November 16, 2017 Columnist Downplays UCLA Players’ Crimes, Takes Cheap Shot at Trump

It has been known at least since Saturday, i.e., five days ago, that the three UCLA basketball players detained in China last week on shoplifting charges who were forced to stay in the country while the rest of the team went home were accused of stealing items from three stores, and a day since they’ve admitted it. Somehow, that news never got through to’s John Kirby, who shortly after noon on Thursday claimed that the trio had only stolen “a pair of Louis Vuitton sunglasses,” and seemed more interested in getting in digs at President Trump than relaying accurate facts.

Kirby led off his column with a gratuitous and utterly bogus criticism of Trump (bolds are mine throughout this post):

Why Trump demanded on Twitter that 3 UCLA basketball players apologize
An international shoplifting saga.

At least according to President Trump’s Twitter feed, his biggest achievement on his 12-day trip to Asia was the release of three UCLA basketball players who had been arrested on shoplifting charges in China last week.

Any objective fact-checker would rate that statement a “pants on fire” falsehood.

On Wednesday at 5:30 a.m., Trump tweeted: “Our great country is respected again in Asia. You will see the fruits of our long but successful trip for many years to come!” His UCLA-related tweet wondering if the players would thank his administration for its interventions appeared 4-1/2 hours later.

Later that morning, in a pair of tweets, Trump claimed another accomplishment while criticizing the New York Times:

The failing @nytimes hates the fact that I have developed a great relationship with World leaders like Xi Jinping, President of China…..

They should realize that these relationships are a good thing, not a bad thing. The U.S. is being respected again. Watch Trade!

It’s clear that the press’s overall strategy during Trump’s trip was to ignore substantive matters as much passible while falsely reporting supposed gaffes that weren’t. They included, but weren’t limited to, falsely framing a completely accurate statement by Trump about Japanese car manufacturing in the U.S., and falsely accusing Trump of breaching protocol by dumping fish food, even though the Japanese Prime Minister had just dumped his.

Vox’s Kirby then falsely described the UCLA trio’s crimes by claiming there was only one:

Three college freshmen accused of stealing a pair of Louis Vuitton sunglasses ended up creating a minor international incident right before Trump landed in China — and the players did thank Trump publicly soon after returning home.

… LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, and Jalen Hill, three freshmen expected to star on the UCLA basketball team, were accused of shoplifting a pair of Louis Vuitton sunglasses — priced at 4,900 yuan, or about $750 in US dollars — from a store in a luxury mall near their hotel in Hangzhou. The UCLA team was in China to play an exhibition basketball game, an annual tradition for the Pac-12 conference.

Here’s a clue for clueless John Kirby: If the U.S. President had to beg the Chinese President to intervene to help a trio of teenagers avoid 3-10 years in jail, it was not a “minor” incident. It was a monumental waste of presidential and diplomatic time and resources which distracted from the very accomplishments Trump noted and which Kirby, as seen above, refused to recognize. Kirby himself noted that Trump adviser John Kelly “stayed directly in touch with UCLA staff member and the players, letting them know Trump had stepped in.” 

As to the trio’s merchandise haul, dozens of media outlets have reported that they stole from three stores, and more recent ones have noted that the players and the school have admitted that. Here are just a few media reports from the past five days:

  • NBC Sports in a November 11 item carried at Yahoo: “Report: UCLA players accused of shoplifting at three stores, will stay in China when team flies home”
  • Los Angeles Times, on November 11: “ESPN reported that a person with firsthand knowledge of the investigation said that there was surveillance video of the players shoplifting from three stores inside an upscale shopping center next to the hotel where the team was staying in Hangzhou.”
  • Reuters, on November 15: “Three UCLA basketball players who had been detained in China on suspicion of shoplifting admitted on Wednesday that they stole items from three stores, and they thanked U.S. President Donald Trump for his help in winning their release.”
  • The Associated Press, on November 12, as carried at the UK Daily Mail: “(A) source told ESPN there is surveillance footage of the players shoplifting from three stores inside a high-end retail center near the hotel.”
  • The New York Times, on November 15 (“U.C.L.A. Suspends 3 Players; They Admitted to Shoplifting in China”): “The team said the players had stolen from three stores, not just one as originally reported.”

At the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, award-winning sports columnist Bill Plaschke recapped the trio’s offenses, and is outraged that the school’s punishment remains vague:

Case to be reviewed? Case should be closed on UCLA basketball players

The three UCLA freshman basketball players didn’t steal items from just one Chinese store, but three stores. Their loot was discovered only after police searched bags in the team bus and hotel. They were released back to the United States not for lack of evidence, but through the intervention of two presidents.

Yet they could be playing for the Bruins this season.

… They should have been suspended for the season, but they weren’t, at least not yet. UCLA could have made an ethical statement with both power and precedent but demurred.

… Considering the repetitiveness of the crime, and given the gravity of the international incident it caused, a season-long suspension should have been an easy call.

Yet on a day when UCLA needed to stand firm, it offered an escape clause. When it could have closed the door on this incident until next season — the players simply could have redshirted and retained four years of eligibility — they left open for a possible early return.

Plaschke is right. The facts are known. There’s nothing to investigate.

UCLA is acting in a cowardly manner that could possibly work to the suspended players’ benefit.

If they return for only part of this season without the wear and tear of having played earlier games, one or more of them may still prove themselves worthy of attention from the pros, giving them the ability to jump ship and make millions of dollars after this season. If they were suspended for a full year, that couldn’t possibly happen.

As to Vox and Kirby, we see a website which has promised to help people “Understand the News” utterly fail at that task by publishing a column whose author couldn’t even correctly report an obvious, critical fact.

Cross-posted, with revisions, at


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