How TV news failed Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and American people
In the hours of continuous broadcast coverage I monitored during and after the trial of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin, I couldn’t believe the lack of balance in coverage. Walter Cronkite warned that without a strong unbiased press, democracy would struggle.
In the charade that became the trial of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, and in the continuing aftermath of the verdict, there was one thing the American people didn’t get from much of the national broadcast media: fairness.Skip to next paragraph
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In the hours of continuous coverage that I monitored and recorded, I couldn’t believe the lack of balance in coverage. The media’s pro-Martin agenda was quick to highlight rallies, marches, and protests in defense of Martin while choosing to ignore similar news coverage from the pro-Zimmerman crowd.
Some news organizations seemed to resist the temptation of balanced reporting from the onset. What happened to investigating stories thoroughly? What happened to balancing a report with all points of view? And what happened to keeping agendas and opinions out of straight news reporting?
What we have had here is an acute case of agenda-style “infotainment.” Pioneering TV journalists Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite would, no doubt, be horrified.
While this may sound like I am a Zimmerman sympathizer, I’m not. Nor am I defending young Mr. Martin. I wasn’t there the night of the altercation, and I didn’t hear all of the court proceedings. But I am aware of the shoddy journalism that followed.
Fox News was airing mostly pro-Zimmerman interviews, with a few exceptions. MSNBC appeared to be in total support of a guilty verdict, and that theme carried through their “super-star” line-up for approximately six hours a night during the trial and in the aftermath of the verdict.
The media circus was botched from the start. NBC, who I’m sad to say is my former employer, is being sued by the Zimmerman family for airing an edited 9-1-1 call that paints Mr. Zimmerman in a false light.
The edited portion reads, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” In reality, Zimmerman told the operator, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.” It wasn’t until the operator asked, “O.K., and this guy – is he white, black or Hispanic?” that prompted Zimmerman’s response, “He looks black.”
As the saying goes, “You can only make a first impression once.”
Though I can’t know for sure, I find it doubtful that NBC was editing due to time restrictions. It is possible that either they wanted the sound to follow an agenda-driven script – a conscious decision to skew the facts and manipulate viewers’ opinions – or it’s possible hasty negligence and poor oversight led to a bad decision and inaccurate portrayal. Either way, I have to wonder: Did those producers learn nothing at J-school?
I was glued to CNN the night of the verdict as I watched in horror. For a news gathering operation that has earned countless awards for outstanding coverage over the years, I believe CNN is now stooping to advocacy journalism to compete with Fox News and MSNBC.
As CNN continued to cover the pro-guilty verdict crowd, the casual viewer would have never known that there were also anti-guilty verdict protesters in the immediate area.