After reading the latest (3/27/12) account of the confrontation between 17 year-old Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman on February 26th – a confrontation in which young Mr. Martin was killed – I feel compelled to ask why the media is permitted to publish a report on a crime before the facts have been verified. This morning’s Palm Beach Post carried two articles – one by Rene Stutzman of the Orlando Sentinel and the other by Post columnist Frank Cerabino.
Stutzman’s article brings to light new facts on the case. Whereas previously it was thought that Zimmerman shot Martin without provocation, the police have now revealed that Zimmerman was physically attacked by Martin to the degree that “Martin decked Zimmerman… climbed on top of Zimmerman and slammed his head into the sidewalk.” An eye witness has gone on record, saying that he saw Martin on top of a beaten and bloody Zimmerman. He also stated that he heard Zimmerman cry out for help.
According to Stutzman’s article, Zimmerman relayed this account to the police both on the night of the attack and at subsequent meetings. Yet, neither the press nor the public were informed until recently. Rather, Zimmerman was tried and found guilty in the court of public opinion and, now, no matter what the eventual outcome may be -- no matter the truth -- society will always see him as the guy who shot a black teenager for no reason.
Cerabino’s article plays into the white versus black issue… and rightly so. No matter how far we have come in race relations, we still have far to go. The biggest problem when a case like Martin/Zimmerman arises is determining whether race was actually a factor. Sadly, it usually is if only to a small degree.
Cerabino questions whether Zimmerman, who is now in hiding, was not arrested because he is white. Actually, he is bi-racial. His mother is Hispanic. I find it interesting that no one is mentioning that under other circumstances, people might be rallying to Zimmerman’s cause if he had been shot and killed by a white person.
For comparison purposes, Frank Cerabino used the case of Trevor Dooley, a 69-year-old black bus driver, who shot and killed Iraqi War veteran David James, 41, during an altercation at a public park. The argument started when the older man tried to usher skateboarders from the premises. James, who was playing basketball with his 8-year old daughter, took sides against Dooley. Words turned to fists and, being younger and more physically fit, James had the advantage. James’ daughter testified that her dad “… got on top of him to keep him down.” Dooley then shot James, killing him with a single bullet.
Where the stories of Dooley/James and Martin/Zimmerman differ is that Dooley was arrested and charged with manslaughter. Zimmerman is not facing arrest at this time. Was race a motivating factor? No one with an ounce of intellect could honestly say “No.” Humans are imperfect creatures.
Flipping over a few pages in the same edition of the Post, I came across an article about Dominique Strauss Kahn. Kahn (DSK) is the former International Monetary Fund chief accused of rape by a maid working at a New York City hotel. DSK was paraded in handcuffs before the media before any hard evidence had been collected. He was tried and condemned in less time than it takes to bake a potato in a microwave oven. Then… oops, he was set free. Why? New evidence came to light.
Too late! Strauss Kahn’s political career was over. Any chance of regaining his position of power in France was lost. To this day, no one knows what happened in that hotel room. It doesn’t matter. DSK is a rapist in the mind of everyone familiar with the story.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. My personal feeling is that Strauss Kahn is probably not a man to ask first. There is also a strong possibility that Zimmerman and James were motivated to intervene (not necessarily engage) due to negative feelings on race. Those are circumstances that need to be seriously considered by law enforcement when pursuing a case. The media should stay out of it until they have the full story.
To get back to my original question… when should the media report on a crime and how much of their early reports should contain “speculation.” From where I sit, the public is entitled to know what is happening in their communities and around the world as soon as possible. But, and this is a big but, only the facts should be reported. If there aren’t any facts to report, that should be mentioned as well.
It is not the media’s place to throw blood into the water and force a feeding frenzy. That may sell papers but it doesn’t speak to ethics and morals. Then again, ethics and morals seem to have gone the way of the dodo bird.