Before Jim Bouton wrote Ball Four, he was a major league pitcher. He wrote about “inside baseball” because he had been inside baseball. He had the goods.
MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell tried to do the same thing with criminal defense lawyers. But he was never a major league pitcher. He’s been ripped to shreds already for some of the ignorance he’s spread, in excruciating detail, so no need to go over that turf again. Rather, he raises the concern about another incredibly important television personality telling the masses “the truth” as if he knew it.
In one sense, O’Donnell isn’t to blame for what he did. He didn’t claim to be a criminal defense lawyer, knowledgeable in the ways we think, act and work. He is what he purports to be, a talking head on a third-rate cable channel watched by insomniacs and people wearing elaborate hats made of tin foil. But then, these tend to be the types of folks who are most easily misled, most impressionable, as they lack the radar that enables them to distinguish reality from the O’Donnells of the tube. These are the people seeking confirmation bias, validation of their wildest imaginings, and if some guy on TV says so, then so it must be. Proof that they were right all along!
Let’s get the obvious point out of the way. Does Lawrence O’Donnell have a First Amendment right to take to the airwaves and spew nonsense? Yes. Yes, he does. No question about it, he has the right to express his opinions, no matter how wrong they may be.
But in another sense, the sheer irresponsibility of presenting an outsider’s view as if it contained some insider’s truth is fundamentally wrong. If O’Donnell wants to tell people that this is what he thinks, fine. Then he’s just another clueless person expressing a clueless opinion. Fair enough.
He does something different here, something false. He tells the story as if he is an insider, entitled to the opinion he expresses. It’s not that he should be imprisoned for his crime against intelligence and honesty, but he deserves to be skewered for his deception.
A recurring argument in the comments here is whether the old adage, every person is entitled to an opinion, holds true. It doesn’t. While they may be allowed to have one, simply because no one can stop them, they aren’t entitled unless there exists a basis for the opinion. One can’t make up facts, or ignore facts, to justify one’s views and then demand the rest of the world respect one’s opinion.
O’Donnell violated this basic concept, but holding himself out as a person with inside baseball knowledge that, well, he just doesn’t possess. Maybe he has a buddy who is, or was, a criminal defense lawyer. Maybe he knows a prosecutor or two who, in O’Donnell’s mind, are close enough to baseball to explain what the other team has in its head. Maybe.
As O’Donnell’s tripe doesn’t comport with what I think, what two PDs think, what any criminal defense lawyer I’ve ever spoken with thinks, I’m calling him on his claim. It’s not that one person didn’t say it, as there can always be a self-loathing outlier somewhere who talks smack about his own kind, but this doesn’t reflect the views of criminal defense lawyers.
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a criminal defense lawyer anywhere who would explain that the only reason a defendant doesn’t testify is because he’s guilty. That’s just crazy. I mean, totally batshit nuts. It’s simply not true.
And yet anyone watching O’Donnell will leave the couch thinking they now know the magic secret of the inside world of criminal defense, and carry that stupidity with them as they speak with friends, teach their children and, pathetically, sit on a jury.
It would be one thing for O’Donnell to hold a foolish opinion if it was just something he trotted out at the occasional cocktail party, but when a guy has a television soapbox, with its inherent credibility as an entertainer paid to fill in the voids between commercials, he can do some serious damage. And no doubt he did.