By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
As more facts have come out about the tragic death of young Trayvon Martin, the news media have been confronted with the consequences of their rush to judgment when news of this story first broke nationally. The first week or 10 days of national coverage turned out to be more of a lynch mob than a sober take on an unfolding story. It had all the makings of “First the hanging, then the trial.” And then more facts began to emerge.
The word of the day was justice, as called for by the likes of Al Sharpton and Ed Schultz, the MSNBC hosts who are among the leaders of the “presumed guilty” rush to judgment of the Hispanic American, George Zimmerman, for what they believe was a cold-blooded murder of an unarmed, black teenager, Trayvon Martin. The problem is, that’s not the way our justice system is supposed to work, and there are significant facts in dispute.
Undoubtedly, this was a tragedy. If a jury finds that Zimmerman committed a crime, and murdered Martin, he should face the consequences and do the time. In our system, those decisions are left to judges and juries, not talk-show hosts desperate to goose their ratings, who act as if they are unquestionably perched on some moral high ground.
What everyone agrees upon is that on the night of February 26th of this year, Trayvon Martin, who was visiting his father’s home in Sanford, Florida, near Orlando, had gone out to a 7-11 convenience store for candy and a drink. Meanwhile, Zimmerman, a neighborhood-watch captain who was not on duty that night, was returning to his home when he noticed and became suspicious of Martin and called 911, as he had done over 40 times in the previous year and a half while participating in that program. Zimmerman was following Martin, and was told by a dispatcher not to do that. Zimmerman said “Okay,” and there was a break in the recorded record of what happened in the following moments. Shortly thereafter, there was a physical altercation between the two, Zimmerman fired a shot from his 9MM handgun, and Trayvon Martin lay dead on the ground.
The police arrived at the scene moments later, and their report suggests there had been an altercation between Martin and Zimmerman. One of the policemen stated in the report that “I observed that his back appeared to be wet and he was covered in grass, as if he had been laying on his back on the ground. Zimmerman was also bleeding from his nose and the back of his head.”
The report filed by the Sanford police indicates that there were at least six witnesses who saw or heard at least some of the events that led to Martin’s death. They ranged in age from 19 to 56. Five were described as “white.” The race of the sixth witness was listed as “O,” meaning “other.”
Part of what led to the rush to judgment was the fact that Zimmerman was described as a white male in the police report. But since his mother is Peruvian, he is Hispanic, and many commentators acknowledge that he is easily identified as such. In addition, the Sanford Police Department had been involved in some alleged controversial racial incidents in the past. According to The Miami Herald, they had on more than one occasion been accused “of giving favorable treatment to relatives of officers involved in violent encounters with blacks.” On one such occasion, in 2010, “police waited seven weeks to arrest a lieutenant’s son who was caught on video sucker-punching a homeless black man.”
In the Trayvon Martin case, the young, unarmed black teen was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, who was identified in the police report as a white man. The police came to the scene, handcuffed him, and based on an eyewitness account, their findings at the scene, and Zimmerman’s description of what happened, they made a decision to not arrest him. He was reportedly detained for five hours, treated by a medic, and taken to the police station.
ABC News reported on March 27 that the night Martin was shot, Chris Serino, the lead homicide detective on the case, said he “disbelieved” George Zimmerman’s testimony and recommended in an affidavit that Zimmerman be arrested for manslaughter. However, the State Attorney’s office instructed him not to press charges because it was deemed there wasn’t enough evidence to lead to a conviction.
From the day of the incident, February 26, it took 11 days before there was any national news about the incident, beginning with the Associated Press and Reuters. The first TV coverage was on March 8 on the show “The Young Turks,” on Current-TV, followed by CBS and then CNN on March 13. Al Sharpton started covering it that same day on his MSNBC show. The next day it was all over the evening news shows. Fox’s first coverage was on March 19 after the 911 tapes were released. It was nearly three weeks after the incident before The New York Times covered it. By then it had become “the story,” receiving constant, wall-to-wall coverage. The demand was definite and in your face: arrest George Zimmerman and try him for the murder of Trayvon Martin. If not, “No justice, no peace.”
The story went from being a tragic, local homicide of a black teenager, an event that happens far too often across this country, to a national cause célèbre, led by the MSNBC lineup, the Occupy Wall Streeters, the New Black Panthers, and the family of Trayvon Martin. At one of many rallies that took place nationwide to bring attention to the story, the New Black Panthers handed out flyers at a rally at Sanford City Hall with Zimmerman’s picture on them. The caption read “wanted dead or alive.” They have offered a $10,000 reward for the capture and citizen’s arrest of Zimmerman, and said in a press release that they hoped to up the reward money, the bounty, to $100,000. They later said $1 million.
