sighs. Sometimes, you just have to give people a little push, right? So the other crouches down and slides an arm under the one’s back, pulling the one’s arm over the other’s shoulder. The other walks the one a half step forward and then the one falls over. “Why did you fall?” the other one asks. “You can talk, you can laugh, you move when I tickle you. Why are you so lazy?”

“I hate you!” the first one says.

If this isn’t a case where racism plays a role, the process of identifying that that is the case must come alongside efforts to address why so many Black people are seeing this as part of a larger pattern. Otherwise, it’s just denial of racism. If your answer to why so many Black people are seeing this as part of a larger pattern of racism starts with “I’m not racist, but…” then you can try typing whatever you’re thinking into a few different search engines to see if there are responses to whatever you’re thinking. Chances are that you’re seeing only a small piece of a larger picture, and that you’re recognizing that your perspective might sound racist because it sounds a lot like a common racist narrative that isn’t quite what you want to mean. If the solution to racism was simple, we’d have solved it already (and anyone offering a simple solution to racism and its historical effects that impact the modern day, even if no one does anything racist, has something to sell).

The second reason this insistent framing of Garner’s killing as not being about racism is important is more subtle, and frankly either not a big deal except when it really really is a big deal. This makes for an easy, subtle “I’m not racist, I advocated in favor of the rights of a Black person in a situation unrelated to racism!” argument. It’s kind of like “I’m not racist, I have a Black friend!” It’s distinctly different from “I’m not racist, I advocated in favor of the rights of a Black person in a situation even Fox News would consider racist!” One of the changing trends in extremist racism in the last few decades is the movement of many people from White Supremacy to White Nationalism, with political viewpoints that are largely compatible with many Libertarians who are not in their personal lives actively racist at all. In fact, the volume of Libertarians in the Pacific Northwest is such that White Nationalists have been moving toward there and out of the South because of popular knowledge that it’s friendlier to their political viewpoints (for more, look into things like the Northwest Imperative, but most sites going into depth are White Nationalist sites and I’m not linking to them here). Where White Supremacy is centered around, well, the supremacy of white people, White Nationalism is centered around the rights of all people to choose their own company, including the right to organize a national identity as they see fit. I see what happened to Garner being easily used as an argument by people who either consider themselves White Nationalists or at least as favorable to some of those views in order to demonstrate that they aren’t racist — they don’t want anyone to be treated unfairly, they just also want the right to not have to be around Black people, or hire them, or live in the same country, etc. So if you hear this argument, hey, you know better, right?


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