The inestimable Prof. Jacobson reprises the evolution of the CNN coverage of George Zimmerman's mumbled words on his famous 911 call. Did he say "Effing c**ns? "Effing cold"? "Phones"? "Punks"? Oh, brother.
As to why we care, back in the day the left was giddy at the possibility that Zimmerman had been recorded uttering a racial epithet because it opened the door to a Federal hate crimes investigation.
As Bill Jacobson points out, CNN has scotched that strategy by bringing out a new expert every few days with yet another interpretation of Zimmerman's words. At this point not even Eric Holder could keep a straight face while announcing that FBI experts had authoritatively concluded that Zimmerman had said "effing c**ns". Given the confusion created by the CNN audio experts, Mr. Holder would not diminish his (in)credibility if he reported that the FBI enhancement showed Zimmerman saying "Obama Twenty Twelve".
However, I differ vigorously with the Prof's headline, to wit, "CNN proves “beyond a reasonable doubt” why cases should not be tried in the media".
CNN has proved why judges and the state do not want cases tried in the media. In an earlier day, the FBI experts would make their pronouncements, the rest of us would nod agreeably, and off to trial Zimmerman would go, if Eric Holder et al so decided.
With CNN's democratization of expertise we all know that any FBI assertion of a decisive result is absurd. In the ongoing zero-sum struggle between prosecutors and defendants, this is a win for defendants. And in the ongoing balancing act between The People and The Power, this is a win for the people.
Tough break for the left that this time around they are aligned with Prosecutors and Power, but presumably their day will come and they will come home to their roots. Dirty Harry Conservatives might also want to reflect on where this train is headed.
Now, I promised a visual aid. Aside from the technical difficulties of extracting Zimmerman's whispered mumbling from the background noise, there is a huge psychological hurdle - in turning 'sounds' into 'words' the human brain applies a lot of subconscious filtering based very much upon the listener's expectations. People hear what they want or expect to hear, so people who need to hear "c**ns" will do so and sincerely question the integrity of those who hear something else.
So, the visual aid - a few years ago this Tiny Dancer swept the intertubes. She really will spin left or right, if you have the mental toughness (Kevin Drum's tip to block everything but the legs worked for me.)
And so it is with the Zimmerman phrase - decide what you want to hear and hear it. Don't get hung up on the notion of an objective reality. And don't expect any judge to keep a straight face and accept "'effing c**ns" as definitive even if (especially if!) Eric Holder says so.
INGENIOUS: My mockery becomes his insight. A few days back I mocked Orlando Sentinel audio expert Ed Primeau, who climed the background screaming heard on a 911 call was Trayvon Martin even though he had never heard Martin's voice. That is one heck of a voice expert to match voices he has never heard.
But to be fair, he said the screaming was "a young man", and the two logical candidates were Zimmerman and Martin. My next question - if the experts can't match the screaming to either voice (due to limitations in the technology) does that mean we should look for a third mystery witness?
To which commenter MOON says, why not?
Could the childlike screaming be from the 13 year old witness whose dog ran off?
That jibes with what Cheryl Brown's teenage son witnessed while walking his dog that night. Thirteen-year-old Austin stepped out his front door and heard people fighting, he told the Orlando Sentinel on Thursday.
"I heard screaming and crying for help," he said. "I heard, 'Help me.' "
It was dark, and the boy did not see how the fight started, in fact, he only saw one person, a man in a red shirt — Zimmerman — who was on the ground.
The boy said he is not sure who called for help. After a moment, his dog escaped, and he turned to catch it and a few seconds later heard a gunshot, he said.
"When I heard the shot, the screaming stopped," he said.
He then rushed inside and told his sister to call police.
He later changed that to a version less helpful to Zimmerman, as per the HuffPo.
In any case, if this were crime fiction the dog running away would be a metaphor - what ran away was his self control and he stood there helpless and screaming, watching in horror as a man was shot. But don't ask him about it because he saw nothing - his dog had run off, remember?
Psychologists would feast on this. Fear, repression, symbolism - all here. Now, could reality match fiction? Well, look at it another way - should we take the word of a terrified and confused thirteen year old as gospel? There is another witness, 'John', who says he saw Zimmerman screaming. That doesn't mean this kid wasn't screaming, too.
Suppose Ed Primeau takes the stand with his "I never heard Martin's voice but that is him screaming" testimony. After the court stops laughing the defense can ask him why the screaming couldn't be from the thirteen year old. Confusion equals reasonable doubt.
STRAY IDEAS: Apparently the Zimmerman team feels a need to push back a bit more - Zimmerman passed a voice audio test (roughly as unreliable as a polygraph, apparently) the night of the shooting. Not admissible, but it may have reassured the police. Of course, Zimmerman had reportedly not lawyered up, either. All this just shows how cold-blooded and calculating he is!
And the NY Times is maintaining its Eerie Silence, with no original reporting on the Martin killing. They do run the corrections we noted and gloated yesterday.