The drama surrounding the 2nd degree murder charge against George Zimmerman has hinged almost entirely on the perception that the off-duty neighborhood watch volunteer methodically stalked and killed Trayvon Martin because he harbored deep racial animosity towards African-Americans.
A quick scan of the #TrayvonMartin and #Zimmerman threads on Twitter reveals real-time veiled threats and open calls to murder the 28-year-old Zimmerman, who is now out on bail and believed to be in hiding out of state pending his next court appearance. There can be no return to a normal life for Mr. Zimmerman. He has been lynched in the court of public opinion, strung up on a rope of innuendo and lies that was enthusiastically hung by a partisan media eager to stoke a polarizing racial divide for rating dollars and political expediency. Quite literally, he may never be able to appear in public again under his own name, for fear of being murdered by dim-witted and easily led members of the mob.
But the social media “conventional wisdom” that George Zimmerman is a racist that opportunistically hunted down and killed a black teen for sport has been challenged, even if the hatred of the caricature of Zimmerman created in the press can never be stamped out.
A disjointed series of stories now coming to light show both the media’s culpability in a ratings-driven witchhunt, and George Zimmermans’ almost uniquely multicultural background and quite benign background.
Reuters reporter Chris Francescani provides a fascinating background story of Zimmerman and his family, revealing a man of almost entirely blended race, with a black great-grandfather and a mix of black, white and Hispanic family members and family friends. His half-black grandmother lived with him as he grew, and she watched over a pair of black girls that ate their meals with the family and were considered as part of the household until they were old enough to watch after themselves. Zimmerman started an insurance company at age 18 with a black partner. Relatives even pointed out that it was George Zimmerman that led a protest to have the son of a Sanford, FL police officer brought to justice for assaulting a black homeless man when local community activists failed to sound the alarm. Far from being racist, George Zimmerman may have had a claim to being one of the most best-integrated people in American society… prior to a cynically crafted campaign that sought to manufacture racial tension in order to profit from it.
The media wanted controversy… and was willing to break every ethical rule to create it, as Eugene Lyons so astutely observed.
What began as a local tragedy has been supersized into a ratings-driven national TV melodrama, a racially and politically charged piece of infotainment pitting good against evil.
A festival of bad reporting, speculation and mind-reading from the outset, the Zimmerman-Martin affair has turned into a classic example of what University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls a “consensual hallucination.”
That is, people have so much emotion invested, that regardless of how much the facts change, their conclusions rarely do. With group identity at stake, skepticism’s in short supply. Comment lines to newspaper stories and blog posts regarding the case are a sight to see.
Logic, even facts no longer matter in the story of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Despite school suspensions, alleged drug use, indications he may have been a burglar and speculation he had recently bragged about assaulting a bus driver, Trayvon Martin has been turned into a near-angelic symbol by a media and a cult-like following that has made him into a caricature. Despite Zimmerman’s long track record of assisting the poor, mentoring schoolchildren and protecting his neighborhood, he’s been turned into a hulking, vindictive, brutish monster. Neither one of these characterizations tells the complete story. Neither one of them exists for any other reason except to portray one man as a near virginal innocent, and the other as the devil incarnate.
Intellectual giant Thomas Sowell was among those to note the media’s influence on this story, which compelled him to wonder who the real racists are in this on-going farce.
One of the first things presented in the media was a transcript of a conversation between Zimmerman and a police dispatcher. The last line in most of the transcripts shown on TV was that of the police dispatcher telling Zimmerman not to continue following Martin.
That became the basis of many media criticisms of Zimmerman for continuing to follow him. Only later did I see a transcript of that conversation on the Sean Hannity program that included Zimmerman’s reply to the police dispatcher: “O.K.”
That reply removed the only basis for assuming that Zimmerman did in fact continue to follow Martin. At this point, neither I nor the people who assumed that he continued to follow the teenager have any basis in fact for believing that he did or didn’t.
Why was that reply edited out by so many in the media?
Because too many people in the media see their role as filtering and slanting the news to fit their own vision of the world. The issue is not one of being “fair” to “both sides” but, more fundamentally, of being honest with their audience.
NBC News carried the editing even further, removing one of the police dispatcher’s questions, to which Zimmerman was responding, in order to feed the vision of Zimmerman as a racist.
Ultimately, the campaign for the public lynching of George Zimmerman seems to slither its way back to Benjamin Crump, the bombastic attorney for the Martin family that has made a habit of making spurious accusations in regards to this case. An argument may eventually be made that the public relations campaign that Crump’s law firm brags about orchestrating should be held as the root cause of any injuries and property damage that result from the racial firestorm that they touched off and continue to stoke today.
The expected dismissal of the criminal case may be relatively quick, but the public trauma and civil trials could damage race relations for years.
At least until the next “crucifiction.”