Ethics Dunce: Colin Powell

I will file this under "disillusionment."

I will file this under “disillusionment.”

Another prominent African-America leader lept on board the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmmerman Ethics Train Wreck Sunday, when General Colin Powell aided and abetted the increasingly successful effort by divisive activists to re-write the history of the George Zimmerman trial into an example of a racist all-white jury freeing the murderer of a black man in defiance of the evidence and justice.

Appearing on “Face the Nation,” the former Secretary of State said that he thought the jury’s verdict “will be seen as a questionable judgment on the part of the judicial system down there,” adding that he didn’t know if it would have “staying power.” Powell’s comment was an especially pusillanimous fog on the issue, not explicitly endorsing  the criticism of the verdict—“Now I never said it was questionable, just that it will be seen that way,” the General can claim—but appearing to support it nonetheless. How weak, irresponsible, and disappointing.

Is there no respected African-American with the integrity to point out that the jury’s verdict was based on the evidence presented, and that based on the evidence presented there was no objective way for the jury to find Zimmerman guilty of the second degree murder of Trayvon Martin, which required proof of racial animus  beyond a reasonable doubt, nor to disprove Zimmerman’s self-defense claim? Apparently not. I would have thought that Powell would be an excellent candidate to fill  that vital role, but instead he chose to toe the line and support the false narrative being put forward by Al Sharpton, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Luther King III,  the NAACP and others.

I am aware that I have had to write this too many times, and that you may be getting sick of reading it almost as much as I am sick of writing it. But the only way to combat an insidious and popular lie is to protest loudly and shout the truth every time the lie is stated. Not only was the jury’s judgment not “questionable,” it was the only possible verdict consistent with the charge, the evidence, the facts as they are known and the standard of guilt. Moreover, no one who was not in the courtroom and the jury room, did not listen to the testimony in person and observe the demeanor of the witnesses and the defendant, and did not participate in deliberations and listen to the arguments of all the jurors, has any legitimate basis to challenge the jury’s judgement in this case—which Colin Powell, a smart and educated man, certainly knows.

Yet Powell chose not to use the respect and influence he has both in the African American community and the nation at large to set the record straight, and to enlighten a public that has been cynically misled. He had an obligation to properly honor a courageous jury for a difficult job well done while admonishing critics that to imply that the verdict was tainted by racism is inflammatory, unjust and wrong. That is what a responsible leader would do in the vacuum of fairness and honesty that this awful episode has come to.

Colin Powell’s performance on “Face the Nation” was a failure of leadership, honesty, courage, and character.


Facts: Los Angeles Times

Graphic: Mediaite

22 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Colin Powell

  1. Colin Powell isn’t concerned with leadership or courage now. He’s concerned about his perception in history. Since most writers and media-types are liberals, he’s found it convenient to cast himself as a defector from the decadence that was the Bush administration and a seer of the light who supports the current leadership. If he doesn’t toe the line either his legacy is going to be considered stained or he’s going to get a call from someone.

  2. Jack,

    I had to go back to the transcript when I read your version of events, and I have to say, I think you are heading down a blind alley here.

    Colin Powell has always chosen his words very carefully. What he said in this instance – and it’s worth quoting very precisely – was “I think that it will be seen as a questionable judgment on the part of the judicial system down there.”

    Contrary to what you baldly suggest, he pointedly did NOT single out the verdict or the jury; his use of the word “system” is clearly intended more broadly. It was the system of justice that brought us Jim Crow, voter registration restrictions, and segregationist laws. In a system where it is legal to force one race to the back of the bus, a jurist voting to uphold the law is perfectly legal, but that doesn’t mean the system isn’t corrupt.

    It seems to me pretty much that is what most critics are saying here. We’ve gotten ourselves to a point where Trayvon Martin was legally killed, and you’re focusing on the legalities of the verdict – not on the justice of the system that produced it. They are not the same.

