The Ellison example

In “For Rep. Keith Ellison, recent protests speak to a lifelong struggle,” the Star Tribune’s Allison Sherry provides an incoherent update on Ellison’s fraught relationship with law enforcement. There are two problems with the article. Sherry doesn’t know what she’s talking about and she simply provides a platform for Ellison to vent.

Sherry works to suggest that there is something complicated about Ellison’s views of law enforcement. She writes, for example: “As a young lawyer, Ellison often worked on cases that alleged excessive force by police officers. Yet he also has fought ardently to get police officers higher pay and better equipment. (He recently sought federal funding for transgender-awareness training for Minneapolis Police and Hennepin County Sheriff’s deputies.)” Cue the laugh track.

Ellison takes advantage of recent events to ride his usual leftists hobby horse:

Ellison says he isn’t sure whether relationships between low-income communities and local police departments have deteriorated in recent years, but he believes that “economic stagnation” has played a big role.

“You’re not going to sell loosies on the street if you have a good job. You’re not going to do it,” Ellison said, referring to the recent case of Garner, a New York man selling single cigarettes on the street. Garner resisted arrest, was put in a chokehold and died.

This is deep stuff. Star Tribune readers will be duly impressed.

It might have helped if only Sherry had checked local media archives including those of the Star Tribune. She would have found that Ellison’s past relationship with law enforcement is not quite so complicated and that it illuminates his current views as well as those of his friends on the left. Before he was elected to office as a state legislator in 2002, Ellison was an incredibly vocal supporter of cop killers near and far.

In the beginning his focus was on the Minneapolis scene. Perhaps the lowest moment in Minneapolis’s history was the September 1992 execution-style murder of police officer Jerry Haaf. Haaf’s murder was like that of the NYPD officers murdered yesterday in Brooklyn; Haaf was shot in the back as he took a coffee break at a restaurant in south Minneapolis.

The murder was a gang hit performed by four members of the city’s Vice Lords gang. The leader of the Vice Lords was Sharif Willis, a convicted murderer who had been released from prison and who sought respectability as a responsible gang leader from gullible municipal authorities while operating a gang front called United for Peace.

The four Vice Lords members who murdered Haaf met and planned the murder at Willis’s house. Two witnesses at the trial of one of the men convicted of Haaf’s murder implicated Willis in the planning. Willis was never charged; law enforcement authorities said they lacked sufficient evidence to convict him.

Within a month of Haaf’s murder, Ellison appeared with Willis supporting the United for Peace gang front. In October 1992, Ellison helped organize a demonstration against Minneapolis police that included United for Peace. “The main point of our rally is to support United for Peace [in its fight against] the campaign of slander the police federation has been waging,” said Ellison.

Willis was the last speaker at the demonstration. According to a contemporaneous report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Willis told the crowd that Minneapolis police were experiencing the same fear from young black men that blacks had felt from police for many years. “If the police have some fear, I understand that fear,” Willis said. “We seem to have an overabundance of bad police. . . . [W]e’re going to get rid of them,” Willis said. “They’ve got to go.” The Pioneer Press account concludes with Ellison’s contribution to the demonstration: “Ellison told the crowd that the police union is systematically frightening whites in order to get more police officers hired. That way, Ellison said, the union can increase its power base.”

Ellison publicly supported the Haaf murder defendants. In February 1993, he spoke at a demonstration for one of them during his trial. Ellison led the crowd assembled at the courthouse in a chant that was ominous in the context of Haaf’s cold-blooded murder: “We don’t get no justice, you don’t get no peace.” Ellison’s working relationship with Sharif Willis came to an end in February 1995, when Willis was convicted in federal court on several counts of drug and gun-related crimes and sent back to prison for 20 years.

The various themes of Ellison’s public commitments and associations all came together in a February 2000 speech he gave at a fundraising event sponsored by the Minnesota chapter of the far-left National Lawyers Guild, on whose steering committee he had served. The event was a fundraiser for former Symbionese Liberation Army member Kathleen Soliah after her apprehension in St. Paul (under the name “Sara Jane Olson”) for the attempted murder of Los Angeles police officers in 1975.

Ellison saluted Soliah/Olson as a “black gang member” (i.e, the member of the SLA gang led by Donald DeFreeze or “Cinque Mtume”) and thus a victim of government persecution. He described her as one of those who had been “fighting for freedom in the ’60s and ’70s” and called for her release. (She subsequently pleaded guilty to charges in Los Angeles and to an additional murder charge in Sacramento; she served time in California before returning to Minnesota.)

Ellison also spoke favorably of cop killers Mumia Abu-Jamal and Assata Shakur (neé JoAnne Chesimard). Shakur has been on the lam in Cuba since 1984; in 2005 she was placed on the FBI’s domestic terrorists list with a $1,000,000 reward for her capture. Most recently, the FBI placed her on its Most Wanted Terrorists list.

