Former Top Journalism Professor Blasts Media for Zimmerman Coverage

One of the most important things a journalist is supposed to do is check, double check, and sometimes even triple check sources to make sure the news being reported is accurate.

That's not what happened in the case involving George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, according to Rem Rieder, a former journalism professor and a media columnist for USA Today. Instead, the members of the news media portrayed Zimmerman as “the neighborhood watch captain/'wannabe cop'” who profiled Martin, “an unarmed, hoodie-clad black teenager” out on the streets “simply because he wanted some Skittles.”

“The storyline quickly took root,” Rieder noted, “amplified by the nearly ubiquitous images of the two: a sweet-looking photo of a several-years-younger Trayvon released by his family, and a mug shot of Zimmerman from a previous arrest in which he looks puffy and downcast.”

The contrasting images powerfully reinforced the images of the menacing bully and the innocent victim.

While putting forth this narrative, the media made major mistakes, including when NBC News edited Zimmerman's comments during a phone call to inaccurately suggest that he volunteered that Trayvon seemed suspicious because he was black. In fact, Zimmerman was responding to a question when he mentioned the teenager's race. The network apologized for the error.

“When it emerged that Zimmerman's mother was Peruvian, some news outlets took to referring to him with the rarely used phrase 'white Hispanic,' which is kind of like calling President Obama 'white black,'” the columnist stated.

Unfortunately, Rieder could not admit the truth that politics played a role in the media's hyping of the Zimmerman case.

"Conservatives see this episode as yet another manifestation of the pervasive bias of that dreaded liberal media. But there's something else at play," he wrote. "Journalists are addicted above all else to the good story. And the saga of the bigoted, frustrated would-be law enforcement officer gunning down the helpless child was too good to check. It's also another example of how groupthink can shape news coverage."

One wonders why the media could not have been motivated by both politics and a desire for sensationalism. These two impulses are not mutually exclusive.

Obviously, Rieder isn't the only person unhappy with the way the media covered this story.

Once George Zimmerman was found not guilty, his lead defense attorney -- Mark O'Mara -- attacked the media for its handling of the case after a reporter asked if his client ever showed emotion during the 18-month ordeal.

“Two systems went against George Zimmerman that he can’t understand,” O'Mara replied angrily. The first was “you guys, the media. He was like a patient in an operating table where mad scientists were committing experiments on him, and he had no anesthesia.”

The lawyer continued:

He didn’t know why he was turned into this monster, but quite honestly, you guys had a lot to do with it. You just did because you took a story that was fed to you and you ran with it, and you ran right over him. And that was horrid to him.

At that point, O'Mara turned his attention to the second thing that attacked his client: the legal system.

“Then he comes into a system that he trusts -- let’s not forget, six voluntary statements, voluntary surrender -- and he believes in a system that he really wanted to be a part of, right?” the attorney asked.

“And then he gets prosecutors that charge him with a crime that they could never, ever, prove,” O'Mara added. “So those two systems failed him.”

As NewsBusters previously reported, thanks to the persistent media bias against Zimmerman, even O'Mara accepted the media narrative that he was a racist until he met the man.

"I think that’s why most of the people who believe that George Zimmerman is a racist today got their belief when they saw those two pictures 16 months ago. And you can’t not have that thought," O'Mara said last week.

We can only hope that the members of the liberal media will learn something from this experience: No matter how imporant they think they are, and no matter how much time and energy they expend trying to influence a jury in a big case, they'll have no effect since the jurors are prevented from learning what's going on outside the courthouse. And that's a good thing.

Randy Hall
Randy Hall