News Brief: Young Turks’ Misleading Anti-Bail Reform Demagoguery

Citations Needed | October 5, 2022 | Transcript

Citations Needed
29 min readOct 5, 2022
The Young Turks hosts (from left) John Iadarola, Cenk Uygur, and Ana Kasparian.

Nima Shirazi: Hi, everyone. This is Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: And I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Before we get to this News Brief, we’re excited to announce that later this month, we’ll be hosting a Citations Needed Begathon, and by Begathon, we mean, a podcast fundraiser with amazing guests and fun prizes.

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Nima: Okay, so now let’s get to the News Brief. Thanks again for listening to this, everyone, and we hope to see you at the Citations Needed Begathon on October 20.


Nima: Welcome to a Citations Needed News Brief. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: You can follow Citations Needed on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, and become a supporter of the show through All your support through Patreon is so incredibly appreciated and necessary as we are 100 percent listener funded.

Adam: Yes, as always, please if you can, support us on Patreon. If you like the show, it helps keep the episodes themselves free and keeps the show sustainable.

Nima: So we do these News Briefs in between our regularly scheduled full-length episodes and today, Adam, we want to dig into something that you’ve been tracking for a little while now, the phenomenon of ostensibly progressive commentators with massive audiences really loving putting people in jail and prison.

Adam: Yeah, so I try not to start like intra-left beefs, like media beefs with media people because I feel like it’s always this kind of, it can come off as sort of cloud chasing or trying to stir up controversy. So I’ve gone seven years, I’ve never really criticized the Young Turks, I have no particular beef with them, they seem, I mean, they’ve had some dicey takes here and there but they seem like mostly a kind of whatever generic Bernie, MSNBC kind of bridge.

Nima: Yeah, the host Cenk Uygur actually was a short-lived MSNBC host and then was far too progressive for MSNBC. So they booted him off. Pretty solid progressive cred there, I guess, right? Moderately. But over time, there have been some revealing takes that they’ve had.

Adam: Yeah, well, what does it mean? First off, they busted unions a couple years ago, that was probably a first sign, but without getting into the sort of purity or what the word progressive means or getting into these kinds of category discussions, I do think that their turn around criminal justice was worth highlighting and worth criticizing and pushing back on because I actually think it’s quite dangerous. I think it’s quite dangerous because of the credibility they have in those circles. It’s important right now because there is a full-blown right-wing onslaught on bail reform. So real quick, for some context for our listeners, what is, bail reform, bail reform, generally speaking, is this idea that of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in this country, roughly 400 to 500,000 of them on any given day are in county jail pretrial, which is to say pre-guilt, they’ve been convicted of nothing, they’re simply in jail because they cannot, for the most part, because they cannot afford bail. So the day after Harvey Weinstein was arrested, for example, he was out of jail despite being accused of multiple counts of rape, because he had the money to get out. So, for every Harvey Weinstein, 99 percent of them, typically Black and brown, cannot afford to leave. And so the bail reform effort is a way of saying we cannot tether one’s pretrial freedom, and incarcerate them simply because they’re too poor to afford bail. That judges have to consider other things, other algorithms, other factors, dangerousness, whatever, which we can interrogate later, but basically speaking, you cannot be put in jail because you’re poor, was the reform we did because 20 percent of people incarcerated in this country are pretrial, which is to say they have been found guilty of nothing. And so a few states did modest and various forms of bail reform: Illinois, New York, California, among them, several other states.

Nima: Well, there was an effort instantaneously.

Adam: Yeah, instantaneously, and those bail reforms have been pushed back in many states or watered down in many states, and the fundamental moral hazard of bail reform, as we discussed on our episode on the right-wing pushback to bail reform in, I think 2020, so almost two years ago, almost three years ago — wow, I’m getting old — is that if you do have, you know, 100,000 let’s say less people in jail because they haven’t been found guilty of anything or they’re pending their trial that invariably some small percentage of them will go on and commit a crime.

Nima: Right.

Adam: And then that crime will be sensationalized and people will say look at what happens when you let dangerous criminals arrested for X, Y and Z out of jail.

