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A Harrowing Tale From the Heartland
Plus: Meatball's revenge
In today’s Morning Shots:
It looks like the Fox/Dominion Trial is on today. And it’s going to be a helluva show.
Let’s start with this tale from America’s heartland: “FBI investigating GOP Okla. officials caught on tape talking about lynching Black people, murdering newspaper reporters.”
How bad is it out there? How bad could it get? This bad:
GOP officials from McCurtain County, Okla. are being investigated by the FBI after they were caught on tape expressing their frustration about it not being socially acceptable beat up and hang Black people, as well as their desires to hire hit men to kill newspaper reporters.
The audio was published by print-only newspaper McCurtain Gazette-News, and it released transcript of a recording from a county commissioners meeting last month to the public that allegedly incriminates several public officials after disturbing comments were made.
The voices on the tape include:
Sheriff Kevin Clardy
District 2 Commissioner Mark Jennings
District 3 Commissioner Robert Beck
Sheriff's investigator Alicia Manning
Jail administrator Larry Hendrix
Commissioners' secretary Heather Carter
You can listen to the tape yourself, or you can read the transcript of the sheriff and commissioners chatting about lynching and hiring hit men.
I’m going to leave out the truly disgusting conversation about burnt bodies and barbecue. But here’s the section where Commissioner Jennings yearns for a time when lynching was an option.
Jennings: It’s like somebody wanting this job, they don’t realize, like your job. I heard it the other day, said I heard two or 12 people were going for sheriff. I said fuck, let's get 20. They don’t have a goddamn clue what they’re getting into. Not this day and age. I’m gonna tell you something. If it was back in the day, when that when Alan Marshton would take a damn black guy and whoop their ass and throw him in the cell? I’d run for fucking sheriff.
Clardy: Yeah. Well, It’s not like that no more.
Jennings: I know. Take them down to Mud Creek and hang them up with a damn rope. But you can’t do that anymore. They got more rights than we got.
They turn the discussion to a local reporter named Chris Willingham and the options of hiring a hitman.
Sheriff’s investigator Alicia Manning: What they really don't know is that (crosstalk) ... they are insignificant in my life, really. They bring no (indistinguishable)
Sheriff Clardy: The old saying is, what goes around goes around. It will. I told you it will.
Jennings: I know where two big deep holes are here if you ever need them.
Clardy: I’ve got an excavator.
Jennings: Well, these are already pre-dug.
Jennings: But the thing of it is, you know.
Manning: We actually told the truth.
Jennings: I’ve known, I’ve known two or three hit men, they're very quiet guys…
Jennings: And would cut no fucking mercy.
Jennings: In Louisiana. Cause this is all Mafia around here.
Clardy: Oh yeah.
Manning: Yeah, but here’s the reality. If a hair on his wife’s head, Chris Willingham’s head, or any of those people that really were behind that, if any hair on their head got touched by anybody, who would be the bad guy?
Clardy: Who would be blamed for it?
On Sunday, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) called for the resignation of four officials who, according to the Gazette-News, were part of that conversation….
“I am both appalled and disheartened to hear of the horrid comments made by officials in McCurtain County,” the governor said in a statement provided to The Washington Post. “There is simply no place for such hateful rhetoric in the state of Oklahoma, especially by those that serve to represent the community through their respective office. I will not stand idly by while this takes place.”
The NRA’s Groomers
At the annual NRA meeting, Kristi Noem bragged about her 2-year-old granddaughter’s rifle, while other young kids handled guns. On Monday’s podcast, Will Saletan and I discussed the imagery. (We also chatted about Diane Feinstein and the GOP civil war over abortion.)
Stand Your Ground Update:
How petty is Ron DeSantis? How vindictive? How willing to punish private companies who criticize and/or embarrass him? This →
The Disney versus DeSantis fight headed into round three on Monday as Florida’s governor announced that the Legislature will revoke development agreements that undercut the authority of the new local board he appointed and he will impose new regulations on the powerful entertainment company.
DeSantis said he has authorized state agencies to increase regulatory oversight of Disney operations, such as the monorail system and amusement rides.
He suggested the DeSantis-controlled oversight board could sell the Disney-run utility and negotiate with the state to use the company’s land for other purposes. “Maybe create a state park, maybe try to do more amusement parks,’’ he said.
“Someone even said like, maybe you need another state prison. Who knows? I mean, I just think that the possibilities are endless.”
Over on Substack Notes (which you really should follow), JVL comments:
This is interesting from DeSantis.
(1) Clear attempt to recapture the initiative.
(2) Makes even clearer his value proposition to R voters: “I will use every power of the state to hurt the people you hate.”
(3) Trump will “be your retribution” in a rhetorical way. But DeSantis will be your retribution in a concrete, policy way.
(4) This only works if he’s willing to say the quiet part out loud, though. Republican voters aren’t going to get the subtext unless he makes it text.
(5) It suggests he’s still committed to running and isn’t going to pass on 2024, contra some of the recent questions.
Exit take: It’s still an amazing strategy: hoping to slingshot your way to the presidency by harassing the Happiest Place on Earth.
