Trayvon Martin, Tragedy, and Media Hypocrisy
Most of the country has now heard about the incident that occurred on February 26, 2012, in a small gated community in Sanford Florida. At around 7:00 pm, Trayvon Martin, 17, was returning from a 7-Eleven to visit a family member when he was gunned down by George Zimmerman, 28, a self appointed neighborhood watch captain. Beyond these facts and a brief 9-11 call Zimmerman made to the police, very little else is known.
The case has caused a national uproar, with those on the Left decrying Florida’s stand your ground law, sparking a debate about racism. Those on the far Left have even sparked threats to ignite a race war. The case is tinted with racial components: Trayvon was a young black teenager (often a vilified group) and George Zimmerman is a white Hispanic. However, what occurred after these facts is a showcase of media manipulation, bias, and hypocrisy
The Left’s Coverage
According to police, Zimmerman’s account looked something like this:
With a single punch, Trayvon Martin decked the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who eventually shot and killed the unarmed 17-year-old, then Trayvon climbed on top of George Zimmerman and slammed his head into the sidewalk, leaving him bloody and battered, law-enforcement authorities told the Orlando Sentinel.
In his version of events, Zimmerman had turned around and was walking back to his SUV when Trayvon approached him from behind, the two exchanged words and then Trayvon punched him in the nose, sending him to the ground, and began beating him.*
The Sanford PD, citing lack of evidence, cleared Zimmerman of any wrongdoing. When this story first infiltrated the media and the blogosphere, George Zimmerman was described as a “white male” (which was corroborated by the police). It was at this very moment that the story started to heat up and various members of the Left began to question the motivations behind Zimmerman’s account of the killing. Civil rights groups swiftly called for Zimmerman’s arrest, and all eyes were out to find a spec of racism that may have tainted the case (such as Zimmerman’s supposed use of the word “coon” (as covered here by ABC News). There were accounts that Zimmerman was targeting only blacks, and that the police tape did not show that Zimmerman’s reported injuries. Further, Al Sharpton is calling for an increase in protests and economic sanction until Zimmerman is arrested.
Politicians soon began weighing in, and Representative Bobby Rush (D-Ill), lost his right to speak on the House floor after wearing a hoodie in tribute to Martin. The “hoodie controversy” became a controversial talking point due to remarks made by Geraldo Rivera (see bel0w), and Democratic members of Congress took this as an opportunity to show signs of solidarity.
Character attacks soon took center stage against Zimmerman. Not only was he potentially a racist, but he also went ‘nuts’ when he would snap as a security guard. And, to further discredit Zimmerman’s account of believability, NBC launched audio that suggested Zimmerman was solely targeting Trayvon Martin because he was black. However, days later, an internal investigation was launched to discover why the tape was in fact edited to make it appear that Zimmerman was targeting blacks.
Stand Your Ground
Much of the Left’s coverage also centered on the controversial “stand your ground” law. Enacted in 2005, the law allows for use of deadly force under threat of death or great bodily harm. The Sanford police failed to arrest Zimmerman based on his account that his head was slammed against the concrete by an aggression Travyon, and ruled that the stand your ground law applied and that they lacked evidence to arrest him. Without probable cause, and any eyewitnesses to refute his testimony, police chose not to press charges.
The media, and those on the Left, have noted that the controversial law has led to an increase in justifiable homicides, and further, questioned whether or not the law even applied in this case. This questioning has also led to a legal inquiry into the law’s legality. It is on this note that the Left and members of the media have taken a responsible stand – questioning a law, that by all accounts, appears to be both dangerous and will lead to tragedies such as the Martin case.
The Right, however, continues to ignore the data against the law.
The Right’s Coverage
Members of the GOP initially extended their sympathies to Martin’s family, choosing not to politicize the debate. But then President Obama, speaking about the tragedy, made this remark:
Soon thereafter, the GOP pounced on the president, calling him out for attempting to inciting a race war and focusing on Trayvon’s race. Newt Gingrinch said “What the president said, in a sense, is disgraceful. It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background.”
