Paul Waldman's take on Kyle Rittenhouse is missing a few things

AP Photo/Morry Gash

When I read left-wing takes on various issues in the media I’m often reminded of an Italian film called Cinema Paradiso. If you haven’t seen the film, its a coming-of-age story that takes place in a small town. The conclusion of the film comes when the main character, who had moved away and become a successful adult film director, returns to the town where he grew up for the funeral of the man who helped shape the course of his life. That man, a film projectionist in the local theater, had been pressured by a local priest to remove all of the R-rated love scenes from the films he showed over the years. At his funeral, he leaves a final gift to the main character, a film reel in which all of the excised portions of the films are spliced together. It’s literally all of the passion that was supposed to wind up on the cutting room floor. He had saved it all and it’s as if he’s saying from the grave that the bits we’re tempted to cut out are often the ones that matter in film and in life.


I think of that when I read pieces, like this one from Paul Waldman recounting the story of Kyle Rittenhouse. You can always tell where the important parts of the story have been removed to make a version the author feels is more appropriate for public consumption. Let me give you an example:

The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wis., should make any person with an ounce of sense feel little but grief, even despair. But unfortunately, if Rittenhouse gets acquitted, what happens afterward will be absolutely sickening.

Here’s a quick review of the undisputed facts in the case. As protests gripped Kenosha in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake last August, Rittenhouse, then 17, took his illegally obtained AR-15 and traveled to the city from his home in Illinois. In the midst of the chaotic events, he shot Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz. Rosenbaum and Huber died, while Grosskreutz survived…

I’m not a conservative, but if I was, I would hope my thoughts about Kyle Rittenhouse would run something like this: “The violence that occurred in Kenosha was unacceptable, but that doesn’t justify vigilantism. Rittenhouse was a dumb kid pumped up by the fantasy of saving the day with his gun, but he didn’t go there intending to murder anyone. He should be acquitted because he acted in self-defense, but we shouldn’t forget that two people are dead, which is a terrible tragedy.”

As summaries go, this one isn’t very good. Waldman wants it to be cold and bloodless because that suits his purpose, but in fact this is a story which is entirely about people’s passions, and not just those of Kyle Rittenhouse.

Any thorough summary would have to start with the reason “protests gripped Kenosha.” That’s because police were called to a scene where Jacob Blake, a man with a felony warrant for domestic abuse and sexual assault, refused to be arrested, fought the police, put a knife in his hand and was trying to leave the scene in a car that didn’t belong to him with his children in the back. A police officer shot him seven times in the back and a brief video incited riots in which people angry about Blake’s shooting burned down portions of downtown Kenosha.


As has happened several times in previous cases (Michael Brown comes to mind), people’s anger over the Blake shooting was partly ginned up by misleading media coverage and some outright lies. For quite a while the media and Blake’s lawyer insisted on describing Blake as an “unarmed man” despite the fact he was carrying a knife when he was shot. In fact, the knife was visible in the video clip and police could be heard shouting “drop the knife” but most of the major media outlets didn’t seem to want to see it.

In addition, Blake’s felony warrant meant that once police encountered him (because of the 911 call) they had no choice but to arrest him. And contrary to what Blake claimed about having done nothing to justify his arrest that day, we know for a fact he knew about the felony warrant. He’d looked it up on a police website and texted someone about it. He knew this confrontation was coming and chose not to turn himself in but to fight the police. During that fight, police tased him several times but he shrugged it off and tried to get in the car with the kids.

It wasn’t until Blake had his first big media interview months later that he confessed to having the knife and admitted it was a bad idea to arm himself during his fight with police. Only then did the media corrected the record. Even then, Blake claimed, contrary to all evidence, that he was just about to surrender himself to police when he was shot. No one in the media wanted to call him a liar though his story obviously made no sense.

That’s a hell of a lot to leave on the cutting room floor in favor of “protests gripped Kenosha.” It matters because the lies and misleading media accounts help explain why people were burning Kenosha, why the police (who were presented once again as the villains in the story) didn’t push back harder on the rioters and why regular people like Kyle Rittenhouse and others felt drawn to do something about the chaos that was literally engulfing the city.


It’s true that Rittenhouse’s rifle was bought illegally. He was 17 and couldn’t legally buy it until he was 18. But it’s apparently not true as some have claimed that he carried it across state lines. It appears the rifle was stored at his friend Duncan Black’s house in Kenosha.

Then we get to this: “In the midst of the chaotic events, he shot Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz.” Again, this leaves out everything that matters. Rosenbaum was a suicidal homeless man who’d spent most of his adult life in jail for “sexual conduct with children when he was 18.” He had been released from the hospital earlier that day and no one is really sure why he was downtown that night except it seemed he wanted to be part of the action. He was loudly belligerent and threatened to cut people’s hearts out on one occasion and specifically threatened to kill Kyle Rittenhouse if he caught him alone. Later that night he would chase Rittenhouse through a parking lot until Rittenhouse turned and shot him just as Rosenbaum got a hand on the barrel of his gun.

