Pandaemonium

SEEING WHAT WE WANT TO SEE

Noa Pothoven

This essay, on how we often interpret the news through the lens of what we want to see, was my Observer column this week.  It was published on 9 June 2019, under the headline ‘Fake news will thrive as long we are happy to see only what we want to see’.


If a gorilla walked right in front of your eyes, you wouldn’t miss it, would you? Actually, half the country probably would.

In a classic 1999 experiment, psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons showed people a video of basketball players, some wearing white shirts, some wearing black, and asked them to count how many times the players in white passed the ball. Halfway through the film, a woman in a gorilla suit saunters into the scene, faces the audience, thumps her chest and walks away. Extraordinarily, more than half of Chabris’s and Simons’s subjects were so intent on watching the ball being thrown that they failed to see the gorilla.

The experiment poses important questions about the reliance of eyewitness accounts. It also has a bearing on the way we access information, including news. Two stories last week illustrate how we often see what we expect, or want, to see.

The first is the tragic story of Dutch teenager Noa Pothoven. Sexually assaulted and raped as a young girl, Pothoven’s pain led to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anorexia.

So consumed was she by her mental distress that in 2017 she contacted an ‘end of life’ clinic to request euthanasia. It refused, because of her age. For a time, she was in hospital so she could be fed intravenously, having become dangerously underweight. Earlier this year, however, she decided that she wanted no further treatment and refused all food and fluids. Her parents and doctors agreed not to force-feed her. Last Sunday, she died at home, aged 17.

It’s a heartbreaking and unsettling story. What it wasn’t was an account of a teenager being ‘legally euthanised’ by the state. But that was how much of the world’s press reported it. It became a shocking tale, not just of the tragedy of Pothoven’s life but also of the immorality of the state in helping a vulnerable teenager to end it. Only through the efforts of journalists such as Naomi O’Leary, correspondent with Politico Europe, who took the trouble of reading the original Dutch reports of the case, did the truth emerge.

The misreporting can be seen as another instance of ‘fake news’. Certainly, there was shoddy journalism in the failure to check sources or even to read the Dutch press.

But the wider context of the distortions is important, too. There is a fraught debate in many countries about euthanasia and assisted suicide. The tragedy of Pothoven’s life and death revealed, for many, the ugly reality of such policies. ‘Euthanasia and assisted suicide are a defeat for all’, tweeted the Pope on Wednesday. Many journalists and readers may have refrained from asking deeper questions about the initial account because the misreporting allowed them to see what they wanted to see. Much of what we call fake news may be like this – the result not of a desire to lie, but to reduce complex problems to simple truths.

Pothoven’s case poses many questions about her suffering and treatment. It is untrue, as many claim, that she was not force-fed only because of Holland’s euthanasia laws. In many countries, including Britain, euthanasia is illegal, but doctors and the courts often accept that competent adults have ‘the right to choose whether to eat or not‘ even if ‘the refusal is tantamount to suicide’.

Nevertheless, while the ethical debates about euthanasia and force-feeding are distinct, both raise profound questions about the relationship between an individual’s autonomy and what society deems morally acceptable. This is especially so in Pothoven’s case, as she was a minor. And while her death was not a case of euthanasia, it is legitimate to ask whether the legalisation of euthanasia made it easier for a deeply pained individual to imagine death as a way out.

These are complicated issues to which there are no straightforward answers. The desire for simple moral truths, and to see only what we want to see, makes it more difficult to navigate our way through such challenging dilemmas.

‘Seeing what you want to see’ is also at the heart of the second story – that of the ‘Central Park Five’. The original story is 30 years old. It has returned to the news because of a new Netflix drama, When They See Us, broadcast last week.

On 19 April 1989, a 28-year-old white woman, Trisha Meili, was beaten and raped while jogging in New York’s Central Park. She was in a coma for 12 days and still has no recollection of the events.

That same night, five young men – four African American and one Hispanic – were arrested and charged with rape, assault and attempted murder, as well robbery and riot. There was no forensic evidence – DNA, fingerprints, blood, or semen – linking any of the suspects to the crime. Under coercion, they confessed to being accomplices to the rape, confessions they later retracted. All were convicted and received sentences of between five to 15 years.

In 2002, murderer and rapist Matias Reyes confessed to raping Meili. DNA and other evidence confirmed his guilt. The Central Park Five, having spent up to 13 years behind bars, were cleared and their convictions vacated.

When They See Us

The original case generated a moral panic about black youth. The term ‘wilding’ entered the vocabulary, describing ‘packs of bloodthirsty teens’ that descend ‘downtown from a world of crack, welfare, guns, knives, indifference, and ignorance… to smash, hurt, rob, stomp, rap’. It was a racialised term – the mobs were black, ‘their enemies were white’.

Such reporting may have aided the conviction of the Central Park Five. It pushed many US states to introduce new laws that allowed children as young as 13 to be tried as adults and led to the mass incarceration of black youth.

When They See Us tells the story of powerless black and Hispanic families, trapped by a justice system that is corrupt, vengeful and racist. It shows fake news as the work not of cranks and trolls but of a justice system that sets out to demonise young black men and of a media willing to concoct the evidence.

The misreporting of Pothoven’s death and the manipulation of the stories about the Central Park Five are very different cases. Both, however, shed light on how mistruths become accepted and on the dangers of seeing what we want to see. Too often, we don’t see the gorilla in front of our eyes. And too often we insist on seeing a gorilla when none is there.

