WHO NEEDS JOURNALISM: Who needs the facts!

MONDAY, MARCH 26, 2012

Part 1—In search of George Zimmerman’s gun: On Saturday morning, the Orlando Sentinel did a rather modest fact-check concerning the death of Trayvon Martin.

For the Sentinel, this is a local event. Its reporters were on the story long before the national press—though that doesn’t mean that its reporters are always right, of course.

In this instance, Rene Stutzman discussed five “prominent misunderstandings” concerning this high-profile case. The first concerned George Zimmerman’s gun. We were surprised by what we read:
STUTZMAN (3/24/12): There is a great deal of misinformation surrounding the Trayvon Martin shooting. Here are some of the most prominent misunderstandings:

Cops returned the gun to shooter George Zimmerman.

Untrue, according to police. Sanford Officer Tim Smith handcuffed Zimmerman, and then pulled from a holster in Zimmerman's waistband the black Kel Tec 9 mm PF9, a semiautomatic. The gun is now in the possession of authorities, officially part of the evidence in the case.
Say what? The Sanford police took Zimmerman’s gun? We were surprised by that statement, but then we have an excuse:

We watch a lot of cable.

Let’s be clear—for ourselves, we still don’t know if the Sanford police took George Zimmerman’s gun. But all last week, we heard a contrary claim on MSNBC—and the contrary claim was used to drive a particular portrait of this unfolding story.

Was Zimmerman allowed to keep his gun? As best we can tell, the claim got its start on MSNBC on Tuesday, March 20. Al Sharpton spoke with Kendall Coffey, a Florida legal figure:
COFFEY (3/20/12): What kind of investigation took place here? Did they get the evidence from different witnesses? Did they really do the ground work so they could undertake an aggressive interrogation? Or did they just listen to the guy’s self-serving statement and say, “OK. You say it was self-defense, that’s good enough for me?” And I have a pretty clear sense of what the FBI is going to think of the kind of slipshod investigation that apparently happened here.

SHARPTON: Well, I think you’re right, Mr. Coffey. Because when you look at the fact that this guy left with his gun, when you look at the fact that we are told that the victim who is Trayvon Martin, was left in the medical examiner’s office for several days, they never even picked up his cell phone to call the numbers to find out who he was, while his father was calling around to hospitals trying to find him. How can you do a thorough investigation when you didn’t try to find out who the victim was and you listen to a self-serving statement by Zimmerman and he walks away with a nine millimeter?
According to Sharpton, Zimmerman walked away with his gun—and this fact was used to advance the claim that Sanford police ran a slipshod investigation. For the record, the factual claim had been advanced one hour earlier on Hardball, by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.):
CLEAVER (3/20/12): I was mayor of Kansas City for eight years. We have not had an incident like this in Kansas City, Missouri, in a couple of decades. One of the reasons is we`ve had good police chiefs. But the other—if a police officer shoots a civilian, a person, even if it`s justifiable, if it`s a justifiable shooting, the police officer is immediately suspended with pay.

This man was able to shoot and kill a kid and then walk away with his gun.

MATTHEWS: I know. I know, sir.
Was Rep. Cleaver’s highlighted statement accurate? We don’t know—and you can feel certain that Matthews didn’t.

But people, please! This is Hardball! Matthews quickly agreed.

Did Zimmerman walk away with his gun? This certainly isn’t the most important fact in this very important case. But this claim was advanced all week, used to drive a particular portrait of the investigation. On Wednesday night, Sharpton appeared as a guest on The Last Word. He and Lawrence O’Donnell advanced this assertion, even as Sharpton complained that the police had been misstating facts:
SHARPTON (3/21/12) What's even more appalling, not only did they not make an arrest, they let the guy go with a gun, with the murder weapon. “You can go.” And they start becoming his defense spokesmen.

In these documents that you read to Mr. Bonaparte, they start advocating on behalf of Zimmerman. I mean, it is outrageous. You have the police chief saying this is what Zimmerman was facing. This is, in fact, what happened.

How does he know that? He did not talk to people—he did not talk to witnesses. There’s no corroboration. But he states this as fact.

He, in fact, became the spokesman for Mr. Zimmerman.

O’DONNELL: A gun like that, you want to take it over. You want to take ballistic tests on it. You want to figure out exactly what the range of fire was, how far away was this from the entrance wound. None of that’s being done.
Were Sharpton and O'Donnell right? We don't know. That said, O’Donnell’s performance on Wednesday night struck us as MSNBC’s worst of the week, a point we plan to discuss tomorrow. For the record, it seems that police did speak to witnesses, despite Sharpton’s somewhat vague claim.

