Editor’s Note: Eric Deggans serves as TV/media critic for the Tampa Bay Times, and is the author of "Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation," a look at how prejudice, racism and sexism fuels some elements of modern media.
By Eric Deggans, Special to CNN
(CNN) - One year after an explosion of press attention made it one of the most-covered news stories in the first half of 2012, the question seems obvious:
Has the news media learned anything about covering race issues in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting?
Considering how little attention the case garners today, it is tough to remember just 12 months ago how much journalists obsessed on this story, when unarmed, African-American teen Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in a Sanford, Florida, subdivision on Feb. 26, 2012.
For a time, it was second in coverage only to the presidential election, as Martin’s family pressed a reluctant Sanford police department and Florida prosecutors to arrest Zimmerman for fatally shooting a teenager armed only with a bag of candy and a bottle of iced tea. As condemnation of Zimmerman grew, a cadre of supporters, often in conservative media outlets, arose to decry a rush to judgment while challenging the family’s depiction of Martin as an innocent child.
Too often, news audiences seemed caught in the middle, ill-served by coverage which often seemed focused on serving the news outlet’s own priorities as much as informing the public.
Twelve months later, it may seem as if little has changed. But there are subtle lessons to be learned about the shape of modern media from the impact of the Trayvon Martin case, some that are shared in "Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation:"
We only talk about race issues in crisis.
One reason so much coverage of the Martin case spun off into issues such as racial profiling, fashion (Martin was wearing a hooded sweatshirt when killed), murder rates among African Americans and the power of racism allegations, is because mainstream media outlets spend so little time talking about race issues outside the pressing controversy of a major news story. When big news strikes centered on race, that’s often the only time the world pays attention.
Unfortunately, that’s when people are least likely to have an open-minded discussion about anything, as passions rise and positions harden. In an environment like that, quality journalism looking at the racial elements of "stand your ground" laws (allowing individuals to defend themselves with deadly force in public spaces if they feel their life is in danger) or racial profiling may get lots of attention, but their lessons can be lost as people search to find confirmation for their own convictions.
Subjects of big news stories will increasingly become media outlets themselves.
Once he agreed to serve as Zimmerman’s attorney after his mid-April arrest, Orlando-area attorney Mark O’Mara set up websites, Twitter accounts and a Facebook page (now inactive) aimed at releasing their perspective on the case and channeling donations to Zimmerman’s legal defense fund. On his sites, O’Mara provides information on legal filings, critiques press coverage and releases his own statements without relying on journalists’ filter or interpretation.
His website, for instance, calls an April 22 hearing a “self-defense immunity hearing,” avoiding use of the term “stand your ground,” which has drawn so much negative attention as critics complain the law is flawed and unfairly applied across race lines.
Even the most basic notions of journalism fairness are challenged by the modern media environment.
Much as some critics may have complained about liberal activist Al Sharpton serving as both a spokesman for Martin’s family and host of a 6 p.m. show on NBC-owned cable news channel MSNBC, allowing Sharpton to appear in MSNBC’s coverage and also stand at the center of the story seemed to have paid off for the channel.
MSNBC president Phil Griffin told the website Mediaite that the channel’s audience with black viewers rose 60 percent in 2012, in part because of their coverage on stories of concern to people of color, including the Martin case and voter ID laws seen as unfairly impacting racial minorities. That viewership has helped it move past CNN in prime time ratings, as consumers respond to an ever more ideologically split cable news environment.
It’s no surprise Zimmerman eventually told his story to conservative Fox News anchor Sean Hannity, who had been asking about a rush to judgment against the shooter since the story’s earliest days.
But what does it mean when some news channel hosts abandon the notion of being an honest broker in a controversial news story?
In the end, the frantic pressure forced news outlets to play to their strengths: print outlets tried to own the facts and details, TV (especially on the network morning shows and cable news channels) channeled emotion and reaction, while online platforms concentrated activism and those willing to obsessively focus on the case.
News outlets may not be much better at covering race now than one year ago, but we news consumers have received a crash course on how these incendiary issues play out in the super-fractured, 24/7 media world.
Now, another question arises: Can we put those lessons to work the next time a race-based controversy eats up the news cycle?
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Eric Deegans.
