More on Lawrence O’Donnell

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

I was thinking a bit more about that Lawrence O’Donnell rant from Tuesday night. And the more I think about it, the more wrong he gets. For example, over the last few years, those crazy, right-wing, teacher-hating Fox News personalities John Stossel and Andrew Napalitano have had me on their shows at least a dozens times to talk about police abuse issues. Want to guess how many times MSNBC has invited me on? It’s less than one.

Of course, I’m not the only one who writes about this stuff. Maybe O’Donnell has had other people on. So I did a search of O’Donnell’s archives to see how many times he has addressed police abuses. I found one instance, and even that one had a partisan angle. O’Donnell actually acknowledged on Twitter yesterday that he could only think of a single story about police abuse he has addressed since he started hosting the show. (Though he did write a book several years ago about a police abuse case his father handled as an attorney.) Reason has run dozens of articles, videos, and blog posts over that period.

So what sorts of important issues does O’Donnell think are more deserving than police abuse? Sarah Palin, apparently. He has discussed her more than 50 times. She even gets her own topic tag.

And O’Donnell isn’t just wrong about Reason. The conservative-learning libertarian Glenn Reynolds have been outspoken and critical of police on issues like no-knock raids, citizens’ right to record police officers, and even ending qualified immunity for cops, a pretty radical (though in my opinion correct) position that I doubt you could find ten members of Congress to support. Sites like Lew Rockwell also run pieces by adamant police critics like William Grigg.

So not only did O’Donnell deliver an ad hominem attack, it was an attack that was also embarrassingly wrong on the facts, which he’d have discovered had he done 20 seconds of research. And it doesn’t look like he’ll be issuing a correction. His only response yesterday was the Tweet linked above and to re-Tweet others’ weak defenses of him.

If O’Donnell really gave damn about police abuse, he’d be looking to forge alliances across partisan and ideological lines to build support for reform. Meaning he’d be reaching out to places like Reason. Instead, in just the second time he has mentioned police abuse in his eight months of hosting a national TV show, it was to use the issue as an ideological cudgel to smack around people with whom he disagrees . . . on a completely unrelated issue.

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35 Responses to “More on Lawrence O’Donnell”

  1. #1 |  Chris | 

    A *talking head gets it wrong but the slighted group is too small to bother apologizing to?

    Color me shocked.

    *(I’d say mainstream but that would be a lie)

  2. #2 |  Highway | 

    O’Donnell doesn’t give a damn about police abuse. The entire episode is just a pathetic attempt to try to paint ‘right-wingers’ as some sort of hypocritical because they supposedly treat different people different ways. And there’s no benefit to him to acknowledge he was wrong. The people writing his checks don’t care that he was wrong. The people watching his show don’t care that he was wrong. He’s a moron, and a clown, but the morons and clowns watching him think he’s awesome.

  3. #3 |  SJE | 

    Slightly tangential, but related.

    Those on the left complain about Obama caving into the GOP and tea party, which is a vibrant grass-roots movement, without offering similarly vibrant grass-roots supports for their professed progressive ideals. Similarly, we see those on the left like O’Donnell more interested in bashing those “on the right” instead of trying to forge alliances with others who share the same opinions on an issue. If progressives really care about what they say they do, then they need to actually work on those issues instead of pointing fingers and worrying about ideological purity.

  4. #4 |  DarkEFang | 

    We’ve now noticed that Lawrence O’Donnell exists, so at least one of the goals of his rant was accomplished. I typed his name twice yesterday, which is two more times than I’d ever typed it previously.

  5. #5 |  sheenyglass | 

    O’Donnell is a sanctimonious d-bag.

    Although as a fairly traditional New Deal liberal who is highly sympathetic to libertarianism in part because of its opposition of the police state in general, and to police abuse in particular, I can see why people think libertarianism is a right-wing ideology.

    Fusionism seems to direct a great deal libertarian advocacy towards opposing the nanny state at the expense of opposing the police state. Like when the Kochs, who have done good work opposing the Patriot act, donated money to Feingold’s opponent. And anecdotally, most of my libertarian friends tend to me more vocal about economic issues.

    Of course part of the problem is also that there are plenty of people who think they are libertarians, but are really just republicans who don’t hate gay people and smoked weed in college. To the untrained observer, they are representative of libertarianism. And part of it is probably the media magnifying libertarian economic arguments and minimizing civil rights advocacy.

