YouTube screenshot: City of Cleveland Office of Communications
Facing growing pressure and scorn from the local media, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson managed to enlist the services of cleveland.com reporter Bob Higgs to create a stunning piece of City Hall propaganda.
It's an interview between Jackson and Higgs, conducted Wednesday, Sept. 11 in the Mayor's office. The interview was video recorded, edited — Higgs is nowhere to be found in the director's cut; he is neither named nor heard — and posted to the City of Cleveland's YouTube page Thursday morning.
Throughout, Jackson issues blanket denials about his involvement in the investigation and subsequent failure to charge his grandson, Frank Q. Jackson, in the June beating of an 18-year-old woman.
Prior to the interview portion of the video, Jackson stands before the camera and says that the purpose of his conversation with Higgs — it's taken for granted that he gets to dictate terms — is to communicate "an important message."
That message is merely a sweeping denial, printed on the screen for emphasis. Neither he nor "anyone associated with [him]," Jackson insists, interfered with the investigation and charging of his grandson, "or any member of [his] family."
"You can choose to believe the media, or you can believe me," Jackson says, unconsciously echoing the 'Fake News' rhetoric of the Trump era. He doesn't bother getting more specific, which is standard both for Jackson and for other world dictators. He has said recently that the serious crimes of his family members, the gang presence on his property, and even the police activity inside his home, are none of the media's (and by extension, none of the public's) business. Furthermore, he has been hostile in the past to coverage that disagrees with his own positions and is known for "not going into details about anything in particular."
But here, he constructs an entirely false dichotomy: that there are two competing versions of events. One is "the media's," in which questions have been asked about the breakdown in police and prosecutor protocol that resulted in Frank Q. Jackson's not being charged, (and in which the Mayor may have directly or indirectly influenced the outcome). The other version is the Mayor's, in which he and everyone associated with him is blameless.
Individual journalists, including cleveland.com's Adam Ferrise, who has been consistently breaking explosive developments on the story, have been doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing: assembling facts as they try to put together a coherent picture of what happened. That picture includes what happened when police arrived at Frank Jackson's home while investigating another case, a west side homicide where a truck registered to Frank Q. Jackson fled the scene. Whether or not Jackson believes he "interfered," the investigation was rife with what Ferrise's police sources called "anomalies."
But Higgs doesn't press Jackson on any of the reported anomalies in his interview. Or, at any rate, he doesn't do so in the edited version posted to YouTube. Instead, he gets to listen to Jackson erect and gnaw at straw men to avoid discussing the facts.
Take, for example, when Higgs asks the Mayor ("Q6," ~5:25) if he anticipated "this level of scrutiny" because of his family's involvement in the crimes. Here's a full transcription of Jackson's nonsensical response:
"When it comes to these kinds of things that then involve family, and the expectation is that I would do as politicians sometimes do — attempt to use their family as a way to address their political concerns of that moment — I'm not gonna do that. So people can take the hit, they can throw the punches, whatever they want. I don't take those hits, because I'm not going to use my family in that way. So people can say what they want. I have no concern about that. If what the expectation is of me is to, in some kind of way, use my family as a shield or to use some platform — some media platform — to explain myself to them that would involve my family. I'm not gonna do that. So they just have to do what they gonna do. And if that's part of the job, it's part of the job."
That's the Mayor of Cleveland, ladies and gentlemen.
The question is a needless softball in the first place — intense scrutiny in this case is not only predictable but justified — but Jackson doesn't even try to answer it. He's mapping whole new frontiers of irrationality and inelegance.
What he wants to say may be a variation on what he's said before: that his family business is no one else's. The above can probably be interpreted as a "no comment" on the affair generally. But look at how he frames it. He is refusing to play politics, he says. He is defying convention by refusing to "use his family as a shield," (?) or to "use his family to address his political concerns of the moment (??)
This is utter nonsense. Does any member of the public have even the foggiest ideas of what Frank Jackson's political concerns are in this moment? Jackson wants to make it seem like he's standing on a set of principles, presumably about the sanctity of a man's home and a respect for privacy. But he's avoiding the obvious, as Brent Larkin articulated in a PD column Thursday morning.
"What Jackson and his dwindling band of apologists don’t get," he wrote, "is a mayor can’t claim his personal life is off limits when an ongoing murder investigation leads straight to his house. A mayor can’t claim it’s off limits when police are asked to protect law-abiding citizens in his neighborhood from the allegedly violent behavior of his own grandson, already the proud owner of a criminal record. And a mayor cannot claim it’s off limits when that same grandson, Frank Q. Jackson, is accused of brutally beating an 18-year-old, repeatedly punching her in the face, smashing her knee with a metal tire hitch, then fleeing the scene when police arrived."
Jackson is nevertheless stubbornly refusing to provide comment, in the same way that he refused to apologize or even second-guess the hiring of Lance Mason, (who, as I write this, is being sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife, Aisha Fraser). He positively refuses to issue even a generic condemnation of violence against women. It's one of the cruelest, most gutless and most dumbfounding hills that Jackson has died on.
Among his other heroic self-edicts is that he will not use "some media platform" to explain himself. Never mind that he's talking to a member of the media as he makes this proclamation. Once again, Jackson stands firm in his belief that the Cleveland press should serve him, that they should provide him with platforms when and how he desires.
Higgs' involvement in the video is such a jaw-dropper for local journalists in part because it enables and reinforces that abusive stance, a stance that has permeated through Jackson's entire administration. Though Higgs was likely unaware of how he was being exploited, his participation creates the perception that Jackson's propaganda is a co-production of City Hall and cleveland.com. While that's often more or less the reality, in this case it's a slap in the face to dogged local reporters like Adam Ferrise, who have been gathering much of the story's most important intel.
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