 

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The images are of Noa Pothoven with her 2018 autobiography ‘Winnen of Leren’, a published version of her diaries (photographer unknown); Netflix ad for ”When they See Us’.

31 comments

      • damon

        Kenan, you said to me below: “Yes, that’s the case. Whether or not they were involved in other violence that night is irrelevant to the fact that they were fitted up for rape, assault and attempted murder.”

        OK. Their prosecution went a bit array. They were hard done by. It doesn’t mean that they were not behaving outrageously though. They were. They were treated harshly. I still can’t feel too sorry for them though. This is one of those black/white cultural issues. Ava DuVernay sounds like a political leftist activist. I looked through some of her twitter.

        I’m trying to imagine an equal kind of campaign to free the killers of Stephen Lawrence. Because maybe only one of them is an actual murderer. And the other four were only out to beat and kick the first black person they came across unconscious. But had never actually planned to murder anyone.
        It’s not really a campaign that’s ever going to take off amongst concerned liberals is it?

        And I told you what I was reading. It was this account in the New York magazine from 1989.
        https://books.google.ro/books?id=hugCAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA30&lpg=&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

        But maybe that’s all from the now discredited confessions they made.
        Is it suggested that the actual rapist was totally uninvolved with their gang and it’s just a coincidence that there was more than one set of people attacking joggers and random individuals in the park in that short period? Is he the only one who chased her down and beat her? I really don’t know, but I just can’t trust a word these activist types say.

        While I don’t go along entirely with this idea of group responsibility for every last thing that happens when a group of people are involved in violence, I also don’t think you should go too far the other way either and pretend that nearly everyone in a mob that is causing trouble is mostly innocent for what’s collectively going on. Because then you could get people arguing that they only did one tiny thing wrong when someone gets severely battered by a group. Someone could say “well I only tripped them up”, and the next person could say “I only kicked them once in the head” etc.
        You could imagine such a defence being given by the five youths up for battering the lesbian women on the bus in London.

        By the way, when I was their age, I also get involved in a few fights at football matches, and if I got caught for it, I wouldn’t be trying to make out I was all innocent. They were guilty of being part of a violent mob, and they should have been punished accordingly. It’s not like they did 25 years in prison.
        And people shouldn’t try to be pretending that things like this “Wilding” weren’t actually a thing.
        I know why a lot of people don’t like these tabloid terms. We had a similar issue in England at the time and it was called “Steaming”. But it actually was a thing. Or at least enough of a thing for the tabloid media to give it a name. Activists do not like such things being given tabloid names.
        I sort of get why, but it’s not a good enough reason to stop such things being given sensationalist names.

        Anyway, my main point really is that this is a complex case and can’t be just turned into a morality tale of more racial injustice from the bad old days of racist white cops harassing and fitting up innocent black people. The case the police and the prosecutors put forward seemed pretty plausible at the time.
        It looked like the woman had been gang raped and beaten by many people.
        Saying “there were no witnesses” isn’t a good enough defence. It doesn’t mean something didn’t happen if no one is there to independently witness it.

        • I don’t why you posted this comment here rather than in the thread below where it belongs, but let me respond anyway.

          OK. Their prosecution went a bit array. They were hard done by. It doesn’t mean that they were not behaving outrageously though. They were. They were treated harshly. I still can’t feel too sorry for them though.

          I think that being fitted up for rape, assault and attempted murder is a bit more than a ‘prosecution [that] went a bit awry’ (and I assume you mean awry, not ‘array’). And spending up to 13 years in prison for crimes they did not commit is more that simply ‘being hard done by’.

          What is extraordinary in all this is your continual attempt (in this comment and in your comments below) to wish away the corruption of a justice system that fitted up five boys and the gross injustice of their convictions, and pretend that somehow the fact that they may have behaved riotously elsewhere somehow justifies what happened to them. It’s extraordinary, too, that all your hostility should be directed against those boys, and those who tell the story of what happened to them, rather against the system that perpetrated a gross miscarriage of justice, and has done so many times. It suggests again that you simply want to see what you want to see. And that what’s ‘awry’ is your perspective.

          This is one of those black/white cultural issues.

          No, the issue is one of a gross miscarriage of justice. In so far as race is involved, it is the fact of racism within a justice system.

          Is it suggested that the actual rapist was totally uninvolved with their gang

          Yes, Matias Reyes was the sole rapist and, as far as I know, had no connection to the five boys. And let me repeat, yet again, that there was not a shred of evidence then, not a shred of evidence now, that connects any of the Central Park Five to the assault or to the rape. That you continue to be disbelieving can only be a case of not accepting evidence that does not fit into your particular narrative of what must have happened.

          when I was their age, I also get involved in a few fights at football matches, and if I got caught for it, I wouldn’t be trying to make out I was all innocent

          And I assume that had you had been fitted up for rape, assault and attempted murder, you would have simply said ‘Oh well, I was guilty of hooliganism, so it’s understandable that they fit me up for rape, and I can’t really say that I’m an innocent person.’

          It’s not like they did 25 years in prison

          Well that’s all right then. Spending up to 13 years in prison for crimes they did not commit is no big thing because ‘It’s not like they did 25 years in prison’.

