Apr 04

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Opinions muddle the Trayvon story

Rally for Trayvon Martin at the University of Minnesota

Coverage on the Trayvon story divides along political lines, according to the L.A. Times. Here, protesters march in Minnesota. / Photo courtesy of Flickr user Fibonacci Blue

In my last news critique, I argued that the media was biased in coverage of the Trayvon Martin story, assuming George Zimmerman was guilty. Oh, how have things changed.

In the last week, the media devoted the lion’s share of the coverage to the Trayvon story.  After a week’s worth of news stories, the coverage has become argumentative.

The L.A. Times ran a story yesterday explaining how convoluted the case has become. The coverage has separted into partisan reporting, with conservatives downplaying the story and liberals framing the case in civil rights terms. When we don’t have critical information, opinion sets in:

While much of the frenzy has centered on Zimmerman’s past run-ins with police and on Martin’s musings and photos posted to Twitter and MySpace, the avalanche of coverage has been unable to resolve the most critical unknowns: Who instigated the final confrontation? Did Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, have good reason to feel he was in danger? Did local police handle the case evenhandedly?

The L.A Times does a fair job reporting on the coverage. Its research centers on a recent Pew study which finds that the story of Trayvon has surpassed coverage of the presidential race. Reporter James Rainey then looks at seven news organizations’ conclusions about the case. Each of the organizations was given its own voice in story.

While the L.A. Times illustrates some decent American journalism in covering the coverage, the rest of the media has said too much with too little fact, thus doing a disservice to the public. Take, for example, the security camera footage of Zimmerman being escorted into the police station:


According to the L.A. Times, this is how the media used this clip:

ABC News reporter Matt Gutman on Wednesday released what he called “exclusive” video, reportedly of Zimmerman arriving at the police station after he was detained. Gutman wrote online that no bruises, blood or abrasions can be seen in the video, despite the neighborhood watch volunteer’s statement to police that he had his nose broken and head bloodied by his confrontation with the teenager. (Gutman’s story also noted, however, that one of three officers in the video does pause for a moment to look at the back of Zimmerman’s head.)

It did not take long for DailyCaller.com, the conservative website founded by Tucker Carlson, to review the same video and, in the words of writer Matthew Boyle, to detect “what appears to be a vertical laceration or scar several inches long.”

This kind of back and forth emphasizes opinion and not fact. News consumers can’t know for certain the facts of the case because the media cannot agree on the facts. It’s also lazy reporting.

ProPublica has published the police report of Zimmerman’s arrest . The officer who handcuffed Zimmerman noted that he was bleeding from his nose and a cut on the back of his head (page 7 of the report). When there is solid, eye-witness evidence, we have ABC spending broadcast time analyzing a video and the Daily Caller refuting.

This kind of reporting on the Trayvon Martin case leads to inaccuracies and doubt over the facts — like whether or not Zimmerman was injured.

When the facts are gone, what’s left is noise. It almost makes me want to tune out.


Permanent link to this article: http://thewashingtonjournalismcenter.com/?p=4238

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