Rittenhouse was no hero. But the failure of the media helps explain why so many people expected him to be convicted.
Set aside the legal questions, as resolved by the court case, that remain troubling. There are also the moral ones that arise when someone brings a gun to a protest, however violent it may have become, on their own self-deemed authority alone to control it or subdue it or to put it down, however that might be done, even violently, too, if the person so self-authorized deems it right. Such an act is inevitably provocative and is meant to be provocative. It also strikes me as one definition of vigilantism.
Rittenhouse has been deemed not guilty by a jury in a trial. Singal asserts that it is a just verdict in a legal sense, even though some of the laws upon which the argument depends themselves are not clearly good laws, at least from some legal perspectives. But Rittenhouse, by intervening as he did, by his own choices and acts, has killed two men and wounded another. There is no way in the world, in a moral or ethical sense, he is innocent of those deaths and the consequent suffering he caused others. This is not an instance of an otherwise innocent person confronted by something dreadful in which he has to respond, though no moral fault of his own, in a dreadful way. (The problem is that to a just man even such a just act might be troubling; that is the considerable matter of some tragedies.)
It simply will not suffice to consider these terrible events, all of them, not just Rittenhouse's part in it, from a legal point of view alone. In fact, the moral questions might be the far more important ones to confront, especially since, in many ways, legal systems, even the best of them, are so often flawed, as surely this trial demonstrates from numerous points of view.
I am not suggesting I have a clear answer, merely that I think the questions posed are far more complex that seem to be acknowledged in Singal's essay. Many heinous things happened the night Rittenhouse killed two men and seriously wounded another. His acts are among them.
(By the way, some of the comments below I find appalling, for precisely the self-righteousness and -certainty they are decrying in the left wing press. It may be often flawed, but compared to the deliberate, malicious, neofascist power-grabbing lying on the part of the right it is relatively trivial. I say this even though I have a great disliking for post-modernism and all its various sins and the conformity, so often enforced, of the left's responses to language and culture.)
"partisan news coverage and punditry on the left is becoming a serious problem in its own right." My goodness, partisan left-wing news BECOMING a problem??? Who knew, as if Russian collusion, Steele dossier, Jussie Smollett, Covington Catholic, UVA Phi Kappa Psi fraternity rape scandal, et al, never happened.
Appreciate the article and what it lays out…
As to George Floyd, it was a horrible incident that never should have happened, but it did.
And, yet, other than the fact that it was a white officer and Floyd was black, there is ZERO - ZERO - evidence that Floyd’s death was racially motivated…PERIOD!
Again, a horrible situation that never should have happened and Derek Chavin is paying a heavy price, but Floyd’s death was an excuse - not racism…
Singal and the jury have it right.
The moment he fired his rifle, he was not legally guilty of murder because he shot in self-defense.
The moment he decided to go into a town hoisting an automatic rifle, let alone into a town where rioting as breaking out at night, he was morally guilty of needlessly and dangerously provoking others.
He was mentally and biological a juvenile. His actions should be judged through that lens. Also, in the coming weeks and months, the amount of credence given to his opinions about politics, gun rights, etc., should be in alignment with his mental and biological age. The adults in KR's life should encourage him to keep his head down, fade out of the public eye, and move forward in his life, but I doubt the media will allow it.
I've read so many references to Jesse Singal and praise of your reporting, it's been a bright spot in all this dark mess. Keep up the good work.
Great piece of writing, appreciate summation and facts and compelling analysis.
"An astonishingly misleading description" is a lot of syllables to say "a lie."
Thanks for this Jessie. I have to admit I've been taken in by the line about him coming from another state. Technically true but misleading, and all too easy to fail to investigate if one doesn't maintain an objective journalistic mindset.
Not that it wasn't a problem before, but I think the bias we're seeing today really got a boost as a misguided remedy to Trump. Journalists were having to deal with a president who couldn't be shamed into being honest and was getting too much of an unfiltered assist in the regurgitation of his propaganda. In reality the problem was mostly due to headlines (normally controlled by the editors) repeating Trump's claims and leaving it to the article text to evaluate them. In a world with so much "news" that many people simply headline-skim this was a valid concern - one correctly counteracted, for example, by using terms like "falsely claims" instead of just "claims".
Unfortunately, this also gave an opening for woke journalists, ever frustrated with people's unwillingness to accept their expansive definitions of words like "racism" and "white supremacy" as definitive, to promote the idea of writing with "moral clarity" and to use controversial terms with objective certainty. This alarmed me from the start, and it set us up badly for the summer of 2020, when white guilt would have its way with the minds of many Americans - and not just progressives.