Rittenhouse ran toward the police line to turn himself in but a mob of angry people followed him. He was hit in the head with a piece of concrete and Anthony Huber swung his skateboard at him. When he stumbled another man leaped and kicked him in the face. Huber approached and swung the skateboard at his head again and Rittenhouse fired one shot that killed him. Then Grosskreutz pulled out a pistol and ran toward Rittenhouse. For a moment he had his hands up in surrender and Rittenhouse didn’t fire at him. Then he lunged forward, pointing the gun at Rittenhouse’s head and at that point Rittenhouse fired one shot that struck his arm. Rittenhouse got up and kept running. He tried to surrender himself to police but the officer told him to back off and go home.


I am a conservative and here’s how I basically feel about this situation which clearly is tragic for everyone involved: I wish none of it had happened. I wish Jacob Blake had allowed himself to be arrested on the felony warrant he knew he had. I wish, barring that, the media had reported more accurately on why he faced arrest and why he was shot. And, barring that, I wish the police had pushed back on the violent rioters instead of letting them burn parts of downtown Kenosha. And I wish Kyle Rittenhouse had never gone to Kenosha to help do the job of standing up to rioters the police weren’t doing. And barring that, I wish his friend hadn’t given him the rifle. And I wish Joseph Rosenbaum had stayed in the hospital one more day so he wasn’t there to threaten people that night. And I wish Anthony Huber hadn’t become part of a mob and decided to smash Rittenhouse in the head with a skateboard and that Gaige Grosskreutz had left his gun at home and also hadn’t tried to be a hero. He too was trying to fill the vacuum of order left by the police. It feels like the whole situation could have been avoided if any number of things had gone just a little bit differently.

What I don’t think is fair, however, is to say Kyle Rittenhouse fired the shots and therefore he’s responsible for everything. He didn’t create the climate in which this happened and as even Waldman grudgingly admits, it’s still possible the jury will see this as self defense. To be clear, I don’t think Waldman sees it that way, but he realizes others might. What offends Waldman is that the right is making Rittenhouse a “hero” but here again, he’s leaving out some equally important parts of the story.


From the moment Rittenhouse killed Rosenbaum and Huber, he has been embraced by the right as a hero.

The Trump administration immediately distributed talking points to federal law enforcement officials to use if asked about Rittenhouse, in which they were instructed to say that he “took his rifle to the scene of the rioting to help defend small business owners.”…

Rittenhouse “should walk away a free and rich man after suing for malicious prosecution. That would be true justice in this case,” said Matt Walsh of the Daily Wire. “Kyle Rittenhouse went to Kenosha to clean up the filth left by the rioting Biden voters,” said Tucker Carlson. This has been the message over and over from the right: We’re not saying we’re glad he killed two people, but those people kind of deserved to die and he’s a hero.

As I suggested above, I’m not happy that Rittenhouse killed two people. I don’t think he’s happy about it except for the fact that if he hadn’t he might be dead. But I think all of the talk about Rittenhouse as a “hero” is a reaction to the overwhelmingly one-sided takes, especially early on, about him, the riots, Jacob Blake, the police, etc. That’s the real context here. Here’s a Cinema Paradiso-style supercut of just some of the bits Paul Waldman has left out of the picture.

After all the lies and omissions about Jacob Blake and the rioters and the about Kyle Rittenhouse himself, a lot of people are just overcompensating a bit. If the millionaire left-wing TV hosts are going to claim he’s a psycho who went there to shoot protests for sport, if they are going to call him a murderer in the midst of his murder trial, then people on the other side are going to say, ‘Hell no, he’s a hero!’ If on the other hand the media had been a lot more restrained and reported accurately and carefully on these issues I think people wouldn’t be pushing back quite so hard.


To make it personal, I don’t think Kyle Rittenhouse is a hero, though I think in a worst case situation he handled himself better than I or many 17-year-olds would have. I’m not glad Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber are dead, but I do think Rittenhouse arguably acted in self defense in situations where other people also had a responsibility not to act as vigilantes.

Getting back to Paul Waldman, he’s written an entire piece claiming the world would be a better place if not for these crazy people on the right celebrating Kyle Rittenhouse but he cheated to get there. He left out all of the irresponsible and crazy people on the left who were burning Kenosha and the ones who’ve been calling for Rittenhouse’s blood since the moment this was reported. He’s also left out all the media outlets who seemed to be egging on that reaction by not providing an accurate account of what happened. And yeah, if you completely ignore all of that and only look at the reaction on the right, it does look crazy. But as is often the case these days, that’s because the most important part of the story wound up on the cutting room floor.

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