Nima: The anecdotal evidence is then taken as the systemic and the reason why no one should be let out of jail pretrial if they can’t afford it, because therefore more crime can happen, right? Theoretically, more crime happens.

Adam: Theoretical, right. So, yeah, we’re gonna listen to some clips from the Young Turks in their coverage of bail reform over the past few months.

[Begin Clip]

Ana Kasparian: A man with an incredibly lengthy criminal record was released without bail in New York after he smeared his own feces in the face of a victim sitting at a subway station waiting for a train. He somehow gets let go, because of the bail reform policies that have been implemented in New York, and California has similar policies.

Cenk Uygur: But the more important thing is reality. Reality. People are actually getting hurt and the guys are walking out of the court system. That guy was bragging about how he knew he was going to walk, yeah.

Ana Kasparian: Yeah, just let them go. No bail, you know, not a threat to society whatsoever. That is insane, and if there are progressives who have been advocating for this, I guarantee you it is a losing strategy.

[End Clip]

Adam: So just to be clear both Cenk and Ana Kasparian repeatedly say someone’s “let go” that they’re “let go” out of jail. But I want to be very clear because they never follow this up, which I think makes it go from being misleading to an outright lie, that the vast majority of people they’re talking about are going to spend many, many years in prison.

Nima: Right.

Adam: When they say “let go,” what they mean is they’re not subject to pretrial detention. But once they have their trial and are found guilty, they will no doubt go to prison for several years.

Nima: That they are free while they are still being presumed innocent, and then they will still have a trial.

Adam: Right. And this is one of the primary pillars of evidence that they’re demagoguing, that they’re not sort of genuinely concerned with the issue of pretrial detention because they consistently lie by heavily, heavily implying to the viewer who doesn’t know any better. And this is a common anti-bail reform trope–it’s the most common anti-bail reform trope–is to give you the impression that when they say they’re released, or let go, that they don’t face any subsequent consequences.

Nima: Like it’s a leftist-imposed jailbreak.

Adam: But that’s just not true. What it means is the government cannot kidnap you and hold you in incarceration simply because you’re poor in anticipation of a trial. Because again, all of these people they talk about and mentioned, for the specific cases they’re mentioned for, have not been found guilty of anything, by definition, they are innocent till proven guilty. And bail reform is supposed to say, well, you have to actually find someone guilty before you can cage them indefinitely, which again, can sometimes be as much as two, three years. I mean, look at people who rot away at Rikers, right? That happens quite frequently. And so it’s important to understand that these people are still going to go to prison, and that part is conveniently always left out of these hysterical narratives.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: This fundamental moral hazard is the single biggest driver of mass incarceration in this country. It is driven by the media, it has been since the ’90s when mass incarceration really began to pick up in the ’60s and ’70s, Willie Horton 1988, right? He was on furlough in Massachusetts, and he went out and raped and attempted to murder someone that basically ended the furlough programs across the country in a matter of years.

Nima: And ended Michael Dukakis’s shot to be president.

Adam: Yeah. And so one of the drivers of mass incarceration is that if you lock up 100 percent of people —

Nima: Right.

Adam: You lock up men between the ages of 18 to 25 you can meaningfully reduce crime and limit the amount of people you therefore release.

Nima: Right. You also then have a carceral fascist state.

Adam: Right, and so because 100 percent guaranteed way of having no one commit crime is to basically monitor everyone in real time and keep them inside of a dungeon. There’s always going to be risks in a free society. This is the argument that reformers have always tried to make but it doesn’t play well in the media. So for example, three weeks ago I sit down to watch the first Bears game of the year, as one does, I turn on the TV, and the first commercial break is a commercial sponsored by Playing by the Rules PAC, which is a right-wing, one billionaire funds these ads, is their anti-Pritzker ads. It’s a 32nd video of a Ring camera of a woman being beaten with screams, no music, just her screaming as she gets beaten severely, and then it cuts to a darkened picture of Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago and the governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, and it says Pritzker/Lightfoot bail reform or whatever. This is the context in which the Young Turks are doing this. This is everywhere. New York City has these ads, Long Island as these ads, upstate New York as these ads.

Nima: Just pure fearmongering with added racism.