Don't bring skittles to a gun fight...lol bazzzing haha
Now that the trial is almost over, looking at the comments below explains the problems with coverage of this type of incident. No one knows anything about the facts, and yet they all know who did what and why, HLN has stacked their panels aith members of Trayvon Martin's familys legal team and stacked their "jury" African-Americans. MSNBC has even been worse in their bias. To my great shock, FOX has been the most balanced in their coverage, and I never thought that Fox would be my example of balance.
Then we go to the posters of the various web sites. Here you find that there is almost complete agreement that George Zimmerman is guilty of being a racist and a murderer. No doubt in their minds. They are joined by the far left, bleeding heart liberrals who think that a firearm is a tool of the devil. Their are equally biased whites too. People who are judging Trayvon because he was "black".
We must stop the opinion coverage of these criminal trials The media, as you have stated are looking for ratings and people are looking for spots on tv.
My wish is that people let the system work and accept the decision of the jury. I know it's hard but that is the system.
With the number of burglary cases that are solved is only 23% , can the community continued to be victimized? I don't understand the racial baiting. If I am robbed or assaulted, I am a crime victims. Yet just because Martin was black automatically injects the charge of racially motivated crime. How can society care, when the wolf cries race too often.
It's a shame how respect has disappeared with the young and old.
– Who's There?
– George Zimmerman, who?
George Zimmerman is Guilty.
What would have happen if Trayvon Martin would have been shoot by another black youth? Do you think Reverends Jackson and Sharpton would have been interested in the case? I am appalled at the lack of leadership in the black community against extreme violence such as in this case and the black on black killings we see everyday in Chicago, DC and Miami to name a few. It seems that it is OK for a black to kill a black but not acceptable for someone else to do it. Racism is a two way street and for what I see, the black leadership is as racist as those they accuse of the same act.
Do your research. I'm not a Jackson or a Sharpton fan but they both have continuously marched against and crusaded against black on black crime-related issues. They should be given credit where credit is due.
44 year old military veteran, emergency room nurse, and prior police officer, martial arts instructor,
GZ needs to spend a substantial amount of time in jail. Vigilantes are not allowed! This message needs to be crystal clear! Even if TM was a young undisciplined man he did not deserve to die! Let the police do their job, and if you are thinking about being a vigilante do yourself a favor, pack your bags and your family and move to North Dakota where your nearest neighbor is 50 miles away! Have a nice day America I have your back! and your front!
I call BS on your statement. If you had all that experience you would know that there is a difference between a vigilante and someone defending them self. GZ has not been convicted yet and you are already calling him a vigilante. What if GZ was attacked by Martin? Does he not have the right to defend himself? Maybe an experience martial artist can control a situation like that, but the average person shouldn't be expected to. If your life is threatened by someone else, you have the right to defend yourself even with a gun if necessary. If GZ shot Martin for no reason I would agree that he should suffer the consequences. But from what evidence has come out, it looks to me that it may have been self defense. But that is up to the jury to decide.
I agree that none of this would have happened had GZ stayed in his van, but it did. I refuse to believe GZ stalked and shot TM because he was black and GZ had a gun. It sure seems like many that comment consider a person approaching you and asking you what you are doing as an assault that justifies beating the person asking. I bet, had TM simply answered politely, he would be alive today. Perhaps the lesson learned should be, be guarded, but do not assault simply because you don't like being questioned, especially from someone that does not match your skin colour.....
it's not that GZ set out to kill when he followed Trayvon with a gun (even tho' the 911 operator told him to stay in the car), just like it's not that teen-aged Jason set out to impregnate Emily when he went to the all-nighter at her house with several 6-packs (even though his mother told him to stay in the house). SECOND degree does not require a plan.
The sad truth of the tragic evening in Sanford, Florida, is not one of the learned posters has any firsthand knowledge of the events leading up to the unfortunate death of the young Mr. Martin. I would suggest the past character traits attributed either Mr. Martin or Mr. Zimmerman are irrelevant in the sense that one or both may have acted out-of-character during the faithful encounter.
The simple truth is the jury, after considering all the evident the court deems relevant, must determine 1) who was the aggressor, 2) was the response appropriate or excessive and 3) if excessive does it rise to criminality.
