Human beings either function as individuals or as members of a pack. There's a switch inside us, deep in our spirit, that you can turn one way or the other. It's almost always the case that our worst behaviour comes out when we're switched to the mob setting. Jaron Lanier
As I am fond of saying, a collection of emotionally aroused, poorly informed individuals does not sum to the mythical “wisdom of crowds”. At best it results in groupthink and at worst a dangerous mob.
I am encouraged by the number of people who recognized the reaction to Trayvon's shooting as mob rule bordering on hysteria from the outset. I am also encouraged that some of them understand it is part of a pattern of such events. Still, those who understand both are a small minority.
Let's review some previous mob rule type events.
1987, New York State, Tawana Brawley. This 15-year-old African-American girl falsely accused some cops and a prosecutor of rape. Brawley's two lawyers and Al Sharpton, notorious race baiter, whipped the media into a frenzy (see video of Al Sharpton here). Even Bill Cosby got in on the commentary and supported Brawley, as did Spike Lee.
Brawley, her lawyers, and Sharpton were successfully sued for defamation by the accused prosecutor. Sharpton was found liable for seven instances of defamation. But the prosecutor's life was already destroyed by the allegations. And Al Sharpton's damages were paid by his supporters like Johnnie Cohrane.
1996, Atlanta, Georgia, Richard Jewell. Jewell was pilloried in the media, accused of having planted a bomb at the 1996 Summer Olympics. The bomb had been planted by Eric Rudolph. Jewel successfully sued various media outlets, but died at a relatively young age of 44.
2006, Durham, North Carolina, Duke lacrosse. One of the best examples of mob rule is the Duke University lacrosse team case. In that case Mike Nifong, the district attorney for Durham County, NC took an alleged rape case of an African American woman, Crystal Mangum, and used it to race bait his way into re-election. There was absolutely no substance to the allegation that members of the Duke lacrosse team had participated in a rape, and that became clear as time went on, even before charges were laid. But that didn't stop many Americans from castigating the lacrosse players.
I can understand the prosecutor and the police cutting corners in an attempt to convict the innocent. It happens all the time. I understand it, but certainly don't condone it. The prosecutor's job is to ensure the truth is put before the court, not to secure a conviction.
But it was inexcusable for some of the Duke faculty (“the group of 88”) to publicly castigate the lacrosse players on zero evidence. And some of the students (the “pot bangers”) piled on with rallies, the most extreme advocating castration of lacrosse players.
Duke University President Richard Brodhead waffled on almost everything, offering little support for the legal presumption of innocence of the lacrosse players, and seemed intimidated by the “group of 88”. He would surely be a starter on the All-American Academic Wimps team.
But the mass media were the worst actors, in my opinion. The New York Times was especially biased in its coverage, as was a local Durham paper, the Herald-Sun. This piece of crap by Duff Wilson of the NYT is the point where they went into CYA mode, and began backpedaling. You need a legal background and/or ongoing knowledge of the issues to understand how bad the article is. People like Nancy Grace and Wendy Murphy stirred up the public with their indignation and inaccurate statements.
The blogger K. C. Johnson did a good job of explaining what was happening on a daily basis. A sample of what he wrote about Nancy Grace's coverage appears here. Here's his dissection of Wendy Murphy. Johnson's coverage was far superior to that of the mainstream media.
Al Sharpton went on Bill O'Reilly's show and as usual reiterated his theme of racism, and was encouraged that black organizations were supporting the "victim". Jesse Jackson upped the ante by offering Rainbow Coalition money to pay for the "victim's" tuition. The NAACP went into the fray early, attempting to
There were numerous other persons involved in railroading the lacrosse players. The book Until Proven Innocent by Stuart Taylor and K. C. Johnson gives a good account of the entire debacle. Various law suits are still in progress, with lacrosse players seeking redress for harm done by the mob rush to judgement.
