Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Zimmerman And The Left Wing Media Bubble

From America's Finest News Source: SANFORD, FL—Just days after being fully acquitted for his role in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman reportedly won the $37 million Florida Lottery jackpot last night. 
George Zimmerman reportedly emerged from hiding to rescue a family from an overturned truck last Friday--allegedly using a fire extinguisher to put out the flames. Despite not waiting to speak to reporters and disappearing again immediately after speaking to police, I am certain that to some people this will look like a publicity stunt. Or maybe wanting 'to be a hero.' To be fair, there hasn't been much discussion of this at all on left-wing blogs (although go here for Tweets!)--and it has gotten a great deal of play in the mainstream (online) media.

George Zimmerman is still a story.
It Does Fit A Pattern
Disinformation Campaign
You may have heard of the "right wing media bubble" where conservative news outlets get things wrong or outright create news in the pursuit of ideological objectives over actual reporting. This sort of thing would never happen in the mainstream media ... would it?

I spoke with my 11 year old daughter about the Zimmerman trial and the verdict. I wanted to know what, if anything, she had heard. She isn't political and the TV isn't on news channels in her household (she lives with her mother after my divorce). At first she had no idea who Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman were--but when I explained the basis of the case it turned out she had heard her mother talk about it.
  • She believed that a boy "about her age" had been shot and killed. She didn't understand why anyone would do that.
  • She believed he was shot because of his race--that he was shot because he was black. That seemed stupid to her.
I told her these things simply were not true. They were, however, widely believed--and not just by naive 11 year-olds who get their news from halfway paying attention to their mom on the telephone.

The Media Narrative
I do not generally watch cable or network news* but this is, I think, the narrative that the mainstream media painted:
On Feb 26, 2012 a large adult white man (Zimmerman) racially profiled a young, 50lbs smaller, black Trayvon Martin who was returning home, unarmed, from his trip to the convenience store. Ignoring a police order to stand down and remain in his vehicle, Zimmerman, convinced of the youth's guilt, followed him, exited his vehicle, confronted him, and gunned him down while the youth pleaded for his life. Despite being uninjured in the altercation, because of Florida's Stand Your Ground law, this was ruled a justifiable homicide. The (white) police exonerated him on the spot and let him go.
Other than the date, almost every bit of that is either unsubstantiated or flat out wrong--but if you are wondering where it could come from, look here: Mother Jones' The Trayvon Martin Killing Explained. Everything you need to know is right under the headline:
The latest on how a teenager armed with Skittles and iced tea got gunned down by an overeager neighborhood watch captain.
It's long--and you don't need to read the whole thing. Just scroll through the bold-face headlines.

A Collection Of Facts
Here is a short quiz on the George Zimmerman trial. Take it and see what you think (I think the questions are badly worded but the content does make its point).
At This Point, What Difference Does It Make?
Here's a piece by Slate, a major online magazine with standard mainstream-media (meaning left-leaning) columnists. It is entitled You Are Not Trayvon Martin:
Yesterday I was going to write that Zimmerman pursued Martin against police instructions and illustrated the perils of racial profiling. But I hadn’t followed the case in detail. So I sat down and watched the closing arguments: nearly seven hours of video in which the prosecution and defense went point by point through the evidence as it had been hashed out at the trial. Based on what I learned from the videos, I did some further reading.

It turned out I had been wrong about many things. The initial portrait of Zimmerman as a racist wasn’t just exaggerated. It was completely unsubstantiated.
Read the whole thing.

Firing from further right, is How The Media Has Distorted A Tragedy:
This narrative has perpetuated the lie that Zimmerman’s history of calls to the police indicates obsessive racial paranoia. Thus, discussing the verdict on the PBS NewsHour, University of Connecticut professor and New Yorker contributor Jelani Cobb asserted that “Zimmerman had called the police 46 times in previous six years, only for African-Americans, only for African-American men.” Actually, only six calls—two of them about Trayvon Martin—had to do with African-American men. At least three involved complaints about whites; others were about such issues as a fire alarm going off, a reckless driver of unknown race, or an aggressive dog.
Whatever you may think of the media in general, it should be obvious that in the Zimmerman / Martin case, a lot of people who were only vaguely following the trial got a very, very wrong idea about what happened. When you look at the facts (and I'll stick to 'facts' neither side contests) the verdict, which surprised many people, looks a great deal more justifiable than if you accept the dominant narrative.

What Happened To The Media?
If you are in the GOP base, you already know what happened: the media did what it always does: organized via JournoList (Mk 2, probably) they decided to fan the flames of social justice and race-baiting with the probable intent of keeping black turn-out high for 2014 and 2016. It's that simple.