Adam: They’re sending flyers and these fake newspapers to all these people in the Chicagoland area talking about how there’s this new purge law that’s going to come into effect in 2023, and so when you wake up, you say, ‘Oh, I’m going to have a cup of coffee and get my nice progressive news today, I’m going to turn on The Young Turks and hear about Bernie and Elizabeth Warren trying to push back against Amazon monopolies, and what’s the latest labor struggle that’s going on, and I’m going to get the real sort of good progressive Bernie news,’ and then I turn it on, and Ana Kasparian is doing her best impression of Glenn Beck circa 2009 with the Knockout Game videos. This is a popular staple of Breitbart, which is random videos of Black people attacking white people calling it the Knockout Game, and they’re sharing videos of horrendous attacks, and then talking about how how can this person be out on bail? Now, what they’re doing is they’re picking one off salacious and lured examples that are not representative of 99.9 percent of bail reform, to demagogue bail reform as such, and this is a complex topic, because some of their fanboys, of which there are many, which is to say, I would argue to be kind of relatively, fairly blind followers that they can sort of do no wrong, say, ‘Oh, they’re just talking about the extreme cases.’

Nima: Right.

Adam: And it’s like, well, okay, so am I to believe that George H.W. Bush really cared about the Willie Horton case? That he woke up one day and was very concerned about the Willie Horton case. Am I to think that in 2016, when Bill O’Reilly every night on Fox News demagogued the case of Kate Steinle, who was killed by an immigrant in San Francisco —

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: Blaming Obama for opening the borders, which is, let’s be clear, is absolutely no different than what the Young Turks are doing around bail reform.

Nima: Yeah, I don’t think that Bill O’Reilly actually cared about that case. Obviously, the whole point is demagoguery.

Adam: Right. Now, when the right-wing media does it, we can look at that and be like, oh, well, obviously, that’s a cynical and disingenuous tactic to emotionally manipulate people, that they’re not really concerned with the case as such. They’re using it as a bludgeon to go after broader reform efforts, both bail reform and these so-called progressive prosecutors, which Ana Kasparian has criticized at great length. Specifically, she went after the district attorney of Los Angeles, well she went after Chesa Boudin, the now since recalled District Attorney in San Francisco, quite often she did an interview with him where she sort of somewhat smarmily asked him a bunch of loaded questions but she’s specifically been critical of Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, who just survived a very failed and pathetic recall effort.

Nima: But over similar things, this is what’s happening right now, any moves, and let’s be clear, there have been more moves to reform the cash bail system than there have been to defund cops, right? So, there actually has been a tiny bit, a tiny bit of real movement there, and the backlash has been so severe that you have, what we hear are, you know, progressive DAs, under threat of recall, and in the case of Chesa Boudin, actually getting recalled for, I mean, some of the most minor, I mean, much needed, but most minor changes to a clearly unjust system. Now, you know, I know Adam, we like to sort of lay out the stakes and set the table as we say up front, right? As we get into this, I just want to be clear that every study, pretty much, that comes out on bail reform demonstrates that it reduces crime, it does not add to crime statistics when you look at the numbers, right, and I’m not doing the like, ‘Oh, my God, we got to data driven,’ but when there are studies about this shit, bail reform is shown time and again, to actually make people’s lives better, make neighborhoods safer, reducing crime. The most recent study, an exhaustive research study by the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at University of Pennsylvania, repeated this recently, and yet nevertheless, what we keep hearing from of course the right-wing and now also from very influential progressive voices is the same kind of refrain about how can this, you know, lax bail system now keep us safe when that person got assaulted, and it’s like, well, yeah, that’s awful, that’s terrible, that is also one in — how many? — what are we talking about here?

