Prelude—Nagourney’s selections: For us, a very large question emerged from the Zimmerman trial, as we saw the liberal world overtaking the world of Fox.
But first, consider two front-page treatments of that trial in today’s New York Times.
On that front page, Lizette Alvarez offers a “News Analysis” concerning the jury’s verdict. Midway through her report, a very rare moment occurs:
ALVAREZ (7/15/13): The murder charge required a showing that Mr. Zimmerman was full of ill will, hatred, spite or evil intent when he shot Mr. Martin. But prosecutors had little evidence to back up that claim, legal experts said. They could point only to Mr. Zimmerman’s words during his call to the police dispatcher the night he spotted Mr. Martin walking in the rain with his sweatshirt’s hood up and grew suspicious.This being the New York Times, it isn’t entirely clear what Weiner meant by “that.” What was the alleged fatal flaw to which he alludes? The fact that Zimmerman, on the whole, had been a caring neighbor? Could that have been a fatal flaw right from the start in the case?
“Punks,” he said, adding a profanity. “They always get away,” he said, using another profanity.
But Mr. Zimmerman appeared calm during the call and did not describe Mr. Martin’s race until he was asked. And defense lawyers brought in witnesses to say that Mr. Zimmerman, on the whole, was a courteous, kind and caring neighbor.
“That was a fatal flaw right from the start in the case,” said Jeff Weiner, a well-known Miami criminal defense lawyer.
Whatever! We were struck by the highlighted passage, in which Alvarez did something extremely unusual. She explicitly included an optional fact which tends to weaken the preferred narrative concerning Zimmerman’s racial attitudes and motives.
It’s true! Zimmerman didn’t mention Martin’s race until he was asked to do so by the police dispatcher. From the tape of Zimmerman’s phone call, it isn’t clear that he was even sure of Martin’s race at the time he made the call.
(Similarly, Zimmerman didn’t mention Martin’s hoodie until he was asked to describe his clothing. Despite that, the hoodie became one of the two leading symbols of this case, along with the completely irrelevant package of Skittles.)
In our view, the optional fact which Alvarez cites isn’t super-significant. It isn’t clear that it tells us anything about Zimmerman’s attitudes at all.
That said, we’re making a point about Alvarez, not a point about Zimmerman. The point at which Zimmerman mentioned race doesn’t strike us as hugely probative. But it’s very rare to see a journalist cite an optional fact which tilts in Zimmerman’s favor.
In our view, Alvarez did a terrible job last Monday with her News Analysis piece about the role of race in this case. On the other hand, she has always seemed quite fair in her daily reporting.
Despite that, we were surprised to see the optional fact she included today. That fact tilts the story Zimmerman’s way. In the press corps, this just isn’t done!
By way of contrast, consider this morning’s front-page news report, written by Adam Nagourney.
From 2002 to 2010, Nagourney was the New York Times “chief political correspondent.” In many ways, he is a symbol of all that is hapless and tilted about his paper’s political reporting.
In 2010, Nagourney became the Times’ Los Angeles bureau chief. From that position, he writes the newspaper’s front-page news report, which focuses on reaction to the Zimmerman verdict.
Sitting in the upper right-hand corner, it’s the featured news report on today’s front page. Question:
Has Nagourney perhaps engaged in selective presentation of facts? Selective presentation designed to drive a preferred narrative?
Is Nagourney chasing a preferred story line? For one example, consider what he writes about the composition of the Zimmerman jury.
The all-female, six-member jury was selected on Thursday, June 20. From that day forward, the New York Times has always described its racial/ethnic composition the same way: “fives whites and one Hispanic.”
Until today! Today, on page one, in his fifth paragraph, Nagourney offers a new account of the jury’s composition. His account is technically accurate:
NAGOURNEY (7/15/13) Mr. Zimmerman, 29, a neighborhood watch volunteer, had faced charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter—and the prospect of decades in jail, if convicted—stemming from his fatal shooting of Mr. Martin, 17, on the night of Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, a modest Central Florida city. Late Saturday, he was acquitted of all charges by the jurors, all of them women and none of them black, who had deliberated for more than 16 hours over two days.That statement is technically accurate! Later, though, Nagourney quotes an aggrieved Richmond resident whose description of the jury is essentially false:
NAGOURNEY: The reactions to the verdict suggested that racial relations remained polarized in many parts of this country, particularly regarding the American justice system and the police.No, it doesn't make a huge difference. But how does a major newspaper put such work like this into print?