          ‘The case the police and the prosecutors put forward seemed pretty plausible at the time’

          Actually, a complete lack of evidence meant that the case was no more plausible then than it is now.

          Saying “there were no witnesses” isn’t a good enough defence. It doesn’t mean something didn’t happen if no one is there to independently witness it.

          I don’t know how many times I have to keep repeating this (I’ve made the point in the article and several times in my responses to your comments below). It was not just that that ‘there were no witnesses’. It was that there was no evidence at all – no DNA, no fingerprints, no blood, no semen – linking any of the suspects to the rape of assault. What evidence there was pointed to someone else, who was eventually identified as Matias Reyes.

          ‘There is no evidence’ is not only ‘good enough defence’. It was also the basis of an egregious miscarriage of justice because it was a prosecution based on a fiction. You have throughout your comments, here and in the thread below, refused to accept that there is no evidence against the Central Park Five, but insist that they were not innocent, so must be guilty. That’s exactly the thought process that leads to miscarriages of justice. I hope if ever you are on a jury you pay greater attention to the actual evidence (or lack of).

      • damon

        “I don’t why you posted this comment here rather than in the thread below where it belongs ….”

        It’s because the “REPLY” button disappears from some of your posts after you’ve done a few.
        I had an idea that maybe this happened when you’d heard enough responses and didn’t want any more.

        Anyway, we’re going to have to just disagree on this until I find out a lot more about the case.
        There’s far too much in it to be persuaded by either a short piece in the Observer or a Netflix drama. That’s one of my main criticisms of the whole thing. 95% of the people who are going to react emotionally about this will be doing so on really very little evidence.
        Like the five black guys in that “The Root” Youtube video I mentioned. Saying things like “I was in high school on the west coast at the time, and I think I heard about this case back then.”
        And then go on to talk about it with only the TV show as their guide to what happened.

        I find the coincidences of there just happening to be a thirty strong racist mob who were attacking people randomly in the park, including other joggers on the jogging circuit and also at the very same time a totally unconnected individual who also targeted a jogger and did what he did to her …… I find the idea that they are totally disconnected a bit of a stretch and am suspicious of people who are so ready to believe it. There’s so much that we could be missing out on if we expect everything to be able to be so easily provable.

        Given the confusion of this case, I don’t actually blame Donald Trump at all for his comments at the time.
        It seemed pretty plausible. New York was a dangerous hell hole and people travelled around the city in fear of being attacked. They even used to carry “mugger money” to hand over immediately when confronted by muggers. I went to New York City for the first time in 1985 and mid town Manhattan was indeed “occupied” by street hustlers and hawkers, who I’m guessing came down into the centre from Harlem and The Bronx every day. It felt really dangerous.

        But on the case of the five particularly, I’ll finally make my mind up when I read about it all more fully.
        And that will include reading stuff from sources that most people on the left won’t even touch, like this piece from a very right wing online magazine.

        https://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/273968/central-park-5-were-murderous-thugs-john-perazzo

        Maybe you don’t even like me doing a link to such a website, I don’t know, but I think it’s important to look at all sources, and that has a lot of links on it which are good for further information.

        But what I don’t do any more, is take at face value anything that politically minded people just allege.
        Particularly the left. Or maybe they’re just as bad as the ridiculously inaccurate and biased right wing.
        I would trust the left on this about as much as I’d trust Rush Limbaugh …. or Donald Trump even.
        These boys did some really bad things and they got punished harshly and maybe a bit too harshly.
        However, some of the way this story is being spun is also highly critical of the media reaction too it at the time and the way that the boys were put in the media spotlight. You even objected to the term “wilding” I think Kenan, and people are finding terms like “wolf pack” being used by the media as being a part of the story of this injustice.

        Anyway, thanks for bringing this story to our attentions, as it’s an interesting one.

        • It’s because the “REPLY” button disappears from some of your posts after you’ve done a few.
          I had an idea that maybe this happened when you’d heard enough responses and didn’t want any more.

          There’s no conspiracy here, and, no, I don’t turn off replies when ‘I’ve heard enough responses and don’t want any more’. The issue is to do with the levels of indentation. There are three levels of indentation in replies. (There has to be a limit, otherwise the columns in which a reply appears would become narrower and narrower and impossible to read.) Where, in a thread, there is no reply button to a comment, go to the top of that level of indentation and press the ‘reply’ button on the last comment at the previous level of indentation (just as you have done here). It will automatically add your comment to the bottom of that thread.

          That’s one of my main criticisms of the whole thing. 95% of the people who are going to react emotionally about this will be doing so on really very little evidence.

          That, I’m afraid, is what you are doing. You are refusing to accept the evidence, you’re refusing to accept that there was no evidence to convict the Central Park Five, and insisting that they must be guilty of something. Your starting point isn’t the evidence in the case but your reluctance to accept that they may have been fitted up, or that parts of the US justice system could be racist or corrupt. That’s a dangerous starting point, and precisely what helps create such miscarriages of justice.

          These boys did some really bad things and they got punished harshly and maybe a bit too harshly.

          This illustrates my point above. No, the Central Park Five weren’t treated ‘maybe a bit too harshly’. They were fitted up over charges of rape, assault and attempted murder and spent up to 13 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. I find extraordinary your sheer refusal to understand that being fitted up for crimes they did not commit is a bit more than being treated ‘maybe a bit too harshly’. You are so obsessed with the idea that ‘These boys did some really bad things’ that you are blind to what the justice system actually did do to them. And it’s not me or Netflix or the media or the left that is saying that they were fitted up and that they spent years locked up for crimes they did not commit. It was an American court that freed them and vacated their conviction, after it finally recognized that there was no evidence against them, and that the actual rapist had finally been caught.

