Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Alternate Universes: A Tale of Two Networks

My weekend plans were re-arranged after an unexpected trip to the hospital for my mother. She's fine now, thanks. My mom has a little dog and my most important job last weekend was to stay at her place to take care of the pooch. Crashing at her downtown apartment is a little like staying in a nice hotel, complete with cable TV, which we don't have (for good reason) at home.

My tradition of entering a hotel room for the first time is to plop down on the bed and check out what stations the TV has to offer. It works pretty much the same at my mom's. I'm not a huge TV watcher at home so maybe that's why I'm always eager to take advantage of the tube when I'm away.

It just so happened that my mother checked into the hospital on huge news day. Last Friday three major stories vied for our nation's attention, the Senate vote on the Republican income tax overhaul,  Robert Mueller's indictment of former Trump national security advisor, Michael Flynn, and the acquittal of Jose Garcia Zarate in the murder charges in the death of  Kathryn Steinle.

MSNBC, the only TV news my mother watches, devoted this past Friday to the Flynn case, with only a brief mention here and there about the impending Senate vote. In the time I sat in her hospital room, I must have seen the tape of Flynn leaving his car and entering Federal Court in Washington D.C. with his lawyer by his side, at least two thousand times. Not a single angle of the story was left uncovered while the network's reporters and commentators, especially Rachel Maddow, could not conceal their glee at the prospect that this move of Robert Mueller to go after a one time high ranking member of the administration, nailing him with only the mildest of charges in exchange for his cooperation with the investigation, could set into motion the downfall of this president. While I didn't shed too many tears for the commander-in-chief, I didn't jump for joy either. My skepticism runs high these days as it seems like we've heard it all before. Trump, the teflon president, and before that, the teflon candidate, has gotten where he is despite countless violations of ethics, decorum, common decency, and even the law, wrongdoings that would have doomed anybody else. He could very well survive Michael Flynn an Robert Mueller as well.

But if you listened to MSNBC this past weekend, you'd have thought Donald Trump was all but impeached and headed for jail. I needed a different perspective, one that could be found just one click away on my mom's remote control.

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the unofficial voice of Donald Trump, Fox News had an alternate take on the Flynn indictment. Commentator Tucker Carlson who hosts an evening program on the network, had a puzzled look on his face, a trademark of Fox talking heads when speaking about the opposition, as he wondered aloud what all the fuss was about.  After all the time and money spent on the investigation into Russian meddling into our election and Trump's possible connection to it, Carlson suggested, if the indictment of Flynn lying to the FBI was all the investigation could come up with, then Mueller and his whole team owe this country a huge apology. There was no mention of the possibility that Mueller might possibly have bigger fish to fry than Michael Flynn.

Fox News didn't even lead with the Flynn indictment Friday night. It led with the Kate Steinle story. Turns out the staunchly anti-liberal/Democrat network is obsessed with the death of the young woman. If you're like me and hadn't heard of Kathryn Steinle, it's probably because you don't watch Fox News. The Fox version of her story goes something like this:

Kate Steinle, a 34 year old San Francisco woman was walking along the Embarcadero with her father on July 1, 2015, when a bullet struck her in the back and punctured her aorta. She died two hours later in a hospital. The bullet came from a gun that was fired by Jose Zarate, a Mexican national and a convicted felon, here in the United States illegally. In fact Zarate had been deported from the United States five times but always managed to make his way back in. When he finished a jail term on drug charges in San Francisco, despite frequent requests from immigration officials that Zarate be turned over to them for deportation, the local authorities let him go free, enabling him to kill Ms. Steinle.

Zarate went on trial for the murder of Kathryn Steinle this October. Despite there being no question that Zarate fired the shot that killed Steinle, last Thursday he was acquitted on all murder charges, and convicted only on a weapons charge. As California law allows convicted felons credit for time served in jail awaiting trial, Zarate stands to serve only a short amount of time. Never fear, the Trump administration has taken a particular interest in this case and its Justice Department has plans for Zarate once he gets sprung from the California hoosegow.

The shooting of Ms. Steinle has become a cause celebre for alt-right groups for whom illegal immigration is a hot button topic. And why not, you would be hard pressed to find a more compelling story than a young woman dying in her father's arms, tragically gunned down by an undocumented felon who was set free by local law enforcement officials in a so called sanctuary city. Jose Zarate has become a poster child for the dangers of illegal aliens, such a big part of Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric, who in his words, cross our borders to rape and murder decent Americans. In fact Zarate was very likely the inspiration for Trump's controversial description of illegal Mexicans in this country. Kate Steinle's name was mentioned by Trump in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and the Republicans have introduced "Kate's law" which would "enhance penalties for deported felons who would return to the United States." By far the biggest target for the alt-right Trumpkins is the city of San Francisco and all sanctuary cities whom they feel put the rights of criminal illegal aliens over the safety of law abiding citizens.

Something obviously went terribly wrong here. Even I had to ask myself, how could this happen?

Well as I said, this is the Fox version of the story, and from everything I can tell from other sources, there is nothing out of line about their version, except for the not so small problem that it leaves out a number significant details.

First of all, there are felons, and then there are felons. From the Fox description of Zarate, he could have easily been a member of a notorious drug cartel or a relentless gang banger bent specifically on murder and mayhem. Zarate was none of those. He was a wobegone drifter, homeless and drowsy from the sleeping pills he took after picking them out of the garbage, at the time of Kate Steinle's shooting. The crimes he was charged with were drug related offenses and re-entering the United States after being deported. None of his convictions were for committing violent crimes. As criminal illegal aliens go, Zarate was the smallest of small potatoes and it's easy to see how he fell between the cracks of the system.