The Trial of the Century
May be back on? Via the NYT:
The core question of the case: Did Fox knowingly spread lies that harmed Dominion? Judge Davis has already ruled that the claims in question were false; the jurors will be asked to determine whether Fox acted with “actual malice” — a legal standard in defamation law that means a party intentionally spread false information or was so reckless that it disregarded obvious evidence that the statements were not true.
Hundreds of pages of internal Fox communications that were made public as part of the case show many executives, as well as hosts including Mr. Carlson and Laura Ingraham, privately expressing skepticism about the vote-rigging claims, while a different narrative was broadcast.
There’s been some hand-wringing about the threat the case might pose to media rights and to the landmark Times v Sullivan case that provides robust protections to the media.
But the Wapo’s Erik Wemple has a provocative contrarian take. The worst case scenario for media rights, he says, would be a Fox news win.
Just suppose that Fox News’s lawyers convince the jury that the network, in broadcasting the false and damaging statements about Dominion, didn’t proceed with “actual malice.” …
The standard itself requires plaintiffs to prove that the media outlet published a knowing falsehood or acted with “reckless disregard” of its truth or falsity. The hundreds of pages of discovery materials in the case show that hosts and executives knew that some of their programming about the 2020 election was a sham.
A Fox News victory in Davis’s courtroom, accordingly, could be seen as enshrining the media’s right to lie. An appropriate statement on the courthouse steps would be: We are the media, and we can smear anyone we please.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has repeatedly stated his wish to revisit and possibly overturn Sullivan; Justice Neil M. Gorsuch has declared himself open to reconsidering it. It’s no coincidence that two conservative justices are so arrayed, considering that hostility toward Sullivan and the mainstream media is heady on the American right. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and like-minded state legislators, for example, have embarked on an initiative to undermine Sullivan.
Yet a Fox News victory in the case might well convince liberals, too, that the standard needs to go. If “actual malice,” after all, isn’t pliable enough to condemn Fox News’s conspiratorial treatment of Dominion, what good is this doctrine?
The truth, however, is that Sullivan is a form of constitutional safety net for networks that thrive on persistent falsehoods, including Fox News. Weakening the standard would complicate life for Fox News and actual news outlets — a legacy consideration for Murdoch as things head to trial.
Perhaps he should be more scared of winning than losing.
The Russians Attack a #SpecialMilitaryOperation With Umbrellas
Funny…. not funny… story from our friend Benjamin Wittes. As you know, Ben and his colleagues have been projecting images of the Ukrainian flag (and other messages) on the walls of the Russian Embassy in DC. The protests are peaceful and completely legal.
The Russians are unhappy. Over the weekend, they escalated their response. Wittes writes:
I confess that when I launched Special Military Operation: Just Being Annoying, I didn’t expect it to come to this: The Russians sending a goon out of the embassy compound to stop our light projections wielding umbrellas.
Saturday night’s Special Military Operation ended up going on all night. The reason is that, jokes aside, the Russians engaged in a serious escalation.
Whereas they have typically responded to our projection antics only by projecting their own fascist symbols on their embassy walls—the “Z” and “V” spotlights—this weekend, they took a big step beyond anything they have done before. They came across Wisconsin Avenue to try to stop us physically.
The actions of the man we dubbed “Umbrella Boy,” “Umbrella Man,” and “Karla,” were not exactly violent. They were, however, violence-adjacent. Umbrella Man physically bumped two of us. He also bumped the projector with his umbrella. These actions caused the Secret Service to come across the street too to monitor the situation and deter violence.
You can watch a video of the whole thing here.
1. Iowa Is a Big Problem for Trump
I spent a few days in Iowa last week checking in with old friends from my decades working in state Republican politics. I had a useful captive audience of Iowa pols and operatives when I gave the annual Culver Lecture at Simpson College in Indianola, and I met other local politicos in Des Moines. In each chat, the take was unanimous: They told me that Donald Trump is going to lose the Iowa caucus. Some of them predicted a third-place finish.
“Of any ten strong Trump people I know from 2016,” one youngish field wizard told me, “at least half are gone.”
Iowa’s GOP regulars think Trump is a certain loser against Biden, I was told, and the state’s powerful evangelicals agree; they are looking for a younger, more authentic champion. They see the stakes as being so high in their war against the secular left that a slow general election pony like Trump seems a foolish bet.
2. The Discord Leaks: No, Ukraine Is Not ‘Doomed’
Most of the leaked “revelations” were no surprise, writes Cathy Young, but the casualty estimates have left one group reeling: Russian propagandists.
Do we know much more about the situation in Ukraine than we did before the leaks? Based on what’s been reported so far, it’s doubtful. The panicky responses in reputable national publications seem especially unwarranted.
It’s easy to understand why Tucker Carlson, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and the crews at the American Conservative and the Federalist have picked up the “sky is falling” narrative, often blatantly distorting the evidence in the process. (It was amusing to hear an unsuspecting Latynina express surprise at how badly the piece in the Federalist mispresented what the documents said: She is obviously not up on the doings of the American right-wing press.)
But pro-Ukraine pundits like the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, who declared the leaks on the war in Ukraine to be “chilling,” may be falling for what Latynina has characterized as the mystique of “top secret” revelations.