“I pretty well knew that Mr. Zimmerman was going to be let free, because if justice was blind of colors, why wasn’t there any minorities on the jury?” said Willie Pettus, 57, of Richmond, Va.
We have now shown you the only accounts in today’s report concerning the jury’s racial/ethnic composition. In his own voice, Nagourney gives an account which is technically accurate but perhaps misleading. Shortly thereafter, he quotes an account which is simply inaccurate.
Nagourney's portrait of the jury helps advance the racial theme of his news report. On the down side, his portrait is false.
Presumably, every journalist understands a useful fact. Quoting a man-in-the-street who is misinformed is a wonderful way to insert a false fact into a news report.
Back in 1999, we showed you the way the Washington Times was doing that with respect to Candidate Gore’s deeply troubling canoe ride, a non-event which drove the paper’s front page for a full week.
This morning, Nagourney takes a similar route with respect to the Zimmerman jury, which had always been “five whites and one Hispanic.” Until today, when Nagourney composed a report stressing the allegedly racist nature of the trial and the verdict.
Consider a second passage from this news report. Again, Nagourney quotes a man-in-the-street.
When journalists quote such people, it all depends on who they select! Aside from Zimmerman’s lawyers and brother, only one person in Nagourney’s report challenges the notion that the verdict involved racism or racial bad faith.
Nagourney’s report spills with emotional charges of racism. But aside from Zimmerman’s lawyers and brother, this is the lone voice of dissent.
Yes, you're allowed to laugh:
NAGOURNEY: In Atlanta, Tommy Keith, 62, a white retired Cadillac salesman, rejected any contention that this was anything more than a failed murder case presented by the state. “The state’s got to prove their case, O.K.?” he said. “They didn’t. Stand Your Ground law is acceptable with me, and these protests are more racial than anything else. In my opinion, it’s not a racial thing.”Too funny! Spanning the globe, Nagourney was able to locate one person who challenged the racial theme. That person was a 62-year-old white man in Atlanta—a retired Cadillac salesman, no less!
Nagourney’s selection of Keith is truly clownish. In truth, his news report would be more balanced if he had presented no voice of dissent.
The symbolism of this selection could hardly be more obvious. And yes, there were many voices who could have offered a respectful dissent to the claim that the trial and the jury’s verdict represents some form of racist conduct.
This could have included voices from the legal and political left. With respect to the question of Zimmerman's attitude, it could have included at least one voice from Martin's family itself.
Nagourney skipped those voices, as Alvarez did last week in her News Analysis piece about race. Instead, he went to Atlanta, where he found a retired white man.
On the whole, the New York Times has done terrible work about the killing of Martin and the Zimmerman trial. Nagourney’s report is just one minor example. At earlier junctures, the work in the Times has been much worse and much more consequential.
In part, we refer to the work the Times has published. We also refer to types of reporting the Times has failed to present.
Whatever! Today, we discuss a pair of reports from the front page of one newspaper. But uh-oh! Over the past sixteen months, the coverage of this high-profile case has raised a basic question about our nation’s most fundamental capabilities.
We refer to the work we've seen on cable and elsewhere in the mainstream press. We refer to the way we the people have often discussed this case.
But we especially refer to the work which has emerged from our nascent “liberal” press. Here is the question that clownistry raises:
As a people, do we really have what it takes to run a democracy?
Increasingly, the answer strikes us as a surprising but obvious no. Tomorrow, we’ll look at some of the borderline lunacy we saw yesterday on cable.
In truth, it's sobering and a bit disturbing—to see once again, after all these years, what we liberals are secretly like.
Tomorrow:We overtake Fox