When he first appeared on my radar, I thought he was kinda shallow, maybe even dense. I was wrong. There was method to his madness, his pandering to the crowd with half-truths, missing salient facts, contorted law and misstated theories.
In fairness, I came to appreciate the skills Director of Policy Scott Hechinger from LIsa Schreibersdorf’s Brooklyn Defender Services brought to the cause. He’s now got a blue tick next to his name and, at the moment, more than 55,000 followers. Give him credit. He’s pulled off a coup for the cause, and with it he’s earned the devotion and appreciation of a great many passionate advocates for social justice and criminal law reform.
My perspective over my career and my tenure at SJ has been guided by two basic principles: to be as intellectually honest as I can be, and to not make people stupider. These are not Hechinger’s principles. He will say whatever is necessary to whip up his audience and inflame their outrage if it will serve the cause. So what if it’s only half a story? If it works to serve what he believes to be the greater good, then isn’t a bit of lying worth it? Isn’t the cause greater than the truth? Isn’t the cause the truth anyway, if you’re passionate enough?
And he’s made it work, far better than I have. For this, I concede the point that his methods are effective. In many ways, his goals are the same as mine, so I’ve largely kept my yap shut and restrained myself from the impulse of pointing out the dubious aspects of his efforts. We may approach similar ends using very different means, but it served no purpose to undermine his efforts, especially since they worked exceptionally well.
But now he’s starting a bootcamp. It’s got a brilliant domain, https://zealo.us/. It’s meant only for public defenders, meaning not nasty private criminal defense lawyers. And it’s meant to teach others to do as Hechinger does, spread the gospel.
In September, up to 45 defenders from around the country will convene to learn to leverage traditional and social media, technology, storytelling, language, policy advocacy, collaboration, and campaigns to drive transformative change.
Is it “fake news” just because it’s lies, or at least not quite truth? If this works, meaning that these skills can be taught so that the credible crowd of criminal law voices expands and spreads its gospel to the groundlings who seek reasons to be outraged and demand “transformative change,” they may well make it happen. What that “it” may be remains somewhat elusive.
A few years ago, before Trump, there wasn’t much general interest in crim law issues, and certainly not much knowledge. Now there’s far more interest, and beliefs based on the half-truths artfully spread to appeal to the outrage-seekers, and still not much knowledge. After this boot camp, there may be another 45 voices artfully working the woke into a frenzy. There still won’t be much knowledge, because this isn’t about intellectual honesty or not making people stupider. This is about cranking out support for the cause, no matter what it takes.
As I’m often informed by lawyers much younger and more passionate, my relevance is on the wane. My principles are what’s held back Utopia. What’s with this slavish adherence to facts and logic when a few twists and slips here and there can get the useful idiots worked into a fit? Only an out-of-touch liberal doesn’t grasp that it’s all about the ends, not the means. If the ends are righteous, then the means don’t matter.
Now there’s a boot camp for public defenders to learn how to spread the gospel under the guise of being credible voices for criminal law. I hope they’re right about their ends, even though I don’t think they are, because they’re going to have a far greater impact than a slave to facts and logic. Of course, integrity lost can’t be easily regained.
But maybe they just don’t care and I’m completely wrong about being principled? Maybe the days of old criminal defense lawyers is over and I need to shut up and let the young turks like Hechinger take over. Maybe the days of integrity must yield to the cause. But that’s not me.