When I was a young prosecutor, I tried a drug dealer who sold crack to two undercover cops. No prints, video, or confession — my entire case was just the two cops’ testimony to ID the dealer and the crack. So the defense lawyer decided to spin the case as a frame-up: the two cops and I were making up the whole thing. Not that we’d made an honest mistake but that we were corrupt. When he opened to the jury, he kept pointing at me and ranting, “Something’s rotten over here, something stinks over here . . .”
Fine . . . except that as soon as his rant to the jury was done, he began oozing respect and gratitude as I helped him get his exhibits straight and bantered with him as lawyers unavoidably do during a trial — “Oh, thank you, Mr. McCarthy,” “I appreciate that, Mr. McCarthy,” “your Honor, Mr. McCarthy has just been good enough to inform me that . . .” My body language told the jury: “See, he wasn’t serious about all that nasty stuff he said — it was just defense lawyer schtick.” And when I put the two cops on the stand, the lawyer was unfailingly respectful and affable during cross-examination — like he was eating out of their hands. (It helped that the two detectives were gorgeous, charming young women. My adversary was smitten, which is the only sensible thing I remember about him.)
Yet, when we soon moved to closing arguments, there he was again, raving about me and the two undercover cuties, and what a cabal of conniving, low-life charlatans we were. By now, the jurors weren’t shocked at such allegations — some of them were quietly chuckling. It was a good lesson for me, one having nothing to do with the law and everything to do with common sense: Your manner has to be consistent with your story. If you want people to believe a bunch of scoundrels has fabricated a perjured case to persecute your client, you can’t treat the scoundrels like they’re really nice folks whom you’d be delighted to have a beer with after court. Indignation is not an approach that works part-time — not if it’s authentic. And if it’s not authentic, then normal people are wont to think it’s a performance, which is apt to put them off.
That’s what I didn’t get about Newt last night. Sure, his righteous rage at the start of the debate struck a chord with me like it did with many viewers: The country is sinking into an abyss of debt, we have crushing unemployment, the economy’s a train-wreck, Europe is exploding, the Muslim Brotherhood is sweeping the Middle East, and yet CNN decides to begin the night by asking about Newt’s jilted ex-wife? The same CNN that continues to ignore Obama’s background and radical ties? It’s infuriating, and I took satisfaction in watching someone as articulate and cutting as Newt turn the tables on them.
But Newt’s indignation quickly disappeared. Some of that is to be expected — it is not normal or helpful for anyone, much less a politician running for president, to exude anger for two hours. I get that. But Newt’s anger seemed to shut off instantly, not linger and gradually fade like most people’s. Then, in starting his closing remarks, Newt made a point of thanking John King and CNN for what he portrayed as their steering of a terrific debate. Then, minutes later, there was Newt again — not only content to sit for an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper but going out of his way to say that “John” had done a “great job.”
The dissonance made me wince. To be sure, most people don’t watch the debates. When they see the news, they are only going to see Newt’s righteous rage at CNN, not his cozy embrace of CNN as the night wore on. But I think you’ve gotta make up your mind: Your story is either that King embodies the lapdog Obamedia out to destroy Republicans while protecting the president, or that King is a superb journalist who did a great job handling a very significant event. It can’t be both.