Lawrence O’Donnell did a segment on his show about the video making the rounds of Matt Damon talking to a reporter from Reason magazine about teachers. And regardless of how you feel about the argument itself, there’s one statement made by O’Donnell that is 100% wrong. After casually labeling the Reason Foundation as a right wing Republican group he says:
The right-wing attackers of teachers have never even shown the slightest curiosity about the job performance of another group of government workers who have very, very high job security, police officers. And police officers carry guns instead of textbooks. And as we`ve seen in New Orleans after Katrina and in countless other cases around the country, police officers have sometimes used those guns to shoot and kill innocent people.
Now, this is certainly true of most right wing organizations. Conservatives typically defend police brutality and are usually quite opposed to the due process protections in the Bill of Rights for those accused of a crime. But conservative is not synonymous with libertarian, which is what the Reason Foundation is. And while it’s perfectly fair to criticize that organization for the positions they do take, it’s highly dishonest to criticize for positions they don’t take.
In point of fact Reason magazine and the foundation that owns it has a very long track record of investigating illegal actions by police officers and prosecutors. My friend Radley Balko, who recently left Reason to join the Huffington Post, is the single most important investigative journalist on criminal justice issues in the country — and there isn’t a close second. He has spent the last decade doing brilliant investigative work, fully supported by the Reason Foundation, on police brutality, video surveillance of cops, the use of informants to frame suspects, the militarization of law enforcement and much more.
He is, like nearly all libertarians, a staunch opponent of the death penalty and a vocal advocate of the fullest possible application of the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th amendments that protect against police abuse. For crying out loud, the latest issue of Reason is devoted exclusively to criticizing America’s criminal justice system, which it bluntly calls a “national disgrace.” That stuff is only one Google search away.
Balko also makes this important point:
For example, over the last few years, those crazy, right-wing, teacher-hating Fox News personalities John Stossel and Andrew Napalitano have had me on their shows at least a dozens times to talk about police abuse issues. Want to guess how many times MSNBC has invited me on? It’s less than one.
Of course, I’m not the only one who writes about this stuff. Maybe O’Donnell has had other people on. So I did a search of O’Donnell’s archives to see how many times he has addressed police abuses. I found one instance, and even that one had a partisan angle. O’Donnell actually acknowledged on Twitter yesterday that he could only think of a single story about police abuse he has addressed since he started hosting the show. (Though he did write a book several years ago about a police abuse case his father handled as an attorney.) Reason has run dozens of articles, videos, and blog posts over that period…
If O’Donnell really gave damn about police abuse, he’d be looking to forge alliances across partisan and ideological lines to build support for reform. Meaning he’d be reaching out to places like Reason. Instead, in just the second time he has mentioned police abuse in his eight months of hosting a national TV show, it was to use the issue as an ideological cudgel to smack around people with whom he disagrees . . . on a completely unrelated issue.
Yes, the very same people he claims don’t care at all about police abuse have done infinitely more work to expose such abuse than O’Donnell has. He needs to apologize to Reason, immediately. And Balko is absolutely right, progressives should be building alliances with groups like Reason on the issues where we agree. And there are lots of such issues beyond criminal justice, including executive power (which real progressives agree should be limited and subject to checks and balances, while the president and the Democratic leadership only thinks those things matter when a Republican is in the White House), torture and extraordinary rendition, opposition to constant military interventions abroad, the need to cut defense spending, warrantless wiretaps, opposition to the Patriot Act and other constitutional overreaches, and much more.
Disagreeing with the libertarian positions on environmental regulation and similar issues is just fine; I’ll gladly join you in arguing against them. But casually lumping all libertarians — and this group in particular — in with the “right wing” and pretending that they all take the same position on every other issue is shallow and sloppy thinking.