The issues of race, neighborhood watch, alleged unseemly behavior and/or out-of-place character are nonsense.
Glad I am not in the jury pool.
Within several weeks, the next legal circus from Florida will begin. I wasn't at the crime scene, I couldn't tell anyone with any degree of certainty what happened in Sanford that fateful night. The only thing I know for sure is the worst race-baiter, liar and extortionist Al Sharpton has his ilk convinced that has GZ convicted and sentenced before the jury has heard one shred of evidence. You can already hear the tired strain of "No Justice, No Peace" coming out of the mouths of blacks if GZ is acquitted. No way in hell will blacks accept such a verdict. How many whites burned buildings and rioted LA after OJ Simpson was acquitted in 1995? ZERO! How many MILLIONS
so far I see nothing to convict zimmerman on. Remember zimmerman has to proove nothing. The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was not self defence. The prosecution needs a Mark Furman some hard edience of premedition. Now that the defence has this edivence if the state has something that would show that zimmerman was a raceist then the defence will be able to Martin was a violent dope smokeing thief. This defence really has the state case in a tight spot.
Pleading self-defense is basically an admission that you committed the act, and the burden of proof now lies with you to prove you were defending yourself. They do try to make killing people a nontrivial matter.
Why is this a race issue? Zimmerman is half Hispanic (and looks it)
Because Martin is Black does not mean he can't be racist against Hispanics. Some Blacks hate Hispanics.
Apparently one of Zimmerman's parents is white and that is all it took in this case. You might want to ask race baiter Al Sharpton and the wonderful people in the media the same question.
How does anyone know why was said and done that night? Only God knows! If this man killed that child with intent to murder and than God will handle that and if there was a fight only God knows! Please people stop let God do his work; either one of these people that is at fault for this situation has to see God! Not one of you will gain anything by arguing on a message board.
Very well put, Lisa. I agree. My prayer when someone has hurt me is "May God bless them in the way they should be blessed according to His will." I also so call them, "that wonderful creation of God". I believe all of His creations are wonderful. I'm not pious in any way, but it takes a lot of sting out of the hurt when putting it in God's hands. Blessings for you and yours!
teaches us that every time you get in trouble with a black the other person is always a racist or a hate crime, stop putting race as a defense mechanism and let the justice if there is one take the case objectively and w/o any bias.
"Has the news media learned anything about covering race issues in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting?" That is NOT the question. The question is: "Has the media learned to present all the facts and not withhold information so it can inflame readers' emotions and potentially ruin the life of a potentially innocent man?" The answer is clearly: "No!"
Why did he deserve to be shot and killed by a total stranger? Please explain.
When a total stranger tries to beat you to death and tells you he is GOING TO, then YOU can truly ask this question. Then you will know why. It is just a lack of Trayvon's knowledge that he did not realize he was threatening to KILL another man with a deadly weapon. For all people out there in the world that try to take advantage of other people in a violent way, don't. Why did he have to beat some one else?
You can only use deadly force when you feel your life is in danger period!
If TM comes at me all of the sudden with lethal force and I fear for my life I stop his threat, that is it, it's milliseconds to make the right choice!
If he is not a threat and/or has no weapon, I get in my vehicle and go home, end of story!
Pride will get you in trouble!
The bottom line is that an armed adult shot an unarmed 17 year old. 17 is not considered an adult in my state. Trayvon went our for candy and tea. Sounds like a kid to me, ...he had every right to do so. He should not have been stalked or followed. He didn't have to die that day. And George will live with the outcome of his actions for the rest of his life. One way or another.
Martin already had a school disciplinary record for breaking and entering and possesing stolen jewelry. How do you know he wasn't casing the neighborhood for a burglery like Zimmerman said he was. Why did the 'kid' run when confronted by Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who was patrolling the streets on behalf of his neighbors with their consent and support? Why did the Kid beat Zimmerman bloody once he was out of breath from chasing the Kid?
MUSE.......Here's the thing......Why did GZ EVER get his fat a** out of his car period!!!!
Doesn't matter if TM was casing granny's house to steal her benz, that is the law enforcement professional's job not GZ's! call 911 and go to bed!
Great!!! The next time a ripped almost-18 yr old tries to beat YOU to death - don't resist the 'child'.