        • damon

          I actually can’t make any final analysis of this whole story until I have a much fuller picture.
          Right now, I’m merely skeptical of everyone. But I do know of the form that a lot of people and political traditions have when it comes to cases like this. I was in the US at the time of the infamous Howard Beach racism case and read several articles in the New York Times about the case. It too was outrageously spun by the race grievance agitators led by Al Sharpton.
          They made up several completely false allegations about what was supposed to have happened. I refuse to believe anything such people say. And that goes for the whole Black Lives Matter movement too.

          I want to read up more on these confessions that were made. Where several of them say they were right there and took part in the assault of the jogger. These confessions could be coerced and false of course. But the facts that there was “no DNA” linking them to the attack is hardly proof of anything. Were police even collecting such samples properly back then?

          One difference between us is this idea of innocent until proven guilty.
          A lot of guilty people don’t get caught.

          I’m trying to imagine a similar scenario where the perpetrators were white and their victims black or Asian. Say a racist football gang in England back in the 1980s. And after a match, particularly at an away match where the home football club was located in an Asian area like is the case at Luton and Bradford City. And these white racist hooligans like to do a bit of beating any Asian people they came across after the match into unconsciousness.
          And one of their victims “accidentally died”. Are we really supposed to feel a whole lot of sympathy for the racist psychopaths?

          I’m continuing to read more on the case.
          Like this which I just found for example:
          https://abcnews.go.com/US/case-settled-1989-central-park-jogger-believes-person/story?id=63077131

          I’m also trying to read up on one of the arresting officers Eric Reynolds – who is black.
          One of the articles in the New York Daily News seems to be restricted from being viewed where I am right now, but I’ve read several of his quotes about the case.
          And he is convinced that some of the mob attacked the woman.
          That they left her battered and bleeding and that the opportunistic rapist then found her is exactly something that might have happened.

          This is also something I’m going to spend some time studying this evening.
          https://dailycaller.com/2017/02/06/re-visiting-the-central-park-five/

          I think some of it’s suggestions are highly plausible.

        • Right now, I’m merely skeptical of everyone.

          You don’t seem particularly sceptical of those who think the Central Park Five are guilty, or those whom seem to support your insistence that they be guilty of something.

          But the facts that there was “no DNA” linking them to the attack is hardly proof of anything. Were police even collecting such samples properly back then?

          Yes, the police did gather DNA evidence at the time, as you would know if you had been reading accounts of the case, or even my earlier comments. That’s how they were able to match the samples with DNA from Matias Reyes.

          And, no, it wasn’t just that there was ‘“no DNA” linking them to the attack’. There was, as I keep saying and as you keep ignoring, no forensic evidence of any kind – no DNA, no fingerprints, no blood, no semen, no hair samples, no skin samples, etc, etc – linking them to the attack. And is that ‘hardly proof of anything’? Well, yes it is. It’s the job of the prosecution to provide proof that a suspect is guilty. If they cannot, then that suspect is not guilty.

          And he is convinced that some of the mob attacked the woman.
          That they left her battered and bleeding and that the opportunistic rapist then found her is exactly something that might have happened.

          Well, yes, he may be ‘convinced’ of many things that ‘might have happened’ – except that you need evidence to back up any such claim. And there is none that the Central Park Five were involved in the rape or assault. You seem so desperate to imagine that the five are guilty that again and again you ignore the fact that there is no evidence, and without evidence no suspect can be deemed guilty.

          And as I don’t want to keep repeating the same points again and again, I’m bringing this discussion to a close.

  1. The Pope’s tweet is insulting to many. Consider the effect of the Catholic Church’s abuses on the children of just one town (Ballarat in Victoria) where about 45 have taken their own lives: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/29/world/australia/ballarat-church-sexual-abuse-pell.html
    And yet the Church still stands against mandatory reporting: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/may/24/archbishops-response-to-mandatory-child-sex-abuse-reporting-labelled-pig-headed

  2. The Central Park Five story is even worse than your report says. Trump, during his 2016 the election campaign, continued to say that they were guilty, and described the fact that they had been given monetary compensation for wrongful imprisonment as a disgrace: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/donald-trump-says-central-park-five-are-guilty-despite-dna-n661941 . And US police continue to use the Reid Technique https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reid_technique of interrogation, even though it is well-established, as in this case, that it leads to false confessions.

    • I had a paragraph on Trump (including his ads in New York papers in 1989 calling for the return of the death penalty and for the promotion of ‘hatred’ towards ‘muggers and rapists’. I had to remove because of space constraints. Thanks for the link to the ‘Reid technique’.

    • damon

      Paul, I’ve been doing just a little research on this case – and there’s a lot more to the whole story.
      A key person is Linda Fairstein, who was a prosecutor in this case.
      Googling her name brings up a lot of information. Here’s just one example from Salon magazine.

      https://www.salon.com/2019/06/05/ava-duvernays-when-they-see-us-sparks-backlash-to-central-park-five-prosecutor-linda-fairstein/

      Even just reading that one piece and some of the comments under it, leave me suspecting that there’s a whole lot of “fake news” going on here. It’s sounding like Black Lives Matter, or Al Sharpton kind of politics.

