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Cable News Snake Oil: How Media 'Experts' Mislead the Public

Pat Brown is but one of dozens of self-appointed crime specialists who appear on cable news programs as “experts” in fields where they have no real knowledge. These snake oil peddlers may seem harmless at first glance but often they are responsible for providing misinformation to the public that has real-life consequences on criminal cases and public safety. Brown is perhaps best known as the “expert” who claimed Major Nidal Hasan wasn’t a terrorist and the Ft. Hood massacre wasn’t a terror attack.

In the aftermath of the Ft. Hood massacre, Brown was one of the few “experts” hauled out by the left-wing media to peddle a politically correct lie — that Hasan was not a terrorist. Here’s her appearance on Fox News that happened even after we knew Hasan had ties to radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki and was a self-proclaimed jihadist.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3Gnw_bGM1o

A swing and a miss! Except this one was missed on purpose because it’s clear that she’s splitting hairs just to avoid calling Hasan a terrorist. But why? We’ll never know because she rudely dismisses any attempts to get her to clarify her position.

Brown’s profile of the D-C. sniper case is equally inept. The American Journalism Review points out that Brown was one of a number of “experts” cable news organizations used to profile the snipers and that she was the one who got the most wrong:

And Pat Brown, a self-taught criminal profiler, author and ubiquitous television presence during the sniper case, told CBS on October 22: “I do believe he’s working between Montgomery County, Maryland, and Spotsylvania, Virginia. I think those are his two points. I think he lives in one location, possibly works in the other or has a relative down in the other one…. I have surmised from the beginning that he probably lives…somewhere about three miles from the Olney, Maryland, area.”

Less than 48 hours later, SWAT teams descended on a sleeping Muhammad and Malvo at a rest stop outside Frederick, Maryland, near the West Virginia border. Former residents of Washington state, the pair apparently lived in their 1990 Chevy Caprice and are suspected in killings in Washington state, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia in addition to the spate of shootings in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

An actual profiler and instructor for the FBI Academy’s profiling unit named Gregg McCrary singled out Brown for criticism, and in doing so provoked a response from the celebrity detective that illustrates just how unqualified she is to present herself as an expert:

He faults Brown, who has no formal police training, for criticizing police and for calling the shooter a “loser”–a remark that McCrary says could have provoked further violence.

“To put people on who say those things is reckless of the media,” McCrary says. “I hope something like this is a learning experience, that they’ll go back and look at the people they’ve put on, and say, ‘Are these really the best people to put on?’ Go back to the people who’ve really done this, worked cases, been qualified to profile, maybe been qualified in court as an expert in this area. Just declaring yourself to be a profiler doesn’t really make you a profiler.”

Brown disputes as “foolishness” the accusation that she might have provoked the snipers. The CEO of a nonprofit company that investigates murders free of charge for families of victims and police, Brown says she acquired her skills by reading “hundreds” of psychology and forensics books, attending training seminars and working “dozens and dozens” of homicide cases.

“There are many methodologies to learning profiling and to get the skills,” Brown says. “There is simply no way you can say, ‘This is what makes a good profiler.’ It’s really an investigative skill and a logic skill.” She recommends that reporters focus on “expert explanation” rather than “expert opinion” by asking profilers to explain the reasons for their theories.

In other words, Brown read “hundreds” of books and then deemed herself an expert. I’ve read hundreds of books on a variety of subjects, such as folklore, but I don’t claim to be an expert folklorist. I have written about hundreds of crimes and read books on criminology and victimology but I don’t present myself as a criminologist. By Brown’s logic, I could offer myself as an expert in those fields and the only fact-checking reporters who use my “expertise” should do is ask me to explain my work. I assume I would then get partial credit for wrong answers if my methodology was correct.

But we aren’t talking about a high school trigonometry class, we’re talking about giving out information about crime and safety to the public. Here the correct answer is what matters, and if Brown was to be graded solely by that criteria she’d fail.

Brown definitely didn’t want to explain her “process” when she removed a blog post she wrote claiming that the Falcon Lake murder last year didn’t happen. In that case, a young woman named Tiffany Hartley told police a harrowing tale of being ambushed by pirates while jet skiing with her husband. According to Hartley her husband was shot and killed during the encounter and she was forced to flee and leave his body behind. This is hardly a far-fetched story — piracy is epidemic on Falcon Lake, which straddles the border of Texas and Mexico. Bolstering Hartley’s story is the fact that a Mexican investigator looking into the murder was beheaded by suspected Zeta cartel members.