    Powell has got his eye on something much bigger than you are trying to force him into. His entire interview was about the 50-year context of civil rights in this country, not about the state of personal integrity in jury trials. For you to waste your powerful “Ethics Dunce” label on a such a narrowly construed version of his subject – despite the very careful wordings of a man known to speak very carefully – is wasting your own moral power here. In my humble opinion.

    • Charles, I’m asserting that this is not the time to be “choosing words carefully” but rather for a prominent black leaders to say—“You know, this isn’t Emmett Till, and America is not a Jim Crow nation. But we are going to have perpetual race problems in this nation if we let ourselves take single episodes and exploit them into what has occurred in this case—a tragic incident created by one man’s poor judgment turned into an indictment of our whole society by overstatement and political expediency. As Americans and adults, we each other more respect than that…we owe our institutions more respect than that.”

      I don’t comprehend how you can make this statement: “Contrary to what you baldly suggest, he pointedly did NOT single out the verdict or the jury; his use of the word “system” is clearly intended more broadly. It was the system of justice that brought us Jim Crow, voter registration restrictions, and segregationist laws. In a system where it is legal to force one race to the back of the bus, a jurist voting to uphold the law is perfectly legal, but that doesn’t mean the system isn’t corrupt.”

      1. WHAT system of justice brought us Jim Crow? The jury system? Innocent until proven guilty? Not the system of justice that acquitted Zimmerman, because that system, in the end, proved its integrity, while Jim Crow was achieved by pointedly warping the Constitution and the law. His reference to “judgement’ is clearly a reference to the Zimmerman verdict—if it isn’t, then I haven’t a clue what Powell, or you, think he’s talking about.
      2. It ISN’T legal to force one race to the back of the bus—what are you tow guys talking about? This case didn’t involve race at all (except that overlay placed on it by the hucksters)based on the facts.
      3. The system ISN’T Corrupt, and to the extent that there were examples of corruption, it was in the denying of Zimmerman his rights, such as Angela Corey’s spectacularly unethical statements to the press.
      4. This also isn’t, as your statement would imply, Nazi Germany, with jurors legally upholding immoral and unjust laws. The judge leaned over backwards to try to get Zimmerman convicted—THAT was outrageous, but I don’t think you and Powell are referencing THAT. The case was presented in front of the whole nation if it was inclined to watch. The law primarily at issue was self -defense, and the the standard of guilt, a high one, was maintained despite efforts by the media and others to stampede the process and convict Zimmerman on emotion and anger alone. There wasn’t a hint of corruption leading to Zimmerman’s acquittal, and suggesting there was, if that’s what Powell was saying, is worse that what I though he said.
      5. Read the headline of the Los Angeles Times story I linked to. Almost every new report says that Powell pronounced the verdict “questionable.”

      There is nothing pointed, “big picture” or even articulate about Powell’s statement. Like the President, he is pandering to an ignorant, manipulative and dangerous movement to characterize a fair and just result in a case that was politicized as proof that the US system is slanted against blacks. If it is, this isn’t the case that shows it. If Powell thinks it is, he’s ignorant and ill-informed, and talking about something he isn’t qualified to talk about when, like Oprah, his opinion is given special weight. If he doesn’t, then he’s playing politician when he’s supposed to be a leader. This is in the same category as the President saying that he “understands” the anger over the verdict, which is double-talk. People who are angry can say, “See he agrees.” People who are justly concerned about the intentional misrepresentation of what occurred can say, “Ah! He is so empathetic!” That’s pandering. I can understand why people deny the Holocaust, too—they don’t want to face facts that challenge their biases, but understanding it doesn’t mean I excuse it. The President said that the trial was “professional,” which is damning with faint praise, and he knows it. Disgraceful. It wasn’t professional, it was thorough and fair, without a hint of racism in it. So again, if not the judgment of the jury, WHAT “questionable judgment on the part of the judicial system” was Powell talking about, in you view, that has relevance to the facts in the Martin shooting, and the result of the trial? If Powell was so vague that I can’t understand it, and that he just gave a general Rorschach blob meaning nothing–I said it was fog, recall–then that is exactly what I said it was—cowardly and an abdication of leadership. If he was saying that Zimmerman was unjustly freed, he’s wrong on the facts. If he’s saying it is bad judgment to require guilt to be proved beyond a reasonless doubt, he wrong and irresponsible. if he’s saying the current system is corrupt based on the Zimmerman trial, he’s Al Sharpton.

