There’s an episode of Futurama where Professor Farnsworth explains that he made up “The Mathematics of Quantum Neutrino Fields” because no student would ever take it, allowing him to remain employed at Mars University without ever actually teaching. This is relevant because Jonathan Turley might have found a role model.
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley’s descent into casual racism, mischaracterizing the law, and just making up historical events for no reason in order to keep relevant to the people who book right-wing cable news smacks of self-destructive narcissism. There’s a genuine sadness in watching someone squander an academic reputation just to stretch out 15 minutes of fame.
But maybe we’ve got it all wrong! Maybe Turley is crazy like a fox. Because if you wanted to collect checks from a law school but never teach a real class again, you could do a lot worse than spend all your time on TV whiffing this badly on legal analysis.
Well, that. And encouraging election fraud. And recklessly endangering Congress, its staff, the Capitol Police, and his own Vice President (who Trump allegedly said “deserves” to be executed). And lying to the public to commit campaign finance graft.
By leaning into the talking point that this is all just mean talk about Trump, Turley’s relying on what can at best be characterized as “legalish” thinking. Generally casting aspersions on the election process isn’t a crime! Conspiring with fake slates of electors and trying to convince the Vice President to hijack the Constitution… would be. Criminal liability for incitement is, correctly, a wildly high hill to climb! Using public office to obstruct a response that put lives at risk… makes for a different story. Campaigns can use all sorts of puffery without being illegal! Making up “funds” to raise money for lawsuits while always intending to funnel the money to yourself and your cronies… well, you get the idea.
There’s a nugget of valuable legal analysis to be had here by explaining to viewers that a lot of what strikes them as “wrong” isn’t really illegal but that there’s a lot of potentially illegal activity here that regular folks don’t necessarily understand.
This cuts both ways too. There are more liberal legal analysts out there getting caught up in opining on the generally disturbing testimony as opposed to keeping in their lane and staying focused on criminal liability issues (or procedural insights about how subpoenas work, deposition conduct, privilege claims, etc.). Lawyers are people and can contain multitudes, but on a purportedly informational TV show, it’s imperative that the audience understand where the difference is between the legal expert and the generally concerned citizen.
Not that Turley’s making any attempt to hew to legal analysis these days. Which is journalistic malpractice. By the way, did anyone catch this one about the Depp-Heard case…
Because it prompted this response:
The point is that legal analysts have an important job to convey our niche way of thinking to an audience that doesn’t actually think like a lawyer. And then there’s Turley out here spouting nonsense to appease the bookers.
But, again, maybe we’ve got it all wrong. Maybe this is a genius master stroke to get out of having to teach classes. If that’s the plan, then bravo, sir!
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.
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