Did Zimmerman walk away with his gun? We don’t know, but on that same Wednesday night, Rep. Corrine Brown made the claim on Sharpton’s program. On Thursday night, O’Donnell advanced the claim again, speaking with the lawyer for Trayvon Martin’s parents:
O’DONNELL (3/22/12): And attorney Crump, are you worried about what we’re going to be able to re-construct given the amount of evidence that's been lost, we do not have immediate access after of the crime to the gun, to ballistic tests on that gun? We don’t have immediate access to the clothing of Zimmerman which is relevant because they say there is evidence in those clothing of blood and grass stains indication of altercations. I’m just looking at things in the police report that we do not have access to that make—that are made reference to in the report?

CRUMP: You know, Lawrence, you’re absolutely right.
By Friday night, Sharpton was opening his program with the claim about the gun. “Welcome to Politics Nation,” he said. “I’m Al Sharpton. Tonight’s lead, 27 days since the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin and still the man responsible has not been arrested. He is still walking free, still with his gun, still with his gun permit. Each day he remains free is an outrage.”

Later, Sharpton advanced the claim again. “He not only has not had his gun taken or his permit, he had the police chief becoming his spokesman.”

(Note: According to Stutzman's report in the Sentinel, Zimmerman does retain his gun permit, although the police took his gun.)

Was Zimmerman allowed to keep his gun? As of this morning, we simply don’t know. This certainly isn’t the most important fact about this case—but in typical press corps fashion, a wide array of basic facts have been misstated and/or selectively presented in the past week, especially among those journalists who have adopted an advocate’s role as this story unfolds.

In many precincts, a set of questions was implicitly raised as this case was discussed last week. The most basic questions would be these:

Who needs journalism? Who needs the facts? Does anyone really need all the facts? Or can we survive on novelized tales, novelized stories which are shaped to fit a particular outlook?

Can we exist on novelized tales? People like Matthews have played it that way for a very, very long time. Across the spectrum of major elites, our “elites” have agreed not to notice.

Tomorrow: O’Donnell defines his role


  1. So what are you saying here, Bob? That because Al Sharpton wasn't 100 percent accurate in what he said, that means the Sanford PD's investigation wasn't hasty and slipshod? And they weren't quick to use "stand your ground" as the excuse to cut the guy loose, with or without his gun?

    And all I can say is Thank God all this is finally being thoroughly investigated, which it wouldn't have been without people like Al Sharpton focusing the nation's attention on it.

    1. So what are you saying here, Anonymous?

      That even though there's very little clarity about the facts in the case, media people shoot just shoot their mouths off as if they know it all? That's a good thing?

      All I can say is Thank God at least Somerby points out some of the insanity and presumption involved.

      People still missing the point on Saturday's post: Chris Matthews and crew DIDN'T HEAR the supposed slur on the tape, they were sure it had been cut out, then, as if by magic heard it when reminded nothing had been cut.

      That's the point: their rank amateurism and presumption. Not what you think you hear.

      Same point today. Can you trust these clowns? No, you can't.

    2. Sanford PD had no right to arrest Zimmerman. Apparently they took him down for an interview, there were witnesses and physical evidence, and they made a determination they had no probable cause. An arrest is not automatic or even legal if there is no suspicion. At this time there is no reason to believe the actions of the PD were careless. At this point it looks like they proceeded exactly according to the law.

    3. Swan, what I am saying is "So what?"

      Good grief, this is all being used now by the right wing who will pretty much spin this into making Zimmerman some kind of hero who had no choice but to shoot the unarmed kid following whatever confrontation (assuming there was one) that Zimmerman initiated.

      Who cares what Matthews and Sharpton may or may not have gotten wrong?

    4. If Zimmerman said "what are you doing around here" and Martin ran, and then attacked Zimmerman as Zimmerman returned to his SUV, and Zimmerman cried for help as he was beaten by Martin, then you still consider this a "confrontation Zimmerman initiated"? Fortunately the law doesn't.

    5. If, if, if, if, . . . my your fertile imagination is busy today!

      But to answer your question, even in the face of everything we DO know about this case from facts that are not in dispute that the highly unlikely event that your imagination is true, YES, Zimmerman did initiate the confrontation.

      And the law is very clear about that. Unless, of course, you think armed men have the right to confront anybody walking down the street. Then you get to invent your own laws, as well as your own scenarios.