Sherry might usefully have asked Ellison if the thawing of our relations with Cuba would open the door to the return of Shakur to serve out the rest of her time in prison and if he would support her return to prison, but, as I say, Sherry doesn’t have a clue.

The example of Keith Ellison provides a timely reminder of the sick left’s war on law enforcement, or of the left’s sick war on law enforcement.

NOTE: This post draws on my 2006 Weekly Standard article “Louis Farrakhan’s first congressman.”

Rand Paul proves Marco Rubio’s point

During an impassioned appearance on Fox News to denounce President Obama’s new Cuba policy, Marco Rubio stated, in response to a question that cited Rand Paul’s pro-Obama view on the subject, that Paul “has no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to Cuba.” Having been called out, Paul had little alternative but to respond, and it would have been easy for him to so intelligently. There are, after all, respectable arguments that can be made in support of Obama’s position.

Predictably, however, Paul ended up proving that he doesn’t know what he’s talking on a scale that transcends Cuba policy.

Paul responded by accusing the Florida Senator of being an “isolationist.” Rubio wants to “retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat,” Paul taunted.

How stupid can Paul get? Rubio was merely advocating the continuation of a policy followed by American presidents for 50 years. Was Richard Nixon an isolationist. Was Ronald Reagan? Did George W. Bush want to build a moat to protect America from the world?

America’s Cuba policy hasn’t isolated America; it has isolated Cuba. To claim that not trading with Cuba renders us isolationist is like claiming that a person who socializes with everyone on the block except his most obnoxious neighbor is a anti-social.

Paul thought it would be clever to couch his policy disagreement with Rubio in terms of isolationism vs. engagement because Paul has been accused, rightly, of being an isolationist. His response has always been the same as his isolationist father’s, namely that he’s not an isolationist because he wants to trade with everyone.

By this definition, Rubio is an isolationist being there is one country he doesn’t want the U.S. to trade with. But then, by this logic a person who never leaves his house but purchases items through the internet is not a shut-in.

In American politics, isolationism has always been defined in terms of an unwillingness to engage (or meddle) in the affairs — military and even political — of other nations except when we are under direct attack or under (perhaps) imminent threat of attack. Rubio has consistently rejected this stance; Paul has flirted with and at times seemed to embrace it.

Viewed in this light, Rubio’s position on Cuba is anything but isolationist. Rubio favors boycotting Cuba as a means of limiting its influence in Latin America and possibly speeding up regime change.

Paul, for his part, doesn’t fully mimic the old “hands off Cuba” slogan of American Communists in the days of Lee Harvey Oswald. He can argue that, notwithstanding our contrary experience with China and Vietnam and Europe’s contrary experience with Cuba, by trading with the dictatorship we will undermine it.

Readers can make their own judgments about whether Paul really cares about what happens in Cuba. There is no dispute that Rubio cares.

You can argue that the approach through which Rubio manifests his concern is unwise, ineffective, or both. But if you know what you’re talking about, you can’t call it isolationist.

President Obama Weighs In On Murders of NY Policemen

White House pool reporters have accompanied President Obama on his two and a half week Hawaiian vacation. Naturally, they were curious about his reaction to the murder of two New York police officers–a murder for which quite a few people, rightly or wrongly, hold him partly responsible because of his endorsement of the anti-police movement. Reporters’ questions were not immediately answered, however. Andrew Kaczynski has this report:


I guess it’s good to know that at least he’s been briefed. Truthfully, though, it is something of a relief that our president is golfing. No one expects him to say anything intelligent about the murders, or to take the smallest iota of responsibility for helping to stir up racial discord and anti-police hysteria. So really, our president is at his best on the putting green.

Sort of like President Eisenhower. Except, of course, for organizing D-Day…and victory in Europe over the Nazis. Admittedly, Obama hasn’t done anything quite like that, although his days as a “community organizer” must count for something. Right?

Sorry, that was a digression. I am sure that Obama will have something appropriate to say about the murders, in the morning. Hawaii time.

I Miss W

It is sad that there is so much bad news so close to Christmas. The best thing we can say for our president is that he has departed for Hawaii on a 17-day vacation, so he can’t do any more damage until after the new year. Meanwhile, we could all use a day brightener. So here is one, via the Facebook account of a mother of twin daughters who were born with a rare heart defect. One died, and the other is undergoing treatment at the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.

On Tuesday, Santa came to the hospital to deliver gifts to sick children. He is a little hard to recognize behind the beard, but the burly elf in the background could be a clue:


The mother wrote:

Guess who just came and gave Emily a Christmas present dressed in a Santa suit with Secret Service and all?!?!? ………. Pres. George Bush

Most of President Bush’s charitable efforts go unnoticed; they come to light when someone does a Facebook post, or the like, and it is picked up by an outlet like the Daily Mail.

