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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

I used to get blamed all the time for stuff Bob Steinback said.

To be fair, it wasn’t always blame — sometimes it was credit — and it went both ways. Sometimes, he had to explain to people that it was not he who had written a certain thing, but me.

Robert L. Steinback was, as I was and still am, a columnist for The Miami Herald and we shared a certain superficial physical similarity, both of us bearded, bald and black. That said, we really didn’t look a lot alike. For one thing, I wear glasses and Bob doesn’t. I’m also much handsomer.

We were usually more amused than offended by readers’ inability to keep us straight, though bachelor Bob once confided that it did irk him when he found himself trying to convince some skeptical woman that he was not, in fact, married with five kids.

I mention all this by way of framing a contrarian response to the brouhaha over Los Angeles TV entertainment reporter Sam Rubin and his recent interview with actor Samuel L. Jackson. TMZ called Rubin a “moron” and that seems to be the consensus. You’ve seen the video, right? If not, stop reading right now and go Google it. I’ll wait.

(waiting … waiting … waiting)

So, is that not the most painful thing you ever saw? Rubin, who is white, is interviewing Jackson, who is black, and asks him about his Super Bowl commercial.

Problem is, Jackson didn’t do a Super Bowl commercial, Laurence Fishburne did. They are two celebrated actors who look nothing alike, except for the fact of being black, a point Jackson proceeds to hammer like a nail. Speaking over and through Rubin’s embarrassed and repeated attempts to explain and apologize, he keeps making the same point: He, Sam Jackson (famous for Pulp Fiction), is not Laurence Fishburne (famous for The Matrix). Black folks do not all look alike!

If it were a fight, they’d have stopped it. If Rubin were a horse, they’d have shot him.

I don’t blame Jackson for being angry. He is not exactly an unknown, and no one calling himself an entertainment reporter should have made that mistake. Still, I felt sorry for Rubin. I was reminded of the time an 8-year-old black boy — me — went on a field trip to the L.A. Zoo that brought him, for the first time, into proximity with white kids.

Flocks of them, giggling and shrieking, went scampering down the lanes of the zoo and I remember watching them and worrying, with a child’s earnestness, that their moms and dads would lose track of them, be unable to tell one from another. They all looked alike to me.

It turns out this is not uncommon. People often find it difficult to identify people of different races, whether it is whites identifying blacks, blacks identifying whites or what have you. Indeed, it happens enough that psychology has a name for it: other race effect. It is the reason eyewitness identifications across racial lines are notoriously unreliable. And though you might think this an outgrowth of racial bias, researchers say it isn’t. A bigot is no more likely than anyone else to misidentify people of other races.

Which is not to say “they all look alike” is never a sign of racial bias. And here, I’m thinking of a reader who looked at side-by-side images of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and a tough-looking 32-year-old rapper called The Game and insisted they were one and the same, even though the rapper has a tattoo on his face and Martin had no visible markings. We don’t need any fancy psychological terminology to know what that was. That was just plain old bigotry.

But it isn’t always. And maybe it would not be the worst thing in the world, in our era of instant affront and zero-to-60 outrage, to allow for the possibility that occasionally, what looks like a moron is just a human being, being human.

At least, that’s my opinion. If you disagree, you know what to do.

Blame Bob Steinback.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Screenshot: YouTube

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  • 1.Why did Trump choose to hide certain specific files and not others at Mar-a-Lago? What were the criteria that Trump used to keep some files concealed and not others? Who selected those files? Did Trump consult or direct anyone in his selection of secret files? Trump was notorious for being too impatient to read his briefing papers, even after they had been drastically shortened and simplified. Is there the slightest evidence that he spirited these papers away so that he could consult or study them? Who besides Trump knew of the presence of the files he had concealed at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 2. Mar-a-Lago has an infamous reputation for being open to penetration even by foreign spies. In 2019, the FBI arrested a Chinese woman who had entered the property with electronic devices. She was convicted of trespassing, lying to the Secret Service, and sentenced and served eight-months in a federal prison, before being deported to China. Have other individuals with possible links to foreign intelligence operations been present at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 3. Did members of Trump's Secret Service detail have knowledge of his secret storage of the files at Mar-a-Lago? What was the relationship of the Secret Service detail to the FBI? Did the Secret Service, or any agent, disclose information about the files to the FBI?
  • 4. Trump's designated representatives to the National Archives are Kash Patel and John Solomon, co-conspirators in the investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016, the Ukraine missiles-for-political dirt scandal that led to the first impeachment in 2019, and the coup of 2020. Neither has any professional background in handling archival materials. Patel, a die-hard Trump loyalist whose last job in the administration was as chief of staff to the Acting Secretary of Defense, was supposedly involved in Trump’s “declassification” of some files. Patel has stated, “Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves."
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  • 5. Why did Trump keep his pardon of Roger Stone among his secret files? Was it somehow to maintain leverage over Stone? What would that leverage be? Would it involve Stone's role as a conduit with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers during the coup? Or is there another pardon in Trump’s files for Stone, a secret pardon for his activities in the January 6th insurrection? Because of the sweeping nature of the pardon clause, pardons can remain undisclosed (until needed). Pardons are self-executing, require no justification and are not subject to court review beyond the fact of their timely execution. In other words, a court may verify the pardon was valid in time but has no power to review appropriateness. A pardon could even be oral but would need to be verifiable by a witness. Do the files contain secret pardons for Trump himself, members of his family, members of the Congress, and other co-conspirators?
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  • 8.Were any of the secrets of our allies compromised? Has the U.S. government provided an inventory of breaches or potential breaches to our allies?
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The Following, a 2013 Fox Pictures series, played out in similar fashion. Three seasons was enough for the producers and it’s been nine years since our introduction to Joe Carroll, English professor-novelist-serial killer, so there’s a spoiler risk -- but not enough to prevent the comparison.

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