Let’s be certain about one thing. Money is always an issue in questions of sincerity and truth-telling. The fact that you’re making money on it doesn’t automatically make what you tell me untrue, but I have a big right to wonder. If money is on the table, it’s on the table. You can’t smile it away or make it disappear with tears. It’s money.
TV interviewer Robin Roberts asked TV actor Jussie Smollett about charges that Smollett had faked what he claims was a racist, homophobic, pro-Trumpian attack on himself in Chicago. He asked her why he would do such a thing. First, that’s a question, not an answer. Second, money.
Fame. Media. Money. Not saying that means Smollett was lying. Just saying the reasons why he could have been lying were too obvious for him even to ask that question. It was embarrassing.
Not directly parallel but still related to the Smollett story is the case of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who collapsed his collusion suit against the NFL last week in exchange for an undisclosed cash payout from the league. Kaepernick, who launched take-a-knee, let the NFL off the choke-chain just before league lawyers would have been forced to pony up reams of presumably embarrassing discovery evidence.
Nobody knows what Kaepernick got. Some of the early guesses were huge. More recent ones have been less huge. But any kind of huge takes the halo off. Think what a different world this would be if Martin Luther King Jr. had agreed to sign a no-disparagement pact with the White Citizens' Councils in exchange for cash.
Our own local agony crosses paths with this national misery in the case of a witness to the horrific death of Botham Jean, killed by a Dallas police officer in his own apartment Sept. 6. According to a story in The Dallas Morning News yesterday, the witness has been out raising tens of thousands of dollars for herself on GoFundMe, a web service owned by Facebook.
Called “Life After Witnessing,” the GoFundMe page was set up by Ronnie “Bunny” Babbs, 29, who phone-videoed some of the aftermath of Jean's shooting death. By my count, 879 donors kicked in $30,470 for an average donation of about 35 bucks in response to Babbs’ appeal. She asked for money, saying, “I'm Bunny. I'm responsible for the evidence that proved Botham Jean's murderer to be guilty. As a result I've lost so much.” She suggested she had been fired from a job and had received death threats.
I’m not questioning any of that. I am saying, however, that Babbs has fried herself as any kind of credible witness, especially concerning things she claims to have overheard that were not recorded in her video. She may be telling the God’s truth, but she put money on the table. A stack of it. She’s toast.
Her claim to have proved the guilt of the police officer who shot Jean is wrong. Nothing has been proved yet. That’s what the trial is for. But I think we can give her a conditional pass. She’s not a lawyer. She may sincerely believe her evidence has proved the cop to be a murderer. That’s not her immediate problem. Her problem is that she made money off this horrible tragedy.
I thought the question premised by the story in the News was awfully disingenuous, although I do sort of get it. The headline was, “Is a witness in the Botham Jean case less credible after raising $30K on GoFundMe?”
Are you kidding? That has a question mark after it? The headline should have been, “Botham Jean Witness Totally Toasts Her Own Testimony By Turning a Profit.”
The shy little question-mark headline is from the same newspaper that ran a story last month practically accusing Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer who shot Jean, of witness-tampering, fraud and contempt of court because she washed her hair and put on clean clothes for her first court appearance. That headline was, “Amber Guyger’s New Look No Accident …”
Before that first day in court, Guyger’s image was known to the public only from a rough mug shot made at the time of her arrest. The headline over the new picture of her in court should have been, “Cop Bathes, Dresses Up for Court.”
Wait, I know why the News did a story on Guyger getting dressed up for court. They were telling readers something not every reader knows based on personal experience. You get dressed up for court. It can affect the outcome. So, OK, I guess getting dressed up for court can be viewed as a manipulation.
I would be more suspicious if a defendant came to court the first day still looking like her mug shot, because I would figure she was trying to go for a wacko defense. But let’s just agree anyway that the way a person presents herself in court is going to be subjected to a certain amount of scrutiny and skepticism.
What do we think the level of scrutiny and skepticism will be for somebody who has already pocketed 30 grand off her testimony? You know what? She’s not even coming to court. No one will want her there.
She could have been a witness for the prosecution before she pocketed the 30 grand, but not now. The DA is going to hope to God nobody on the jury has ever heard of her. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the questions the DA asks the jury pool during jury selection is, “Have you contributed any money to any GoFundMe pages recently?” (Be very careful, jury-poolers. GoFundMe publishes a list of donors.)
In beating up on everybody here, I have this nagging feeling I’m leaving someone out, and I hate to do that. Let me think. People making money off media exposure. Money from media. Media and money. Who could I be forgetting? Oh, right. Me.
The whole industry of publicity for profit is staged and made possible by us in the media, and, of course, we want to tell you we have nothing to do with it. We’re not the drivers. We’re just the highway. That’s so transparent it’s asinine.
Let’s go back to Smollett, who claimed he was subjected to specifically pro-Trump, racist, homophobic slurs. He said two attackers beat him, doused him with bleach and tied a noose around his neck. In terms of just sorting out the moves, it’s enough to fill a football coach’s entire chalkboard.
After Chicago police released the two black guys initially identified as "persons of interest" in the case and said they wanted to talk to Smollett again, Vox Media, an online news source that specializes in explaining complicated news stories, tried to sort out the Smollett narrative. Vox almost always does a great job unraveling stupidly complicated stories, and they did a good job as usual with this one until the last paragraph.
Taking special note of Smollett’s claim that his attackers were supporters of President Donald Trump, Vox contributors Amanda Sakuma and German Lopez wrote, “No matter how the facts shake out — for all the speculation, police are still not calling Smollett a ‘suspect’ — the case now hits at the core identity that Trump shares with his supporters, perpetuating a dangerous worldview that the media is corrupt and the stories of racism and bigotry are better off not being believed.”
Sorry, but that just sounds to me like an old man cringing behind his upheld cane on the bus, saying, “Please don’t hurt me.” If the media conspired with Smollett to float the original story and help Smollett make hay — however the media conspired —– then the media were corrupt. It’s not a “dangerous worldview.” It’s a fact. How about owning up to it?
And when did everybody in the media start defending everybody else in the media anyway? I know you think I’m “in the media,” and I guess I am, but my attitude has always been, screw the media. They don’t pay me. My newspaper does. I’m in my newspaper, not the damn media. The best way to make Trump’s stupid version of us come true is for us to start acting stupid.
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ABC’s Good Morning America did a lousy job vetting Smollett’s claims. I’m not talking about Robin Roberts. She’s an actor. She was on some TV show with Smollett before all this happened, acting, for God’s sake. I’m assuming ABC must also have a couple of actual reporters lurking around somewhere being underpaid and physically unattractive as is our wont, and it was their job to spot the Smollett story as a totally uncorroborated, self-serving, single-witness story from an actor. Maybe they were on the phone with their creditors. Somewhere somebody dropped the ball big-time by ever letting this dog out the door.
So admit it. Admit Trump is right sometimes. The media sucks. Sometimes. Some of us have feet of clay, surprise-surprise.
Somewhere in this whole snarl is an absurdity of near cosmic dimension. People sell out their testimony for cash. We in the media help them do it by leaping on the narratives we like. Then slowly, grudgingly we put the rest of it on the table only when it can no longer be ignored. The money’s on the table, too, for everyone to see.
And here’s the truly absurd part. All of this crap goes on for years, and then the big authorities of the world act all surprised when they find out people are losing faith in the big authorities. It’s why I am not anti-Facebook. At least people can go to Facebook and find out what their in-laws think.