      What is it you think he’s saying, Charles? From where I sit, Powell either chose his words carefully to avoid saying anything, or he endorsed a position that is irresponsible and a smear on the justice system and the jury. Tell me, specifically, what he means by “questionable judgment” and “the system”? When he says “it will be seen”, is he just making a detached prediction about history? If so, he did it in an intentionally deceitful way so as he could be quoted as saying that he agreed with that judgment? Of so, it is not enough. Or is he saying that’s what he believes? If so, he is siding with the race-baiters and the ignorant. You tell me, please, Which is it? And either qualifies him as an ethics dunce, because he is supposed to be better than that.

      • Jack,

        The irony of you quoting the LA Times in defense of your not having read the transcript is heavy. You of all people, who are constantly on the media’s case for not getting it right, should read the original transcript.

        Here’s what happened. The interview was a 50-year retrospective on the civil rights movement and Dr King’s dream speech. Powell was there as a person of consequence. The first question that Bob Schieffer asked was this:

        SCHIEFFER: I was very interested to read in “Time” magazine in their special issue devoted to this anniversary, you said the “I Have a Dream” speech held up a mirror for all Americans to look deeply into the spirit and soul of our country. If that same mirror were held up today, what do you think it would show?

        And here’s what Powell answered:

        POWELL: I think it would show that enormous progress has been made. African-Americans and other minorities have moved to the top of every institution in American society, whether it’s politics in the form of the president; or in the military; or in finance, or in corporate America, in media America. And so a lot has been accomplished. And we should be so proud of our accomplishments.

        Two points: First, the whole interview was not about the court system, or a verdict, or Trayon Martin. It was a 50-year retrospective. Second, you’ll notice that the FIRST THINGS that Powell says are all the wonderful accomplishments that have been made in 50 years. (You’d never guess that he’d LED with that by reading your comments).

        Travon Martin came up just a bit later. Again, here’s the actual transcript (pointedly NOT what the LA Times reported Powell as saying): (emphasis mine)

        SCHIEFFER: What do you think the IMPLICATIONS and the FALLOUT of the Trayvon Martin CASE will be?

        POWELL: I think that it will be seen as a questionable JUDGMENT ON THE PART OF THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM DOWN THERE. But I don’t know if it will have staying power. These cases come along, and they blaze across the midnight sky, and then after a period of time, they’re forgotten.

        Two points. First, the theme continues to be the broad panorama of race in America – most pointedly not a question about verdicts or juries or misinstructions by judges, but about the long-term implications of the case itself. Which is the question he answered.

        Second, you will note that he pointedly did not say “verdict,” no matter what the LA Times thought he said, He said “judgment on the part of the judicial system.” That’s not an accident, he’s a careful man.

        (And by the way, in such an interview, just where in the world do you think it would have been appropriate for him to say, :You know, this isn’t Emmett Till, and America is not a Jim Crow nation,” particularly since his very opening remarks already acknowledged great progress).

        You say: “This also isn’t, as your statement would apply, Nazi Germany, with jurors legally upholding immoral and unjust laws.”

        I’m assuming you meant “imply,” not “apply.” And no, my statement does not imply any such thing – you wrongly inferred it, and you know the difference.

        An example is later in the same interview. In response to the Supreme court striking down several decades old voter rights acts, several states just couldn’t run fast enough to start re-erecting voting registration obstacles, like no Sunday voting and reguiring voter IDs.