Here was a new issue the left could use to try to denigrate the Republicans, and add to their narrative. Not only are those evil white men running for the Republican nomination with unlimited money from oil and gas companies to help bring down President Obama because he’s black, but they have waged a war on women and contraception. And now they stand even more exposed, according to the narrative of the leftist media and those leading the protests. This time, the GOP is on the wrong side of the biggest civil rights story since Emmett Till, who in 1955 was murdered by white racists for flirting with, or whistling at, a white woman. Throw in the 2005 “Stand Your Ground” law, signed by then-Governor Jeb Bush, that they argue was basically a license for white people to shoot black people at will and then claim self-defense. If they can make this narrative stick, then, they believe, Barack Obama is assured election for a second term.
Even President Obama came out, and depending on one’s view, he either offered a thoughtful, calming message, or fanned the racial flames. After stating that he had “to be careful about my statements to make sure that we’re not impairing any investigation that’s taking place right now,” he then said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Why feed the race narrative? By then it was well known that the shooter in this case was Hispanic, which in itself brings up a whole series of questions.
The following weekend, of March 16-18, in the President’s adopted home town of Chicago, there was a huge rash of shootings and murders. Chicago’s mayor is Rahm Emanuel, who was President Obama’s chief of staff. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, on that weekend, 49 people were shot, with 10 fatalities, including six-year-old Aliyah Shell, whose mother, Diana Aguilar, must have been as distraught as Trayvon Martin’s mother. Why don’t the national media examine that story?
She was reportedly shot by members of a street gang known as The Latin Kings. Have the national media devoted a single story to that weekend in Chicago, or the murder of Aliyah Shell? Why is her murder any less significant than Trayvon Martin? Did she not “trend” well on Twitter?
When exactly is a matter racial? The Trayvon Martin case started out to be a racial issue when it was reported that a white man shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. But once it became clear that Zimmerman was Hispanic, that should have shifted the narrative. Is it racism if a black person shoots a Hispanic person? How about a black person shooting a white person? Does it matter how dark-skinned the Hispanic is before it is determined if it is racism at work?
Eugene Robinson, columnist for The Washington Post and regular contributor to MSNBC, thinks he knows what was in Zimmerman’s heart. He wrote, “Does it matter that Zimmerman is himself a member of a minority group—he is Hispanic—or that his family says he has black friends? Not in the least. The issue isn’t Zimmerman’s race or ethnicity; it’s the hair-trigger assumption he made that ‘black male’ equals ‘up to no good.’”
But here’s the problem with that rush to judgment. According to The Miami Herald, “One black neighbor recently interviewed said she knew everything in the media was untrue and that she would trust George with her life. Another black neighbor said that George was the only one, black or white, who came and welcomed her to the community, offering any assistance he could provide. Recently, I met two black children George invited to a social event. I asked where they met George. They responded that he was their mentor.”
Another friend of Zimmerman, Joe Oliver, a 53-year-old black man who said he had known Zimmerman for about six years, made the TV rounds on March 26. He, too, vouched that Zimmerman was not the least bit racist, and highlighted the version of events that was leaked out that day by the Sanford Police Department. He said Zimmerman had given a similar narrative, but had been told not to talk about it publicly until it went to the Grand Jury, which is scheduled for April 10. To his credit, Chris Matthews had Oliver on and gave him a very fair interview, while the same day, Ed Schultz was still demonizing Zimmerman and questioning Oliver’s motives and character.
Oliver, a former reporter and anchor for the local NBC affiliate, came under attack from several journalists on MSNBC, including by The New York Times’ Charles Blow. His story didn’t fit their narrative.
Schultz has shown himself to be bigoted when it comes to talking about people who live in this Southern region of the country. The previous week, on March 21 during an interview with a lawyer knowledgeable on the subject, Ed Schultz asked, “Do you have any confidence that the grand jury, with the character of this part of the country, is going to be able to deliver justice?”
The City Manager of Sanford, Florida, the city where this took place, is black. But Schultz felt compelled to disparage “the character of this part of the country.”
The version of events that Oliver referred to, which comes from Zimmerman and an eyewitness who has said he saw what happened, and which the police found consistent with what they came upon, was as follows, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel:
On Feb. 26, when Zimmerman first spotted Trayvon, he called police and reported a suspicious person, describing Trayvon as black, acting strangely and perhaps on drugs.
