There’s a scene in the 1976 film The Pink Panther Strikes Again in which the nations of the world send their top assassins to eliminate Inspector Clouseau. One by one the assassins take their best shot, and time and again Clouseau survives (and the assassins die) due entirely to pure luck on the inspector’s part. That was the thing about Clouseau; unlike Sherlock Holmes, who would prevail through intelligence and skill, Clouseau could always be counted on to stumble out of danger and pratfall his way to victory. And the bad guys, no matter how smart they were, no matter how skilled, couldn’t beat him.
I’ll be frank; I still can’t decide whether Trump is Holmes or Clouseau. But the sonofabitch always wins, and his enemies always lose in spectacular fashion, and it’s making for a presidency that’s far more enjoyable to watch than any Hollywood movie.
Take last week. The press, which is fast proving to be the Chief Inspector Dreyfus to Trump’s Clouseau, began hammering the man hard over the plague of “neo-Nazi” and “white supremacist” bomb threats being phoned in to Jewish community centers. Trump condemned the threats (many Muslim leaders won’t even condemn the outright murder of Jews, and most “mainstream” journalists never insist that they do), but the press still wasn’t satisfied. And being the crafty scoop-meisters they are, reporters soon discovered that while Trump was publicly denouncing the telephonic Kristallnacht, he privately told a group of state attorneys general that the threats might not actually be from actual anti-Semites. He suggested that the threats might in fact be “the reverse”: someone looking “to make people—or to make others—look bad.” In other words, the threats might be coming from someone with an agenda that has nothing to do with wanting to blow up Jews.
You could almost hear the sound of every journalist in D.C. getting a hard-on. “We got him!” Trump the “conspiracy theorist.” Trump the “denier” who dares to suggest that the greatest threat to the Jewish people since Haman’s lottery might be nothing more than a hoax. Sure, Trump has not only survived but prevailed against every other supposedly fatal armor-chink and “smoking gun” his opponents have trotted out, but this one will surely sink him. The Jews are facing an existential threat, and Trump suggested it might be nothing more than a mischief-maker with a personal agenda.
And then an arrest was made in (at least) eight of those bomb threats, and it turned out to be…a mischief-maker with a personal agenda. If you listened hard enough, you could hear the sound of boners collapsing in newsrooms across the country. Trump had called it perfectly. It was no white supremacist, but Juan Thompson, a black dude, a leftist journalist with a grudge, who, exactly as Trump had speculated, phoned in the threats “to make people—or to make others—look bad.”
I have to tell you, I have no idea whether Trump is good or just lucky. Honestly, I just can’t decide. This denouement was too damn perfect. The hero turned out to be 100% right, and the villains, foiled again, had to slink away and eat their words. Is the hero of this story Clouseau or Holmes? I wish I could say. But what does it really matter, because the bad guys got their comeuppance, and in the end, isn’t that what makes an audience cheer?
Of course, since this is real life and the action doesn’t end when the credits roll, we got to witness how the villains in the press handled their latest humiliating defeat. And, as if I even have to say it, they handled it deceitfully. They had promised their audience white supremacists, and damned if they were going to deliver a black guy instead. So immediately some of the “truth tellers” in the media decided that “mad bomb threatener” Thompson was a man with no race. Remember, we’re talking about a bunch of leftist dunderheads who think a person’s gender is “assigned” at birth. So why not just “assign” Thompson the identity of a raceless man?
In 2015, when John Houser shot up a Louisiana movie theater, Yahoo News ran a story about the shooter, whose motives were as of then unknown. In the piece, Yahoo made it a point to stress that Houser was a “white male,” even though his race was not relevant (at that moment) to the story. When I emailed Yahoo News super-scooper Michael Walsh (not to be confused with National Review hack Michael Walsh ), he explained why race was included in the shooter’s description: “That article was originally titled ‘John Russell Houser: What we know about Louisiana movie theater shooting suspect,’ and I wrote everything that we knew about him.”
So following the arrest of Juan Thompson, Yahoo News ran a piece titled “What to know about Juan Thompson.” Think race is mentioned even once? Of course not. After all, one article was titled “what we know,” the other “what to know.” And Thompson’s race is absolutely something you’re not supposed to know.
In a lengthy L.A. Times profile of Thompson, reporter Jaweed Kaleem also withheld any mention of Thompson’s race. Sure, that’s deceitful, but it’s also funny. Wanna know why? Kaleem is the Times’ “race and justice reporter.” Let that sink in. The race reporter failed to mention race. You had one job, Jaweed. Kaleem, a Pakistani Muslim (and really, who better to cover the Jewish beat?), refused multiple requests to explain why he made Thompson the man without a race.
