Part 3—The Times didn’t care: Can Natalie Jackson say that?
In the New York Times, she could! On March 17, 2012, the Times published its first report about the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Quickly, Lizette Alvarez made a very serious factual error. As she did, she painted an astonishingly lurid picture of what had occurred that night:
ALVAREZ (3/17/12): Nearly three weeks after an unarmed teenager was killed in a small city north of Orlando, stirring an outcry, a few indisputable facts remain: the teenager, who was black, was carrying nothing but a bag of Skittles, some money and a can of iced tea when he was shot. The neighborhood crime watch volunteer who got out of his car and shot him is white and Hispanic. He has not been arrested and is claiming self-defense.Can Natalie Jackson say that? In fairness, it isn’t Jackson who makes the obvious factual error in the highlighted text. Alvarez stated, in her own voice, that two shots can be heard “on the recordings.”
Beyond that, however, little is clear about the Feb. 26 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, 17.
As criticism of the police investigation mounts, so too do the calls for swift action in a case with heavy racial overtones. Protests grow larger each week, and lawyers for the family are now asking the Department of Justice to intervene. The case also brings into sharp focus Florida's self-defense laws, which give people who feel threatened greater latitude in defending themselves than most states.
The police in of Sanford, where the shooting took place, are not revealing details of the investigation. Late Friday night, after weeks of pressure, the police played the 911 calls in the case for the family and gave copies to the news media. On the recordings, one shot, an apparent warning or miss, is heard, followed by a voice begging or pleading, and a cry. A second shot is then heard, and the pleading stops.
''It is so clear that this was a 17-year-old boy pleading for his life, and someone shot him in cold blood,'' said Natalie Jackson, one of the Martin family lawyers.
Alas! Only one shot was fired that night; absolutely no one disputes that fact at this point. The inaccurate factual statement was made in Alvarez’s voice. But Jackson was then quoted making a neinously lurid claim, a lurid claim which completed an unmistakable picture:
George Zimmerman fired a first shot which missed. As Trayvon Martin pleaded for his life, Zimmerman fired a second shot, killing the boy in cold blood.
Had Alvarez actually heard the 911 tapes at the time this report was written? As of yesterday, we still assumed that she had not. As of today, we aren’t sure. Here is a bit of background:
In the early edition of the March 17 Orlando Sentinel, Rene Stutzman presented the same lurid tale. But as she did, there was no suggestion that Stutzman had heard the tapes yet herself, and the lurid tale was attributed wholly to Jackson:
STUTZMAN (3/17/12): The family of Trayvon Martin spent hours Friday night with police, listening to the eight 911 calls made the night the 17-year-old was shot and killed by a neighborhood crime-watch volunteer in Sanford.“It was the first time that anyone said two shots were fired that night.” As we now know, no one had ever described two shots because only one shot was fired.
"What you hear on that tape is shocking. It's riveting," Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Trayvon's family, said after the group emerged from the meeting with police late Friday.
Police had previously refused to release the calls. The shooter, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, has not been arrested and is not charged with a crime. He claimed the Feb. 26 shooting was in self-defense.
Natalie Jackson, another attorney, said Zimmerman fired a warning shot, then a kill shot.
“You hear a shot, a clear shot, then you hear a 17-year-old boy begging for his life,” Jackson said. “Then you hear a second shot.”
It was the first time that anyone said two shots were fired that night.
Alas! You’re looking at horrific examples of runaway tabloid journalism. Only one shot had been fired that night. But Jackson now said that “you hear” two shots, and she drew a lurid portrait of what had happened between the two shots, one of which never had happened.
Should Stutzman have published that lurid tale, in which George Zimmerman shoots a boy with “a kill shot” as the boy is “begging for his life?” We’ll have to say she shouldn’t have done that, unless the claim was adorned with a great many warnings about its highly speculative and uncorroborated nature.
In fact, Jackson’s speculations were heinously false; they introduced evil into the world. Three days later, the Orlando Sentinel corrected the record, to the extent that such a thing can be accomplished.
Including the headline, this is the way that report began. At one point, Stutzman discussed the effects of Jackson’s false tale, which she called an “interpretation:”
STUTZMAN (3/20/12): Trayvon Martin shooting: Gun that killed teen fired onceFor the record, Stutzman noted that a second lawyer, Benjamin Crump, had “insisted” that there were two shots.
The handgun that killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, was fired once—not twice—by a neighborhood crime-watch volunteer, according to information obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.
Police found a single shell casing at the scene, and when they seized George Zimmerman's handgun, a Kel Tec 9 mm, its magazine was full, according to a source close to the investigation. The only bullet missing was the one in the chamber, the source said.
That contrasts with the graphic interpretation that lawyers for the victim's family made Friday night after listening to 911 calls from neighbors who heard or saw a fight between Zimmerman and Trayvon.
