How the Media Has Affected the Zimmerman-Martin Case

by Legal Author on March 21, 2013

About the Author: Vincent Imhoff is a writer and Los Angeles criminal lawyer who acts as a managing partner at Imhoff & Associates, P.C. He earned his law degree at Chicago-Kent College and his undergraduate degree at Lewis University. When he isn’t writing or practicing, Vincent finds time to ski on his favorite slopes and get some jogging in.

With the passing of February 26, 2013 the anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death has come and passed. Now, George Zimmerman awaits his trial on charges of second degree murder, which has been set to June 10, 2013. Over a year in the making, and there is still confusion as to what actually happened, who confronted who and how this story’s events actually transpired—but one thing is certain; this case has sparked a firestorm in communities that both support and detest George Zimmerman for his actions on that rainy February night. But who is really telling Zimmerman’s story? Who is telling Trayvon Martin’s? Where are these supporters and decriers receiving their information?

The Media

The media has played an enormous role in the Trayvon Martin shooting case, from what details they have decided to report on and withhold, to the ways that they have decided to portray both Zimmerman and Martin. Whether or not it was the intention of media outlets to spin popular opinion one way or the other, or whether it was just a bid to get more views, the media employed dodgy tactics that equally sensationalized the case and tended to demonize Zimmerman.

Portrayal of Both Parties

When media outlets decided to show photos of both Martin and Zimmerman, they decided to use a picture of Trayvon taken several years ago and portraying him as a young, “baby-faced boy”, rather than as a young man. The photo of Zimmerman that was shown was also several years old, showing him when he was 21 years old and considerably more muscular than in the pictures taken the night of the shooting.

Zimmerman and Criminal Past

Media also decided to report on Zimmerman’s criminal past which included a case of assaulting a police officer that was dropped and a reports restraining order from an ex-fiancé (they conveniently left out that the Zimmerman filed for his own restraining order at the same time). The media declined to focus on Trayvon’s criminal past which included possession of marijuana and paraphernalia, as well as graffiti in a school. Of course, neither parties’ pasts are relevant to the case, and probably should have been left alone altogether.

NBC Racial Slurs

What really infuriated many were NBC’s and CNN’s botchy reporting that painted Zimmerman as a racist, with the former editing Zimmerman’s 911 call to make it sound like he had told the operator: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” In the actual recording of the phone call, a considerable amount of time passes between the two statements, and Zimmerman only offers Martin’s race after the operator asks: “OK, and this guy, is he black, white or Hispanic?” CNN had reported that Zimmerman had stated “f—king coon” at 2:21 into the phone call, while forensic audio experts have determined that the word Zimmerman used was most likely either “cold” or “punks”. Either way, Zimmerman’s statement is inconclusive

The Perfect Storm

After the incident, the Sanford Police Department originally declined to arrest Zimmerman, and only after they were pressured by outside sources and after a Special Prosecutor took over the case was Zimmerman charged with second degree murder. Critics believed that if it had been Trayvon Martin that had fired a gun in self-defense, he would have been arrested on the spot. The Sanford Police Department’s actions mixed with the media coverage of Zimmerman’s case have created the perfect storm. The problem is not that the media portrayed Zimmerman one way and Trayvon Martin in another; the problem is that the media unethically and inaccurately reported with a bias, and now the public is left not knowing what to think.

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