Adam: So let’s explain why bail reform reduces crime. Again, this was an exhaustive study done of Harris County bail reform that resulted in fewer lower-level offenses in jail and improved public safety. The bail reforms in that county, quote, “that includes Houston ordered five years ago as part of a consent decree resulted in 13 percent increase in people released within the first 24 hours of misdemeanor arrest and a 6 percent decrease in new prosecutions over three years following arrest, indicating that the release of these defendants doesn’t increase recidivism,” according to the study. So let’s explain. There are three reasons why, and this is something that people, because people intuitively say, ‘Oh, wouldn’t locking people up prevent recidivism or prevent criminality, future criminality,’ and it doesn’t for a few reasons. Number one, the biggest predictor of future criminal activity is the loss of a job or loss of education, and when you’re locked up in jail for 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 months, some as much as two or three years, you basically have to drop out of school. Now, obviously, a lot of people who are arrested already are not in school, but many of them actually are. Two, a loss of a job, and those who are arrested lose their job. That is a huge predictor of future criminality. And three, and this is the one that people are studying more intensely of late, is that, and you ask anyone who’s gone through the carceral system they’ll tell you this, is that the biggest way you meet other quote-unquote “criminals” is by being in jail for a long period of time.

Nima: Right. It’s who you’re surrounded by for long enough, right?

Adam: Right. So you lose your job, you lose your home, you lose your education, and you’re surrounded by people who have peer pressure, who also have ties to other criminal action.

Nima: And are going through the same thing you’re going through, by and large, right?

Adam: Right, and so this is why pretrial detention, again, maybe it’s somewhat counterintuitive to a lot of people who are sort of raised in this kind of law-and-order mentality, actually increases crime, or it causes future criminality, and why every study and meta-study of bail reform shows that it reduces criminality. It seems counterintuitive, but there’s a reason for it. And this is one of the arguments bail reformers are trying to make that it’s by its own criteria, it doesn’t fail. But of course, the criteria isn’t necessarily a reduced crime. Because if we were concerned with the rates of crime we wouldn’t do 90 percent of the stuff we do, right, we wouldn’t gut mental health care services, public schools, after school programs, et cetera, et cetera. We would house people, we would provide a social safety net, high guaranteed income. Now, what Uygur and Kasparian would say is, ‘Oh, no, no, no, we support all that social stuff too, but before that happens, in the meantime, we have to go back to locking people up.’

Nima: Right. In the meantime, the reality is, Adam, the reality is —

Adam: To which I say, and I wrote in the article, is that okay, so let’s take this thought experiment to its logical ends here. If you agree that the system is racist and violent and punitive and destroys lives, and is horrific, and my follow up piece I wrote for my Substack I specifically cite a recent lawsuit by the ACLU of California about the Los Angeles County jail system. This is the same Los Angeles jail system that Kasparian was criticizing the district attorney of Los Angeles for not sending enough people to by tacking on gun charges, okay? Adding five years or 10 years for gun charges is probably the single most or top five biggest drivers of incarceration, and we’re not talking about a violent crime with a gun, we’re talking about a crime where they incidentally find a quote-unquote “illegal gun.”

Nima: Right.

Adam: Again, you didn’t fire it, you’d have to do anything with it. Kasparian believes that if you possess a gun that is quote-unquote “illegal,” which is to say, you live in 90 percent of places where African American and brown people are, therefore the guns are illegal, right? Where Cletus lives, guns are legal. If you possess that gun, by definition, that’s a violent crime, or rather, that should be treated as a violent crime, which is, I think, patently absurd, because it’s not a violent crime. You didn’t commit any violence with it, right? It’s the sort of pre-crime, and this is why bail reform activists have been pushing prosecutors to not just give everybody the maximum penalty for gun possession because a lot of people in poor communities, they have guns for protection, they have guns for various reasons, because of the sort of nature of gang violence, it should not be per se effectively ruin someone’s life. You take 5, 10 years of their life. So she’s arguing for more people to go into this jail and the ACLU released this report that said quote, “Most of the inmates are recently arrested suspects who have not been convicted and they’re routinely denied clean water, functioning toilets, a shower, adequate food, or medication they need to treat schizophrenia and other serious conditions.” According to the ACLU, and attorneys who visited the center cited, “cuts, swelling and bruising consistent with prolonged handcuffing on the wrists of a man stuck on a bench for 99 hours.” They saw one inmate chained to a bench urinating on the floor and another lying in a puddle of urine. An inmate recalled seeing a man defecate in a trashcan. They said quote, “When I was on the front bench, the man chained to the chair next to me pulled his pants down and pooped on the floor.” In May, Tony Jones said in a sworn court statement filed by the ACLU, quote, “The feces stayed on the floor for two days. No one comes to clean the front bench area. I saw people pee in orange juice boxes. The areas stink from the feces and pee,” unquote. So this is a normal day in LA county jails.

