Why Are the News Networks Serving Us Round-the-Clock Coverage of the Zimmerman Trial?
Yesterday morning, I tuned in to Daily Rundown . . . and found most of the show’s opening was consumed by George Zimmerman trial discussion, and soon pre-empted by live trial coverage. I had been scheduled to appear on The Lead with Jake Tapper as part of their roundtable today . . . and was told Monday evening that they’re likely to be pre-empted by live trial coverage this afternoon.
Egypt’s got a widespread, increasingly violent uprising — Turkey and Brazil, too, the death toll in Syria just hit six figures, the Obamacare implementation train wreck continues, and we get nonstop coverage of every witless witness in this case.
Monday, CNN “accidentally” showed viewers defendant George Zimmerman’s Social Security number, which spurred righteous rant from Allahpundit:
. . . the excuse will be that it was an accident, that they were caught by surprise when unredacted personal information was shown in court. Maybe. They know not to air images of the jurors, they know not to air grisly photos of the crime scene, but apparently they don’t know that sometimes police reports with people’s vital info are shown onscreen in court during trials.
Here’s the thing: Even if this shot is accidental, the only reason the proceedings are on TV to begin with is because the media’s obsessed with the idea that Zimmerman committed a racial atrocity and must be punished for it. Trials typically don’t get saturation coverage because the facts are interesting and tragic and there’s a legit dispute as to whether the prosecution’s or defense’s story of what happened is true. They get saturation coverage because there’s an obvious innocent victim/diabolical defendant dynamic that the media’s interested in.
From the beginning, with the Times pushing its “white Hispanic” description of Zimmerman, the press has strained hard to make the Trayvon Martin shooting a passion play about whites treating black life cheaply in modern, post-civil rights America. As terrible as the prosecution’s witnesses have been thus far, there is no scenario — zero — in which most of the press concludes that acquittal on the murder charge is just rather than unjust. Zimmerman must be guilty, morally if not legally. Progress demands it. Against that backdrop, why be surprised that CNN would show his social security number onscreen? The cameras are there because the press has issued its verdict. Intentional or not, this is part of the sentencing phase.
When some future PhD candidate is doing his dissertation on the total collapse of American news gathering and journalism in the twenty-first century, they’ll cite the coverage of this murder a lot. You recall the egregious “editing” of the defendant’s 911 call:
NBC News has completed the internal investigation into the edited tape of George Zimmerman’s 911 call, which was aired on Today. The network admitted an “error” and apologized to viewers.
The edited call was aired on Today, but was aired repeatedly — including during MSNBC segments about the Trayvon Martin case. NBC’s audio made it seem as though Zimmerman voluntarily offered that Martin looked suspicious because he was black. The unedited audio, The Hollywood Reporter notes, “reveals that Zimmerman didn’t mention Martin’s race until the 911 operator asked him, ‘Is he white, black or Hispanic?’”
This March 2012 article from the Poynter Institute for journalism detailed and verified what seemed odd about the initial coverage of the case — i.e., all of the photos of the 17-year-old shooting victim made him look like he wasn’t old enough to go to high school.
Since the shooting of Trayvon Martin became national news, two photos have come to define the emotionally and racially charged narrative.
News organizations initially had just a few photos of Martin to choose from, and just one of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who shot and killed him. More recent photos have emerged lately, but a month after the shooting, the narrative already has been established.
This is the most recognized image of Trayvon Martin, although it’s several years old. (Associated Press)
“The challenge we have is a lot of folks are getting a very surface view from the photos,” said Orlando Sentinel photo editor Tom Burton. “Photos can be used to get people emotionally involved and we need to be careful. It’s a concern if we had more of a choice, but we are limited by availability.”
The dominant photo of Martin shows him 13 or 14 years old, wearing a red Hollister T-shirt. Other photos, none of them recent, depict a young Martin in a youth football uniform, holding a baby and posing with a snowboard. He is the picture of innocence.
The most common photo of Zimmerman is a 2005 police mugshot. He is 22 in the photo, which was taken after he was arrested for assaulting an officer. (The charges were dropped.) He looks unhappy, if not angry.
The contrast — the two photos are often published side by side — has led to criticism that news media have tilted the story in favor of the 17-year-old victim and against the 28-year-old man who shot him.
“The images used are clearly prejudicial to both men,” said Kenny Irby, Poynter’s senior faculty for visual journalism and diversity. “If those are the repeating images, then we continually reinforce prejudice and negative emotions. We never get to appreciate the life experience or further context of either individual.”
You and I don’t really know what happened that night down in Florida. We may think we know, based on what we have seen and read, but ultimately, the trial is to determine whether a crime was committed. Yet since the shooting garnered national headlines, we have seen Americans on every social network furiously insisting that they knew what had happened, and that Zimmerman is guilty of murder, or that he is guilty of nothing more than deadly self-defense as a dangerous young man viciously attacked him. It’s an unfortunate, deadly circumstance that would seem to have limited ramifications for us, and yet the media treats it as if it is some sort of defining story of the ages, with deep meaning and revelations about the true soul of America.
Like the Paula Deen controversy, this is a he-said, he-said dispute that we’re supposed to line up and take sides over, screaming at each other with absolute certainty about facts that we cannot possibly know.
What’s the point of this coverage, media? What do you hope to illuminate by turning this case into the biggest trial since O. J. Simpson? If Allahpundit’s cynical assessment is wrong, how do the editorial directors of these large journalism institutions explain their coverage?