Zimmerman got out of his SUV to follow Trayvon on foot. When a dispatch employee asked Zimmerman if he was following the 17-year-old, Zimmerman said yes. The dispatcher told Zimmerman he did not need to do that.
There is about a one-minute gap during which police say they’re not sure what happened.
Zimmerman told them he lost sight of Trayvon and was walking back to his SUV when Trayvon approached him from the left rear, and they exchanged words.
Trayvon asked Zimmerman if he had a problem. Zimmerman said no and reached for his cell phone, he told police. Trayvon then said, “Well, you do now” or something similar and punched Zimmerman in the nose, according to the account he gave police.
Zimmerman fell to the ground and Trayvon got on top of him and began slamming his head into the sidewalk, he told police.
Zimmerman began yelling for help.
Several witnesses heard those cries, and there has been a dispute about whether they came from Zimmerman or Trayvon.
Lawyers for Trayvon’s family say it was Trayvon, but police say their evidence indicates it was Zimmerman.
One witness, who has since talked to local television news reporters, told police he saw Zimmerman on the ground with Trayvon on top, pounding him — and was unequivocal that it was Zimmerman who was crying for help.
Zimmerman then shot Trayvon once in the chest at very close range, according to authorities.
When police arrived less than two minutes later, Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose, had a swollen lip and had bloody lacerations to the back of his head.
Paramedics gave him first aid but he said he did not need to go to the hospital. He got medical care the next day.
Police Chief Bill Lee, who stepped down from his position after receiving a vote of no confidence by the city commission, said that although police do not encourage watch program volunteers to carry weapons, he recognizes a citizen’s constitutional right to do so. No arrest was made, Lee said, because there was no evidence to disprove Zimmerman’s account.
In an official statement from the black City Manager of Sanford, Norton Bonaparte, Jr. wrote the following:
“Why was George Zimmerman not arrested the night of the shooting?
“When the Sanford Police Department arrived at the scene of the incident, Mr. Zimmerman provided a statement claiming he acted in self defense which at the time was supported by physical evidence and testimony. By Florida Statute, law enforcement was PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time…
“If Zimmerman was told not to continue to follow Trayvon, can that be considered in this investigation?
“Yes it will; however, the telecommunications call taker asked Zimmerman ‘are you following him?’ Zimmerman replied, ‘yes.’ The call taker stated ‘you don’t need to do that.’ The call taker’s suggestion is not a lawful order that Mr. Zimmerman would be required to follow. Zimmerman’s statement was that he had lost sight of Trayvon and was returning to his truck to meet the police officer when he says he was attacked by Trayvon.”
Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend was on the phone with him as he realized that Zimmerman was following him. She said Martin thought he lost Zimmerman, only to be confronted moments later. There was a scuffle, and the girlfriend said that Martin was being pushed by Zimmerman, and the phone went dead. Martin himself died seconds later.
Bob Owens, a blogger I cited in the past for his reporting on Operation Fast & Furious, noted the applicable portion of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
Owens cited “the mischaracterization of ‘Stand your Ground’ laws as being the key to Zimmerman avoiding prosecution for Martin’s death, and of this kind of law being ‘controversial’ outside a very narrow subset of left wing anti-gun organizations.”
Owens further explained, “While Florida’s version of the law is the nation’s first, it has been widely copied and implemented. The laws are a subset of the ‘Castle doctrine’ of English common law that dates back prior to the founding of the United States. The legal theories behind ‘standing your ground’ in the face of an attack have a firm basis in U.S. Supreme Court tested cases Beard v. U.S. (1895), and Brown v. United States (1921), the latter of which gave cause for noted Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. to note, ‘detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.’ 31 states have variations of the Castle doctrine or Stand Your Ground laws, and implementation of these laws is ascendent with several more states considering their implementation.”
One of the Florida Republican legislators who sponsored the law in 2005 said that Zimmerman “has no protection under my law.” He said their law is a self-defense act. “It says law-abiding people have no duty to retreat from an attacker and can meet ‘force with force.’ Nowhere does it say that a person has a right to confront another.”
On MSNBC, Democratic Party strategist Karen Finney linked Rush Limbaugh to the fatal shooting of Martin by Zimmerman. She said that Limbaugh, along with Republican presidential candidates Gingrich, Santorum and Romney, “reinforce and validate old stereotypes that associate the poor and welfare as criminal behavior with African Americans and people of color, calling us lazy, undeserving recipients of public assistance.”