Nima: Again, pretrial.

Adam: Pretrial. Not convicted of anything. And these are the conditions these are the, quote, “barbaric” conditions that our progressive commentators are insisting people need to go into because crime is, because we need to get quote-unquote, you know, these sort of “bad guys” off the streets, and they’re so concerned with, you know, the people being assaulted by these sort of Knockout Game videos they routinely share, but the reason is that these horrific crimes that we see routinely in our prisons and jail system, they don’t make viral videos, they don’t make Ring camera videos, they’re not put on TV every day. It’s a form of routine violence that’s largely unseen, and so it’s difficult to generate that kind of demagoguery, and so you saw this when reporter Tana Ganeva criticized the Young Turks for their sensationalist criticism. Ana Kasparian on Twitter shared a video of a person randomly assaulting an old lady saying, quote, “This is a man who was arrested 41 times. After the incident, he was released and went on to send a subway worker to the hospital with a broken collarbone but according to the crime reporter, the man committing assault with broken bones is a real victim.” So that’s a really fucking gross way of actually framing —

Nima: Yeah, the crime reporter referenced by Ana there is Tana Ganeva, just to be clear. She’s literally responding directly.

Adam: So these people are a pro, and then her co hosts responded to another criticism with an equally disingenuous and bad faith tweet saying, quote, “Are you insane? Do you want him to go on so he can punch more innocent people in the face? You don’t think 41 times is enough of a pattern? Do you have a single ounce of compassion for the victims? Is not a progressive position being different to the injustice victims suffer.” Ah, so they’re —

Nima: Right. So now it’s about the victims and now it’s about why is your heart bleeding for this clearly violent person who should not be on the streets.

Adam: And again, their argument is so manifestly self-defeating, he has been sent to Rikers 40 times, by the way, the vast majority of which was pre bail reform. So it’s not exactly clear what that even means, right? Because he was released from jail several times, for the vast majority was 41 cases where, you know, in the ’90s, and 2000s, this is a person who has chronic mental illness issues. So clearly the system failed, right? This person didn’t get sufficient treatment and was continually arrested and locked up and gone through the carceral system. So obviously, because again, all right-wing demagoguery is predicated on an existing left-wing status quo. These people want you to believe that we somehow live in a kind of kumbaya, far-left, socialist —

Nima: Where everyone is just let out of jail, and there’s no law, there’s barely any cops around, our jails and prisons are sitting pristine and clean, empty, just, you know, waiting for maybe, if we’re lucky, someone will be in the drunk tank of the local police station. But other than that, Adam, like I don’t think we lock enough people up in this country.

Adam: As a matter on its face, we have 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population, 5 percent of the population, and the US locks up between three and five times more, on average, than other quote-unquote “developed countries.” It is shocking how many people we lock up in this country. So Cenk does the whole thing where he says, ‘I’m in favor of releasing people of nonviolent offenses,’ which we know is not true, because gun possession is a nonviolent offense. And by the way, one of their first rants they did when they did this right-wing pivot, this is what they auctioned off before they went to the whole salacious Breitbart video thing, which is a little bit more compelling, is they were ranting about homeless camps, which is really what this is about, if you want to know my opinion, this is about locking up homeless people in jail for committing things like quote-unquote “open air drug abuse” or defecation or anything they find vulgar.

Nima: Which is hard to do behind closed doors, Adam, I should point out, when you don’t have a home.

Adam: Right, so let’s listen to this clip here from June of last year.

[Begin Clip]

Ana Kasparian: I do think that there are progressive, progressives, I don’t know if it’s progressive policy, but progressives in places like California who have made terrible decisions, and so one of those terrible decisions is essentially doing away with anti-camping laws, right? Allowing people to camp out wherever they want, whenever they want, and if, we have a homeless problem in California, we have it all throughout the country, but it’s particularly bad in California, and so the argument is, well, if there isn’t public housing available for people, they should be allowed to camp out. Okay. But there’s also a problem right now, where there is public housing available, and individuals will say, ‘No, I don’t want to take it. I don’t want to follow the rules in public housing, and so as a result, I would rather camp out.’ Progressive lawmakers are like, ‘We should allow them to camp out,’ and you know what happens? Crime happens. Open air drug markets happen, and it’s the truth. These are the facts of the matter. In fact, it was addressed in this Daily Beast article, and honestly, it was cathartic to read it because everyone denies that this is happening.

