“Hands up, don’t shoot!”—the rallying cry of the Ferguson protestors (or rioters, in some cases)—was always a fiction, the Department of Justice admitted last week. Michael Brown’s hands were not up and he was not attempting to surrender when Officer Darren Wilson killed him in self-defense.
That Eric Holder is finally admitting this, five months after autopsy results indicated that Brown’s hands must have been at his side, is progress, I suppose. But don’t expect too much from the attorney general too quickly. Baby steps. Despite admitting that there’s no evidence that Officer Wilson did anything wrong, Holder still wants us to contemplate why so many people believed the lie. “It remains not only valid – but essential – to question how such a strong alternative version of events was able to take hold so swiftly, and be accepted so readily,” he said.
Holder’s clear implication is that the lie could only have gotten legs if it had the ring of authenticity in the ears of Ferguson’s black citizens. So even though it’s not technically true, let’s all pretend that it speaks to the larger truth that white cops routinely gun down defenseless black males for sport.
Which they don’t. In this great big country we live in, liberals have tried and failed to evidence even one example of cops wantonly murdering unarmed blacks out of racist motives. So what was the real reason so many blacks and white liberals chose to believe a story that was one hundred and eighty degrees from the truth?
Perhaps they believed “Hands up, don’t shoot” because it was endlessly reported in the media. Or maybe they believed it because they detest white cops and thus instinctively believe the worst about them. It’s also possible that black Americans closed ranks around one of their own in a gesture of racial solidarity that would rightly be called racism if whites did the same thing. All of these explanations make more sense than Holder’s insinuation.
What Holder is trying to say is that even though the “alternative version of events” has been thoroughly debunked, the narrative lives on. It always does.
The primacy of narrative over facts is perhaps the greatest enigma of the leftist mind. “Fake but accurate” seems to be their guiding philosophy, as evidenced by the 2004 Rathergate scandal. Seemingly intelligent people really believe that it doesn’t matter that Matthew Shepard wasn’t the victim of a “homophobic” hate crime because surely someone else was. The same people also find it immaterial that Crystal Mangum wasn’t actually raped by three Duke lacrosse players because white men have been raping black women since slave times.
In place of facts they prefer compelling narrative, usually cultivated at the expense of actual people, their lives and reputations. The now utterly debunked UVA rape story that Rolling Stone ran in November is an excellent example. Reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely failed to conduct even the most basic fact checking; in fact, she promised not to contact the accused rapists as a condition of getting her exclusive interview with “Jackie,” the alleged victim, who turned out to be a fraud.
When the story fell apart, Politico ran an article called “Why We Believed Jackie’s Rape Story.” In a desperate attempt to rescue the narrative, Julia Horowitz, deputy editor of the campus newspaper, explained why the scandal is still a scandal even though the scandal never happen. “There was something in that story which stuck,” she wrote. “And that means something.”
Yes, I’m sure “something” did stick. The story, with its overtones of gender and power, sounds as if it came straight out of a women’s studies journal. It was a parable about what happens when boys’ clubs, with all of the supposed privilege they entail, are allowed to exist and, y’know…have parties and stuff. People get raped! So let’s ban boys’ clubs. And parties. What Julia Horowitz should have said in her article is that she believed “Jackie” because it reinforced the biases she’s accumulated in academia, of which she should rightfully be embarrassed.
Another student, who asked to remain anonymous, admitted to throwing a projectile through the fraternity’s window shortly after the Rolling Stone piece was published. When he was asked if he regretted his action in light of the story’s disintegration, the student replied, “I’ve done some thinking about that, but the answer is no. Everyone knows this is a house that does not respect women. They are part of the problem, and I do not feel bad. We have an objective set of laws that empowers the police to kill black men with impunity and protects white rapists at UVA from prosecution.”
With the narrative hugged closely to his side, the anonymous student will sleep soundly tonight. His conscience is clear.
This tendency to elevate the narrative over the facts is not a new feature of the Left. Consider Ray Mungo, the radical 1960s journalist and co-founder of the Liberation New Service, a wire service for the underground press. Mungo admitted in his 1970 memoir, Famous Long Ago, “Facts are less important than truth and the two are far from equivalent, you see; for cold facts are nearly always boring and may even distort the truth, but Truth is the highest achievement of human expression.”
Mungo illustrated his point with a telling example: “Now, let’s pick up a 1967 copy of Boston AVATAR, and … read a painfully graphic account of [Alexander] Sorenson’s encounter with medieval torture in a Vietnamese village. Later, because we know Brian Keating, who wrote the piece, we discover that Alexander Sorenson doesn’t exist and the incident described in AVATAR, which moved thousands, never in fact happened. But because it has happened in man’s history, and because we know who is responsible for its happening today, and because the story is unvarnished and plain and human, we know it is true…”
Ray Mungo pioneered the “fake but accurate” standard of journalism thirty-four years before CBS used it to defend foisting forged National Guard records on the public. Clearly, Mungo was a man ahead of his time.
What liberals fail to realize is that their narrative, if it is to be worth anything, must be supported by facts. Like a house standing on a crumbling foundation, their larger, capital-T Truth cannot remain upright while its foundation of smaller truths—what used to be called “facts”—dissipates. But alas, for liberals, it can. A myriad of concrete examples can turn out to be bogus and their narrative will still hold, because they “know” they are correct in the abstract. In their own minds, they are still right even when they’re wrong, and truthful even when they’re lying.