There are thousands of 17 year old young men in prison for first degree murder. So the fact that he was 17 is not of itself a factor for TM to be incapable of doing some serious damage.
Look, Georgie made several bad decisions and now he's looking at a murder rap. But, look, he'll plead to manslaughter before the trial begins, get sentenced to a dime, then out in 5 to 7 on good behavior. And that'll be that. He's going to get off easy. Now can we please move past this?
Really, bad decisions? When is the last time you had your house robbed and trashed because nobody in your neighborhood cared. When is the last time you had someone in your family, or possibly yourself beaten without mercy and their life threatened because some thug felt he/she didn't like the way you were FOLLOWING them. Why don't you go down to central east side Chicago into the BAD neighborhoods and just pay attention to what is happening. Don't tell us that BAD decisions are PAYING attention to something that appears out of place and wrong for the neighborhood. And please keep your meaningless legal opinions where they belong. Zimmerman was AND IS within the scope of the law of Florida law at the time of this crime. BOTH crimes.
Trayvon had NO GZ DNA on him, no abrasions on his hands or knuckles. TM screamed for help. But as long as it's a Black person dead, racists will justify it. It's as American as apple pie.
Zimmerman had a right to defend himself, if in fact he was attacked. But he should NOT have confronted Martin, particularly after he was instructed by a 911 dispatcher to break off the "pursuit." Martin may have been exercising his own version of "stand your ground" when confronted by Zimmerman. What would you think if someone who's not in any type of uniform came up to you on a dark street?
Having said that I believe this tragedy is being used by the race hustlers
Obfuscation at its best. Given the information in the media so far, people seem to be having selective amnesia! GZ going around profiling and tailing TM is wrong - but the moment TM takes down GZ and reaches for his gun, the culpability jumps shoulders! Being profiled cannot justify attempted murder (assuming TM did reach for the gun and threaten to kill GZ while pummeling him, as it seems he did). TM was unarmed, yes, but only until the moment when he reached for the gun and tried to arm himself, whereupon the whole storyline changes. It maybe convenient to wish away this last bit, and if it weren't there, GZ would be guilty as sin. But in presence of that last critical plot twist that some people are ignoring, perhaps in the interest of the bigger 'optics' of racial prejudice, TM's innocence isn't that clear-cut.
What is clear is that Trayvon was profiled and killed. If he's not completely innocent, then what is he guilty of? Being young and black? Wearing a controversial piece of clothing?
Aggravated battery at least and possibly attempted murder as Martin said he was going to kill him
There's a lot more reasonable doubt here thab in the Simpson case; that's for sure. May Florida have a swell time seating an unbiased jury without a lynch-mob mentality.
Trayvon thought it would be fun to beat the crap out of somebody, but that somebody turned out to have a gun. Give Trayvon Martin his richly deserved Darwin Award and let's move on.
If GZ had not gotten out or his car, TM would be alive. If TM had answered what he was doing, perhaps he would also be alive. If TM struck out at GZ because he did not like being questioned, then TM initiated and ultimately caused his own demise. I recall TM's girlfried telling him to run, but his response was he was not going to. Perhaps he had already made up his mind to "Stand his ground" to a person simply approaching him? It is all an unfortunate incident that could have been prevented in so many ways. I hope the jury listens carefully to the facts presented and does not let race or emotion cloud their judgments.
GZ has the history of violence, not Trayvon, Gz has the police record, not trayvon, GZ has the history of domestic violence, not Trayvon, and who ends up dead, Trayvon. Even if it turned into a fist fight (again, no DNA evidence, or bruises on TM's hands) that does not justify the use of deadly force. GZ is a COWARD plain, and simple!
Real Lesson is how the PRESS is a mouthpiece for LIB Political witchhunt.
It's almost as if you actually believe what you wrote, LWJR.
What we can learn from the Martin shooting, is that the black leaders and media are complicit in ignoring the real ongoing epidemic of black deaths. The death rate among black young men is sending a generation to their grave early. Thousands of black on black homicides have occurred since the Martin shooting, but no leadership, no news, no concern.
GI Jon, you were there and you saw Trevon (this black kid) sucker punch Zimmerman. Trevon was walking to his dad's home not bothering anyone and GZ decided Trevon was up to no good so he followed him and killed him. GZ is not the law and had no right to follow Trevon. GZ will lie to save his butt.