  6. #6 |  um | 

    “(Though he did write a book several years ago about a police abuse case…)”

    That does somewhat undermine your point that he doesn’t care about police abuse, doesn’t it?

  7. #7 |  Michael Chaney | 

    As I pointed out yesterday, even Hot Air is starting to cover police abuse cases. That’s mainstream conservatives who are getting annoyed. Dirty cops oughtta be worried, as they have nobody else carrying water for them…

  8. #8 |  crazyzbob | 

    “deliver an ad hominem attack”

    you mean like:

    “Lawrence O’Donnell Is a Twit”


    “Matt Damon is an idiot”


    “And You Thought Whores Only Advertised on”

    just to give a few examples of the genre.

  9. #9 |  SJE | 

    CrazyBob: an ad hominem attack is directed against the person INSTEAD OF their position. Its not ad hominem to call someone an idiot if they are, in fact an idiot.

  10. #10 |  Matt I. | 

    I will second #8 crazybob.

    I would hate to see The Agitator turn into a site where anyone not touting the “party line” is called idiotic (even if their ideas are)…or where the comments resemble those of conservatives talking about the ACLU or liberals talking about the NRA.

    @ #9 SJE: Nope, the way to say it would be “Matt Damon’s ideas are idiotic”

  11. #11 |  Achtung Coma Baby | 


    Those are titles. Surely, you don’t think Radley should have to build an argument within the title do you?

    Take for example, “Lawrence O’Donnell is a Twit.” Radley made an excellent case why LOD is a twit with the article itself. The title is the thesis, and the argument lies within the argument itself.

  12. #12 |  Achtung Coma Baby | 


    Oops! I meants, “lies within the article itself.” Sorry about that.

  13. #13 |  Kevin | 


    The ad hominem fallacy works by implying that someone’s argument is wrong due to some characteristic of the person making the argument. If Radley had used the fact that O’Donnell is a twit (I prefer hack in this case) as a premise and then concluded that O’Donnell is wrong becaue of that premise, then Radley would have been committing that fallacy. However, Radley brought in quite a bit of evidence to prove that O’Donnell is a twit. See how that works? Attempting to prove someone is a twit does not commit that fallacy. He attempted to do that with Matt Damon (although I don’t think that Damon looked as badly as some people think he did). But that disagreement is an empirical one, not a logical one. I am unfamiliar with the whole “whore” comment, so I can’t comment on it.

  14. #14 |  Achtung Coma Baby | 

    Lastly, to drive home my point, here’s the definition of ad hominem provided by Wiktionary (emphasis mine):

    “A fallacious objection to an argument or factual claim by appealing to a characteristic or belief of the person making the argument or claim, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim; an attempt to argue against an opponent’s idea by discrediting the opponent himself.”

    Radley provides evidence for his claim, i.e. Reason actually does do police brutality stories, despite what Lawrence O’Donnell claims.

  15. #15 |  dhex | 

    i think the overarching (and correct) point is that the insults add little and takes away much, though i agree with mr. balko’s point about o’donnell.

    (the original video isn’t really worth defending, but that’s aside from o’donnell’s wrongness on this point)

  16. #16 |  Achtung Coma Baby | 


    If you’re talking about the original Reason TV video, you are probably correct. I’m a big fan of all things Reason, but the video was obviously an intern piece with a young woman trying to make a name for herself at Reason by having some fun with an actor like Matt Damon. For what it’s worth, the fact that the video got picked up by the national media probably means that she’ll be around at Reason for a while.

    But for those us that know more about the totality of Reason (unlike, apparently, Lawrence O’Donnell), we understand that a lot of what they say has merit, and even if you don’t agree with what all they have to say, you at least know that their hearts are in the right place. Reason doesn’t want to punish good teachers; they just want to make schools better.

  17. #17 |  yonemoto | 

    To be completely fair, an “ad hominem attack” != “argumentum ad hominem”.

  18. #18 |  SJE | 

    exactly, #17: an argument against the person, instead of their ideas.

  19. #19 |  God's Own Drunk | 

    Small quibble- John Stossel and Andrew Napalitano are fringe characters on Fox News. Chances are if you are a Fox News viewer you’ve only seen these guys a couple times on the mother station, and probably thought they were the liberal voice in the commentary. They really are non-entities as far as the main network is concerned, and to pretend they have anything in common with any of the days programming on Fox is a little disingenuous.