The gun he fired was stolen from a California Bureau of Land Management officer, that Zarate claimed he found underneath a park bench wrapped in a tee shirt. A surveillance video seemed to corroborate Zarate's story as it showed two men (neither of them Zarate), discarding a bundle under that bench that could very well have been the gun, hours before the tragedy. Zarate testified that the gun accidentally discharged as he was picking it up from the ground. The police who interrogated him testified at the trial that they lied to Zarate about what they knew about the evidence in order to convince him to come up with a more damning confession. Ballistics showed the bullet that struck Ms. Steinle ricocheted off the pavement before hitting her, indicating that even had Zarate intentionally fired the gun, he was not aiming at the victim. After reading all the details of what happened, the only logical conclusion one can come up with is that Kate Steinle's death was a tragic accident, at the very worst, gross negligence on the part of Zarate, but hardly first degree murder, which was the charge the prosecutor originally sought against him.

Unfortunately logic doesn't seem to play a big part of Fox's agenda. On a day that featured two far reaching stories that will play a significant role in this nation's history, Fox devoted a half hour of a one hour prime time news program to the story of that tragic accident.

And how much time did MSNBC devote to the story of Kate Steinle last weekend? Exactly two minutes and fifteen seconds. I know that because Fox published an article falsely claiming that MSNBC gave zero coverage to the story this past weekend, then corrected their mistake via a tweet that enumerated the minutes and seconds of their coverage.

In the original article now removed from the internet, Fox indignantly claimed their liberal counterpart MSNBC did not bother to cover the story of the shooting simply because "it didn't fit into their narrative." Perhaps there is some truth to that. On the other hand, the Steinle story, minus all those nasty details, fits into Fox's anti-immigrant narrative like a glove.

If you can bear it, watch what "Judge" Jeanine Pirro, by far Fox's most snarky, bellicose and obnoxious commentator had to say the other day about the Steinle case.

Pirro wears her contempt for anyone who disagrees with her, particularly liberal Democrats, like a mink coat. She is so snarly and vindictive, she makes Fox's biggest name commentator, Sean Hannity, no shrinking violet he, look like the avuncular actor/singer Burl Ives. In the commentary where she refers to Zarate at least twice as a "dirtbag", Pirro, like Trump and other members of the far right, claims that the trial was a miscarriage of justice. "That's why we call it criminal justice, not victim justice." Pirro said.

It's surprising to hear someone with supposed legal experience, express such shock over the procedures and the outcome of a real life trial. No, the jury was not made aware of Zarate's immigration status as Pirro claims, but such is the case in similar cases. Yes she's right, the judge denied the jury from seeing and handling the gun that killed Ms. Steinle to determine how easily it could misfire, again, common procedure. Pirro conveniently didn't mention the police admission of lying to the suspect or the prosecutors' choice to go after the big enchilada, murder one, rather than the much more realistic charge of manslaughter. She also didn't mention the chief prosecutor's far-fetched closing argument which stated that Zarete was "playing his own secret version of Russian roulette" with Ms. Steinle, or the culpability of the BLM ranger who carelessly allowed his gun to be stolen in the first place. Real life law and order doesn't work like it does on TV where justice is always served for young, attractive victims  (as Ms. Steinle was constantly referred to by Fox). To hear Pirro talk about the trial, you would think that because it was held in that heaven forbid, liberal bastion of San Francisco, all the cards were stacked in favor of that dirtbag Zarate and against the attractive Steinle. Pirro even bemoaned the unfairness of the fact that the decedent, Ms. Steinle wasn't present at the trial to represent herself while the defendant, Mr. Zarate was. I could be wrong but it's my impression that murder victims are not customarily present at the trials of their accused killers.

The wisest, most even-handed words I've read about this case, come from Robert Tracinski, Senior Writer for the conservative website "The Federalist." The gist of his article comparing this trial to the George Zimmerman trial in Florida, can be summed up by its sub heading: 
The Kate Steinle verdict is the Right's turn to be outraged after an acquittal because they were never warned about the weaknesses of the actual case.
Tracinski cautions against using crimes and personal tragedies as narratives for promoting agendas or ideology, no matter what side it comes from by saying this:
individuals are not symbols and…every shooting has its own irreducibly concrete facts and context…. Every case of the use of force is a discrete incident with its own unique facts. It is not an abstract morality tale about racism or poverty or heavy-handed policing. Nor is it a parable about illegal immigration and sanctuary cities
The tragedy that befell Kate Steinle and her family, can never be minimized. But she and her family have been exploited by the Right (just as Trayvon Martin and his family were by the Left) as standard bearers for a cause they never asked to be a part of. Jeannine Pirro suggests that justice for Kathryn Steinle would not come until more draconian immigration laws are implemented, a wall is built along the Mexican border, and zero government funding is granted to sanctuary cities. My guess is that the Steinle family would beg to differ. From what I've read about them, while they're disappointed with the verdict, they want no tributes or laws in their daughter's name, just a chance to be left alone to grieve properly.

My guess is that as long as the Steinle family tragedy can be used to promote the alt-right's anti-immigrant, anti-sanctuary city agenda, as long as it can be used as an easy distraction from all the problems and missteps of the Trump administration, Kate Steinle will not rest in peace anytime soon.

And that's the real injustice.

No comments: