Can Tina Brown Make Reform Sexy?

The opening to her post is cute, in the sense that she plays the internets’ bi-polar self-loathing for listicles:

Do you like lists? Of course you do! It’s the Internet! So try this one:

1. Koch Brothers

2. National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

3. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)

4. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

5. George Soros

6. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)

7. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)

8. Newt Gingrich

9. American Civil Liberties Union

10. Grover Norquist

Apart from a passionate certainty that either liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans (pick one) are a danger to the republic, what does this motley crew have in common?

Here’s what: They all agree that America’s practice of mass incarceration—unique in the world—is at worst a moral and practical failure or at best an outdated policy badly in need of adjustment.

Her point, that the failure of mass incarceration has begun to transcend politics, is well made.  But hey, this is Tina Brown, and who better to use cute effectively. After reading the well-worn stats, and then a laundry list of familiar anecdotes, she gets to her point.

Tina Brown Live Media is co-hosting The American Justice Summit on Monday, November 10, from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, with John Jay College President Jeremy Travis, author Piper Kerman, activist Harry Belafonte, The New Yorker legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson, head of private banking and new markets for Credit Suisse Pamela Thomas Graham, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, and The Marshall Project President Neil Barsky.

And if you think that’s impressive, just wait until you see the full agenda.  Rather than reprint it here, take a moment to skim through it. There will be a quiz at the end.

Pop Quiz:  After sifting through all the big name celebrities, grand poobahs of various organizations dedicated to good causes, Norman Seabrook, NYC corrections union apologist, Pamela Thomas-Graham, Chief Marketing and Talent Officer for Credit Suisse (because they paid good money to get her in there), plus the usual suspects from The Marshall Project which has yet to accomplish anything anywhere for anyone but exists to save us because they’re important, who do you not see on the program?

Answer: Anybody with a clue.

Well, my hyperbole isn’t entirely accurate. Jeremy Travis was once a legal aid lawyer before he became a flak for the cops, and Bryan Stevenson has street cred.  But how cool is it that Harry Belafonte will be singing love songs to Grover Norquist?

I can feel the sting of Radley Balko smacking me hard for doing what he hates, being critical of the glitterati who support a worthy cause.  “Work with them, not against them.”

Yeah, yeah, because they actually want to put in the hard work of comprehending how and why this mess exists from those who toil in the trenches.  Heck, since the people who make the sausage aren’t invited to their dog and pony shows, maybe we can just chat them up at the cocktail parties of the rich and famous.  Oh wait, we’re not invited there either.

This isn’t a problem of grand schemes and impassioned pleas.  It’s a problem of puny, messy details, repeated ten thousand times over every day.  It’s not extraordinary, but ordinary. It’s not flashy and spectacular, but mundane and banal.  It’s happening just down the road apiece at 100 Centre Street.  How many participants in this “summit” ever stood beside some poor schmuck who was just given the option between $500 bail he can’t afford and a quicky guilty plea that will get him home to his kids?

It’s fabulous to see so many very important people, from sides of the table that rarely agree on anything, join hands to oppose mass incarceration.  I can’t wait until they hold an awards show with a red carpet where we can see what designers they wear, and their very own mani-cam.  Maybe Kim Kardashian can be a presenter, if she comes out in support. Or not.

But grand schemes from the very fashionable supporters of this trendy objective will never wallow in the gutter of the legal system, where the actual human beings get led to the slaughter.  Of course, it’s not entirely their fault.  There really isn’t any place to park their limo around the courthouse anyway.  Aside from all that, what a wonderful gala event. I hope everybody had fun, and wonder what they gave away in the swag bags.

H/T Doug Berman

23 thoughts on “Can Tina Brown Make Reform Sexy?

  1. Bill St. Clair

    Until enough people realize that we should not have a “penal” system, designed to punish wrongdoers, but a justice system, designed to make their victims whole, it will keep getting worse. Part of that, of course, is the realization that if there is no live, breathing, human who was harmed, physically or financially, there was no crime. No amount of legislation can validly change that, no matter how big the majority, and any legislator who even proposes to criminalize something that is not a crime is himself a criminal. Unfortunately, the Bill of Rights contains to enforcement clause. Exactly the opposite. Legislators “shall not be questioned in any other place” about their sausage-making process.

  2. glasnost

    This post is, or should be, beneath you. Either you think it is useful to the cause that wealthy people support criminal justice reform, or you do not.

    If you think it is not useful, that is, no offense, foolish. You may have noticed that politicians pay attention to the views of affluent people. You may have noticed that affluence is a form of power. However little of a clue you think they have, they have enough of a clue to agree with you. As long as they feel welcome. If they don’t, they’ll leave.

