In New Interview, Bill Barr Sees Dirty Harry, Death Wish As Justice Done Right

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 1: U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee May 1, 2019 in Washington, DC. Barr testified on the Justice Department's investigation of Russian interferen... WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 1: U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee May 1, 2019 in Washington, DC. Barr testified on the Justice Department's investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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August 8, 2019 1:19 p.m.
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Want to know what will make Attorney General Bill Barr’s day, especially when it comes to the ineffable yearning for justice?

According to a recent interview, it may just be Clint Eastwood torturing someone for information by shooting them in the leg.

“I believe a sense of justice is hardwired into human beings,” Barr recalled during an interview with Crime Story podcast host Kary Antholis. “Don’t ask me why, but it is there and it’s satisfying to see justice done.”

Barr elaborated on his theory of justice, recalling the Charles Bronson movie Death Wish and Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, icons of vigilantism in ’70s filmmaking that spawned movie franchises.

The original 1974 exploitation classic Death Wish tells the story of how a do-gooder Manhattan liberal sees the light after his wife is murdered and his daughter is raped. He becomes a one-man vigilante squad, roaming New York City and executing petty thieves.

Death Wish, yeah,” Barr said. “That gives people a sense of satisfaction when they see it.”

Barr then recalled a scene in 1971’s Dirty Harry where Eastwood’s character – a loose-cannon cop – confronts a serial killer who has surrendered, but buried a hostage alive. Eastwood’s character has seconds in the movie to act to find and rescue the hostage, but the serial killer won’t give up the information.

In the attorney general’s telling, Dirty Harry “shoots him in the leg or something and the guy tells him where it is.”

“I say, now, was that an unjust or morally repellent act? Is the reason that the audience applauds when that happens because the audience is morally bankrupt?” Barr asked, incredulously. “Or is there something else going on there?”

Barr’s response on the podcast came immediately after a discussion about the ongoing response to documented instances of police brutality around the country.

Antholis had asked Barr about his belief in the so-called “Ferguson effect,” the idea that anti-police brutality protests following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, have led to more timid police and increased crime rates.

“If police feel that they are going to be unfairly treated or unjustly disciplined for something they felt was a righteous act of self defense, and there’d be what they feel is unfair Monday morning quarterbacking, they will not take those risks,” Barr said.

In response to the next question, about his love of the TV show Banshee, Barr said that he enjoyed the show in part because it delves into a “basic tension between justice in the sense of the ultimate outcome versus justice as a process.”

“Americans have tended recently to view [justice] more as a process, as if the criminal justice process is justice, and it isn’t,” Barr said. “It’s a process that’s supposed to achieve justice, but very frequently doesn’t.”

“That’s the theme in the Dirty Harry movies,” he added, before also referencing Death Wish.

Antholis, a former HBO executive, said on the show that he met Barr while the attorney general was an executive at Time Warner.

Editor’s note: TPM Media LLC is helping incubate Crime Story Media in its early launch phase. The two sites, TPM and Crime Story, are editorially independent of each other.
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