I don't think it's that simple (and I don't believe the outcome needs an overarching conspiracy theory)--but I do think that it's very important to look at this as a case example of how media bias can and does impact stories. Let's take a look at what we can see:
  1. The use of pictures. The selection of which pictures to show of TM and GZ creates a strong narrative of a huge white man (the choice Zimmerman pic is from 5 years ago when Zimmerman was much heavier than he was at the time of the shooting) against a small boy (the 12-year-old Martin picture). 
  2. NBC's racist edit. They edited the 911 tape to make Zimmerman sound like a hardcore racist. Money-shot from that link: "NBC Universal Media responded to the Zimmerman complaint by noting that other media outlets played up the racial angle of Zimmerman’s deadly encounter with Trayvon Martin." Well, yes. Yes they did. 
  3. Falsifiable injection of racist language ('coons') into Zimmerman's speech by CNN and other outlets. According to the prosecution, what he said was "punks"--and, indeed, there is nothing indicating that Zimmerman would've been given to using causal racist language even if he was secretly a racist at all. Reporting this on the news created a vibrant image of Zimmerman as a white supremacist. While it is possible that someone may have legitimately misinterpreted what was said, when no retraction in the world will be sufficient it should be common sense to really make sure you have it right. 
  4. The use of the term "White-Hispanic." This is lingusitic nonsense (Hispanics can, of course, be of any race or ethnic background--the term applies to where their ancestry is geographically). One asks why CNN felt it necessary to make this distinction?
  5. ABC's assertion that Zimmerman was not injured. After "re-digitizing" the photo of the back of Zimmerman's head they concluded that, in fact, he had been injured. It's unclear to me if the "original photo" was ambiguous--but since the conservative news outlet The Daily Caller was able to determine that, in fact, Zimmerman was injured, I conclude it was (we also know from police reports that, although still straight up and down, Zimmerman's nose was broken).
I analyze these as:
  1. The Use of Pictures: Promoting a good-vs.-evil narrative. I think the use of these pictures supported a slant of the developing story as that of a provincial police force letting a white man go in the face of an unjustified shooting. This was, to be fair, the story the media was presented with by the family (which is what made it prominent)--but, to be equally fair--the media is supposed to actually investigate this stuff rather than going to press with it.
  2. The Racist Edit: Malfeasance. In order to "make the story work" (I debated writing 'pop') NBC intentionally defamed Zimmerman. According to the link above they believed that when he was found guilty they would be okay. What Now Guys?
  3. Racist Language: Rush to Judgement. I can believe that this is 'confirmation' bias--which is still bias--rather than intentional mechanical defamation on the part of CNN.
  4. White-Hispanic: Clarifying a good-vs.-evil narrative which would be muddied by the actual racial descriptors. If you call Zimmerman Hispanic it creates questions in the narrative (Wait--are the cops racist against all minorities? Or just against the blacks? Or--oh, okay--he's white). I also think that the last name 'Zimmerman' may have caused some editorial concern for the news outlets. If he was named Jorge Pablo I don't think we'd see "White Hispanic" (his mother is Peruvian).
  5. Assertion that Zimmerman was not injured: A rush-to-judgement and confirmation bias. It's possible that ABC doctored the tape to make the injuries go away but I see any reason to think it required that. I think an inexpert look at some bad video was enough for them to jump to a conclusion that was tasty and fit the developing narrative.
The point of the above is not to exonerate the news media: in every case this is them dropping the ball and going further down a road of not just misinforming their viewers but actually constructing a story that is nearly 180-degrees wrong. The point of it is that in the construction of news (a) how things begin is very important to how they turn out--course correction is hard for the MSM as a whole and (b) that the liberal bias of the media has certain weak-points (such as being a sucker for a racial narrative) that, when hit--or manipulated carefully--will create a deceptive message.

I think it is necessary, when reviewing news coverage to:
  1. Be very, very wary of zero-hour coverage. When a story breaks expect a good 30% of what you are hearing to be not just wrong--but possibly completely wrong.
  2. Be very, very wary of Good-vs-Evil narratives. Don't accept people as heroes or villains until well after the facts have been established. Organizing events into stories with actual themes to them is something we as authors do--not something reality does.
  3. You are NOT a document / audio / photograph analyst. Do not trust your inexpert opinion of what you are looking at or listening to. Whether it is a birth certificate with NINE LAYERS or [ Martin ] screaming on the phone for his life (across the street, through a window, into a cheap cell phone, down the phone-lines, and into a 911 recorder), you do NOT have the skills necessary to do actual forensic analysis. Wait for the experts. 
The Aftermath: The Impact Of Skewed Reporting
In Left Turn, political science writer Tim Groseclose estimates that, if not for the media's left-wing bias the US would, politically and culturally speaking, look like Texas. I think this is badly overstating the case but, given a single data-point of the Zimmerman-Martin case, I'm hard-pressed to say he's totally wrong. The opinion divide on the verdict is stark along key political, racial, gender, and age-based lines.
Click The Link To See The Divisions
As a result of this, I can all but guarantee we will see echoes of this case in next year's elections--and maybe beyond that. The problem will not be specifically with the jersey-ism** involved (what 'team-shirt' each side wears) but with the amount of actual false beliefs on one side (the young, black side, Democrat, and female) of the aisle.

I'm okay with someone who, aware of all the facts, thinks they jury should have come to a different decision--at least that's an informed opinion. But if someone tells me they're voting a specific way because they system let the racist Zimmerman off the hook for stalking and gunning down a 12 year old after ignoring the police? Even if they were voting my way, I'd rather not have them.

Here is an Interactive Map of the incident.
"There is something worse than ignorance, and that's knowing what ain't so"--Mark Twain

* I do not say this as a point of pride--simply disclosure. I don't "not watch them" because they always lie to me. I don't watch them because I consume my news via the Internet rather than cable TV
** Read a Power Line response to the polling here. The author finds the split disheartening (as do I)--but actually lauds Obama's comments on the matter as an attempt to bridge the gap. I'm also pleased that Erick Erickson found Obama's remarks reasonably okay--these comments from people who usually like nothing the president says.

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