As the State of New York continues its descent into banana republicanism, whither the watch dog press?
A case in point: our anti-hero, Tom Moran.
After a “career” punctuated by lying, cheating and naked thuggery, Moran is officially unopposed in his quest for a judgeship on the New York State Supreme Court. Apparently no one wished to risk life and limb in the effort.
There is a community newspaper in Livingston County called, appropriately enough, the Livingston County News. They seem quite pleased with the development, though one wonders how much choice they really think they have. Note that the “news” article features the previously noted photo of his soon-to-be-honor with the American flag tie and the American flag lapel pin, in case anyone was in doubt about Mr. Moran’s patriotic fervor.
But beyond even that laudatory bit of reporting there is an editorial. And here we see in a moment of rare candor the actual workings of the relationship between the press and the officials they supposedly cover. Certainly this is a small town microcosmic sample, but the dynamics at work here apply across the board and all the way up to such mainstream news outlets as the Washington Post and the New York Times.
Mark Gillespie, the editorialist, makes no secret of his too close familiarity with his subject:
I’ve watched Moran in the courtroom dozens of times, and appreciate the gravity, polish and focus he brings to his duties. He’s an excellent prosecutor. I would bargain that the degree to which you might disagree depends on whether you or a member of your family has been charged with a crime.
A little detour into mythology:
As I’ve written before, courtroom trials are never held on an even playing field. The burden of proof in America lies upon the prosecutor, who must use credible evidence and testimony to reconstruct the story of a crime. All of this must be done while a talented, motivated defense attorney attempts to trip up the prosecution, have evidence dismissed and suggest alternate versions of the story.
A jury of 12 must then decide whether the prosecution’s story is believable. The same standard is not applied to the defense.
The reality is, of course, exactly the reverse. The burden of proof is on the defense, the jury decides whether the defense’s version of events is “believable” from a starting point of extreme and maybe insurmountable skepticism, while the prosecution can throw up any garbage evidence they like, including perjury, sans consequence from either the jury, the press, or other officials.
How does the press wind up with such a distorted perspective, distorted in exactly the same way as the officials they “cover” would have it? You needn’t wonder after reading this editorial:
Moran and the assistant district attorneys at the county courthouse are patient public servants, at least when the local media comes calling. Moran has spent many hours with us on the phone or in his office answering questions and explaining the finer points of criminal law. He has also kept an open door policy with regard to media access to his assistant DAs. We’ve always been free to call anyone in his office for more details or clarification.
Patient public servants, generously taking all that time to make sure the spin is spun. The press reduced to little more than willing dupes. The first amendment in action, Livingston County, New York circa 2011.
The defense in a criminal case confronts a monolith of officially approved wisdom and dissenting views are not permitted. It is a miracle anyone is ever acquitted of anything, so powerful is the government’s momentum, so slavishly do the various players toady and grovel before the 800 pound gorilla, often including the defense attorney himself. But certainly including the press.
This is a deep corruption at the basic level of truth telling, yet it has its roots in ordinary and normally unexceptionable human behavior. We grow close to the people we talk to every day. When someone does us a favor we like to return kindness for kindness. If there are ulterior motives to the kindness shown, well, aren’t there always ulterior motives?
This is not so much a matter of absolutes as it is about drawing lines. And even in that context, it is not necessary and may not be reasonable to expect that we can pinpoint exactly where the line has been crossed. But there are circumstances where we have to know that the line has long since been crossed, where it’s no longer a close or serious question. And beyond knowing it, we have to face it. And at times even do something about it.
Mark Gillespie and Tom Moran crossed the line a long time ago. I don’t know where, exactly, but that is immaterial. And in the case of Tom Moran and the State of New York, a perfect match has been made. No wonder he is unopposed: who could argue with the idea of Tom Moran becoming a judge in New York State? Justice Kennedy on the SCOTUS might have a few bromides to toss off about it, but at the end of the day we wind up describing the situation with one of those handy latin phrases: the path to political success in New York, including the attainment of judgeships, consists of the slow and unchecked cross-pollination of moral depravity between the individual and the state, until at last the two are in pari delicto.
At that point you can don the robe and assume the title of “honorable”.