The Trayvon Martin case: 4 things the media got wrong
The unarmed 17-year-old was actually several inches taller than the 28-year-old man who shot him — and more head-turning revelations
Several TV networks and newspapers have been criticized for their misleading and sometimes inaccurate coverage of black Florida teen Trayvon Martin's Feb. 26 shooting death. How are the events of that February night being misrepresented? Here, four examples:
1. ABC's misleading video scoop
Last week, ABC News acquired surveillance video from security cameras at the Sanford, Fla., police station where Martin's shooter, George Zimmerman, was taken for questioning. The network noted that Zimmerman didn't appear to show signs of a struggle — no blood or bruises — calling into question his claim that he shot Martin only after the unarmed teenager punched and attacked him. Now ABC is walking back its claim, says Tom Maguire at Just One Minute, after an enhanced version of the video appears to show an injury on the back of Zimmerman's head. Zimmerman's father contends that his son was cleaned up by paramedics before even going to the police station.
2. NBC's damning audiotape edit
In an audio recording of Zimmerman's 911 call, the neighborhood watch volunteer told the dispatcher that a young man was acting suspiciously in his gated community. NBC's Today show played an edited snippet from the call, in which Zimmerman said: "This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black." But the network ordered an internal investigation after media watchdogs cried foul, pointing out that the first sentence came as Zimmerman described what he saw, and the second sentence — "He looks black" — was Zimmerman's response when the dispatcher asked, "Is he black, white or Hispanic?" But that question was zapped from Today's clip. "To portray that exchange in a way that wrongs Zimmerman," says Erik Wemple at The Washington Post, "is high editorial malpractice."
3. The media's many misrepresentations of Zimmerman...
Perhaps because of the difference in age — Zimmerman is 28, Martin was 17 — many early news accounts injected doubt into the claim that there was a fight, especially one in which the older, "much larger" man felt threatened enough to shoot Martin. But The New York Times reported this week that Zimmerman is 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, while Martin was 6-foot-1 and 150 pounds. Zimmerman has also been portrayed "as an overzealous cop-wannabe, a nutcase who had made 46 911 calls in a year," says Jeff Lipkes at The American Thinker. "The calls, it turns out, were over a period of eight years." And they weren't breathless calls to 911 — they went to a non-emergency number. "Police did not consider the number of calls excessive." The racial element was magnified by early incomplete reports that Zimmerman was just white. His mother is actually a Peruvian immigrant.
4. ...And demonization of Trayvon Martin
Friends, classmates, and family members have all described Trayvon Martin as an easy-going teenager. But some conservative media outlets have "gone to shocking and disgusting lengths to impugn Martin," says Ben Adler at The Nation. The Daily Caller published Martin's Twitter feed, and the tweets became part of a broader smear campaign that included reports that Martin was suspended from school for possessing an empty bag with traces of marijuana, as if to say that "by being a normal teenager he was a bad person who deserved what happened to him." And The Orlando Sentinel published a story with a lead suggesting that police believe Martin decked Zimmerman "with a single punch" before the shooting, as if it were "established fact," when it was just Zimmerman's account.