Monday, July 15, 2013

Sourcing Zimmerman Verdict Angst

Zimmerman Verdict Series
1. Today's essay is #1
2. Profiling the Content of One's Character
3. Eulogy For Home From Zimmerman Verdict

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Stopping traffic on a Los Angeles freeway.

Flash mob protests in Manhattan, with smaller demonstrations in cities like Tampa, Detroit, and even Syracuse, New York.

Floridian George Zimmerman was found not guilty Saturday night, and all of a sudden, racial discord has seized America.

Or, at least, that's what the media wants us to believe.  And they're getting away with it, because America's mainstream media has spent the past year lathering up their consumers with biased reporting and a fixation on racist acrimony in a scramble for ratings over relevance. The whole scenario is appalling.

Now, please:  hear me out.

When the first rumblings about Trayvon Martin's death started making their way through the media, I wondered what a shooting in a Florida condo complex had to do with me.  I'm still wondering.  Zimmerman was part Hispanic, a pseudo-vigilante who stupidly got out of his car at night, in the rain, and encountered a hooded male figure he didn't recognize.  Turns out, the teenager was a juvenile delinquent who smoked pot and was visiting the girlfriend of his father, a man who had lived with the teen's stepmother without benefit of marriage for 14 years (a woman who wasn't his current girlfriend), and a man who would only join the teen's birth mother in public displays of accord after Martin's death.

Yet over the past year, the mainstream media has portrayed the death of a cherubic-faced black child at the hands of a sadistic white brute as emblematic of all that is still wrong with America's dualistic society.  To make matters worse, Zimmerman clumsily obscured the sizable online fund at his disposal to pay for his lawyers, and a one-sided perspective of racism emerged when his recorded vulgarities while describing Martin to the 911 operator were made public.  We wouldn't really learn about Martin's use of blatant racism while describing Zimmerman to his girlfriend until the trial.  Meanwhile, Martin's biological parents have been portrayed as loving paragons of virtue, while photos of Zimmerman's bloodied head have been derided as insufficient proof that Martin could possibly have been an aggressor. 

It all provided great theater for the mainstream media, ever eager for ratings as they battle for relevance in our wired world, and staffed by graduates from unabashedly liberal journalism schools.  They packaged it to their viewers complete with a ribbon and bow from the President, who said if he had a son, he'd look like Trayvon.

Except the mainstream media isn't the primary source of information for most white suburbanites.  CNN, CBS, NBC, and ABC may provide background noise in airport waiting rooms, but at home, white suburbanites increasingly get their news not from television, but online, from a variety of sources, such as the Wall Street Journal, FOX News, and Drudge Report.  And, unfortunately, as I frequently complain on this blog, from even more right-wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh.

For me, I get my news from a mish-mash of sources, like the local news outlets here in north Texas, PBS Newshour, BBC News, Bloomberg, and Christian websites like World Magazine and Religion Today.  I read the New York Times online with a heavy filter for its left-wing bias, and will occasionally check Drudge Report and Huffington Post, figuring the facts lie someplace between them.  I will check CNN throughout the day, but only to see what the headlines are; to read about the events making news, I only use CNN for the basic facts, and even then, I usually end up on the website of a news organization in the city closest to the action.  I can't remember the last time any of the three legacy networks provided me any information from any of their television or online venues.

So when I learned of the Zimmerman verdict late Saturday evening, I read a couple of headlines - and one of them was on CNN - and then went to bed.  I guess I was relieved it was all over, but I didn't dwell on it, except to hope that both the Martin and Zimmerman families could finally move on from this sordid case.

Boy, was I wrong!  It wasn't all over, and neither family is able to move on, even if they want to.

I have a friend who is a black pastor in Maryland who has been posting agonizing pleas regarding the Zimmerman verdict and how it appears to reveal such cruel and ugly things about the ability of blacks to get a fair trial in the United States.  And frankly, knowing the integrity of my friend, it really hurts me when I read his posts, because they prove that we're seeing two different sides of this case.

Why is it that my brother in Christ, who is black, sees what protesters across the country are seeing?  Thabibi Anyabwile, a respected black pastor and member of the Gospel Coalition, sees the same thing my friend in Maryland is seeing.  Why is it that I don't see it?  Why is it that many white Americans don't see it?

