Open Letter To Lawrence O'Donnell

Dear Lawrence O'Donnell,

I have been a regular watcher of the last word with Lawrence O'Donnell since it first came on the air. I have found your unapologetically left wing views on any number of subjects refreshing and insightful. But after the show on Monday March 26, I feel like I will be unable to watch in the future. For me, you have damaged your credibility and lost the moral high ground that you once possessed as a result of taking principled positions on issues based on facts and passionate advocacy.

I recognize that the Last Word is more an opinion show than a news program, but that doesn't alleviate your responsibility either to get the facts right or to be respectful of areas where the facts are not known. Your treatment of a lawyer engaged in representing his client, making personal attacks and challenges to his character for presenting his client's version of events, and of a journalist who reported a story you did not like, by misrepresenting her story as presenting as fact what were clearly flagged as reports from a law enforcement source in the story, were unprofessional and tacky. You should be ashamed of yourself.

I have followed the Trayvon Martin case closely since it first came to my attention a couple of weeks ago, and I am very dismayed by much about the case. I'm saddened that a young man can be viewed as suspicious and killed because of his race and attire. I find the application of Florida's stand your ground gun law horrific. My heart breaks for Mr. Martin's parents and I am furious at the apparent ineptitude of the Sanford Police department to conduct a reasonable and professional investigation of the shooting culminating with the arrest and charging of George Zimmerman. And I am sincerely disturbed that the issue has been drawn into yet another left/right crypto-racist condemnation of the President and liberalism by the despicable likes of Newt Gingrich and the right wing press.

That said, I am also disappointed in the way much of the left-wing press has been dealing with the issue. It is one thing to critique police ineptitude, to decry racism, and to demand justice and a full investigation. It is another to whip up fury in the court of public opinion where all the facts are not known and can never be fully and impartially evaluated as justice requires. Misinformation and mob justice are a serious threat to a free and open society on a similar level to the racism and corruption demonstrated in the Trayvon Martin case. That is a particular ill that media are in a unique position to both combat and to spread. You as a man with a louder voice than most of us have to make a choice about whether to use that volume responsibly. You have lately chosen to go the wrong way, and are fanning the flames of popular anger rather than trying to present us all the information we need to make our own choices and challenging those who draw conclusions about the situation that are not justifiied by the facts as we currently know them. As a media organization and press outlet that is aligned closely with my own views, I hold you to the higher standard of getting it right and presenting nuance where it is warranted. You did not do that last night. Instead, you chose to spread misinformation about a news report, mistating the facts and smearing the name of a reporter who appears to be doing her job well, drawing conclusions about the relative merit of third hand reports of what George Zimmerman told police where the facts remain unknown, and making personal attacks against people you disagree with, calling Zimmerman's lawyer a coward and a liar for refusing to sit through the list of inane questions you then put to his empty chair, and the sort of browbeating interview tactics that repugnant media personalities like Bill O'Reilly pioneered as you repeatedly cut off Rene Stutzman rather than allow her to point out that she had done in her article precisely what you were shouting at her for not doing. I expect better of MSNBC, and tonight you let me down.

Even if you were to issue a correction and an apology, I doubt I would be able to take seriously your program in future. However, a correction and apology are what are due for your tacky behavior and representation of your interpretations of uncertain facts as the only possibly correct one. You should also apologize for seeking further self-aggrandizement by play acting your righteous indignation in front of a friendly audience of your own choosing who were nevertheless clearly uncomfortable with your childish, unprofessional behavior.

Finally, as the son of a well respected and honorable lawyer who is well regarded for his civil rights work, you should know that it is for a jury to decide the truth of George Zimmerman's story, not a cable news pundit. That right to be judged by a jury of ones peers is a sacred guarantee preserved in our system of justice from time immemorial. If you, Mr. O'Donnell, have no respect for that, then you are not the principled man that I thought you were.

Yours sincerely,
JF Quackenbush