George W. Bush: good policy 75% of the time, good man, 100% of the time. Merry Christmas!

As Anti-Police Demonstration Rages at Mall of America, Two Cops Are Murdered in Brooklyn [Updated]

This afternoon there was an anti-police demonstration at the Mall of America in Minnesota. Twitchy had coverage. Stores were closed as chanting protesters occupied portions of several floors overlooking the mall’s rotunda. This photo is from Twitter:


The person who posted it added: “Prosecute the police! Multilevel chant is thrilling.”

The mall warned protesters to disperse, and police eventually cleared them out:


While the demonstration was in progress, another anti-police activist, in Brooklyn, walked up to a police car and shot the two policemen who were sitting unsuspectingly inside. One was pronounced dead at the scene while the second died shortly after at a hospital. The gunman ran to a nearby subway station, pursued by other policemen, where he reportedly shot himself. The two policemen had been participating in an anti-terrorism drill. Many, many liberals celebrated on Twitter.


The murderer has been identified, at least tentatively, as Ismaaiyl Brinsley, apparently a gang member from Baltimore. On Instagram, he announced his intention to murder two policemen in retaliation for the death of Eric Garner. I would link to it, but his account has already been deleted. Brinsley apparently shot his girlfriend, too, before leaving for New York.

Of course, not all of those who have led or participated in anti-police demonstrations can be blamed for these murders. But a lot of them can be. Some of the anti-police demonstrations have explicitly called for policemen to be murdered. Here, for example, you see marchers in New York one week ago chanting, “What do we want? Dead cops!” Today they got them.

No doubt it is futile to hope for any sort of accounting; I suppose the press is already spinning madly. But at a minimum, we can hope that Bill de Blasio isn’t invited to the funerals.

UPDATE: Brinsley’s Facebook page is interesting. Brinsley says that he is a Muslim, but evidently not a very good one. He had 1,300 Facebook friends and, seemingly, quite a bit of money. He traveled to Miami and to Hawaii and said that he was going to write for STFU Comedy. He posted this photo of himself with a stack of $100 bills:


Normally one assumes that means he was a drug dealer. No doubt more information about Mr. Brinsley will come to light over the next few days.

FURTHER UPDATE: The murdered police officers have been identified as Wenjin Liu and Raphael Ramos.

Last call: Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

Way back when in the vinyl era, Rolling Stone gave the album A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector (1963) five stars in its rock and roll record guides and singled out Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” as one of the highlights. Rolling Stone still rates it the greatest Christmas album of all time. There is no arguing about taste, and my knowledge of the genre is extremely limited, but by contrast with Rolling Stone’s straight reportage and political opinions, I think that rating is not completely unreliable.

Ms. Love has performed the song annually for Christmas on David Letterman’s shows for nearly 30 years, first on NBC and then on CBS. Dave Itzkoff tells the story in “Darlene Love’s last ‘Letterman’ Christmas.” CBS News took a look back at Ms. Love’s performances on Letterman’s shows over the years in a segment posted here.

Letterman is leaving his CBS show next spring, so Ms. Love’s performance of the song on the show last night was the last time around (video below). I think it’s fair to say they brought the tradition to an end on a high note with an epic wall of sound arrangement in the class Spector style. This should be good for whatever ails you.

Itzkoff’s New York Times story is terrific. Among other quotable quotes, Itzkoff presents this one from Steve Van Zandt (who is producing an album for Ms. Love), explaining the commercial challenge faced by Love’s new album: “There’s no explanation for it, other than there being no place in the modern world for greatness. We’re going to create greatness anyway, in spite of what the modern world may want or not want.”

Edward Jay Epstein: Journalism and truth

Michael Wolff has declared Edward Jay Epstein “one of the great investigative journalists of the era.” Who is his peer? I say he is our most formidable investigative journalist.

He is the author of numerous riveting books, among which are three on the Kennedy assassination: Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth, Counterplot: Garrison vs. Oswald, Ferrie, Shaw, Warren Commission, FBI CIA, the Media, the Establishment and Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald. His three books on the assassination have been collected in The Assassination Chronicles. Also related to the subject are his ebooks Killing Castro and James Jesus Angleton: Was He Right? as well as his classic 1992 New Yorker article, “Epitaph for Jim Garrison: Romancing the Assassination.”

EXTRA Ed is also the author, most recently, of the “short-form book” Extra: The Inventions of Journalism, just published in paperback and as an ebook. The new book collects some of Ed’s best pieces on journalism itself. After compiling the book, Ed realized that the book needed a preface to bring it up to date to include reference to the Rolling Stone story that has been in the news over the past few weeks. He therefore added the following by way of introduction, which he has authorized us to post on Power Line. Ed writes:

The problem of journalism in American proceeds from a simple but inescapable bind: journalists and editors are rarely, if ever, in a position to establish the truth about a story for themselves, and are therefore almost entirely dependent on “sources,” who may be self-interested, falsifiers or even fictional characters. It is these “sources” that provide the version of reality that journalists report.

