It’s been a long time since we’ve seen this: Last Friday night, the Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz appeared on the PBS NewsHour.
Margaret Warner asked Horwitz to explain the “treasure trove of documents and tapes” which were released last Thursday by prosecutor Angela Corey. Asked to discuss the police reports of eyewitness accounts, Horwitz somewhat oddly said this:
HORWITZ (5/18/12): You know, Margaret, as in many of these criminal cases, eyewitnesses see different things, they hear different things.The eyewitness “looked out her window and heard a boy screaming?” Somewhat comically, that’s what Horwitz said.
So in this case, you have one man that says he saw a black man on top of a white man, beating him up. And he describes the white man, what he’s wearing, a red jacket, which would be George Zimmerman. But then you have a woman who is standing in her house and looks out her window and hears, she says, a boy screaming. So you know, two different accounts.
Was Martin on top of Zimmerman, beating him up? We can’t exactly tell you. But in this instance, the male eyewitness Horwitz cites seems to have been a true eyewitness; he says he stepped outside and spoke to the combatants as they fought, he had repeatedly said. (The police reports say he would have been thirty feet from the combatants.) Horwitz balanced this person’s account with an “eyewitness” who looked out the window, then explained what she says she heard.
So it has gone when the Washington Post attempts to report the facts of this case. As she continued, Horwitz gave a rather selective account of the newly-released documents:
HORWITZ (continuing directly): One person saw one man chasing another, so different accounts. It was dark, it was raining. The other thing you have is a 911 recording that recorded the screams outside. A woman called during the fight and you get the screams on tape.Odd! Everyone has known all along that Trayvon’s mother and Zimmerman’s father each say the voice belongs to their own son. That was very old news. But Horwitz skipped something which really was new in those documents—the police report which said that Trayvon Martin’s father initially said it wasn’t the voice of his son.
Trayvon’s mother says that is definitely Trayvon screaming for his life. George Zimmerman’s parents say, no, that’s absolutely George Zimmerman.
The state prosecutor, special prosecutor Angela Corey, brought in the FBI. They did an analysis which was inconclusive. They said the tape isn’t good enough for them to make a, come to a conclusion. So what this leaves us with, it really sums up the case, is a lot of uncertainty. It shows the difficulty in bringing closure and certainty to this very highly charged case.
Martin’s father may have been wrong—but that was new in the “treasure trove.” Why did Horwitz skip it?
We have no idea. But earlier, Horwitz had skipped past another new fact:
HORWITZ: There are a lot of details in the medical reports that show us that this was sort of an intimate hand-to-hand struggle. There was—from DNA, we can see Trayvon’s blood on George Zimmerman’s shirt, George Zimmerman’s blood on Trayvon’s sweatshirt, blood under Trayvon’s fingernails, all kinds of material that shows us that this was a real struggle and a fight.In that treasure trove, there are also several reports which note that Zimmernan’s nose was actually broken. Why did Horwitz settle for a “bloody” nose? We have no idea—but basic information was being withheld from NewsHour viewers.
And there were—there is video and there's photos that show that George Zimmerman was, indeed, injured. There are lacerations to the back of his head. He had a bloody nose. And Trayvon, we know from the autopsy report, has an injury on one of his fingers.
That morning, Horwitz had reported on the new documents on the front page of the Post. In the Post, she did report what Martin’s father had said—but she stuck with the “bloody” nose construction. Adopting a requisite narrative, she said “the documents include information that points to what some have characterized as a sloppy and incomplete police investigation,” offering rather selective evidence in support of that mandatory claim.
She and her editors also authored a very strange piece of reporting. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a quotation doctored as strangely as this:
HORWITZ (5/18/12, The Washington Post): The documents include new details about what witnesses said they heard and saw that dark, rainy night outside their townhouse windows. One witness told police that he heard someone saying, "I've got a gun. I've got a gun."Wow! From the quoted statement as Horwitz reports it, a reader might get the impression that someone threatened someone with a gun that night! Since Zimmerman had the only gun, it’s clear who that would have been!
Another said she heard "arguing" coming from the walkway behind her residence.
But Horwitz gave a remarkably misleading account of the full quotation. Here’s the fuller text of the police report from which she took that partial “quotation.” In the report, Officer Chris Serino is reporting what one ear-witness said:
SERINO (3/13/12): [The witness] articulated the sounds he heard as “ah, ah, ah,” and then he heard the same voice yelling, “help! help!” approximately twenty (20) times. He then heard a “pop,” ran upstairs, and then heard someone saying “I’ve got a gun, I’ve got a gun,” “take my gun from me.”“I’ve got a gun, I’ve got a gun,” “take my gun from me.” Within the full context of these reports, it’s clear that this ear-witness was describing statements by Zimmerman after the “pop” of the shooting, as he informed the police that he had a gun. (Adding to the tragedy of these events, police arrived on the scene almost instantly. Zimmerman surrendered his gun.)
For unknown reasons, Horwitz reported the part of the quotation where Zimmerman said, “I’ve got a gun, I’ve got a gun.” But she omitted the part which came next, where he said, “Take my gun from me.” In the process, she made no attempt to explain the obvious context of the quoted statement—and she may have lodged a highly bogus impression in many readers’ minds.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a major “journalist” truncate a quote so strangely. But then, it’s important to understand how badly our journalists often function, especially when they’re reporting a story which comes with some Clear Preferred Narratives.
Did Zimmerman commit a crime that night? We have no idea, in large part because the facts of this case are emerging very slowly, often in the face of disinformation campaigns. And uh-oh! As the facts of this case become available, the journalists of the Washington press corps will often obscure them—sometimes through mere incompetence, sometimes through devotion to script.
Why would a journalist truncate that quote? We don’t have the slightest idea. But whatever may emerge about Zimmerman’s conduct, the journalistic treatment of this case has already been an astonishing scandal.
The rest of “the press” will ignore that, of course. We will offer several more posts on this topic this week.