A survey of media coverage, conducted by this reporter over the past five days, of the Trayvon Martin death in Florida reveals a wide disparity of details which has more than likely contributed to confusion on the part of the public concerning the facts of the case.
Martin’s death occurred all the way back on February 26. Yet numerous individuals have stated to this reporter on social networking sites that they thought the incident occurred early last week due to the manner in which the media suddenly appeared to blare the news of the case all over the airwaves.
The major news outlets in fact did not begin reporting the incident until well known civil rights leaders began to stir up emotions based upon their opinion that Martin’s death occurred as a result of racial hatred.
Early in the coverage, local media outlets in particular seemed to play up the racial angle. That meme was later picked up by the mainstream media, which referred to a ‘nationwide public outcry’ against the alleged shooter, George Zimmerman, and the Sanford, Florida police department.
But a close look at how the shooting was portrayed early on reveals some disturbing manipulation of the facts.
First, the picture of Trayvon Martin that was published and broadcast by the media is of a 12 year old boy. But at the time of the shooting Martin was 17 years old and looked very different from the pictures displayed in the media.
Second, the media portrayed the shooting as a white on black crime. But Zimmerman is widely considered Hispanic, born to a Latina mother and a white father. Zimmerman’s father told a local newspaper in a letter that has been widely reported that his son grew up in a multi racial family.
Further, the picture that was published and broadcast by newspapers and television outlets is an older photo of Zimmerman, dressed in casual clothing. A more accurate rendering of Zimmerman today is that of a businessman dressed in a suit and groomed in such a manner that depicts his standing in the community as a forensic loan review analyst–an underwriter.
In the initial phase of news coverage of the case, much was made of the fact that an unarmed African American teenager was shot by an over zealous white community watch volunteer who had obvious racial motives for doing so. This was the template set by local media and national outlets such as CNN and MSNBC, along with outsiders who knew very little about the facts of the case, such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. It was further stated that the blame for the shooting lies squarely with conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum.
MSNBC continued with its meme two nights ago on The Ed Show during which the host stated that the Martin death is a big problem for conservatives. The network started early on with that meme when a fill in host went on a rampage against conservatives who, in her view, have created an atmosphere where it is easy for people to assume that a black teenager is up to no good.
But other news organizations have been much more cautious in their approach, aware of the fact that the evidence in the case has not yet been fully analyzed by police and that few of the actual facts surrounding the shooting have been made public.
For example, Sean Hannity interviewed Shannon Butler of Fox 35 Orlando on Monday evening, who stated that she had interviewed an eye witness to the shooting who presented a very different version of the facts than the one being reported in the media.
And Joe Oliver, a close friend of George Zimmerman who also happens to be African American, stated that the media’s version of the facts are very different than the actual facts in the case, facts that he says are based upon his long relationship with Zimmerman and what he knows about the incident.
Oliver has been featured on Fox News. And in recent days some of the news outlets that were quick to rush to judgment have interviewed Oliver as well.
Interestingly, Oliver has been a guest on CNN HLN’s Nancy Grace Show. He has also been interviewed by CBS News.
Gradually the major news organizations have finally come around to providing some balance to their reports concerning the Martin shooting, with the exception of MSNBC, which continues to use the incident as a means by which to bash conservatives. But the problem is that the opinions on the part of the public were formed early on based upon the slanted, biased reporting of mainstream outlets.
In today’s fast paced society of the three second sound byte, it is difficult to go back and change or correct the record once citizens have formed and solidified their opinions about matters such as these.
In terms of news coverage, at the very least the mainstream media made a huge mistake in reporting assumptions, half truths, and only one side of the story. It also allowed itself to be used by those with an agenda early on to stir racial tension in a case where there is growing evidence that there was none.
Such reporting only further provides evidence that the mainstream media cannot be trusted to tell the whole story in important cases where much is at stake from a political point of view. And regrettably, in the midst of such reporting the fact that the death of a teenager is always loathsome no matter what the race or background is totally lost in the sensationalism that is stirred up by demagogues and yellow journalism.
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