    6. Most of this ugly event is well described on Sanford's website. After reading that detail of all the evidence collected so far, I think the CCW law worked perfectly and Zimmerman would be either dead or in a coma from the beating he was taking from Martin. The law was written for this kind of encounter.

      So Zimm acted properly, what precipitated the fight is not relevant after Zimm began fearing for his life, and within reason, that is his determination to make. But his life will be ruined anyway: the state is using a special prosecutor who plans to by-pass Sanford's grand jury and she has already publicly stated that her office specializes in tearing apart the self-defense argument.

      If Zimm is still moving after that, AG Holder is coming for him on a federal warrant issued under hate crime legislation. So either way, Zimm will face malicious, racialist prosecution that will break him and likely send him to prison.

      Florida law is supposed to protect him against this insulting circus of racist idiots. But then, once that race card hits the table and the race barkers arrive on the scene, whomever sports the lightest skin is going to fall. So it really doesn't matter what happened.

      We were all once school aged kids and speaking for myself, I was well aware of how authority figures would react to me doing things outside the norm. Once they started their official encounter with me, my behavior was under a spotlight and meant the difference between them saying, "have a good night" or "if you're looking for trouble, you've found it."

      I'm saying kids need to get some suitable attitude and behave themselves if they wish to stay away from authority types with guns. Wearing gangster clothes and being combative can get you killed.

    7. Yes, by all means, let's declare open season on every black kid who wears a hoodie and doesn't fit your definition of a "suitable attitude" while walking down a sidewalk, talking to his girlfriend on a cell phone.

      Here's a newsflash for you. Hoodies are extremely popular among kids, white, black, brown, yellow and red. They are no more "gangster clothes" than jeans are.

      In fact, my daughter's Catholic school sells hoodies in school colors. Let's shoot them, too. After all, they must be a member of some gang and up to no good.

    8. Damn. Trayvon is fair game. The dead person. And Zimmerman is being revered as some bastion of authority? A self ordained neighborhood watch freak. Hoodies are popular with all of us. I wore one this morning - emblazoned with Berkeley - my family has many variations on the theme. We must be a gang. Did anyone else hear Fox pulled their hoodie off their website for sale? What a tragic comedy. Why are we arguing whether a loan nut, not a cop, should stalk and consequently shoot a child? Why does anyone support his behavior as sane?

  2. Al Sharpton hasn't learned from his involvement in the Tawana Brawley case. From Wikipedia: "On November 28, 1987, Tawana Brawley, a 15-year-old African-American girl, was found smeared with feces, lying in a garbage bag, her clothing torn and burned and with various slurs and epithets written on her body in charcoal. Brawley claimed she had been assaulted and raped by six white men, some of them police officers, in the town of Wappinger, New York.

    Attorneys Alton H. Maddox and C. Vernon Mason joined Sharpton in support of Brawley. A grand jury was convened; after seven months of examining police and medical records, the jury determined that Brawley had fabricated her story. Sharpton, Maddox, and Mason accused the Dutchess County prosecutor, Steven Pagones, of racism and of being one of the perpetrators of the alleged abduction and rape. The three were successfully sued for slander and ordered to pay $345,000 in damages, the jury finding Sharpton liable for making seven defamatory statements about Pagones, Maddox for two, and Mason for one.[69] Sharpton refused to pay his share of the damages; it was later paid by a number of black business leaders."


    1. Maybe Rev. Sharpton has learned a lesson. He hasn't libeled anyone yet.
      Claiming the Sanford Police bungled the investigation is hardly a well-kept secret.

    2. There is no evidence the Sanford Police bungled anything. As the truth emerges on this one, it appears the Sanford Police will be vindicated and Al Sharpton perpetrated another Tawana Brawley on a suggestible sensational mob.

    3. Sorry to disappoint you, but Al Sharpton isn't the story here, no matter how much you want him to be.

    4. There is no comparison between the Brawley case and this murder. Zimmmerman wanted to be a cop and carry a gun. He was rejected from being a cop and carries a gun. His reaction to the circumstance was wrong and he was told to stand down. He did not and murdered a boy.

  3. I find Mr. Somerby confusing sometimes. While he (rightly?) points out the meme passed by several cable figures last week, he waffles about whether or not the Orlando Sentinel told the truth or has made shite up too. C'mon Somerby, at some point you have to take a stand! Are you going to call Mr. Zimmerman and ask him if he left custody with his piece? How far do you have to go before you stop being the JJ Abrams of blogdom?