[End Clip]

Adam: So it’s worth noting that one thing many people have brought up is that Jeffrey Katzenberg in 2017 invested $20 million into the Young Turks and Jeffrey Katzenberg, the billionaire media mogul who started Quibi, he was also the central player in —

Nima: Among other things, that’s such a cruel description.

Adam: Yeah, among other things, he was the primary driver of a ban on encampments in Los Angeles earlier this year, which ended up passing the ban and camping in effectively 20 percent of the city.

Nima: Which is just an anti-homeless policy like that’s, you know, it’s out of sight, out of mind.

Adam: Out of sight, out of mind, which is a whole other episode we can work on. But it is worth noting that, like their primary investor also supports these policy outcomes, whether or not that’s what motivates them who knows, you know, maybe Ana said she’s had issues with homeless people harassing her, I don’t doubt that at all, that happens all the time, it happens, it’s happened to me, the second I got, literally got off the plane in New York to me and my family, these things happen all the time. The solution, however, is not to say, ‘Man, I really want these people to go to jail.’ The solution is, how did society fail them? This is what I wrote in my article on visible poverty in our society, when you get harassed and harangued by someone who’s clearly mentally unwell outside of a Starbucks, the first response is not why is this person not in jail? It should be, how has society failed this person? How are our mental health institutions?

Nima: And how can we support policies that then actually —

Adam: Get to the root of the issue.

Nima: Get to the root of these issues and help people, right? So, you know, whether it’s supportive housing, or making sure that people aren’t just swept up and put in jails and prisons, but actually have services that allow them to have jobs and homes and get the medical attention that people need, get the mental health services that people need. These are always either secondary or kind of, you know, oh, just progressive, or, you know, lefty, wishlist things. But then, Adam, we are told to come back to reality, and the reality, we’re told, is that there are victims of crimes and what you have to do to respect the victims of crimes is to lock more people up, because otherwise you’re not respecting the victims of crimes. And so, basically not looking systemically, looking individually, looking anecdotally and saying, ‘Well, oh, what do you mean like so this person should just be on the street? Look what he did to that woman, or look what he did to that guy?’ You can see videos all day of shitty things happening to people.

Adam: There’s a widespread systemic failure of taking care of the poor people in this country that has gotten so much worse and so much more acute in the last couple years. You have a massive housing crisis, you have, nobody can afford a home, rent has skyrocketed, evictions have skyrocketed since the eviction moratorium gone, and we turn around and we say, again, they’re not lobbying President Biden to give a speech where he announces he’s going to spend $100 billion on new homes for the poor.

Nima: Right.

Adam: There’s no Manhattan Project for dealing with homelessness. Biden reissued some white paper a year ago and never talked about it again. It’s never mentioned by the White House, and this needs a federal intervention, the states and cities just don’t have the money to handle it, and there’s no one lobbying for any kind of robust policy to handle things like homelessness, to handle things like the root cause of violence, to talk about basic income, there’s a pilot program in Chicago to give people money, you know, to live on and — guess what? — crime goes down. The biggest predictor of criminality is poverty, and yet we let we have, again, we talked about this show a lot, we treat these things as if they’re laws of nature, and they’re not. They’re policy choices. And so instead of handling these things from the root —

Nima: Homeless encampments just appear.

Adam: Yeah.

Nima: And needs to be dealt with, right? The reason behind why they appear, why also people who are living in tents like to be with each other and congregate to the same place is often for safety, right? So you’re not all on your own.