      She’s written a piece in the Wall Street Journal saying that the Netflix docudrama is pretty much a fiction.
      I have no way of knowing for sure, but my hunches are telling me that she might be being maligned here and becoming a victim of a false narrative. You have to read all the things that come up when you google her name.

      There was a big mob of youths roaming through the park that night, randomly attacking and robbing people.
      I don’t know why Kenan didn’t mention this. Some of these five guys were involved with the attacks.
      The fact that they may not have actually raped her does not make them all innocent of all charges.

      I really wish we could get past all this polarisation, spinning and dishonesty.
      I watched a discussion about the Netflix show on the Black political website “The Root”.
      Five guys sitting around talking about what they remember about this case when they were growing up.
      I’d strongly recommend people to look it up on YouTube.
      If the case now being presented is not actually correct, then these men’s conversation is actually pretty depressing.

      It’s titled: “Black Men Discuss The Realities of Ava DuVernay’s ‘When They See Us’ ”

      • There was a big mob of youths roaming through the park that night, randomly attacking and robbing people. I don’t know why Kenan didn’t mention this. Some of these five guys were involved with the attacks. The fact that they may not have actually raped her does not make them all innocent of all charges.

        So the fact that there was violence in Central Park makes it OK for five boys to be charged, convicted and imprisoned on charges including rape, sexual assault and attempted murder? Despite the fact that there was no forensic or eyewitness evidence against them? And the fact that the police coerced their (later retracted) confessions? The police did so because they ‘knew’ that the boys were guilty, whatever the evidence. They saw what they wanted to see. And seemingly you do, too.

        Yes, Fairstein was the prosecutor in the case. Initially the police were going to charge five boys with unlawful assembly and refer them to the children’s court system. But Fairstein decided that they were the rapists, despite the fact that there was no evidence against them, and used both coerced testimony and the moral panic, to prosecute them.

        To try and twist the case in its favour, the DA’s office refused to admit that there was no forensic evidence. It kept insisting that the DNA results were ‘inconclusive’ rather than – as was the case – conclusively pointing to another, unknown man. (That man turned out to be Matias Reyes; not only did his DNA match with that samples taken from the victim, but he confessed and had knowledge about the rape that had never made public and that only the rapist would have known). You’ll find details in Timothy Sullivan’s 1992 book Unequal Verdicts.

        And, yes, Fairstein (like Trump in 2016) still insists, against all the evidence, that the Central Park were responsible for the rape. So when you imagine that she is ‘being maligned here and becoming a victim of a false narrative’, what you’re suggesting is that evidence does not matter and what matters is simply what Fairstein ‘knows’ what is true. And for all your plea that ‘we could get past all this polarisation, spinning and dishonesty’, what you really seem to have decided, against all the evidence, is that is the Central Park Five are guilty (of something at least) and that a nice prosecutor like Fairstein could not possibly be talking fiction but must be being maligned. That’s hardly ‘getting past all this polarisation, spinning and dishonesty’.

        So, do read up on the case. You could start with Sullivan’s book Unequal Verdicts. It was written before Reyes’ confession and the freeing of the Central Park Five, but important because of that: it gives an eye-opening account of the prosecution case, and how it was conducted, at a time when the truth about the real rapist was not known.

        • Thanks, Kenan. A far more informed riposte than I could offer. Nonetheless, I hope you will allow my reply to Damon to stand, since he addressed me by name

        • damon

          My main “objection” to what I’ve been hearing about this case now, and the way you wrote about it Kenan, is that it’s implying that five totally innocent people from Harlem were fitted up for a really terrible crime that they had nothing to do with.
          The fact that a thirty strong mob entered the park that night with a loose plan for causing violence and mayhem seems to being brushed out of the modern “historical reality” of what supposedly happened that night. From what I read this afternoon, the five were part of that group and some of them admit attacking the jogger and hitting her or holding her down.
          That the group was splitting into smaller groups and some of them leaving the scene earlier and some later is all a part of what happened and all of them will be culpable to different degrees for what happened that night. Other people were attacked, knocked out and left bleeding because of these gang attacks that night.
          They may not have been involved with raping the woman. I fully accept that.
          Some of them – or even most of the group of thirty, will not have struck or beaten the woman.

          I’m not sure even what’s actually being claimed right now.
          Is it now suggested that one of the five – Kharey Wise – DIDN’T bring the pipe along with him with which the woman was thought to have been beaten with and that was used to assault a couple of other random victims that night?
          I don’t know of course – I’m only going on that detailed story I did a link to from the New York magazine article from 1989. Is that whole story discredited now?
          If it is I’d gladly concede. But if these five were part of the bigger mob, then they got themselves into this trouble by their own actions. I believe another five were convicted of rioting, mugging and assaults. If these five were only as guilty as those other five, then fair enough, they had a bit of a rough deal. But I’m not going to feel too sorry for them. They will have deserved to have gone to prison for a few years.
          The five arrested in London for the attack of the two women on the bus the other night have been released on bail already and it seems their identities are being withheld.
          I really don’t think you should be that soft on “young terrorists”.
          They’re not in the US admittedly. But this whole story sounds like it’s being rewritten.
          Like it was just five totally randomly innocent black and minority teenagers picked up and fitted up for something they had nothing to do with. And that the police and the prosecutor knowingly falsified evidence against innocent black boys.
          That’s the story I picked up from the five black men who were discussing this on The Root magazine website. It smacks of that lazy conspiracy theory rubbish that ran through some communities in the wake of the Ferguson riots. A few of the people involved from that time have died mysterious deaths ….. leading to beliefs in some of the local black community that they’ve actually been murdered by the police or the state or something.
          This story now seems to have gained that kind of conspiracy status.