  4. According to the posted police report Patrolman Timothy Smith removed a black Kel Tek 9mm PF9 handgun and holster from Zimmerman's waistband.
    The last line in the report, he writes that the hand gun he collected from Zimmerman was placed into evidence under TS-1.


  5. As to the factual issue, only: even if the police did take the weapon away from Zimmerman, there's evidently nothing in Florida law which would prevent him from buying another.

    His right to own a gun is unaffected, no matter where the weapon used in the killing happens to be.

  6. OT: (because I haven't even read today's Howlers!) but I think we should note Bill Maher continues his very, very lame self defense in his "new rules" monologue the other day. Funny how ever time one of our national big mouths catches a little flack it's time for the "everyone-just-too-touchy" speech. Will Maher be let off with a slap on the wrists around these parts?

  7. "We watch a lot of cable."

    Understatement of the millenium.

  8. Hot off the press. This account squares with the skimpy accounts released so far.
    The question is, why did it take so long to release, and has it been "enhanced for clarity" as were the "racist comments"?

    Did this new release follow interviews of police by government officials and Zimmerman's attorney. Was Tracy Martin's attorney present?

    From the article: "Police have been reluctant to provided details about all their evidence, but this is what they've disclosed to the Sentinel..."
    We know that statement is true, but little else. Are the Sanford Police stonewalling the press, or is the press just not asking questions. The article doesn't say.
    28 days and counting.

  9. Thanks for that link, gravymeister. It's quite informative. BTW that report seems to have understated the threat from the New Black Panthers. It says,

    A fringe group, the New Black Panthers, have offered a $10,000 reward for [Zimmerman's] capture.

    However, a more specific report makes it look like the $10,000 reward offer is for killing Zimmerman:

    The leader of the New Black Panther Party called for a $10,000 bounty for the man who shot and killed black Florida teen Trayvon Martin, a case that continues spark explosive emotions and strain the country’s racial tensions.

    “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” New Black Panther leader Mikhail Muhammad said Saturday when he announced the reward at a protest in Sanford, the Orlando suburb where the killing took place.

    Zimmerman has gone into hiding due to death threats and the offer of the $10,000 reward, his legal advisor Craig Sonner said, according to Reuters.

    “He should be fearful for his life,” Muhammad said. “You can’t keep killing black children.”

    Read more: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/03/25/new-black-panther-party-offers-10000-bounty-for-george-zimmerman/#ixzz1qGJto8bx

  10. "But after the Sentinel story appeared on the newspaper's website Monday morning, City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. issued a news release, saying there would be an internal affairs investigation into the source of the leak and if identified, the person or people involved would be disciplined."

    Another job for Inspector Zimmerman perhaps?

  11. Am I the only one who thinks that the New Black Panthers are more than likely funded by the Koch Brothers or their ilk? Mikhail Muhammad? A commie muslim? Give me a break!

    1. "Am I the only one who thinks that the New Black Panthers are more than likely funded by the Koch Brothers or their ilk?"

      This is the sort of prejudice that Bob addressed in his post March 26 Tribe Time: Krugman Hears the Hoos. Just because someone is an economic conservative doesn't mean he's a barbarian. E.g., the Koch Brothers give a lot of money to charities that Anonymous would likely approve of -- health care, the arts, etc.

    2. And for the record, Mikhail Muhammad has interjected himself into this story for motives we are free to speculate about.

      But he is not the story, and let's not get sidetracked by him from the very serious issues this story raises.

  12. Another reason I like not having a TV: I never heard a thing about this gun business until just now.

  13. A commenter at the Sentinel site makes an interesting point: "Funny, isn't it. Trayvon has a clean record, whereas Zimmerman has a record of violence with two prior accounts of him attacking a police officer, when resisting arrest, and an incidence of domestic abuse."

  14. David in Cal poses a challenge to Bob Somerby. How to dress one's appropriate passion for facts, information, in a way that doesn't "invite rape?" Meant to be a double-edged question.

  15. (Cont from previous comment) Though cast by the media and others as a longtime solo Neighborhood Watch guy with a vigilante streak, his record of 46 calls over 8 years looks more like this:

    2004: 4 calls, 2005: 4, 2006: 1, 2007: 4, 2008: 0. By the call locations in those first 5 years, he likely lived at different complexes because of the locations listed, some were made from nearby roads and some at businesses nearby. It was only in the last 3 years where the calls increased.