Zimmerman had every right to walk down the same sidewalk as Trayvon. Trayvon decided to start beating Zimmerman to death, but Zimmerman had a gun to stop Trayvon. Legitimate self-defense for sure. Sharpton never misses a chance to start a riot.
It always amazes me how people twist the facts and the evidence in this case. No matter how you spin it, a witness saw Zimmerman on the ground with Trayvon on top and hitting him, the witness yelled at Trayon to get off of him, but Trayvon continued hitting Zimmerman. That is no longer a fight, but attempted murder, and all evidence points to that. This is open and shut case, Zimmerman had no choice but to defend his LIFE. This has always been about self defense from the very beginning.
You are naive. Trayvon was stalked and was scared. It's a very simple scenario that plays out sociologically and culturally. He's being followed by a guy in van who then gets out and confronts him with no authority to do so. Zimmerman realizes that he's in over his head in the confrontation and pulls his gun. Dead black kid. At each juncture it was Zimmerman's decision to engage. Result: dead kid. You seem to be convinced that Zimmerman did things correctly based upon some unverbalized code or understanding. Nauseating.
NOTHING TM did showed he was scared. In fact if he was then a call would have been made to the police, he would have ran to the dads GF house and went in....did he do those things? NOPE he stayed on the phone with a girl and bypassed going to the house he had time to get to to confront GZ.
GZ had every right to follow him. It's not illegal to approach anyone and ask why are you here. TM didn't live there and neither did his dad.
You want to bring Zimmermans past up but neglect travons past like being suspended for having burglary tools at school and that is exactly what he was being followed for and not being black and according to zimmerman travon attacked him he was just defending himself
Why is it that no one understands that if Zimmerman had stayed in his vehicle as directed by the 911 operator TRAVON WOULD STILL BE ALIVE!! Even more importantly, Zimmerman followed Travon, SO....What about Travon's rRIGHT TO STAND HIS GROUND!!!!!!
Exactly, and that is much of the problem with "stand your ground" laws. Zimmerman's bad judgement in over-zealous community watch activity combined with Travon's adolescent issues & problems to create a physical confrontation. Mistakes (stupidity, folks with problems) are inevitable. Throw in the sanctioning of the use of lethal force whenever a person feels endangered and the recipe for senseless and unnecessary death is complete. Neither Zimmerman nor Travon strike me as being the "bad guy" here, but the flaws in both combined in a way that created a tragic altercation. Add a gun and the likelihood of that tragedy being a deadly one was increased.
Zimmerman was standing by his vehicle when Trayvon assaulted him. These Black Panthers never let facts and legal process get in the way of their race-baiting.
Get the facts straight, listen to the tape again. For one, the operator does not have the same authority as the police and for two, the operator suggested "you don't have to do that" to GZ. That statement is not an order to stop. TM's girlfried told him to run, he did not obey that order either.......
What you can learn from the Trayvon Martin case? Don't raise thugs and pretend your kids are holy little querubim before the rest of the world.
Jorge, what evidence do you have that Travon was a thug?... but let's say he was... Zimmerman started followed him, not the other way around. Thug or not...did he not have the right to defend himself? Perhaps if one of your children were killed defending themselves from a stranger following them though thier own neighborhood... you would think differently. I feel sorry for you.
one only has the right to defend if thy are being ATTACKED...TM was being FOLLOWED which is not illegal! I feel sorry for people like you who think that being questioned of why you are in an area you don"t live in gives you the right to get physical. Not your neighborhood, someone from there questions your reasons for being there ...YOU ANSWER THEM....PERIOD. You don't run, you don't circle their truck, you don't punch and you don't get to act like a jerk.
Thing to learn from the Zimmerman case: Don't raise your boys to be paranoid vigilantes.
don't raise lil thugs who don't know their place. Act like a thug, you get treated as such.
Sorry, but the "Trayvon Martin Case" is another example of media-created hysteria and race-baiting , just like the OJ Simpson trial fiasco.
and where is OJ?
No it's the case where a black kid sucker punches a white man and gets shot travon wasn't defending himself he was the agressor although it sucks he got shot
none of the evidence supports everything that you just said. that's all
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