Facts Not In Evidence, and vice-versa The Daily Cartoonist

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CSotD: Facts Not In Evidence, and vice-versa

UK cartoonist Steve Bright leads off this chapter of our ongoing discussion of Uvalde with a cartoon about Ukraine.

And why not? As Michael de Adder notes, War is war, whether waged between countries or within one. We are re-enacting the similar scene from Saving Private Ryan over and over, as if it were on a loop.

And as if we can do nothing about it.

The adage Brighty quotes has a muddled history, but I like the version that appeared in a 1904 religious magazine, “The Christian Work and the Evangelist”:

The way the news from the seat of war is stated one day, reiterated the next day and “authoritatively contradicted” the day following forcibly illustrates the fact that truth often takes slow trains in war times and arrives at the station much behind time.

Other versions assume that, when stated facts don’t line up with the truth, someone is lying. This has rarely been my experience as a reporter and smacks of conspiracy theories, or, at least, in an unreasonable faith in the level of knowledge authorities possess.

I’ve been lied to, and I’ve been spun, but it’s far more common to find Hanlon’s Razor the issue: “Never attribute to malice that is adequately explained by stupidity.”

Even that is also a bit too conspiratorial, since it’s nearly always more an issue of fallibility than stupidity. The stupidity involved comes when people who should know better fail to act accordingly.

As a police detective warning me of a witness, “If he says it’s raining, you’d better look out the window.”

I applied his advice to police detectives, too.

Another adage is that “News is only the first rough draft of history,” and anyone who has sat in the editor’s chair knows that first rough drafts invariably — invariably — require revisions, clarifications, deletions and additional reporting.

What police detectives and reporters can agree on is the frequency with which eyewitnesses report a cascade of contradictory “facts,” and how difficult it is to reconstruct even a fairly simple event when nobody’s lying but even the best witnesses are only describing the part of the elephant they touched.

I have more such stories than space to tell them, but I once got called back from dinner because, following a chase that ended at a roadblock, the local TV station found, interviewed and broadcast a witness who reported a fusillade of gunfire from police, which was not in the story I’d filed.

It was not in my story because I’d been at the scene shortly after and had walked around the suspect’s car, which had no bullet holes, only a smashed bumper from running into a squad car and a crack in the windshield from his shotgun’s recoil when he killed himself.

By the time I got hold of the “witness,” he was no longer talking. Turned out he had not seen anything, only heard the chaos from inside a nearby convenience store.

And that, O Best Beloved, was back in the days of deadlines, when even the TV folks had until 6 o’clock and we didn’t roll the presses until 10.

Today, the competition to be first has completely overtaken the competition to be right, and you can walk back your errors but you can’t erase them from people’s minds.

Which is why the best reporters lard their stories with “allegedly,” “apparently” and “according to police.”

They also ask good questions. Steve Brodner notes the heartbreaking calls that came from inside the classroom while police waited outside.

Clearly, the police waited longer than they should have, a fact nobody is denying. But, harrowing as those 911 calls are, I haven’t seen proof of their relevance to the decisions being made.

If I were reporting there, I’d ask:

A. Where are 911 calls from Uvalde answered? Were the calls being immediately relayed to the police at the scene?

B. There have been reports that the children making those calls survived. Is that accurate?

C. Is there evidence of children being killed following the initial fuseillade? That is, how many children — if any — were shot while the police waited?

Which would help clear up the relevance of the calls as well as revealing the depth of folly in not taking a more aggressive approach.

Brodner is correct that the calls add to the misery, and he’s also correct that police should have acted more quickly.

Nobody is doubting either, but we don’t know if the two are linked, and those calling the police cowards are far overstepping the known facts.

Truth will out, if we don’t strangle it first.

Meanwhile, the NYTimes won’t have to walk back this cover.

They’re hardly the first to document the cascade of similar stories, but it doesn’t hurt to keep hammering the facts home and hope that the horror will hit people at a time when they are receptive to it.

It’s hard to tell if Mike Lister (AMS) Approves or disapproves of the situation, but he’s certainly right that the murders in Uvalde have given gun-control advocates an opening avid gunslingers will have to deal with.

The protests outside the NRA Convention in Houston are encouraging, but, then again, everyone turned out in those pussy hats Lester notes and how did that preserve women’s rights in the years that followed?

Today, we can piss away the current period of outrage analyzing why Sandy Hook or Marjorie Stoneman Douglas didn’t turn things around, or we can strike while the iron is hot. Choose one.

Here’s an undisputable fact: Those who might have backed away have, instead, doubled down and, as Jack Ohman illustrates, have added fuel to the fire rather than working to contain it.

They might at least have had the decency to STFU. Trump solemnly read off the names of the dead, reminded conventioneers that liberals want to use those deaths as an excuse to take away their rights and then did a little dance.

And so here we are, as Stuart Carlson (AMS) accurately puts it: Whether horrified or not, stuck in the prisons of our own design.

Which may explain why, when Reconstruction ended in a storm of lynchings while the federal government declined to enforce the 14th Amendment, the story of Samson became so popular in Black America.


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