Slatest PM: Bystanders caught in Empire State crossfire; Romney cracks Birther joke; RIP Count von Count; and more.

Obama Looks To Capitalize on Romney's Joke

Obama Looks To Capitalize on Romney's Joke

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The Slatest
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Aug. 24 2012 4:43 PM

PM Roundup: Mass Shootings, Mitt's Birther Joke, RIP Count Von Count, and More.


*** NOTE: We've revamped our afternoon Slatest newsletter to deliver a text-heavy recap of the day's top stories to our subscribers' inboxes. Friday's edition, the fifth under the new format, is below. You can sign up here to receive it in your inbox daily. ***

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.

EMPIRE STATE SHOOTING: 56-year-old Jeffrey Johnson shot and killed a 41-year-old former colleague this morning outside the Empire State Building, where the pair used to work at a women's apparel company. After killing Steve Ercolino with a shot to the head, Johnson fled the scene on foot. 


'STUFF HAPPENS': When police pursued, the gunman drew his weapon, prompting the officers to respond with deadly force. Nine innocent bystanders were caught in the crossfire—possibly struck by bullets fired by the first responders—but all are expected to live. Robert Asika, one of those believed to have been shot by police, had this to say when interviewed by the New York Times: “I guess, you know, this stuff happens.”

EYE WITNESS: "I saw [Johnson] pull a gun out from his jacket, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to shoot him’—and I wanted to turn and push Steve out of the way,” Irene Timan told the Times. “I knew it, I just knew it was going to happen. But it was too late. Steve screamed, Jeff shot him, and I just turned and ran.”

PHOTOS: Media outlets covering the shooting in real-time were faced with a tough decision on whether to publish some of the rather graphic photos that were being posted online by those on the scene. Poynter takes a look at which sites did what.

IN OTHER SHOOTING NEWS: A Norwegian court found admitted mass killer and self-proclaimed anti-Muslim crusader Anders Breivik sane today, sentencing him to a 21-year prison term, the longest allowed under the nation's laws. In a reversal of what most of us TV court drama-watchers have come to expect, it was actually the defense that was arguing Breivik was sane


THE WINDY CITY: The Chicago Tribune: "Nineteen people were shot across the South and West sides from Thursday evening through early Friday morning—13 of them wounded over a 30-minute period, authorities say." 

AND IN COLORADO: Reuters: "Accused Colorado gunman James Holmes had conversations with a classmate about wanting to kill people in March 2012, four months before a deadly rampage that left 12 people dead and 58 others wounded, a court document showed on Friday."

It's Friday, August 24. Welcome to the Slatest PM, where your afternoon host finds it a whole lot easier to be light and cheery when the day's news cycle is mass shooting free. Follow the whole team at @slatest and your host at @JoshVoorhees. You can also fill his inbox with links, mini-explainer requests and anything else that's on your mind at

SOMETHING TO WATCH: Todd Akin is scheduled to hold a presser at 5:15 pm E.T. But sources tell CNN and the National Journal that it's only to reaffirm his plans to stay in the Missouri Senate race. But given Akin's recent history of unpredictability, the Beltway crowd will no doubt be watching.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE: Mitt Romney went for what appeared to be an ad-libbed crowd pleaser on the stump in Michigan today, cracking a Birther-themed joke about President Obama. "Now I love being home in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born," said the GOP hopeful. "Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital, I was born at Harper Hospital. No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate, they know that this is the place that we were born and raised." The crowd approved.

SPINMASTER: Dave Weigel writes: "It's a simple story. Romney made a joke that relies on a debunked conspiracy theory about the president—a theory especially popular with people who don't like blacks and foreigners. Romney's crowd cheered. He probably opened up a pre-convention worm-can that he didn't mean to open. This, I think, is why we're already seeing the comment spun away." Check out the four biggest spins here.


WHEN YOUR OPPONENT GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE LEMONADE: And then try to sell it. "Take a moment or two to think about that, what he's actually saying, and what it says about Mitt Romney," the Obama campaign wrote in an email to supporters. "Then make a donation of $68 or more to re-elect Barack Obama today."

SAY IT AIN'T SO: We're still waiting for official world from cycling's international body on the fate of Lance Armstrong's professional record, but it appears to be just a matter of time before the UCI follows USADA's lead and formally strips the Texan of his professional titles now that he's refusing to fight allegations of doping (despite maintaining his innocence).

SLATE TAKES: Josh Levin writes that by throwing away his seven Tour de France titles, Lance is keeping what he prizes most: his righteous indignationJeremy Stahl, meanwhile, makes the case that if we're going to strike Armstrong's name from the record books, we might as well pretend the races he won never happened.

WHAT ELSE LANCE GETS TO KEEP: The Swoosh. Nike: "Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position. Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation that Lance created to serve cancer survivors."


RIP COUNT VON COUNT: Jerry Nelson, the puppeteer behind the number-happy vampire on Sesame Street, died Thursday of unspecified causes, CBC Radio-Canada reports. He was 78. 


AP: "Building upon its fundraising prowess, Mitt Romney's campaign began a secretive data-mining project this summer to trove through Americans' personal information—including their purchasing history and church attendance — to identify new and likely wealthy donors, The Associated Press has learned."

NYT: "China is developing a new generation of missiles that would give it a greater capability to hit targets in the United States and to overwhelm any defense systems, analysts said."


WSJ: "Ben Bernanke, in a letter responding to questions posed by Rep. Darrell Issa, defended actions the Fed has taken to support the economy and said there is room for the Fed to do more."

Reuters: "North Korea's young leader wants a state visit to China in the latest move in his push to lift the isolated state out of decades of poverty, but risks further fraying ties with his only powerful ally by sticking to the threat of a new nuclear test. "

THE DIRTIEST COMMENTS IN THE WORLD: Seth Stevenson tries to answer the question: Why do people comment on porn videos? Here's a snippet: "I guess I’d just always assumed that viewing porn was not a social occasion. More a solitary endeavor. Or something couples might do together. Surely not a team sport."

REDNECK TV: Michelle Dean explains what Honey Boo Boo really says about American culture: "This idea that the hillbilly’s poverty is a choice allows more upscale Americans to feel comfortable while laughing at the antics before them. It also pushes some people to embrace the stereotype as a badge of honor."

WHAT YOUR HOST IS GOING TO READ AS SOON AS HE HITS SEND: John Brandon's first weekly college football column of the season over at Grantland.

HAVE A HAPPY WEEKEND: Daniel Politi (@dpoliti) will be running the Slatest ship over the weekend, but your regular host will be back bright and early Monday morning. See you then. In the meantime tell your friends to subscribe here.