    If the cause matters to you, than the cause doesn’t have time for resentments about how these people haven’t lived what they believe in. That’s self-sabotage, just like it is when members of a minority reject useful help from people they don’t believe to be authentic, because preserving their sense of identity and affiliation is more important than solving the problems they face, or because of a mistrust heuristic gone haywire.

    People like Tina Brown run into attitudes like this while taking their first tentative steps towards being on your side, and sometimes they turn and run away, immediately, forever. And every movement ever needs fair-weather friends. If you’re waiting for this to succeed on the backs of only the authentic and virtuous, you’ll wait until heck freezes over.

    RB is right.

    1. SHG Post author

      Ironically, Radley decided not to give me a smack here, but rather agreed with me. This isn’t a “cause” for those of us who do it. It’s a “cause” for celebrities, dilettantes and the needlessly passionate. The problem is that they, in their zeal and ignorance, are often more dangerous than anyone else. That’s why this is a problem. And if that’s the plan, then the best thing that can happen is for Tina Brown to turn and run away.

      1. lawrence kaplan

        Radley did not say he agreed with you. He said he “shared some of your concerns.” Some. There is a difference. One can “share some of your concerns,” while still feeling, as I do, that the slash and burn tone of your post is counter-productive.

        1. SHG Post author

          If I’ve misstated Radley’s support, I’m sure he won’t be shy about correcting me. You, on the other hand, don’t get to speak for him. He can speak for himself.

          That aside, I’m deeply saddened that you didn’t care for my counter-productive slash and burn tone. But I’ll get over it.

          1. lawrence kaplan

            I did not “speak for Radley.” I just quoted what he said and noted that it was not what you said he said.

            1. SHG Post author

              Sigh. Have you ever discussed your toilet training with a qualified therapist? Your compulsive need to reply, repeat yourself and add nothing is unilluminating.

  3. John Barleycorn

    WTF esteemed one, you failed us! You should have posted this event up a few weeks ago. I bet they had a bake sale and everything. I am bummed out!

    So what gives, did you wuss out on writing a manifesto specific to the “cause” or just didn’t feel like hawking it in the lobby?

    I want to hear the bootleg of Grover talking about reorganizing the America’s prison system.

    I bet that was an awesome set! Did he do an encore?

    Bill Bratton was there too. I say! I am really bummed out. I would have been able to get rid of all of his action figures from the LAPD days that didn’t sell very well ten years ago. Now that he is the Main Man in Blue for the NYPD and the holidays are right around the corner they would have gone like nostalgic hot cakes for a premium with that crowd.

    You should really have a side bar calendar for educational summits like this.

    P.S. You really have to tell your booking agent that just because they can’t promise that your lox will be brined in imported salt doesn’t mean you won’t show. You could have even got one more use out of that tan suit before the moths eat it this winter. Loosen up and live a little man!

    1. SHG Post author

      Sorry that I didn’t give you the heads up. I didn’t know either. Then again, they didn’t invite me, so there ya go. But lest you feel left out, here’s a video of the whole magillah.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Cool! I am gonna download this to my phone, put on the headphones so as not to scare the chickens, and go chop a few chords out in the woodshed while I hum along. You are the best, I knew you would have the whole show. From the sound board even. You the MAN!

  4. Scott Henson

    glasnost nailed it. If you don’t agree with what they’re doing, show us how it’s done. Lead, follow or get out of the way. Whining on the internet that you’re never invited to the cool kids’ parties wastes everybody’s time.

    I find a lot of lawyers don’t really want the system fixed; they make more money when it’s broken.

    1. SHG Post author

      Well, you know how much us lawyers love to whine on the internet, when we’re not busy conspiring to keep the system broken so we can become fabulously wealth.

      By the way, as I recall, didn’t your last comment persist in the claim that I delete negative comments and only post comments that give me tummy rubs? Yet, there’s glasnost’s comment, for you to applaud. That’s why you can’t have nice things, Grits.

  5. Jesse

    Maybe this particular group of dilettantes isn’t the one to actually get much done, but as much as you know and deal with the ins and outs of the everyday tragedies people suffer because of the system—-how much can we expect people like you to actually work to change it Scott? It’s not going to get done from the trenches; government policy isn’t going get changed during a sidebar. The issue needs people with the time, money, and influence to actually cause changes in public opinion, and following that, legislators and their legislation. I’m assuming you’re not exactly storming the capitol with a number of your clients in tow to meet with the politicians and lobby on behalf of your position, and I wouldn’t expect you to have the time to do that anyway.