But a story of cartel pirates gunning down an American doesn’t have enough of a Law and Order twist for Brown and company. Pat Brown came out in support of a theory promoted by a “body language expert” named Lillian Glass, who claimed Hartley was “inconsistent” and that her story didn’t hold water because among other things:

While  there  been reports of Mexican pirates in the past, those  who had  any encounters  were all unharmed, as the intention of the pirates  were all about robbery, not shooting for sport.

“Expert profiler” Brown agrees with the idea that armed robbers from a lawless failed state have some sort of code of conduct that keeps them from murdering people when they feel like it. The same “expert” who claimed Hasan was not following any set ideology but was merely a “psychopath” who just wanted to kill people now supports a theory in which criminals who have a history of threatening people with guns are ruled out as murderers because they have nothing to gain from killing.

Next: What kind of profiler blames the victim?

We also have the hateful screed Brown wrote in response to the videotaped Victoria Lindsay beating. In that case a 16-year-old girl was lured to a party at a friend’s house where a group of teens videotaped themselves savagely attacking her. There is a transcript of the beating available that is sure to make even a tough guy like me cry. But Brown is made of sterner stuff than me (emphasis added):

I am going to be really politically incorrect today. I have been reading up on all the sympathy oozing everywhere on the Internet and in the media for the 16-year-old Victoria Lindsay, the girl who got her butt kicked by six of her friends. Yes, those girls were mean and nasty and deserved to get a jail term. But, for some reason – well, for a pretty good reason – I just don’t feel that sorry for Victoria.

Why? First of all, these were her friends – not strangers and not some bullies from school she had tried her best to avoid. Friends – as in these are the girls I hang out with and live with. Water seeks its own level and I wonder that Victoria – were another girl being targeted – wouldn’t have gone along with the group melee and thrown some punches herself.

Secondly, why were all these girls so ticked off at Victoria? It is said she talked smack on MySpace, saying some really vicious stuff and saying she was going to fight them. So, she flamed these girls publicly, possibly embarrassing them and humiliating them. Then she said she would fight them. Seems like they brought the fight to her and she turned out to be all bark and no bite; she didn’t even throw one punch. She wimped out, took the beating, and begged them to let her go. She wasn’t as tough as she tried to pretend to be.

By Brown’s logic, if you’re date raped you’re partially responsible because you were friends with the guy who did it, and thus probably a rapist yourself. By Brown’s logic, any victim of a crime that knows the perpetrator is partially to blame for their victimization. And if you’re interested she has in fact publicly claimed date rape victims are partially responsible for their rapes.

Worse is Brown’s insistence that Lindsay’s “flaming” of one of these girls is enough to take away her victim status. She’s saying that being bad-mouthed on the Internet is a mitigating circumstance, that talking trash about a person makes you less a victim if they physically assault you later. It’s a vile and childish thesis that would be reprehensible enough if one of the perpetrators voiced it. For Brown, who assumes the mantle of champion for crime victims and a voice for the voiceless, it becomes contemptible. For someone who claims to be an expert in profiling the criminal mind it should be a warning flag that their views are not based in reality.

Finally: Who’s really at fault for giving Brown a platform to spread her views…

It is here that she proves herself a charlatan, a cheap and transparent player on a stage too big for a person so small. Crime-fighter Pat Brown cannot bring herself to even pretend on her free blog that she is disturbed by the violent degradation of a young girl caught on camera, even if that’s what a criminal profiler is supposed to say. If she can’t rise above her indecent resentment of the girl long enough to understand why the rest of us would sympathize with Lindsay, then I find Brown’s ability to “profile” anyone highly suspect.

And now Pat Brown has just recently announced that she intends to sue the family of missing child Madeleine McCann. She is doing this because the McCann’s lawyers threatened legal actions against companies that sell her latest book, which accuses the parents of various crimes of which they’ve already been legally cleared. Brown maintains her right to defame people while fraudulently presenting herself as an expert in a field she has never been trained is covered by the First Amendment — which in Brown’s mind legally extends to England.

This would all be inconsequential were it not for the fact that Brown wields undue influence for her legions of unsophisticated fans. The McCanns not wanting a book that basically accuses them of murdering and/or covering up the murder of their child is evidence that they are guilty and already her fans are repeating that mantra on every forum and news site they can find. That Brown’s book is filled with “facts” and theories (and wild imaginings) that are easily disproved makes no difference to her fans. Soon she will no doubt be on Nancy Grace´s show or some other cable news show spreading her fanciful conspiracy theories and ensuring that the investigation into the whereabouts of a child remains the smoke and mirrors carnival fun house where she can most easily dupe her marks.

To call this snake oil is unfair, because when snake oil salesmen sold you a cure all tonic that was actually watered down whiskey the only harm done was to your wallet and your pride. Pat Brown is hurting the cause of justice and destroying the truth. I’d rather she sold snake oil.