          But it’s interested me enough now to want to look into it some more. And see the Netflix version of the story.

        • My main “objection” to what I’ve been hearing about this case now, and the way you wrote about it Kenan, is that it’s implying that five totally innocent people from Harlem were fitted up for a really terrible crime that they had nothing to do with.

          Yes, that’s the case. Whether or not they were involved in other violence that night is irrelevant to the fact that they were fitted up for rape, assault and attempted murder. You don’t have to believe me. It’s the American courts that eventually freed the five and vacated their convictions.

          From what I read this afternoon, the five were part of that group and some of them admit attacking the jogger and hitting her or holding her down.

          I don’t know what you are reading but this untrue, or at only partially true. The five, under police coercion, admitted being accomplices. They later retracted. There was no evidence of any kind to link them to the rape or assault. The only evidence was that which pointed to someone else entirely (who was eventually discovered to be Matias Reyes).

          Incidentally, if you read the Sullivan book, you will find out that one of the reasons the jury was willing to accept the police account was because the interrogating detective was candid about the methods of lying and coercion that he used. Apparently this made him seem more credible. Strange but true.

          They may not have been involved with raping the woman. I fully accept that. Some of them – or even most of the group of thirty, will not have struck or beaten the woman.

          There is no evidence that any of the five ‘struck or beat the woman’. If there is such evidence, please show me.

          Like it was just five totally randomly innocent black and minority teenagers picked up and fitted up for something they had nothing to do with. And that the police and the prosecutor knowingly falsified evidence against innocent black boys.

          I know you don’t want to believe that such things happen, but not believing that such things happen is to fly against the evidence, not just in this case but in many cases. I’m afraid you are seeing what you want to see (or rather refusing to see what you don’t want to see).

      • I did not comment on Linda Fairstein, or on the Netflix dramatisation. I said (a) that the rape confessions were extracted using the Reid technique, (b) that they were false, as shown by DNA, (c) that the Reid technique continues to be used, despite the evidence that it produces false confessions, (d) that Trump continued to allege that the 5 were guilty of the rape, even though they had been exonerated of that charge by DNA evidence.

        In all this, I have been using secondary sources such as Wikipedia and newspaper articles, together with my own recollections. However, these may be mistaken. Are you saying that any of statements (a) – (d) are incorrect? If so, which ones, and on what grounds?

        I am incidentally disturbed for many reasons by statements like “Some of these five guys were involved with the attacks. The fact that they may not have actually raped her does not make them all innocent of all charges,” Even if this were fully established (is it, and to what standard?) that would in no way exculpate Trump, or those who continue to use the Reid technique

        • damon

          I wasn’t criticising anything you said Paul, just stating that there was a lot more information available with just a couple of Google searches.
          As the way this was written up in The Guardian is too short to be of much use.
          And given how bad and biased some of the Guardian opinion writers are every other day when they write about race and diversity ….. this seemed to be as bad as some of them.
          A short article and no place for comments.
          The Netflix show, being a film drama, is not going to be terribly accurate and I can see how Linda Fairstein is going to be frustrated at some glaring factual inaccuracies.
          Because for a lot of people – particularly millennials – the Netflix show will become the history of what happened in this case. From the very start, she’s says that there’s things wrong with it.
          But one of the five has led the campaign to have her “non-personed” and sacked by her publisher. She’s a novelist. There’s a petition up. Sign it and “get her cancelled”.
          It’s the kind of leftist activism that I really hate now.
          https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/tv/a27699384/linda-fairstein-netflix-when-they-see-us-central-park-5-prosecutor-boycott/

          On Twitter, DuVernay retweeted a post about Fairstein’s rebuttal. “Expected and typical,” she wrote. “Onward …”

          As for the Reid technique – who knows?
          I read the Wikipedia description of it.
          It’s what the police do when they think they’ve caught the culprits for a crime.
          Did you read about the New York crime stats from thirty years ago?
          It was a hugely violent place and people were getting killed and assaulted every day.
          The police had a lot of people to catch and there were thousands of people who were guilty of committing those crimes.

        • Damon, have you heard of the Gish Gallop? You’re doing it. Nor did you rebut any of my claims.
          “As for the Reid technique – who knows?” We know very well that it leads to false confessions. This is one such instance, and you are fully aware of that.
          I’ll leave it there

        • damon

          Paul, thanks for introducing me to a new term – Gish Gallop – I’d never heard that before.
          It made me laugh when I looked it up.
          I don’t think I am doing that actually, but we’ll agree to disagree.
          I’m just hugely skeptical – of everyone.

  3. I like the piece and I can see what you mean when you say “seeing only what we want to see”.

    However, unless you accept Trump’s idea of fake news, I don’t quite agree that it is fake news. These are cases of shoddy journalism, as you say, or corrupt and biased systems at work. To that extent, they can be remedied.