Walter Lippmann pointed to the root of the problem a century ago when he made a distinction between “news” and truth. “The function of news is to signalize an event; the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them into relation with each other, and to make a picture of reality on which men can act.” Because news reporting and truth seeking ultimately have different purposes, Lippmann concluded that news should be expected to coincide unerringly with truth in only a few limited areas, such as the scores of sports events and the results of elections, where the results are definite and measurable. In more ambiguous areas, where the outcome may be in doubt or dispute, news reports could not be expected to exhaust or perhaps even indicate the truth of the matter. Lippmann held that if the public required a more truthful interpretation of the world it lived in, it would have to look elsewhere.

Today journalists would have difficulty accepting such a distinction between news and truth. Indeed, newsmen almost invariably depict themselves not merely as gatherers of the fragments of information but of hidden truths. Even though they remain dependent on “leaks” from sources whose motives are murky, their standing, as well as the circulation of their news organization, often requires them to ferret out scoops that depend on secret and otherwise unverifiable sources. The pressure to supply something extra in these stories has led time and again to journalistic invention.

Consider the invention of an epidemic of child heroin users in Washington D.C. On September 28, 1980, the Washington Post ran a sensational story about an eight-year old addict entitled “Jimmy’s World.” Janet Cooke, a staff reporter on the Post, described her extended interviews with “Jimmy” whose “thin, brown arms” had tracks of “needle marks” from repeated injections of heroin. Even after a massive police search for “Jimmy” proved unsuccessful, assistant managing editor Bob Woodward of Watergate fame submitted it for the Pulitzer Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize committee, unperturbed by the lack of verification, awarded Cooke the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing on April 13, 1981.

It turned out that the reason the police could not find “Jimmy,” the putative source for the story, was that he was imaginary. Cooke, as she admitted to her editors, invented “Jimmy” in response to pressure to produce an exclusive story for the Post. To his credit, Donald Graham, the publisher of the Post, admitted that the story was fraudulent and returned the award. Even so, Woodward said, “I think that the decision to nominate the story for a Pulitzer is of minimal consequence. I also think that it won is of little consequence. It is a brilliant story—fake and fraud that it is.” He added, in what might be termed the Woodward doctrine, “It would be absurd for me or any other editor to review the authenticity or accuracy of stories that are nominated for prizes.” (Cooke, who resigned from the Post, demonstrated the profitability of invention by selling the film rights to the story of Pulitzer Prize fabrication to Columbia Tri-Star Pictures for $1.6 million, though the film was never made.)

Woodward also took advantage of this doctrine when he described in vivid detail a scene in which he extracted a death bed confession from William Casey, the former CIA Director, in his hospital room at Georgetown University hospital just before Casey died of a brain tumor in 1987. But, according to Kevin Shipp, who was part of Casey’s round-the-clock security detail at the hospital, Woodward was turned away at the door and never entered Casey’s room. If so, the interview was pure invention.

The pressure to accept stories based on unverified sources has only increased in the Internet era. In November 2014, for example, Rolling Stone published a stunning story by Sabrina Erdely entitled “A Rape on Campus.” It described in gory detail the ritual gang rape on September 28, 2012 of a student identified only as “Jackie” during a party at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia. It further described the University’s response to the incident as inadequate. As it turned out, however, there was no party held at the fraternity on the night of the alleged rape, the description of the fraternity house was incorrect, and prior to the Rolling Stone story there had not been any allegation of sexual assault against any members of the fraternity.

The reporter, who viewed her assignment as finding a campus rape story, had not made any effort to speak to any of the alleged perpetrators. Instead, the story relied on a single questionable source. As the discrepancies mounted, Rolling Stone admitted that its trust in the source was “misplaced.” Rolling Stone editor Will Dana explained, “We made a judgment — the kind of judgment reporters and editors make every day. And in this case, our judgment was wrong.”

I first became interested in the inventions of the media in 1970 when William Shawn, the legendary editor of The New Yorker, asked me to investigate whether the reported killing of 28 members of the Black Panther party was part of a US government “genocide” program to destroy the Black Panther Party. After investigating each case, I discovered that the list of 28 Black Panther deaths was partly invented, proving that there was no basis for the widely circulated press stories of genocide. After The New Yorker published my article in February 1971, both the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times wrote editorial apologies for their stories based on the invention of 28 Black Panther supposed deaths.

The essays I have included in this book are all variations on a single theme – the vulnerability of journalism to deception. Even after 45 years, it is very much a work in progress.

—December 17, 2014

Published with the kind permission of the author.
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