    1. SHG Post author

      Nope, no storming the capital for me, except by words here. That said, the problem with dilettantes is that they lack a realistic grasp of the problems, causes and effects, and thus their proposed solutions fail to solve much of anything, and often cause disastrous unintended consequences. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

      The alternative is the combination of the glitterati for their star power with the people who know what really happens in the trenches (such as Bryan Stevenson). The former do the dog and pony show for the politicians, while the latter do the nuts and bolts for actual solutions to actual problems.

      1. lawrence kaplan

        In your last paragraph of your reply to Jesse, you finally have set out a positive and constructive approach. Bravo. What a shame that you did not set it out in the original post. I think this is what troubled some of the commenters.

        1. SHG Post author

          Lawrence, I’m going to explain this as clearly as possible, but only this one time. I hope you will understand it and internalize it. First, I write my thoughts, not things that are intended to please you or anyone else. I fully anticipate people will disagree with me, and that’s fine. But pleasing you, or anyone else, will never be my purpose.

          Second, SJ is, for me, an ongoing discussion. I don’t like to repeat myself, and I see no purpose in reiterating in every post every idea I’ve ever had on any particular subject. What I wrote in response to Jesse has been stated here before. You didn’t know? So what? I don’t have to repeat myself every time some new wonker shows up, unfamiliar with what I’ve had to say previously, because it clarifies things for them. If you care, read my old stuff. If not, fine. But under no circumstances am I obliged to restate what I’ve already written to soothe your sensibilities.

          Third, there is no shortage of happy commentary on the internet. I tend to write about things that I think require critical scrutiny. If you want uplifting posts, go to the Happysphere. If you choose (and no one makes you read SJ) to read my posts, then understand that they tend to be critical, and tend to be brutally clear. That’s how I do it. If that offends you, go elsewhere. But do not expect or demand that I fulfill your desire for a more “positive and constructive” approach. You will be very disappointed. My approach will be whatever I damn well decide it will be. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to read it. But that fact that it displeases you (or anyone else) means absolutely nothing to me.

          1. Fubar

            My approach will be whatever I damn well decide it will be. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to read it.

            Don’t be so modest, especially when disclosing an interrogation technique that will revolutionize police procedure. You didn’t even have to beat this confession out of me. The mere suggestion of Harry Belafonte singing love songs to Grover Norquist was more than enough:

            I’ll ‘fess up, in case you would rather
            Have proof now with no need to gather
            Full documentation
            For substantiation:
            I don’t read your posts. I just blather.

            1. SHG Post author

              I can’t tell you how much I hoped someone would appreciate the image of Harry Belafonte singing love songs to Grover Norquist. So far, it looks like you, Judge Kopf and I.

            2. lawrence kaplan

              Fubar: I, not surprisingly, take away from this thread a somewhat different lesson than that set forth in your rather obsequious limerick.

              The moral from this that I gather
              From our host getting himself in a lather
              Is that if you dare disagree
              With our host SHG
              Then by definition your comment must be blather

            3. John Barleycorn


              Speak of the Devil. About time! The esteemed one deleted my feeble efforts to summon you sprit just the other day.

              I missed you.

              I need help to carry out the greatest legal ideological bluff of all time if I have any hope of ever getting an anarchist confirmed to the Supreme Court and I desperately need to shore up the CDL’s.

              There is no other way around it but to go through, under, over, and around the esteemed one simultaneously before he notices.

              Posting opera is off the table, Lawrence is trying to master the Barbarino Song but he can’t dance, William is starting to arise even earlier which is delightful but troubling, Wheez is still AWOL (hopefully he has not sold the Spence Coat to pay for qualified appeal help, if that is needed his way), ExCop-LawStudent hasn’t admitted to spending what’s left over from his pension checks on BBQ after he gets done paying tuition (but there is probably enough left over that it doesn’t even register with him), the usual motely dozen or so, whom I wont mention as not to embarrass them, are consistently intact and getting better guild-ed or not, and there has been an inundation of David and Dave characters that I cant figure out yet.

              Other than that, more than a few new and old guild-ed ones have appeared and reappeared along with a few new and old rowdy fans wanting to test the surf while departing from a sandy beach of a post, all-the-while with the rocks in full view. Those results have been mixed but as always entertaining and informative.

              So, if you haven’t been reading or taken the time to catch up….
              From the vantage point of the cheap seats the “sincere chops” threshold seems to be flirting with going full on Trinidad to resurrect the limbo while simultaneously threatening to be the first to set foot on the Rosetta Comet.

              Go figure…? But I don’t run the joint (because the esteemed one won’t sell me the URL and go write a book or two) so I really don’t know.


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