We need new, large media institutions with true journalistic values.
So Vox, Slate, and the Intercept got it (mostly) wrong, while the New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker got it (mostly) right? That's a fair criticism, but falls a bit short of what should convince conservatives that because "the media" (misleadingly construed as singular) weren't "treating this case fairly", conservatives "would have to turn to alternative news sources."
The invocation of white supremacy is not off the mark. Yes, the people Rittenhouse shot were white; and no, there's no evidence that Rittenhouse had ex ante connections to white supremacists. But the civil disturbance into which Rittenhouse injected himself was an explosion of anger over racial injustice. Rittenhouse raised $2 million for bail from "supporters", and enjoyed the kind of high-end legal defense that could impanel a couple of mock juries to field test whether or not he should testify in his trial. Not everyone gets that kind of support, and the notion that race had absolutely nothing to do with getting it seems fanciful. Just imagine the fate of a 17-year-old Black kid who goes, toting an AR-15, not to protect the Kenosha Jiffy Lube, but to protect the seat of our nation's government, on January 6, and kills a few people in the process. It is not delusional to see racial disparities in the likely outcome.
Looking at the videos, I am struck by how young Rittenhouse looks. He's 17, but looks more like 15. A kid. "I'm an EMT," he says, falsely, running around with his AR-15. The impression is less one of malice than of a young boy enthralled with being a hero, a firefighter, a crimefighter -- the kind of games that engage boys before puberty, when thoughts turn to other games.
Mr. Rittenhouse is discovering the joys and challenges of becoming a national Rorschach test. Some will see a civic-minded, heroic young man, bravely volunteering to help his community before being set upon by thugs. Others will see somebody who went, armed with a lethal weapon, looking to stir up trouble, and succeeded. Rather than look at the blot on the paper, we would be better served by looking in the mirror and asking what kind of society lets a child arm himself with a high-powered weapon and drive to a riot, unsupervised, to be helpful. And what it means when, after the wholly foreseeable ensuing tragedy, that child is lionized.
I can’t argue against any of this, but….Kyle Rittenhouse was an immature kid who did a breathtakingly stupid and reckless thing. He shouldn’t have been in Kenosha at all. But because he was, 3 people were shot, 2 of them fatally. Two people are dead because he decided to go to Kenosha. And now the right is publishing images of him as Captain America. I hope that someday, this immature, stupid, reckless kid realizes the magnitude of what he did and its consequences. Really realizes it, down to his bones, his guts, and his soul, and asks the forgiveness of God and of the people who died solely because he was stupid and reckless.
I will also say, though, despite the biased initial reporting, I think what we've seen in mainstream media during the trial has been much more sober. I at least was prepared for this verdict. Last year was a cornucopia of insanity - we can only hope this gives us some perspective and some lessons are learned. Sadly though, I fear the lessons media takes from this will be the wrong ones.
Righty sources "tended to portray Rittenhouse as some sort of bona fide American hero"?
Name one, remotely as influential on Righties, as Presley, let alone AOC, are on Lefties.
Indeed, name one major MSM source which didn't tee off on Kyle.
And, how often, in recent years, have any major MSM sources failed to demonize any possibly pro-Trump white?
Was it a surprise? The impression I got all along, from a variety of sources, was that it was a 50/50 proposition, especially after that one witness.
The good thing is that the justice system works and rule of law functions in the time of tribalism, populism and nationalism
Calling this a moral problem is ok as far as it goes. But it's really an unprecedented political problem. Forty-five or more states allow open-carry, most of them without any restrictions. Given that even the least restrictive gun control proposals - like background checks - fail, there is little chance a movement to ban open-carry would succeed. The country has crossed the Rubicon. Former fringe militias and supremasts have been legitimized. The BLM is spontaneous and its organizers young, inexperienced and obviously untrained in how spot provocateurs and outliers who could make trouble. The violence after peaceful rallies was a disservice to the cause. This is not the innocent '6Os. The political situation in which a President calls torch-bearing anti-semites 'good people' and armed militias show up to intimidate is unprecedented and demands a more sophisticated approach from the left-of-center The jury came to a verdict looking through the 'fog of war' as if hand to hand combat at an anti-police abuse rally were normal. That's deep. Maybe everyone will take a break to think things over in contest of American progress, but there will be worse "Kenoshas" before today's political passions recede.