Accepting our reckoning with our humanity and our technology.
Lies, Lies, Lies
A case study in journalistic malpractice.
Let me take you down a Twitter rabbit hole.
When I open my homepage, the first trending story on the top right is: “Judge allowed Kyle Rittenhouse to draw jurors from a raffle box to determine the 12 who will decide the verdict of his homicide trial.” When I click on this story I get a summary that says, “While there is no rule against a defendant selecting their own alternate jurors from a raffle, generally this role is given to clerk of courts, according to reporting by The AP.”
So I scroll past three more tweets to the Associated Press story, which will help determine the budget (i.e., the headline and major points) for how this issue is covered in newspapers across the country. “A judge had Kyle Rittenhouse draw slips of paper from a raffle drum at his own trial to determine which 12 of the 18 jurors who heard the evidence will decide his fate,” the tweet reads. “The six jurors chosen at random will serve as alternates.”
Let’s imagine I’m an intelligent reader but not a legal specialist. In other words, let’s imagine I’m the target audience of an AP news story about a major court case. At this point, if I’ve been scanning Twitter casually for the news, I become alarmed. The defendant selected his jurors? The judge allowed him to do this? It takes me a lot of scrolling to get to that phrase “at random,” and then it seems only to apply to the six jurors who will serve as alternates. That’s confusing—what about the 12 who will decide the case? Does Kyle just get to pick them?
If I’ve clicked on the story itself I read this headline: “How the Rittenhouse Jury was Narrowed” Narrowed! At this point fantastical conspiracy theories, never fully articulated, are collecting in the back of my mind like bilge water. What if he screened out all the black people? Did he know their backgrounds when he chose them? How can this simply go on in open court under the plain light of day?
Now I read the first sentence of the AP story: “Kyle Rittenhouse played a direct role Tuesday in choosing, albeit randomly, the final 12 jurors who are deciding his innocence or guilt in the murder trial over his killing two protesters and wounding a third last summer.” “A direct role.” Well maybe it was random (“albeit randomly”) but it still sounds like there’s funny business going on here.
I read further. Maybe. It takes me ten paragraphs to discover that alternates are always selected at random and that this particular judge always has the defendant, rather than a member of the court, do the honors. “That might be a little unconventional but there’s nothing wrong with it that I could really see,” said former Milwaukee County Assistant DA Julius Kim. Kyle had absolutely no say in who the jurors are. He just performed a routine procedure that remains just as random as if someone else had performed it.
There is no story here. It’s nothing, a total irrelevancy, a meaningless controversy confected out of thin air. Confected by whom? By our press, in collusion with the unaccountable tech corporations that now run our public square. It’s not like they met in some back room to plot it all out. They don’t have to: they are in total agreement about how this case needs to go.
They don’t want you to read those ten paragraphs down. Those paragraphs are just there so that if anyone tries to call them out, the authors can say “no, see, look, we said it was random! We said it was normal!” But actually they don’t want you to realize that.
They want you to scroll briefly past the AP tweet, or else not even get to it. Maybe you’ll stop at this one by the Star Tribune: “Rittenhouse, in a highly unusual move, was allowed by the judge to draw the slips of paper from a raffle drum to determine the members of the jury from a pool of 18.” There is nothing unusual here except that it was his hand, his white hand, his foul ugly gun-carrying hand, that reached into that box and pulled out those pieces of paper.
While MSNBC’s Joy Reid sneers on TikTok about Kyle’s “white tears,” the mainstream press—the enemy of the people—works together with impossibly powerful monopolists to cloud your judgment, to make you hate this brave boy, to foment riots in the event that justice is done and he is set free. If the reactions on Twitter are any indication, it is working like a charm. And in the face of this constitutional monstrosity there are still those who natter on piously about “free enterprise.” Please. These people want you to be anything but free.