    Fake news, like “alternate facts”, is a product of the social media age. It is fuelled by falsehoods, rumours, and doctored videos created with an intent to malign certain individuals or communities or to create mischief. They are not triggered by actual events, but are manufactured or concocted events such as the terrible WhatsApp fake news incidents in India sparked by rumours of child-lifting. It was clearly initiated by mischief-mongers, who see social media as a way of seeking attention and power and was then transmitted by millions of unsuspecting users who didn’t know any better.

    What would you call the doctored videos of Nancy Pelosi that were tweeted by Trump recently?

    • I’d call the Pelosi videos fake and designed to deceive. My point, though, while it is important to call out such egregious examples, much of the problem lies elsewhere, both in the desire to see what we want to see and the way that public policies and the actions of large institutions, including state institutions, which have enormous power over people, are shaped by fictions. These may be deliberate, the consequences of straightforward racism or corruption, but they can also be more subtle and insidious, the result of social myths and perceptions.

  4. damon

    Seeing only what you want to see is now just the norm across political and cultural divides.
    Everyone is doing it.
    In my view, people from the extremes of right and left politics can be both right and wrong in equal measures.
    But each side only sees the wrong in the other side – and can not accept any criticism from the other.
    The most recent example of this is the Youtube spat where allegations of homophobic bullying have led to campaigns to de-platform the ones supposedly responsible.
    The guy leading the complaints is a Vox “journalist” called Carlos Maza.
    https://mobile.twitter.com/gaywonk?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

    I heard somewhere that the terms “white supremacist” and the idea of “whiteness” have increased in usage across the internet hugely in recent years. Probably in line with the rise in online news sites like Vox and Huffington Post etc. They are only generally interested in winning, and not in any genuine engagement with different ideas and view points. Even people like Brendan O’Neill and Claire Fox will be described as “far right” by these kinds of left wingers. De-platforming and even physical attacks on people they disapprove of are widely supported.
    These left wingers may be looking out for my class interests more than the people they oppose, but they have driven me away from them, and actually more to the right (unfortunately).

    On the New York incident from thirty years ago – I remember reading about it at the time.
    New York was a pretty wild place back then, and places like the northern (Harlem) end of Central Park were indeed dangerous places. Whether terms like “Wilding” were justified or not is open for debate I would say.

    We had our own “wilding” incident in London the other night, when a lesbian couple were violently attacked on a bus by a group of youths. Thankfully, because of high quality CCTV on buses these days, arrests were quickly made and charges laid. I get the idea that the police try to play down violent attacks like these, and don’t release many details of who the alleged attackers actually are.
    Personally I’m pretty sure that they will be from the “urban hoodie subculture”. But to even describe people as such is a contentious issue, and one black Labour MP has complained that it’s a racist concept.
    Without the CCTV, these guys could either have gotten away without being caught, or a miscarriage of justice might have taken place like happened in New York.

  5. damon

    I thought this video was a great example of the way the different sides in the culture war can only see their own side of things. It’s a video by YouTube channel “The Young Turks” – who are strong leftists of the radical mainstream variety. And in it they are criticising a former colleague of theirs, who left to set up his own channel … Dave Rubin from “The Rubin Report”.
    He went right wing and they really don’t like him anymore.
    Apparently his show is quite successful and he seems to be making a decent living out of it.
    They accuse him of just “shilling” for the easy money. Which might be true.
    They also accuse him of being lazy and giving his controversial right wing guests an easy interview.
    Which again, I think is partly true. He admits as much himself and says it’s the best way for his viewers to see who his guests actually are.
    His former colleagues don’t get this at all and think the only way to interview people on the right is to give them quite a hard time.
    They also talk about another left wing YouTube channel here … “The Majority Report” (Sam Seder and David Brooks) who have been having a go at Dave Rubin for a couple of years now. They also say he’s a lazy sell-out and suggest he’s just not very bright.
    They’ve also heavily slagged off Steven Crowder in the past, and challenged both Crowder and Rubin to come on their show and debate them. They have little respect for those two right wingers.

    And here’s my problem. I agree with The Young Turks and The Majority Report in many of their criticisms of right wingers. They make some excellent points. But they also have some really useless positions themselves and I agree with some of the criticism that these two leftist sites receive from right wingers.
    The trick is to listen to all of these people enough to be able to agree with them and disagree with them at different points.
    An example of this would be, that while I can agree with the left in much of their criticism of the mainstream and Trump supporting right, they lose me when they start wanting to de-platform and come out in support of groups like Antifa. The guys from The Majority Report even discussed whether it was ethical “to punch fascists” and both of them decided it was. They laughed while watching the video of Richard Spencer getting punched for example.
    The problem is though, that they don’t define who or what a fascist is these days.
    It can be anyone a leftist doesn’t like the look of.

    And while “TYT” regularly feature all the usual lefty stuff – like racist police videos, or some racist incident in a McDonald’s somewhere, Dave Rubin will actually have some interesting guests on and have a decent conversation with them for an hour. Both sides have their positive points and their negative ones.
    But it seems that no one is into nuance these days. I think the left are worse than the right for that.

    I think that if you want to get to the bottom of some of this cultural divide, you have to watch both sides quite closely.
    Of these YouTubers, I think I like Joe Rogan the best – and he’s the least political of them all.
    As he’s not overly biased one way or the other, and is more of a regular person who can see both sides.
    He’s also been criticised by some on the left for talking to the “wrong” people.

