"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, March 26, 2012

Trayvon Martin and Media Spin

I have no brief for either side in the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.   I.   Don't.   Know.   What.   Happened.   It is not much different than any of the other hundreds and thousands of killings in America in the course of a year.   There are facts that are specific to the incident that have not come out yet.   So it makes no sense for people thousands of miles removed from the facts to pontificate about it.  Let law enforcement investigate it, bring charges if charges are warranted, try Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, if they choose to, and let a jury decide whether he is guilty or not.  

I do want to mention one aspect.   Once again, the American media is terrible.   They've taken this story and run with a pre-packaged narrative of "racism," even though Zimmerman is Hispanic, has many black friends, and was the neighborhood watch captain in a multi-racial neighborhood who was well-liked and respected by the black families that lived there.   He may very well be guilty of murder, or manslaughter, by having acted recklessly or negligently resulting in Martin's death.   But extrapolating this specific incident into a symbol of how young black men in "hoodies" are treated by racist white America is silly, and dangerous.  

One way the media does this is particularly egregious.   Martin was a big kid, well over six feet, and seventeen.   Zimmerman is significantly shorter, but older and pudgier.   The pictures below are the pictures the media has used repeatedly in reporting on this story:

The picture of Tayvon Martin is from several years ago when he was a cute little kid.   The picture of Zimmerman is also from several years ago -- it's a mugshot from when he had had a run-in with the law (for which the charges were later dropped).   In short, choices were made that tended to support a narrative of Martin being an innocent, unthreatening child, and Zimmerman being a thug.  

Here are different pictures of the two men the media could have chosen:  

This picture of Zimmerman shows an obviously more mature man with a friendly smile.   Meanwhile, the picture of Tayvon Martin on the right (from a Facebook posting) shows a young man who is very muscular, albeit slender, much bigger, and making somewhat menacing gestures (either simply teenager rudeness, or else gang-related).   Now, if the media had used these, they might have rightly been criticized for picking out a picture of Zimmerman that suggests he is an innocent, upstanding citizen, and a picture of Martin that suggests he is a thug.   But didn't they do the same thing in reverse?    And since they are making editorial selections about what kind of pictures they want to use, why exactly did they choose to opt for the pictures that would support a story of Martin as an innocent victim-child?   He obviously, at age seventeen, and more than six feet tall, isn't really a child anymore, is he?

Oh, and here is a face shot of Martin at age seventeen that the media hasn't opted to use much either:

Without being a jerk about it, lots of kids look a lot different when they are seventeen than they did when they were 12.   They tend to look more dangerous for the simple reason that a seventeen year-old by definition is more dangerous than a 12 year old.   The Regular Son, for instance, at six feet tall at age 15, looks like a man.   He looked differently when he was 10.   Most of this is common sense, not racism.   So when the media selects a picture of a person to use in a news story, and the picture they select shows him as significantly different than what he would have been like when the news event occurred, they aren't reporting the news accurately.   It's that simple.  

None of this is meant to suggest that Zimmerman acted in self defense or in any way was justified.   I.   Just.   Don't.   Know.   Enough.   Facts.   

And neither does anyone at CNN or MSNBC or the New York Times.  

1 comment:

  1. Exactly. We just don't know the facts. Heads up, though. I've been called a racist for stating less then what you've pointed out here, literally for calling for folks to wait and hear the facts before deciding they know what happened.