Incidentally, the prosecutor who replaced the disgraced Mike Nifong was fired recently for tirades against a judge. Read about the rise and fall of Tracey Cline here. And if you didn't read the link to Crystal Mangum above, you might not know she is currently incarcerated on a murder charge, perhaps the last arrest of her troubled life.
2011, Durham, North Carolina, Alaina Giordano. Yes, Durham again. Only this one is not a criminal issue, but the actions of a mother upset with a child custody order. This was the case of Alaina Giordano whose husband obtained primary physical custody of the two children of the marriage.
Giordano had level four breast cancer and she mis-characterized the custody award as having been based on this factor alone. Giordano's case caught my eye because she made effective use of social media in addition to the always inaccurate, sensationalist mainstream media. A gullible public lapped it up and people vilified her husband, and signed an online petition to have the judge removed.
You may rightly assume that I have little respect for the analytical skills of the average citizen. I was amazed at how many people wrote highly opinionated messages without even reading the trial transcript. Of course the vast majority of those people would have no legal training and some would not understand the award even if they read it.
I read the transcript (three times) before I formed an opinion. It was a difficult case, and the judge said as much. The husband is not a person deserving admiration. But neither is the wife. She was the one consistently blocking the father's access to the children, not the other way around (as noted by the judge).
After reading the transcript I see no grounds for appeal. There are no controversial issues in a legal sense. The mental and physical capabilities of the respective parents to act in the best interests of the children, at present and into the future, are always considerations the court must take into account.
After seeing the mother's “bleeding hearts” con job in the media, I can guess at some of the behaviours and actions the judge observed in the four day trial, as well as those described in the court-mandated psychologist report.
One of the points made in the award is that the parents needed to stop using the kids as pawns in their disputes. So what did Giordano do after receiving the award? She went on national television with the kids, castigating the judge, and by implication her husband. Go figure! And of course none of the media interviewers asked her how putting the kids on national television was in their best interests. Disgusting!
As part of her disinformation campaign, Giordano had her publicist friend issue periodic press releases. As you can guess, those releases got picked up and published verbatim by the mainstream media. Many people responded to them as though each release was news, a form of investigative reporting by the outlet they read them on. Nitwits!
I had started an outline for a lengthy blog article on how Alaina Giordano deceived the public, and hopefully will get it up after I finish with Trayvon. As of today (April 27, 2012) Giordano is being discharged from hospital and entering hospice care (according to her Facebook site). The mainstream media have long forgotten about her, but a core group of gullibles hang out on her Facebook site.
Mob rule is not only an American thing. I have lived in two Saskatchewan communities where citizens were wrongfully charged with satanic ritual abuse in the late 1980s and early 1990s. One was in Saskatoon, and the other in Martensville, a bedroom community near Saskatoon.
Most of the public had assumed guilt of the accused, because they were constantly told in the media, "kids don't make this stuff up". But kids do repeat what overly zealous social workers, cops and prosecutors coach them to say.
I knew one of the senior prosecutors who refused the cases for lack of evidence, but that didn't stop some of his subordinates from proceeding. The employment and reputations of those wrongly implicated were seriously damaged. Some of them were awarded monetary damages later, but their lives were forever changed. Whenever their names come up people immediately think “child abuse”, not “wrongful prosecution”.
In 1969 I was living in Saskatoon about a mile from the Gail Miller murder. After 23 years in prison David Milgaard was finally exonerated by DNA evidence that proved Larry Fisher was the murderer. To this day some involved with the prosecution have not come to terms with the fact the wrong man was charged and convicted. And some citizens are still convinced that Milgaard did it, and that there was some form of conspiracy to falsify DNA evidence.
The Saskatchewan events influenced my thinking greatly, having seen how normally rational people that I know personally can turn on others without a shred of evidence, merely lurid allegations made in the media.
Please think of mob rule, rush to judgement, events like the above ones when encountering media reports on Trayvon Martin. How much is factual, and how much is merely allegation or opinion?