    2009: 12, 2010: 9, and in 2011 through the 2/26/12 call: 11. Based on the locations in those calls, I get the impression he moved into that particular gated community in the Fall of 2009.

    What were all those calls about? In that 8 years, 4 garage doors left open, 3 about dogs (one an attacking pit bull), 4 car or fire alarms going off, 2 domestic disputes, 3 hard-to-type incidents that occurred at businesses (because I can't make out the police codes), 2 drivers driving erratically, 2 big potholes identified, 1 trash dumping beside a road, an unsupervised 7-9 yr old walking unaccompanied along a busy road, another group of young children running out in front of cars,so that's half (23) of the calls, and the first 5 years there was little else than those kind of reports.

    The last three years, I get the sense he was being more watchful of people he viewed as not belonging to the complex, and it was especially more noticeable in the last year before the shooting as he clearly became aware of a rash of 'S-21s' in the community, which I deduce to be either B&Es or thefts from homes. I can conjecture that around age 25, Zimmerman decided he wanted to become a police officer and took a pro-active approach of watching the neighborhood more, but that's only guesswork.

    It's really not all that hard to look for readily available facts. And I are not even a official journalist (just an ex-political blogger).

    Note to others: if any wish to proclaim Zimmerman as some sort of paranoiac or vigilante, save yourself the deep look I did in the past few hours. Just review the 2009-2012 calls he made and see if that supports or refutes that assumption.

    Kevin Hayden, formerly of American Street

  16. My first (related) comment disappeared so I'll repost it in the next.

  17. Part 1 of comment above....


    Solid critique!

    Most of the credible info can be found here:

    Among the things I discovered going through the records there:

    Timothy Smith, first officer on the scene who handcuffed Zimmerman and took his gun and holster from inside his waistband within 3 minutes of the shot, had responded to two previous calls by Zimmerman within the previous 30 days. So he was familiar with him.

    In addition to interviewing Zimmerman, officers interviewed a 21 yr old WF, a WM 29, a WM 30, a WF 36, an 'Other' M 42, and a WF 56. Most, presumably were the 911 callers. PRESUMABLY.

    After the 2-1/2 min call by Zimmerman, officers were dispatched 3-1/2 minutes later. Officer Davis was close by as he arrived within 1 minute of the dispatch. The sole gunshot occurred as he was pulling in. Within 10 minutes of the handcuffing several CPR efforts had ceased and a Fire Dept member declared Martin dead.

    Zimmerman was given first aid then transported to the Sanford PD where another investigator questioned him and released him.

    The PD maintains it would have been illegal to arrest Zimmerman based on all the available evidence. And that, without the arrest they could not do a tox screen.

    Some oddities I noticed in the police report: Martin, plus all the witnesses, had their weights listed. Zimmerman alone, did not. All but one of the witnesses plus Zimmerman, had a phone number listed (and blacked out), but none were listed under cell phones.

    The major discrepancies with Zimmerman's story: (1)while it appears his head hit the ground and the wet shirt back and bleeding from the back of his head could fit his story, he claimed Martin repeatedly bashed his head against the sidewalk and it appears they were on a lawn.... and (2) Martin was speaking to his gf on a phone and claimed Martin told her he was being pursued by someone, and then she heard the verbal confrontation before the phone went dead. The words she heard don't match the words Zimmerman describes. (part 2 posted above)

  18. Just to help you out here, I'm from KC and the version of the burned kid story is not the only one out there, and that has become a big problem. Mom has repeately changed that story, making it "better" with each telling. That's pretty much why it quickly dropped off the radar.

    Secondly, if you want a KC story that even remotely resembles a "black on white" crime, try googling Brian Euston. The black kid in that case was actually charged, but finally (and some would say miraculously) acquitted.

    The OJ case is not a parallel, because the issues of his acquittal are different. Like a friend of mine summed up brilliantly: "Just because he was guilty as hell doesn't mean the cops didn't try to frame him for it. And for that, he should walk."

    Same with the Casey Anthony "Tot Mom" case. Just because she may have been guilty as hell, doesn't relieve the state from the burden of proving its case beyond reasonable doubt. And the state failed in that regard.

    What Cleaver was referencing is that we haven't had a case in KC where a self-appointed "neighborhood watch" vigilante goes out on patrol packing, sees a "suspicious" unarmed kid, and the kid winds up dead.

    Lord sakes, can you imagine the open season for vigilantes to hunt down and kill "suspicious" kids if Zimmerman isn't even charged? Especially in those 23 "stand your ground" states?