And it wasn’t just Kaleem who clammed up after Trump was proved right. Before Thompson’s arrest, members of the press had tried to make Trump seem like a deranged conspiracy theorist by claiming that, at the attorneys general meeting, he’d called the bomb threats a “false flag.” The problem is, Trump hadn’t used the term “false flag,” but that didn’t stop journos from putting it in quotes anyway. I emailed more than two dozen prominent national reporters to ask why they chose to put “false flag” in quotes, and not a single one of them replied. There’s the modern American media in action, folks. You know, the responsible, accountable, totally not “the enemy of the people” media.
But one guy did respond: David Schraub, a lecturer in law and senior research fellow at the California Constitution Center, UC Berkeley Law School. Schraub wrote an op-ed for Haaretz titled “Trump’s anti-Semitic ‘False Flag’ Allegation Is Dangerous (Or, how the ‘blame the Jews for their own victimization’ conspiracist fringe is going mainstream conservative).” Everything in that title is wrong. Trump didn’t say “false flag,” he didn’t blame Jews, and suggesting that a hate crime is a hoax is not “conspiracist fringe,” but a good bet. I’ll admit, I didn’t much care for Schraub, based on that piece and a few other things I’d read (the dude actually defends “trigger warnings”). But the man stepped up to answer a few questions in a civil manner, and that’s admirable. Of all the people I reached out to, he’s the only one who wasn’t a coward. He deserves respect for that.
Schraub admitted that the quotation marks he put around false flag were not intended to signify an actual quote, but rather his interpretation of what Trump meant. He defended that interpretation: “‘False flag’ is a term of art for an operation that is secretly done for the benefit of the group that appears to be the victim.” Problem is, Trump didn’t tell the attorneys general Jews were doing it to benefit Jews. Schraub merely assumed he knew what Trump meant.
I asked Schraub, “Isn’t it true that, in the past, there have been many verified cases of hate-crime hoaxes, perpetrated by a variety of people for a variety of reasons?” His response:
Of course, in any sort of criminal activity there are cases of false reports—“arsons” which turn out to be insurance fraud, “robberies” which cover up carelessly losing a precious item, and so on. Hate crimes no doubt also have their share, though again that share tends to be a small one. But when faced with a wave of arsons or robberies or other crimes we generally don’t—and shouldn’t—begin by talking of the “sometimes” when the claims are hoaxes, even though statistically we would be right some of the time. Doing so would come off as disrespectful to the victim whom (as an initial matter at least) is overwhelmingly likely to be nothing more than a straightforward victim.
Schraub added that when it comes to hate-crime hoaxes, “the salience we give them vastly outstrips the proportion of times they occur.” In response, I pointed out that in my experience, a hate-crime story will usually receive less attention if found to be a hoax, and I provided several examples (breathless coverage of Muslim’s motel burned by Islamophobes, tiny blurb when it was discovered that the Muslim set the fire himself; breathless coverage of gay man beaten and branded by Nazi homophobes; tiny blurb when it turned out the loser did it to himself). Schraub replied:
The relatively few hoax cases are more likely to become news because typically, the whole reason one perpetrates a hoax is to get attention and media coverage (to gin up sympathy or smear political opponents). It’d be kind of pointless to fake a hate crime against yourself and then tell nobody about it. Whereas in the genuine cases, it is far more likely that the victim may not have any interest in drawing further attention to themselves, and so those crimes are less likely to become major stories. My suspicion is that most hoax cases end up making the news because the faux-victim’s purpose is to create a news story.
Give that man a cigar with a trigger warning on the band! He’s 100% right. And, probably without meaning to, he bolstered my point about how journalists need to stop slobbering over every “hate crime” story that lands on their desk. Because indeed, hoaxers usually engineer their tall tales in order to receive the maximum amount of publicity. So reacting with suspicion to “hate crime” stories that seem too good to be true does not indicate that one is being (as Schraub claimed) “disrespectful to the victim.” It just indicates good common sense.
Common sense that Trump, God help us all, showed last week when he speculated about the Jewish community-center bomb threats. Whether that commonsense reaction was due to reasoning skills or just a “lucky shot” isn’t that much of a concern to me.
After all, I’d rather have a president who makes good calls by accident than one who seems to make bad calls on purpose (like Trump’s predecessor).
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