Adam: And so people like Cenk, they’ll say, ‘Oh, well, you know, that’s all well and good, all that pie in the sky, far-left stuff, but I’m a realist and we have to deal with the problem now,’ and to which I said in the article, I said, okay, so let me get this straight. You acknowledge that our county jails are hellholes, where people live in their own fecal matter and throw up and piss and are treated like fucking cattle, you acknowledge that they’re horribly racist, you acknowledge that they’re by definition classes, because otherwise you would just bail out of jail if you had money, right? And yet, you say it’s what we have to do because it’s the reality, and I proposed this question to him, I said, well, let me let me get this straight, let’s do a thought experiment. If LA county jails randomly killed one inmate a night by a beheading, would you still then say, ‘Well, it is what it is but we still have to send people there.’

Nima: But they’ve been doing it for 30 years, Adam, it’s their beheading time.

Adam: Yeah, people are being chained to metal chairs for three days, three, four days at a time, they’re denied their medication for things like schizophrenia and diabetes, you have quote-unquote “inmates” sleeping in their own filth, other people’s piss and blood. This is not remotely humane, and yet we routinely send people there because, ‘Oh, shucks, we have no other option.’ This actually reminds me a lot of their rhetoric when they busted their union a couple of years ago, back when Cenk was running for Congress. They had a union drive and they blamed it on a basically a conspiracy by a union trying to unionize their shop while he was running for Congress because the union supported his primary opponents so they sowed this wild plot about how they were, and then both him and Ana Kasparian said, ‘Oh, we support unions like we’re big supporters of unions, just not this one.’ ‘So we’re big supporters of reform in this abstract — ’

Nima: It’s never the right time.

Adam: It’s never the right policy. So again, you can support reform in theory, but you do not support district attorneys and policies and bail reform laws that are the actual reforms that are actually on the books, and so you could theoretically gesture towards it, but when push comes to shove, right, you can never actually support the thing that really matters, which is extremely convenient.

Nima: Well, right. I mean, I think that this is maybe a fundamental difference between, say, like, progressives, and maybe the left, which is that progressives want good things, but maybe it’s just not the right time ever, you can’t ever really get the right policy. So you take what you can get, and then you try and squish on the margins, but generally, you’re maintaining the status quo, because it’s just never the right time, and you know, what? Reality will intervene. Whereas on the left it’s been the fucking right time to fight for what is better, and that’s the key thing. You don’t need to just say, ‘Oh, this is the reality,’ because it is already the reality, that is any movement to anything different is going to have to account for that current reality and try to shift it. That is the entire work. That is the work of making the world better-slash-different.

Adam: Yeah, because they’re not politicians, right? I mean, albeit Cenk’s a failed one, but they’re not, you know, their role ostensibly the role of pundits, which is what they are, it’s what we are, it’s what I am, I will wear this ‘P’ proudly, is to push the conversation, is to challenge the status quo and to broaden people’s political horizons, to simply say, ‘Well, the jails can’t get fixed and people got to swim in their own shit and piss and vomit and be denied medication but that’s just the way it is, so, you know, we can’t wait around for a perfect lefty position.’ It’s like, well, no, you’re supposed to articulate a moral vision for how you address crime that doesn’t involve just shoving people into these fucking gulags every five minutes.

Nima: Because otherwise you’re just carrying water for the Tucker Carlsons and the Bill O’Reillys, and you’re actually doing no other work.

Adam: Well, that’s really the issue, and I think that was the primary driver of the pushback that got even aside from my pushback was that there was a real sense that, okay, this is what Breitbart did with Knockout Game stuff. I mean, showing these lurid videos out of context. I mean, again, it’s not like they’ve reported on this assault, it’s not like they know the nuances of the cases, and in fact, she actually made an error. She said he had arrested 40 times for assault, when only some of them were assault and the vast majority of them were for drugs and vagrancy and other kinds of small —

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: So there’s this like, nobody cares about the person in the video, right? That’s just a bludgeon.

Nima: No, exactly. The entire point is to say, ‘Oh, this is what you want? Oh, this is the new reality you want?’

Adam: Right. It’s again, it’s Bill O’Reilly saying, ‘Well, why does Obama like it when white women get killed by Guatemalan immigrants? Why doesn’t he toughen up the border? Why does Michael Dukakis not care about, you know, white victims of rape and here’s a picture of Willie Horton.’ It’s the same shit. It’s, you come up with the most salacious, most racially charged, most emotional pitch you can possibly make and then build policy around that rather than, again, 99.9 percent of the cases that bail reform involves, which have nothing to do with that and that is the definition of demagoguery. I mean, that is the textbook definition of demagoguery.