And with this statement, the Right leaning media crafted a narrative that turned the incident from a tragedy into a partisan battle on race, gun rights, and “who cares more”. Particularly, the Right felt that the president’s race baiting would lead to calls for race wars. Their coverage soon focused on the extremist groups that were targeting Zimmerman, from the Black Panthers who called for bloody redemption, to Spike Lee who tweeted an address he believed to be that of George Zimmerman.
This was the Right’s shift in the narrative – to show that racial extremism was putting more lives in danger. And it was a fairly strong one, as it lead to a decrease in the hostile outrage that began to plague the story.
The media for the Right, however, did not stop there. Just as the Left had focused on a hypothetical social cause of Martin’s death (racism), the Right began to speak about its own social cause of violence in the black community: gangs and absent fathers. In a National Review article, Mona Charen discusses how “A full 85 percent of youths in prison come from fatherless homes, as do 80 percent of rapists, 71 percent of high-school drop-outs, and 63 percent of teen suicides.”
Of course, just like the rush to racism, the rush to judge the death of Martin as somehow connected to absent fathers is not only suspect, but false. While the facts stated above are true, Trayvon Martin was not in prison, and his death can not be tied to an ancillary statistic about violence in the black community.
The Right also began a counter narrative to suggest that Trayvon’s character may play a role in the incident – a contrast and defense to the character assassination attacks against Zimmerman. Martin was soon being accused of being a thug, as evidenced by his listening to rap music. There were insinuations that his suspension from school for carrying marijuana was indicative of a troubled, potentially violent youth. Further, Geraldo Rivera claimed that Trayvon should “leave the hoodie at home”, suggesting that apparel is adequate cause for suspicion.
The Real Tragedy
Trayvon Martin is dead. Nothing can console a family after losing a beloved son. The media on both sides have used the story to further their own agendas, creating for themselves a martyr for their cause of increasing profit margins and viewership.
What we’ve learned from the media:
1. The police tapes do and do not show Zimmerman’s injuries
2. Zimmerman is and is not a racist
3. Zimmerman said “coons” and “punks” simultaneously
4. Rap music and racism are the cause of Martin’s death
5. Trayvon Martin is a nice boy and a troubled youth addicted to drugs
As is evident, the media fallout has led to no discernible facts. The tragedy, instead, has filled countless hours of television, and was in the top 10 trend on Google for nearly ten days. It seems that for the moment, the trend has now died down, tempers that once flared have been cooled – but nothing new has been learned. Instead we have a free man accused of a hate crime, and a dead teenager who will never know the joys of becoming an adult.
What appears to be the least controversial solution would have been to arrest Zimmerman and perform an investigation. While the police did bring him in for questioning, the lack of further work on the part of the Sanford PD brought about a slew of charges and a host of anger, anxiety, and backlash.
But since the refusal and bungling of the case by the Sanford PD, the media has taken it upon itself to engage in outright exploitation. And the real tragedy is that those who care are failing to realize that they have been emotionally manipulated to the point of exhaustion.
The Moral: The Left and the Right’s Hypocrisy
Both sides of the media aisle claim objectivity, rationality, and most importantly, that they are on the side of justice. In this particular case, those in power seem to be on the side that best supports their bias. And what’s lost in the actual concern, it seems, for both the dead young man and the shooter. When both sides of the media are claiming objectivity, but caught with cover-up scandals and postings from racist websites, the biases are obvious.
What is less obvious, perhaps, is that while media outlets ask for the viewer’s trust, they offer little means to support that they deserve that trust. While the rush to judgment may seem rational, what occurs on both sides of the aisle is exploitation of a tragic incident to further political agendas. And while the public would reasonably be upset at such an incident, the job expected of mainstream media is to cover a story with objectivity, help the public understand the case, and eventually steer the story and the narrative to reach a proper conclusion. Until then, this story will continue to be politicized, while the life of young man is no more, and the life of another man has been irreparably changed forever.