  6. Esther Klein Buddenhagen

    In response to Damon: I read Vox fairly regularly and have never found it to be extreme, certainly nowhere in the league of Fox and other declared right wing sites. I did not read what Carlos Maza said on Vox, but I did follow the link to his tweets. They were on his personal ID and reflected openly his own opinions.

    • damon

      Esther Klein Buddenhagen: I will admit to not being a regular Vox reader, so I’m not completely sure about all of this. However, Carlos Maza, who seems like a really top person at Vox, has on his twitter byline the statement: “Tucker Carlson is a white supremacist” – which is such a strongly partisan thing to be saying so publicly.
      The fact that he feels he can be so brazen, must be because he feels it’s OK to say such things in the environment he lives and works in.
      He’s also come out and said this: “Milkshake them all. Humiliate them at every turn. Make them dread public organizing.”

      I think this guy Tim Pool uncovers some of this bias in the new click-baiting media. Companies like Vox started to pump out stories that attracted an audience. It’s one of the ways that Black Lives Matter became such a phenomenon.
      Tim Pool says he’s liberal, but seems to criticise the left in most of his videos – and he gets called out for that.
      It’s said that he too went looking for the easy way to make money and build a following.
      But I think he might be right here in what he says about how the new media drove this dreadful “woke leftism” that we have to deal with today.

  7. damon

    I did say I might change my mind if I learned about new information.
    And I looked at a lot of new stuff last night. Including video footage of Kharey Wise‘s interrogation.
    Also I heard that he might have not even been involved in any of the violence, but went to the park, saw what was happening, and quickly left. If this was true then of course I would feel that his conviction was a huge injustice.
    Also, it’s clear from the video of his interrogation/interview that he was a vulnerable kid.

    There’s also (what looks like) a really good analysis of this case by a black conservative woman YouTuber – an ex-cop, who is going over the whole case thoroughly. If the boys were innocent of the attack on the jogger then fair enough. One of my issues though was that the attacks on other people in the park that evening were almost as serious. But not all of the kids were involved in those nasty attacks either.
    And they were so young. Their age is also something that I would feel they deserved some leniency over.

    This is the video, and it looks like she’s doing a pretty sold job on it. I think I trust her integrity.

  8. damon

    I’m seeing reviews of the show starting to appear on YouTube. Groups of black Americans sitting around and watching it together and then talking about it.
    So it looks like the TV representation is going to be the de facto history of what happened in the case and I can only hope it’s accurate. I’ve only seen a couple of minutes of the trailer. Are any of the other victims even mentioned? John Loughlin for example, who was said by a policeman to have looked like he’d been “dipped in a bucket of blood”. Does the show even present these other attacks? Or is it thought that if there was no DNA evidence and no positive identifications of exactly who did it, then no one is guilty for those attacks?
    https://www.upi.com/Archives/1990/10/24/Defense-lawyer-ridicules-Central-Park-assault-victim/9978656740800/

    I saw a black guy from Memphis on YouTube talking about the rioting there the other night after the police killed a young black man while trying to arrest him there. He was describing what was happening while showing some video footage. And I noticed he used the term “Wilding”. So it’s still a term that is in use.

    Just lastly, on issues of injustice. The Central Park Five are now getting their exonerations and massive public support. Which is fair enough. But there are plenty of smaller injustices passing under the radar, and if they are not fitting the template of who’s considered a victim or which people are worthy of any sympathy, then they just aren’t going to get any attention at all. I can not imagine any of the Guardian BME opinion writers even bothering to worry that perhaps there’s a bit of injustice going on in this case. And by the way (apparently) if you even mention his name on Facebook, it can go down as a “strike” against you for showing support for a “hate figure”.

    The guy is called John Kinsman, and was one of “The Proud Boys” who went to an event at a club in Manhattan last year to attend a social and comedy night. The guy is married to a black woman and has mixed race kids – and people in his group are from all races – but people on the left keep insisting that they are “Nazis” and turn up to physically attack them wherever they go. Which is exactly what happened in October last year.
    The group called Antifa were waiting outside the club all evening, and when it finished they went in to attack people from the Proud Boys. Violence took place and John Kinsman and some others were arrested and charged.
    The left then started showing video footage of people defending themselves in the street and shrieking about how violent these “Nazis” were – which if you think about it for about five seconds, is absolutely a nonsense.
    They’re obviously not “Nazis” if they are a racially mixed group of people and some have BME spouses.
    And they wouldn’t have been fighting anyone if people hadn’t been stalking them all evening and then came in to attack them.
    But anyway, here is just an awful, dreadful Vox News take on this man and the situation he’s in.
    And remember, don’t talk about this on Facebook, or you might get banned off it.
    There’s an injustice going on here, but I don’t think anyone cares, as his face doesn’t fit the sympathy profile.
    https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/10/31/18049980/john-kinsman-beard-hair-court-makeover-proud-boys

  9. Robert Hunter

    Thanks for an insightful article and a prompt to watch When They See Us. I was reminded too of the much earlier case of the Scottsboro Boys, nine young men falsely arraigned for rape in 1931. I’m reading a book which documents the campaign around their case – From Scottboro to Munich: Race and Political Culture in 1930s Britain, by Susan D Pennybacker – and it also examines the cultural perceptions and misperceptions around race, class and political affiliation. Worth a look if you haven’t already come across it.

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