  20. #20 |  Enyap | 

    “Fusionism seems to direct a great deal libertarian advocacy towards opposing the nanny state at the expense of opposing the police state”

    How are these at the expense of each other? Who do you think enforces the nanny state?

  21. #21 |  Greg | 

    In response to post #6: Just to put it into context, Lawrence’s book was written in NINETEEN EIGHTY-THREE. We’re coming up on the 30 year anniversary of that book, so no, it not great evidence that he gives a damn about police abuse. It’s evidence that he loves his father and was once an ambitious journalist, but it’s not prima facie evidence that he cares today.

  22. #22 |  Fascist Nation | 

    Who is Lawrence O’Donnell? I’m serious. Why should I care? Am I allowed not to care?

  23. #23 |  CHRISC | 

    I know that people like O’Donnell are the reason that I have to patiently explain that LIBERTARIAN is different than LIBERAL to many of my friends. Liberalism is a mental disorder. Savage is right. Can you ever imagine having to sit down and shoot the breeze with Olberman, ODonnell, Maddow and Matthews? UGH!!!

  24. #24 |  New York Cynic | 

    #23 Savage isnt exactly friendly to Libertarians either he has referred to Libertarians as a quote “half-assed liberal” implying we are no better. Like most Conservatives he’ll stand up for liberty once in a great while but he is just another statist like his other brothers and sisters on the right. He is just a more loud and obnoxious version of Pat Buchanan.

  25. #25 |  derfel cadarn | 

    Radley, he is a progressive he does not require facts. It is their way or the highway or they will take their ball and their sorry asses and go home. If O`Donnell talked about what he knew it would be pretty one dimensional. How many shows could he possibly do on STUPID,its thew only thing he appears to be well versed in.

  26. #26 |  Rick H. | 

    “Liberalism is a mental disorder. Savage is right.”

    Aaaargh. Please don’t call yourself a libertarian if you’re going to parrot sub-Coulter catchphrases and ally yourself with racist retards. It dilutes our brand.

    Why do so many warmongering, power-worshiping, gay-hating, xenophobic thugs desire to latch onto the libertarian label for fashion cred? I’m hoping the phenomenon will eventually blow over, like the Ed Hardy craze and Jersey Shore.

  27. #27 |  demize! | 

    One of the primary reasons I have made myself open to alliances with Libertarians and Authentic conservatives. They seem to be doing the lions share of Police abuse work, at least that I’m aware of, and have a more consistent outlook on foreign policy. There are ideological differences of course, economic issues etc, but this is an area on which a broader bloc can possibly be realized. Although some regular commentors on this site seem dedicated to making me reevaluate my position sigh, some give me a good feeling. You know who youse are.

  28. #28 |  David | 

    Mr. O’Donnell should be ashamed of himself. You’re writing for HuffPo now, though, so maybe you can trick him into having you on his show.

  29. #29 |  Matt Moore | 

    O’Donnell seems to have a weakness for public school teachers. Is he married to one, or were his parents teachers? Anyway, my favorite O’Donnell moment was when he blew up at Cathy Seipp on Dennis Miller’s show a few years ago. I can’t find Seipp’s original post, which had more details about what the actual argument was about, but she said something critical about a public school teacher and he got so angry his neck nearly burst.

  30. #30 |  witless chum | 

    Liberals who care about things like the 4th Amendment and the drug war need to take yes for an answer where we agree with libertarians. It doesn’t mean we can’t disagree (or even hate each other’s guts) on other issues.


  31. #31 |  Link : : Focus (focus-ON-links) | Iced Borscht | 

    […] Lawrence O’Donnell is a Twit (Part 2 here) […]

  32. #32 |  André Kenji | 

    To be sincere, the only guy that really showed to be worried with Civil Liberties in MSNBC was Olberman. He talked about torture on the air, he attacked the TSA during Obama several times, he brought Jonanthan Turley to the TV.

  33. #33 |  jmcross | 

    Make Some Noise Build Conflict
    WHO cares?
    WHEN Hell freezes over.
    WHERE the Sun don’t shine.

  34. #34 |  Joe | 

    When you accept Lawrence O’Donnell is a dirty partisan douchenozzel it all makes sense.

  35. #35 |  Why Lawrence O’Donnell Is Not a Real Journalist Either | 

    […] Radley Balko responds and then responds some more. […]