        And everyone knows why that’s happening: it’s because black voters are far more likely to vote Democratic, and the GOP is trying to prevent Democratic voters from voting. Just like back in the 19th century. Hey, I’ll bet you no black legislator voted for ID cards; only gerrymandered white GOP legislators voted for them.

        Now, apparently, it’s the law. You don’t have be Nazi Germany to pass unjust and immoral laws, and I submit to you this is one example. The point is, NOW IT’S LEGAL. Everyone can go around saying, well the courts just acted to uphold the law, things that were done were fully legal, compliant, I don’t know what your problem is, nothing wrong was done here. But it was.

        THAT is how you screw people through the system. By making unjust and immoral actions legal.

        And here’s Powell’s measured, even response to that outrage:

        “I would have preferred that they [Supreme Court] did not reach such a conclusion, but they did. And I can see why they would reach such a conclusion. The concern I have now is that many states are putting in place procedures and new legislation that in some ways makes it a little bit harder to vote. You need a photo ID. Well, you didn’t need a photo ID for decades before. Is it really necessary now? And they claim that there is widespread abuse and voter fraud. But nothing documents, nothing substantiates that. There isn’t widespread abuse.”

        This is a measured, thoughtful response from a man known for such responses. Yet you claim Powell is either ignorant or indistinguishable from Al Sharpton. I can’t believe your moral eyesight can’t make that distinction.

        You’ve got commenters in this link claiming, without objection by you, that every black elected official is a racist. I defy you to find anything nearly as bigoted as that statement in anything that Colin Powell, or Barack Obama, ever said.

        You can even search the LA Times.

        • Charles: I watched the interview, as it happened. I do not see the great distinction you claim, or that Powell’s earlier statements about progress in civil rights mitigate the ethical failure of his comment about the Zimmerman verdict. Parsing the transcript is irrelevant to the impact the comments will have—virtually every media organ, not just the Times, reported his remarks as expressing the opinion that the Zimmerman verdict was “questionable.” That was also the impression I got when I saw the clip (full disclosure: I was also reading the paper, the sports pages, at the time. But then, so was a lot of the CBS audience.)

          The fact that Shieffer gave Powell an opening to endorse the current criticism of the verdict without having to cop to it later doesn’t excuse his comment in my book, not without clarification, as in, “Now, that will be unfair and wrong.” How does his wording vary from the various versions of “the case will go down in the history books alongside Emmett Till and Medgar Evers” that we have heard from the Martin family lawyer, Ben Jealous, Eliot Spitzer, and others? It doesn’t. Yes, Shieffer set him up, like a feed under the basket. Powell has an obligation to be better than that. An African American who believes that a racist jury acquitted Zimmerman because they believed a black thug got what he had coming would hear nothing in Powell’s answer to indicate that he felt any differently. Nor did I.

          To say that “judgment on the part of the judicial system” doesn’t mean “verdict” is, as far as I can see, Clintonian. What else does it refer to? The judgement in a criminal case is, in fact, the verdict. Of course that is what he meant, and that’s what he said. I can’t comprehend why you think such intentionally (or accidental) blurry rhetoric shows his “care.” It either shows intentional obfuscation, or a bad choice of words. You are interpreting the statement according to what you believe of Powell, not what he actually said. If W made a statement like this, I would say he was searching for the right words and missed.

          [I don’t want to broaden this into other issues, but of course your characterization of the Supreme Court decision on the Voting right act is incorrect on both the facts and the law. The Law was not struck down–a formula for interpreting it was ruled unconstitutional because it was obscenely out of date, 60 years. I wrote about the ethics of that case, and the decision was correct as correct can be: the Federal Government can’t be allowed to take over state legislation without compelling justification. That justification was present and proven in 1964—it does not apply the same way today, as Powell’s first comments indicate. Congress needs to come up with new formula. The Court can’t allow an unconstitutional one on the grounds that Congress is dysfunctional.