Is it white racism?  Is it black racism?  Is it a personal faith in Christ that has been corrupted?  I suspect it may be a bit of all three of those elements, but even more than that, I think the media we consume, and how we consume it, is at play.

Regular readers of mine know that I'm a cynic, and a skeptic, even though I like to think that I'm "recovering" from these two traits.  Conservative friends of mine regularly grow frustrated by my willingness - even eagerness, they suspect - to caution against right-wing propaganda.  One reason I consume a diversity of news channels involves my desire to compare them and parse out the stuff either side can't corroborate.  It's not a perfect system, but it's better than relying on one type of source.  And while I've come to sympathize for the Martin family, that sympathy is as much for how they're being played by the mainstream media as it is for the loss of their son.

How can I say that?  Well, we know that proportionally, blacks watch TV more than whites.  So, might blacks consume more mainstream media than whites?  Blacks use the Internet less, but the Internet is where whites like me obtain most of our information.  Now, granted, the Internet provides a diversity that television and the mainstream media doesn't, and some of that diversity isn't worth much, so maybe blacks are correct in detecting a stronger vein of racism in the Zimmerman verdict than I do.  But for blacks to be so apparently overwhelmed with grief and anger over this verdict, I'm befuddled, and practically convinced that they've been led to this point of trauma not by the facts, but how those facts have been presented.  Or haven't been presented.

And since none of us were in the jury, how did any of us get our information about the trial?

The media.

Might that be our weakest link?

The reason it seems so obvious to me is because I know that most people - whether they're white or black - don't balance their sources of information like I do.  And frankly, I doubt the more conservative media outlets would have followed this case at all, were it not for the flagrant bias of the mainstream media goading them into it.  If Zimmerman didn't have a Jewish-sounding white last name, but an Hispanic surname, or if he was black, news of this case would barely have made it out of Sanford.  Much has already been made about the innocent-looking photos of Martin as a child being plastered all over the mainstream media, contrasted with an old mug shot of Zimmerman.  And few people realize how dysfunctional the Martin family is, but most of us have heard stories about how dysfunctional the Zimmerman family is.  Does that mean that dysfunctional families are so common in the black community that their ubiquity makes such dysfunctionality invisible to them?  And are gun-toting vigilantes so common in the white community that their ubiquity makes them invisible to us?

Unfortunately, we really won't learn those answers from our country's reaction to this verdict, and that's the peril we face.  If there really are genuine problems that this case could have brought to our attention, we'll never know, because of the rancor, vitriol, and - yes - even bias that blacks in general and liberals in particular are expressing in the wake of Saturday night's verdict.

"We live in a great country that has a great criminal justice system.  It is not perfect, but it's the best in the world."

Those words were spoken by the lead prosecutor, Bernie de la Rionda, commenting after the verdict and saying that he accepts it.  Does that make him a bigot?

Six jurors processed the evidence presented to them in a court of law, were sequestered during the trial, and rendered a verdict based on the evidence and the instructions given to them by the judge, untainted by any media.

Does it make me a bigot to take their verdict on the merits?  Whether you're black, or white, or Asian, or Hispanic, or Native American, please - please - don't answer that question until you consider the sources of the information with which you're crafting your answer.

Otherwise, none of us will learn anything from this case.  And that will likely only exacerbate whatever legitimate problems do exist between the races in the United States of America.
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You don't have to take my word for it. Consider instead this piece from Slate, of all places:  "You Are Not Trayvon Martin."

1 comment:

  1. This trial and story is a lump of clay - anyone can take hold of it and make it into anything that they want. The mass media provides clear instructions for one specific way to mold this clay. Many blindly follow those instructions. Others, like Tim, mold their clay from multiple instructional sources. Yet both are still imperfect (at best) or outright false (at the worst) representations of the original.

    If we could simultaneously see every detail of the lives of Martin and Zimmerman for one year leading up to the event, and then watch the event itself unfold, we would probably know what really happened. I say "probably" because none of us will ever know the personal thoughts of Martin and Zimmerman that night. But we think that we know everything – as it is all laid out for us in stark black and white contrast, right?

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