Nima: Well, and because when you have the platform that some people have, and certainly Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian have a massive platform, what you choose to do with that is incredibly important, right? Some people use it to be demagogues about tough-on-crime bullshit, where not only is that unjust and racist, and we know this, it is also from the kind of boring standpoint, it doesn’t work, right? That stuff doesn’t work. As we were talking about earlier, Adam, keeping people in jail pretrial, because they simply can’t afford to be free in the interim, has worse outcomes, not only for those individuals, but for their communities and their families at large. We see this. And so what you choose to do with the platform you have, you articulate a different kind of future, right? If nothing else, they are there to comment on not only view reality and just be like, ‘Oh, well, that’s the reality,’ but to explain why maybe that is not okay, and maybe how things can actually be different, and if they are just leaning into this, ‘Hey, that’s the way it is. We wish things were different, but on the way to different we have to keep the status quo and hurt way more people.’ Structurally systemically entire populations rather than focusing on one fear mongering gotcha anecdote. Do you know what I mean? Then what are you doing with that platform? How is that helping? How are you helping?

Adam: It has far more of an impact when you talk to these so-called progressives, this is why I intervene, I don’t, again, I really try not to like, I try not to sort of go after people in the sort of progressive media space unless I feel like you really have to because it’s intervention that I think can be sectarian or viewed as being self-promoting, and it’s just like, I would never intervene unless I thought, holy shit, this is straight up right-wing propaganda being spoon fed to people who are potential allies, and that’s, you know, when it was trending in 2020, when everyone acted like they cared about racism for five minutes, you had people like Bernie Sanders support bail reform, they proposed a pretty decent bail reform bill on the federal level, of course, went nowhere, because it never does, but to see the same media outlets do a right turn, you know, a very cynical person, of which, of course, I’m not —

Nima: No, of course not.

Adam: Would say that, you know, in the run up to any kind of Bernie or Bernie-adjacent candidate running for president 2024, that they want to avoid any of the sort of taint of defund or any of the radical abolitionists and so what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to basically prime progressive viewers, quote-unquote, “progressive viewers,” to have an out where they don’t have to necessarily take any kind of difficult position in support of bail reform, because it’s viewed as being not broadly popular, viewed as being kind of wedge thing that can undermine them in various, you know, that’s one possibility. It could be part of a broader political calculation from people within that media world. I don’t know. I have no inside information about that. But that is one potential logic for why we’re doing Breitbart stuff on ostensibly progressive media, because again, you have to square the circle, you have to, people have to reconcile their progressive self-image and self-branding with supporting sending more people to jail and the way they do that, and of course, as we’ve discussed at great length here, the way they do that is they say, ‘Oh, no, no, I support these theoretical reforms, but all the reform DAs who are actually trying to actually reduce the prison and jail population in reality, oh, they’re all bad people, and they’re too soft on crime, and we need to replace them with this vague alternative.’ This is what made the San Francisco recall so effective. Unlike other recalls, they did not have to present an alternative candidate. So they were basically, you were running against an abstract idea which led to a very broad political coalition.

Former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. (Sheraz Sadiq / KQED)

Nima: And the abstract idea was fear and crime.

Adam: Yeah, and the second that Chesa is out of office, then okay, well then now we’re just going after rainbow fentanyl and drugs and homeless people, which is of course what they really wanted the whole time, and that’s the reality of what we live in. That is what’s going to happen when you demagogue these things.

Nima: Well, that will do it for this Citations Needed News Brief. Thank you everyone for listening. Of course, you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, or become a supporter of the show, please do consider that, at All your support through Patreon is so incredibly appreciated as we are 100 percent listener funded. Stay tuned for a new full-length episode coming your way very soon, but until then, we cannot thank you enough for listening to Citations Needed. Our senior producer is Florence Barrau-Adams. Producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Thanks, everyone, for listening. We’ll catch you next time.


This Citations Needed News Brief was released on Wednesday, October 5, 2022.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.



Citations Needed

A podcast on media, power, PR, and the history of bullshit. Hosted by @WideAsleepNima and @adamjohnsonnyc.