          The fact that black legislators hewed to the argument that requiring ID’s for voting–which a majority liberal Supreme Court ruled was completely reasonable decades ago, doesn’t prove the measure is racist. To say that “it’s because black voters are far more likely to vote Democratic, and the GOP is trying to prevent Democratic voters from voting” is just slander, Charles. I fully support voter ID, and always have. I also object to absentee ballots and early voting, all of which is an invitation to fraud. Nor do I think that voting should be as easy as rolling out of bed. None of which has to do with any desire to stop any particular group or partisans from voting. Anyone who supports voter ID because they want to discriminate is despicable, just as any Democrat who makes the claim the the measures are inherently racist in order to create minority distrust of Republicans is despicable. Both sides have valid arguments, and they should be debated on that basis.]

          I matched Powell to Sharpton in this respect: his statement implied that he believed that the jury verdict (the judgement of the justice system) was “questionable.” It was NOT questionable, but that is the narrative being sold by Sharpton, Oprah and others, and if it was a book Al was selling, Powell’s comment would be on the dust jacket.

          As for this, “You’ve got commenters in this link claiming, without objection by you, that every black elected official is a racist. I defy you to find anything nearly as bigoted as that statement in anything that Colin Powell, or Barack Obama, ever said”…you are a bit carried away. I assume that you are not implying that I agree with every statement a commenter makes that I don’t personally write to oppose—especially that one. You have as much of a brief to object as I do. Meanwhile, the fact that such a sweeping, obviously unfair statement is worse than what Powell said—I’m not sure about that, not that “it’s not the worse thing” is ever a defense.

          For I think that the statements like the President’s “Trayvon could be my son” gaffe and Powell’s endorsement of the lie that the jury verdict was “questionable”–a euphemism for “racially motivated,” in my view—has and will continue to do terrible damage to racial understanding in this nation, and undermines the progress that correctly Powell cited, before he allied himself with those who seek to profit by tearing it down.

  3. “…what we have here, is a media/Left/ Race-Victim Activist coalition creating an echo-chamber designed to rewrite the facts of the Zimmerman case and use it to undermine racial progress and make the African-American community progressively more paranoid and angry.”

    What you said yesterday, Jack.

    • Yup. But I sure thought Powell was above being a part of that, even in this kind of a coded, wishy-washy way. I was wrong. There are few Americans whose stock in my portfolio have declined as badly as Powell’s from their initial rating. One of them is President Obama.

      • I am with CM (aka texagg04), convinced that the focus of this coalition is the energizing of certain voters for partisan purposes in 2014 and 2016 – so that whomever they vote for, win or lose, will be voted against only by racists, sexists, and homophobes(-even-more-evil-than-me).

        I doubt whether the right wing could energize anywhere close to an equivalent, countervailing number of voters in the next two-plus years, even if they came up with a sensational new music group called Benghazi Conspiracy, even if such a group had every one of its songs go more viral than “Gangnam Style.”

  4. This is really depressing as it seems to point to the conclusion that all black government officials see loyalty to their race as more important than anything else. Race loyalty means more to them than their oaths of office, fairness, and justice to the country. If this is not true, none have come forward to prove otherwise. The evidence suggests is that every prominent black official in this country is a racist, for there is no other label that can be applied to someone whose race-loyalty trumps everything else. Is there no prominent black leader in this country who can show us that this isn’t true?

    This weekend, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he was not familiar with the murder of Chris Lane in Oklahoma. This seems like a problem for a deputy White House press secretary (who should be aware of all hot-button issues in the press). One of my in-laws quipped “the murdered man wasn’t black, so it doesn’t interest the President”. It would be nice if there was a response to counter that that didn’t feel like a lie. Does the President have no competent advisors who can see this problem? The other possibility is that the President doesn’t see this as a problem, that he doesn’t care, and that is a frightening prospect.

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