Monday, August 27, 2007

Hysteria & Justice: How the Right Got it Wrong

CNN's Lou Dobbs and a host of right-wing pundits and bloggers made headlines a few months ago when they charged the Federal government with wrongly prosecuting two Border Patrol agents for shooting a Mexican drug dealer.

It's outrageous, the wingers screamed. The Feds had betrayed their own men—not to mention their nation—to protect an illegal alien (read: Mexican).

Colorado Congress Tom Tancredo was furious. So was California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who referred to the officers' sentencing "a day of infamy and disgrace."

Only one minor problem: The wing-nut story was wrong. Neither Dobbs nor the other outraged "patriots" bothered to check the facts or consider the evidence against the agents.

We know all this thanks to a detailed Texas Monthly investigation of the case published in the magazine's September issue. Reporter Pamela Colloff discovered that the evidence against the agents was abundant and convincing and the right-wing coverage of the case ignored or omitted important facts in the shooting and its cover-up.

For instance: The agents failed to arrest the suspect when they had the chance. When he fled, both opened fire, wounding the suspect from behind. They failed to report the shooting as required. They covered up the incident, never mentioning the shooting to fellow agents. When the shooting was discovered, the agents claimed the suspect had something shiny in his left hand, a gun perhaps. The suspect had no gun. The suspect was right-handed. One of the agents picked up his spent shell casings for "no reason," he told investigators.

Based on these facts (and more), the magazine asks, "Why are [the agents] being celebrated as heroes?"

Why indeed? Because Dobbs and his hysterical buddies pumped up a dramatic story of justice gone wrong—the facts be damned.

As Colloff also documents, the right has demonized Johnny Sutton, the U.S. attorney who brought the case, even though he's a hard-nosed conservative whose office leads the nation in drug and immigration enforcement.

Sutton has received death threats. Conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly has called for Sutton's dismissal. The Minutemen have condemned him and called for Sutton's "deportation."

The facts make all these folks look foolish. As Sutton told the magazine:
All people have heard is that two American heroes are in prison for doing their job. If those were the facts, I'd be furious too. But the evidence is overwhelming that these guys committed a very serious crime.
For Dobbs and company, the facts don't really matter. They've got hysteria to sell.

1 comment:

Tulsan said...

It seems to me that the right periodically needs a pretext for hysterical behavior.

The Schiavo case was a classic hunk of red meat to keep the anti-abortion crowd in training. (a talking points memo at the time encouraged Republican lawmakers to speak out on the matter, calling it "a great political issue" and noting that "the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue.")

I didn't notice any apologies when the autopsy revealed, as expected, massive atrophy of her brain. It weighed only half as much as a normal brain. But then, that would be looking backward, I guess. On to the next misbegotten adventure!