January 9, 2018

NY Times, After Bundy Mistrial: See, Fears of ‘Omnipotent’ Government Are Overblown

Monday afternoon, in what the Associated Press correctly called “a stunning failure” by federal prosecutors, Cliven Bundy “walked out of a federal courthouse in Las Vegas as a free man.” Bundy’s freedom came after U.S. District Court Judge Gloria Navarro dismissed charges against him, two sons, and a supporter “with prejudice,” meaning (barring a successful Hail Mary appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court by prosecutors) they cannot face trial again. In reaction, a New York Times reporter lodged a hysterical straw-man argument claiming that the result somehow shows that the federal government really isn’t an “omnipotent force of police power.”

The basis for the judge’s action was proven, brazen prosecutorial misconduct detailed later in this post.

Several reporters in the establishment press are not pleased, and have occasionally betrayed that posture.

At the Los Angeles Times, David Montero wrote the following (bolds are mine throughout this post):

The decision left federal prosecutors swallowing another defeat at the hands of a family whose defiance has become a rallying cry for Westerners who believe the federal government has no business managing public land.

The beliefs of “Westerners” vary widely, and primarily relate first to how much Western land the federal government should continue to own, and second to how it should be managing the lands it does own. It’s absurd to characterize any of the widely varying positions as an incoherent belief that “the federal government has no business managing public land” it currently owns, which is what Montero is incoherently contending.

Notably absent from coverage of this case and coverage of Western land use in general is the fact that as of 2013, the federal government owned 47 percent of all lower-48 Western lands, ranging from a low of 29 percent of Washington to a high of 85 percent of Nevada. It’s not unreasonable to ask whether this degree of federal control is justified.

Montero also let his prejudices show in the following paragraph:

At least 100 Bundy backers filled the courtroom Monday. Some wore shirts with American flag motifs. Others carried pocket Constitutions in their button-down shirts. More than a few wore cowboy boots.

Oh no, cowboy boots! In the West! What’s the world coming to?

Perhaps Montero believes that some of Bundy’s supporters who normally wear gym shoes stopped by the local Boot Country store just before heading to the courtroom to put on a show for the public.

The clear implication of Montero’s “flag motifs” reference is that Bundy and his supporters are a bunch of American flag-waving zealots whose opinions should be ignored by the sophisticated elites.

At the always-government-sympathetic New York Times, reporter Kirk Johnson described the basis for Judge Navarro’s decision as follows:

Judge Gloria M. Navarro of Federal District Court, in a ruling from the bench, said that the government’s missteps in withholding evidence against the three Bundy family members and a supporter, Ryan W. Payne, were so grave that the indictment against them would be dismissed.

Johnson went on in a later paragraph to quote prosecutors’ hopelessly lame justifications for their inexcusable, due process-shredding actions, but he never gave readers a complete description of the actual “missteps.” As detailed by Robert Anglen at the Arizona Republic, they were obviously far more than the seemingly innocent mistakes Johnson apparently wanted readers to believe had been made:

Navarro on Dec. 20 cited six pieces of evidence that the Nevada U.S. Attorney’s Office failed to disclose that were favorable to the defense and could have changed the outcome of the trial.

The evidence included:

  • Records about surveillance at the Bundy ranch;
  • Maps about government surveillance;
  • Records about the presence of government snipers;
  • FBI logs about activity at the ranch in the days leading up to the standoff;
  • Law-enforcement assessments dating to 2012 that found the Bundys posed no threat;
  • Internal affairs reports about misconduct by Bureau of Land Management agents.

Instead of his freelancing, “so grave” description of what Judge Navarro said about prosecutors’ misconduct, Johnson could and should have used quotes from the judge herself, as Ken Ritter at the Associated Press did Monday evening:

The judge ended the latest case by ripping government prosecutors, led by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre, for “intentional abdication of … responsibility,” “flagrant misconduct” and “substantial prejudice.”

Navarro found “deliberate attempts to mislead and distort the truth” and blamed FBI agents for “reckless disregard” of requirements to turn over evidence relating to government snipers and cameras that monitored the Bundy homestead.

The “you can’t make this up” howler in Johnson’s New York Times story was his claim that the result was a rebuke to those who believe that the federal government has become too powerful:

Her decision on Monday to throw out the case shattered a longstanding government effort to portray the Bundy family members as violent extremists, but also undermined in many ways a core argument by Cliven Bundy, 71, and his sons that the federal government had become an omnipotent force of police power and that opponents to federal land policies would be crushed.

Johnson’s use of the word “omnipotent” appears to be a straw-man attempt to put a word in Cliven Bundy’s mouth that he hasn’t used. My attempts to find the word used elsewhere surfaced multiple outlets carrying Johnson’s Monday Times report, very little else, and no direct quotes containing the word from Mr. Bundy.

It’s Kirk Johnson who appears to be the one with the “omnipotent” hangup. He used a form of the word in a related story co-written with two other Times reporters in October 2016, when a jury found Bundy’s sons and five others not guilty for offenses relating to a standoff with authorities at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon:

The paradox of Thursday’s court verdict is that it delivered the exact opposite message. Supposed federal omnipotence and overreach became flat-footed haplessness in one brief, powerful court session, as the 12 jurors were polled about their conclusions, rejecting everything about the government’s case.

Bundy and his sympathizers don’t believe that the federal government is all-powerful. They certainly do believe it has become too powerful. They would appear to have a point, given that Cliven Bundy and his co-defendants were jailed for 700 days before gaining their freedom yesterday, that it has taken almost four years from the original cattle-grazing standoff initiated during the Obama era to reach this point, and that the primary casualty in the saga is Bundy sympathizer LaVoy Finicum, who was killed by authorities under circumstances which are still being debated and litigated during the Oregon standoff.

Many people, for defensible reasons, don’t agree with the defendants’ positions or tactics or even the result of the 2016 and 2018 trials. But the family and their supporters are far from alone in the belief that the federal government has too much power, has too much property, and acts as if it can exercise its power with impunity to wear down its opponents and lock up its property from beneficial public and private use forever.

Just because the government has been unsuccessful in two high-profile cases relating to the Bundys doesn’t invalidate that perception — and holding that belief does not automatically make a person “violent or racist,” as environmentalists and other leftists who are unhappy with yesterday’s result are oh-so-predictably claiming.

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