(Long Island, NY) The second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin on the evening of February 26, 2012, in its eighth day, is igniting debate throughout the nation along multiple lines, especially racial; however, would the fervor be quite so pronounced if the American media actually called their portrayals of the principals in this tragic case down the center instead of grabbing for ratings with gross sensationalism
Such actions beg the question: How can there be a fair and impartial trial when the media has done a great deal to prevent that?
George Zimmerman is currently on trial for second-degree murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2012
There have been a number of inaccuracies in the reporting of the Zimmerman/Martin case thus far, some spread by gossip via the internet (ever the bastion of reliable information), and some, unfortunately, perpetuated by the media delivering the “facts” to the public. While some news outlets are calling it straight down the middle, others appear to either be making amateurish mistakes, skipping a vital part of reporting – fact checking – or just outright attempting to fan the flames of a nation already gripped in the throes of anger solely for increasing views.
Getting the facts straight in a case such as this, where said facts are murky due to the lack of witnesses and the unfortunate death of one of the only two people in the equation who know the true story, can admittedly be nightmarishly difficult. However, this does not excuse some of the mistakes the media has made, and the most glaring one early on were the pictures used to identity Zimmerman and Martin to the public. The media chose to run deceptively out-of-date pictures of the two- Zimmerman, an older shot looking rather gruff and heavy-set, as opposed to the slimmer, more clean-shaven look he had been sporting more recently to the shooting; and Martin, a smiling, bright-eyed and baby-faced picture that made him look quite innocent and harmless. Regardless of who made what decision that fateful evening that lead to young Martin being shot point-blank in the chest after an altercation with Zimmerman, the lines were already being drawn in the minds of the American people between Zimmerman and Martin and who was likely guilty; indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Of course, Martin would be misrepresented once again in pictures, this time in the opposite direction; when news of his out-of-date picture began to make the rounds on the internet, soon a supposed “real” picture of him was circulated, with some media sources picking up on it and actually running as legitimate without checking on its authenticity first. This picture, of course, wasn’t Martin at all, but a photograph of rapper The Game, who is said to have been 31 years-old at the time it was taken. But now Martin, previously portrayed as a sweet child, is being painted in an altogether different light, and again, the media was to blame. To date, it is said that there are still some news bureaus running the photo.
While there were causes that brought accusations of racism into Zimmerman’s alleged profiling of Martin, some more legitimate than others, one incident that represented a complete breakdown in journalistic integrity involved some selective audio editing on the part of NBC News early in the case’s history. Playing a recording of Zimmerman’s call to police, NBC edited the audio to make it appear that Zimmerman blatantly volunteered Martin’s race to the police dispatcher without being asked, giving the appearance that he was singling him out based solely on his race; this was later disproved when the full call tapes were released, showing that Zimmerman didn’t point out that Martin was black until asked. But again, the damage was done; America saw Zimmerman as a racist in the eyes and minds of many who had watched that initial NBC broadcast. NBC issued an apology and even canned some of the people responsible for the editing, but it begs the question: how much of this “selective editing” does the public completely miss over the course of an average news day?
More recently, CNN made a major bungle during a broadcast when they displayed Zimmerman’s address, phone number, and Social Security number for the whole world to see as it was displayed during an exhibit during the trial. The information should have been censored by the prosecution beforehand, but the fact that it was shown on-screen for a reported 23 seconds was more than enough to send Twitter and Facebook posters into an uproar, both on the part of those supporting Zimmerman and those hoping that people will use that vital personal information in a vindictive manner.
Also, while it has been shown that Martin did indeed have some previous disciplinary issues in school, some of these incidents have been blown up by the media as well to an unflattering degree. That being said, how can George Zimmerman ever get a fair trial, and how can the memory of Trayvon Martin ever be given the respect it deserves, when journalists value sensationalism over the simple truth?
Regardless of what really happened that night on February 26, 2012, and regardless of how some journalists choose to spin the few facts that have come to light, the only thing most people can agree on is that a series of poor decisions on some individual’s part, either Zimmerman’s, Martin’s, or both, ended in the sad, horrific death of a young man not even in his prime.