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Forgotten Fact Checks

The Curious Case of the Waukesha ‘Killer Car’

Darrell Brooks poses for a booking photograph at the Milwaukee County Jail in Milwaukee, Wis., November 3, 2021. (Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office/Handout via Reuters)

Welcome back to “Forgotten Fact-Checks,” a weekly column produced by National Review’s News Desk. This week, we investigate the curious case of the “killer car,” check in on how some progressive commentators celebrated Thanksgiving, and explore more media misses.

The Killer Car

Darrell Brooks, the suspect in the Waukesha car-collision massacre that killed six people and left dozens wounded, has a lengthy rap sheet: domestic abuse, battery, disorderly conduct, recklessly endangering safety, bail-jumping felony, and resisting or obstructing an officer. As he drove his car into a crowd attending a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wis., last week, Brooks faced multiple pending cases in Milwaukee County involving second-degree reckless endangerment and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

According to Milwaukee County’s Democratic district attorney, John Chisholm, an “inappropriately low” $1,000 cash bond in the pending cases allowed Brooks to leave prison in a matter of days, after which he drove into the crowd.

But you won’t see this in most mainstream news reports.

The outlets have turned a blind eye toward Brooks, who exemplifies what can go terribly, tragically wrong when little to no bail is set.

A New York Times headline sums up why many outlets will choose to ignore the story, which sits outside of the progressive narrative: “Waukesha Suspect’s Previous Release Agitates Efforts to Overhaul Bail.”

The article describes prosecutors’ “fast, fateful decision” to ask that “bond for a 39-year-old repeat offender accused of brutalizing his girlfriend, then running over her with an S.U.V., be set at only $1,000.”

However, while the Times notes that the decision has “brought criticism raining down” on the DA, it then shifts the blame from him to “happenstance.”

“It appears, though, that the controversial release may have been not a policy decision, but the result of happenstance and other factors — an inexperienced junior prosecutor and a rushed supervisor up against a huge backlog of cases that piled up during the coronavirus pandemic,” the article says.

Meanwhile, CNN on Sunday took its ignorance of facts one step further in reporting that Waukesha “will hold a moment of silence today, marking one week since a car drove through a city Christmas parade, killing six people and injuring scores of others.” 

While CNN may initially have readers believe that a fully autonomous car plowed through a crowd, it does acknowledge in the final paragraph of the story that it is Brooks who allegedly killed six people, including an eight-year-old boy. The story does not include Brooks’s criminal background or that he was released on unusually low bail when the crime occurred. 

After social-media backlash, CNN updated its headline to say that “a man plowed a vehicle through a Christmas parade.”

The Washington Post took a similar phantom-car perspective, writing in a tweet: “Here’s what we know so far on the sequence of events that led to the Waukesha tragedy caused by a SUV.”

However, neither outlet had difficulty identifying the perpetrator of other crimes, including in the case of James Alex Fields Jr., whom the Washington Post wrote “plowed his car through a crowd of protesters on August 12, 2017, striking four . . . and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer” during a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. 

CNN reported that Fields “sped his car through a crowd of counterprotesters, injuring dozens and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.”

Both outlets also identified Kyle Rittenhouse as the suspect in the fatal shooting of two people during rioting in Kenosha, Wis., last year and delved into his background and mindset as a killer. 

In these cases, the outlets understood that it was not a car nor a gun that was at fault, even if neither extended this same perspective to the tragedy in Waukesha.

Reporter or Spokesman?

Politico’s White House editor might be better suited for a role as a White House spokesman. Sam Sten dinged the Wall Street Journal editorial board for its observation that “Joe Biden has done no better than Donald Trump in defeating COVID,” arguing that the take “lacks and real context; either what this papers [sic] owner has done to spread disinformation and vax skepticism or what Biden inherited.” Biden’s inheritance included working vaccines developed under the Trump administration, as well as more effective treatment options than had been available at the start of the pandemic. 

Before becoming president-elect, Biden and his running mate availed themselves of every opportunity to sow doubt about the vaccines, with Biden saying “if Donald Trump can’t give answers, and his administration cannot give answers . . . the American people should not have confidence,” in the coronavirus vaccines. Kamala Harris declared during the vice-presidential debate that “if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.”

Headline Fail of the Week

The Atlantic suggested just ahead of the holiday last week that you “Deprogram your relatives this Thanksgiving.” The Molly Jong-Fast column suggests: “Maybe you’ll change a heart or a mind. Or maybe you’ll need to report a relative to the FBI.”

The column was later amended to read: “Maybe you’ll change a heart or a mind. Or not! Either way, it’s something to do besides just eat.”

Jong-Fast later issued an apology on Twitter: 

Media Misses

-Yale philosophy professor and author of How Fascism Works Jason Stanley “had not appreciated how dangerous @TheAtlantic is to democratic institutions until recently.” As you can tell, we have no special love for The Atlantic here, but publishing articles critical of higher education hardly represents an attack on democracy itself. One is left to wonder if Stanley’s attack on the free press could also, under his framework, be fairly characterized as a danger to democracy.

An opinion piece at CNN muses that a Democratic ticket consisting of a Kamala HarrisPete Buttigieg team-up in 2024 would give Democrats “a very strong ticket in 2024 that would seem like a natural continuation of Biden’s first term.” Recent polling indicates that Harris has an approval rating of 28 percent, which would make her the most unpopular presidential nominee of all time, and Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, has suggested that Americans tired of paying more at the pump should purchase an electric car. Meanwhile, Biden’s approval rating is underwater by about 8.5 points, per the FiveThirtyEight average, so it’s not clear that Americans are actively seeking out a natural continuation of his first term.

-Former governor and current MSNBC contributor Howard Dean reacted to the verdicts in the trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers, as well as the Kyle Rittenhouse case, by tweeting “​​America is turned upside down. A Nearly all white Jury in Georgia returns a guilty verdict against three white men who chased down and killed a Black man. A Wisconsin jury and good old boy judge let a young white man armed with an illegal gun go free after killing two white boys.” Perhaps Dean should consider the implications here more fully.

-Twitter’s new CEO shared some thoughts on free speech during an interview with Technology Review in February:

“Our role is not to be bound by the First Amendment, but our role is to serve a healthy public conversation and our moves are reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation,” said Parag Agrawal, who has been CTO since 2017 and has worked at Twitter since 2011. “The kinds of things that we do about this is, focus less on thinking about free speech, but thinking about how the times have changed.”

What could possibly go wrong with this guy at the helm?

Axios reporter Andrew Solender “walked into Thanksgiving dinner and was handed a printed-out National Review article. Off to a good start.” Indeed.

Send a tip to the news team at NR.

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