The left-wing media are facing a serious dilemma. The facts that have come out have clearly changed the basis for judgment in this case. Yet the calls for Zimmerman to be arrested have continued.
Maybe the left believes that Al Sharpton has been rehabilitated after all of his race hucksterism. Is it really productive to have the architect of one of the greatest racial hoaxes of recent decades, the Tawana Brawley case, as the chief antagonist in all this? This case demonstrates that by MSNBC having turned the 6 p.m. weekday timeslot over to Sharpton, they have made a serious error in judgment. Sharpton is leading the lynch mob in pursuit of Zimmerman; then his nightly show features him where he continues his activism on this very subject. The other hosts on MSNBC give great deference to Sharpton, have him on their shows, and express the same outrage and indignation that he does.
Former NAACP leader C.L. Bryant has accused Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton of “exploiting” the Trayvon Martin tragedy to “racially divide this country.”
“His family should be outraged at the fact that they’re using this child as the bait to inflame racial passions,” Rev. C.L. Bryant said in a Monday interview with The Daily Caller.
The conservative black pastor who was once the chapter president of the Garland, Texas NAACP, called Jackson and Sharpton “race hustlers” and said they are “acting as though they are buzzards circling the carcass of this young boy.”
Jackson, for example, recently said Martin’s death shows how “blacks are under attack” and “targeting, arresting, convicting blacks and ultimately killing us is big business.”
Rev. Bryant was on CNN on March 27 saying that people like Jackson and Sharpton are being misleading to suggest there is an epidemic of “white men killing black young men.”
“The epidemic is truly black on black crime,” Bryant said. “The greatest danger to the lives of young black men are young black men.”
“Why not be angry about the wholesale murder that goes on in the streets of Newark and Chicago?” he asked. “Why isn’t somebody angry about that six-year-old girl who was killed on her steps last weekend in a cross fire when two gang members in Chicago start shooting at each other? Why is there no outrage about that?”
Bryant said he worries that “people like Sharpton and those on the left” will make Martin’s death a campaign issue in the presidential race.
In the coming weeks there will inevitably be many twists and turns in this tragic case. Sadly, one thing is almost certain. The media will continue to fan the flames of controversy and attempt to shoehorn the facts into their narrative. Will justice prevail, and will time heal these wounds to our society? Only time will tell.
Dear Fellow Media Watchdogs:
This AIM Report focuses on a really sad and tragic episode in American life. First and foremost is the death of a black teenager who had his whole life ahead of him. Then, about 10 days later, the story went national, but with only bits of information available, and much of it wrong.
The man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin was George Zimmerman, described as a “white” male in the Sanford, Fl. police report, when in fact his mother is from Peru, and he looks Hispanic. The media later began calling him a “white Hispanic.” Hearing bits and pieces of the 911 recordings from that February 26 evening, many in the media, and a number of politicians, demanded that Zimmerman be arrested for murder. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) called it a “hate crime.”
But as more facts came out, it wasn’t quite so clear. Police had detained and questioned Zimmerman for hours, and most of them believed his story, that after initially pursuing Martin, he returned to his car, as urged to do by the dispatcher, and was attacked by Martin. After suffering a blow to his nose, and having his head beaten against the sidewalk, Zimmerman shot Martin one time and killed him.
It turned out that both Martin and Zimmerman had embarrassing issues in their lives. Zimmerman had a couple run-ins with the law, and Martin had been suspended three times from school, including the 10-day suspension he was under when he was killed. But I chose not to focus on those stories, because frankly they aren’t particularly relevant to the larger story, except for how the media chose to deal with them.
The case has exacerbated racial tensions in this country, and the media and certain politicians have played leading roles in fanning the flames. Reporters such as Andrea Mitchell were still calling Zimmerman “white” well after it was known that he was half-Hispanic. NBC quoted from the 911 transcripts, out of context, to make it seem like Zimmerman was a racist, when in fact he was answering a direct question from the dispatcher about the ethnicity of Martin. And when it became clear that Zimmerman had a history of teaching and mentoring black children, and that he was a registered Democrat, the media weren’t interested. It didn’t fit in with their narrative.
ABC obtained police footage of Zimmerman being brought in and already Al Sharpton and others are saying this proves that he had been lying, and in the case of the attorney for the parents of Trayvon Martin, that the footage confirms a “conspiracy” by the police, along with Zimmerman. But once again, it proves no such thing. ABC News reported that Zimmerman appears uninjured in the video. But a still image from the video indicates what appears to be a vertical laceration or scar several inches long. We will continue to follow this story and its many disturbing angles.
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.