Last night’s on CBS‘ 60 Minutes, viewers got to see an encore broadcast of an embarrassingly sycophantic tribute to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Glenn Greenwald takes it apart at Salon.com, explaining how CBS regaled viewers with “news” about “the heart of the man with a world of worry,” and documented—through dogged investigative work—how Panetta “stays in touch with his humanity.”
This was no isolated incident; hero worship is a endemic feature of corporate media. Consider the current issue of Newsweek, where one can find another embarrassing tribute to a supposedly tough talking leader. This time it’s New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly.
What’s writer Christopher Dickey‘s angle? Look no further than the subhead:
The New York City Police Commissioner is beating the enemy—if only the feds don’t get in his way
Kelly is the “pugnacious police commissioner” who “looks bulldog-tough even in bespoke suits.” And consider his terror-fighting skills:
Since he took over as police commissioner in the aftermath of 9/11, Kelly’s most critical mission has been to thwart all terrorist threats against the city, and he’s aimed to do that, in some cases, even before a plot is entirely clear to the plotters themselves.
That’s right—he’s busting plots that even the plotters themselves don’t know they’re plotting.
At the moment, there are two major scandals involving the NYPD under Kelly’s leadership: Surveillance of local Muslim communities and the pervasive harassment—primarily of young men of color—associated with the department’s “stop and frisk” policies. It would be helpful, then, if a major news outlet were to come out and defend Kelly’s honor.
Dickey—the magazine’s Paris bureau chief and Mideast editor—does an able job standing up to civil libertarians and the New York Times:
Kelly’s “intelligence-led” and “pro-active” policing has observed the spirit of the law but pushed its limits, provoking outrage from civil libertarians. He has been idolized by the New York tabloids for keeping the city safe, and excoriated by the New York Times for abusing his authority. A federal court recently opened the way for a class-action suit to curtail the cops’ hundreds of thousands of “stop and frisk” encounters with young men, mostly blacks and Hispanics. “We are doing everything we reasonably can under the law to protect the city,” says Kelly, emphasizing “under the law.” Critics say the policy drives a wedge between police and the community; the police claim it keeps guns off the streets in a city where 96 percent of shooting victims are black or Hispanic. By the cops’ count, their searches turn up 8,000 knives and other weapons every year, including about 600 to 700 handguns. (They note that since 2006, a majority of the police force has been made up of minorities.)
That all might as well be lifted from an NYPD press release.
Those challenging stop and frisk are not doing so because they believe the policy follows “the spirit of the law but pushed its limits.” They believe it to be illegal. The Center for Constitution Rights, which is representing the plaintiffs, explained that the lawsuit
challenges stop-and-frisk as a violation of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits racially discriminatory policing, as well as a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Lawyers working on the case could have explained this—as could any of the many activist groups that have challenged stop and frisk for years. But Newsweek couldn’t be bothered. Instead, the magazine gives readers NYPD-supplied numbers on the guns and knives confiscated thanks to stop and frisk. What they don’t tell you is that those weapons were recovered thanks to hundreds of thousands of arguably illegal searches (over 600,000 in 2011), and that this represents a tiny percentage of the estimated number of illegal guns in the city. But that’s the kind of context an actual news report would give you.
Dickey credits Kelly with New York’s overall safety—and manages to zing the Times and the city of Philadelphia:
Beyond terrorism, New Yorkers are safer today than anyone might have thought possible 20 years ago. The homicide rate—the most reliable indicator of conventional violent crime—is a small fraction of what it was in 1990, when 2,245 people were killed in New York City. The homicide rate is also substantially lower now than it was when Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Kelly took over from Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s “zero tolerance” regime in 2002. New York’s homicide rate last year was 6.1 per 100,000 inhabitants. Philadelphia, highly praised by the New York Times for giving up its stop-and-frisk policy, had a rate more than three times higher, at 20.7 per 100,000.
So if you prefer your police force to respect citizens’ constitutional rights, you move to Philadelphia—where you’re more likely to be killed. (The very same argument was made by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in response to a Times editorial about stop and frisk.)
Philadelphia settled a lawsuit and modified its stop-and-frisk policy in the middle of last year. There is no possible way to argue that this change would account for the city’s high homicide rate—a problem in the city that predates stop and frisk.
Dickey also vouches for Kelly’s surveillance of New York-area Muslims:
Just before the anniversary of the atrocity last year, the Associated Press launched a lengthy series of stories that took a critical look at Kelly’s policing, detailing the surveillance and undercover work in Muslim communities, the cozy relationship with the CIA and the troubled NYPD–FBI relations. The series won a Pulitzer Prize—and NYPD supporters have been rebutting its details ever since. What Kelly resents in particular is the implication, never proven in print, that he’d gone beyond the very carefully lawyered legal constraints on police activities. And, as he sees it: “These questions would not surface—and did not surface—in 2002.”
So “NYPD supporters have been rebutting” the “details” of the Associated Press‘ remarkable investigation of the department. That implies that they’ve documented some problems in the story. But Dickey doesn’t explain what they might be—he only hands the argument back to Kelly, who “resents in particular” the idea that his surveillance program might be illegal. Note to Dickey: Hurt feelings are not a legal argument.
Kelly impresses in other ways too:
Displaying little interest in money, Kelly lives with his wife, Veronica, in a comfortable but modest two-bedroom apartment in Battery Park.
Despite having “little interest in money,” Kelly took a $450,000 security job at Bear Stearns during his time away from law enforcement.
The piece closes by noting that Kelly seems to resemble one of his idols: Teddy Roosevelt, who was once commissioner of the New York City police department. If Kelly really is interested in a political career, we can be sure that at least one reporter will be cheering him on.