Lawyers Natalie Jackson and Benjamin Crump insisted then that they could hear two shots on one 911 call, a warning shot and a kill shot, and that that proved Zimmerman was a murderer.
"You hear a shot, a clear shot, then you hear a 17-year-old boy begging for his life then you hear a second shot," Jackson said.
Those statements fueled a great deal of anger and frustration among those following the case in cyberspace. Twitter, Facebook and other social media exploded with news that two shots were fired.
Jackson and Crump were not available for comment Monday evening, but a statement released by their spokesman said, "Regardless of how many times George Zimmerman pulled the trigger that night, unfortunately for Trayvon Martin, it only took a single bullet to end his life."
Their Friday night statements about the two loud bangs on the recording run counter to other evidence. Three witnesses who have made public statements described a single shot. Sanford police would not discuss gun evidence.
In fairness, Stutzman still didn’t know at this point that only one shot had been fired. She was reporting information from an unnamed source.
This information turned out to be accurate, unlike the lurid claims advanced by attorneys Jackson and Crump. On the record, Sanford police were still declining to “discuss gun evidence.”
On the record, the police were still playing by the rules. Can the same be said for Jackson and Crump? For Stutzman and Alvarez? For their deeply irresponsible editors?
Let’s discuss the evil that enters the world when people invent lurid “interpretations,” when journalists agree to loose these invented tales on the public.
Stutzman described some of the harm that was done when the New York Times and the Orlando Sentinel published this evil, false speculation. “Those statements fueled a great deal of anger and frustration among those following the case in cyberspace,” she reported. “Twitter, Facebook and other social media exploded with news that two shots were fired.”
Even there, Stutzman (or her editor) still couldn’t bring herself to speak in clear direct language. Instead of using a term like “false speculation,” she described the public’s reaction to “news” that two shots had been fired.
In that passage, Jackson’s false story was still described as “news!”
The public’s reaction to that false story was perfectly understandable. If Stutzman can be trusted on this point, Jackson’s lurid statements produced “a great deal of anger” out in the world. “Twitter, Facebook and other social media exploded with news that two shots were fired.”
This was deeply unfortunate—we’ll call it evil—in two major ways.
On the one hand, Natalie Jackson’s lurid false tale was deeply unfair to George Zimmerman. She spread a false story which was so lurid that it can only be thought of as evil.
This has been done, since time immemorial, to other types of suspects in the south, and of course all over the world. Whether our lizards like it or not, Jackson behaved like the head of an old-fashioned southern lynch mob in this disgraceful performance.
(When she was asked why she had done this, Jackson was “not available for comment.” Somewhat similarly, the Orlando Sentinel never explained why they had given those lurid claims such an extremely high profile.)
Jackson’s disgraceful conduct was deeply unfair to George Zimmerman, who is an actual person, not an actor in Jackson’s internal dramas. But it was also unfair to all those people out in the world who exploded in anger.
According to Stutzman, many people exploded in anger when they were exposed to Jackson’s lurid false tale. Those people had been played about the facts of this case, a process which continues on cable right to this very day.
Just last week, decent people were still getting played about basic facts all over the cable dial. They heard a wide range of cable players making a string of false statements.
They heard the august Professor Cobb make at least two different false statements on the PBS Newshour. If they were watching MSNBC, they saw Maya Wiley make a certain false statement on several different programs.
Is this a democracy? Are our government and our society really “of the people?” If so, it’s an evil thing when elites go on TV, night after night, and keep misinforming the people about deeply serious matters.
The people who exploded in anger didn’t know they were being misinformed when they read that lurid false tale. They exploded in anger because they cared—and because they had been misinformed by a reprehensible lawyer and some horrible journalists.
To the credit of the Orlando Sentinel, the paper tried to walk back its earlier mistakes in that March 20 report. Right in its headline, the paper reported that only one shot had been fired that night. The paper signaled concern about the conduct of Jackson and Crump in pushing that lurid false tale.
The New York Times didn’t do that! Showing its typical horrible judgment, the deeply horrible upper-class paper had taken Jackson’s lurid false tale and pimped it extremely hard. The lurid false tale formed the basic framework for the paper’s first report about the killing of Martin.
That lurid tale was heinously false. But so what? To this day, no correction has been appended to that appalling news report, announcing that only one shot was fired.
In fairness, Alvarez committed a shitload of factual errors in that first news report. One of them has been formally corrected, although this horrible newspaper waited more than two weeks before it did even that.
(A more lurid version of that false claim was still being peddled by Cobb and Wiley and several others in recent weeks. We will detail that conduct tomorrow. That conduct was very bad.)
Alvarez included a boatload of errors in that first report. It would have been awkward for the Times to correct its full range of mistakes.
Apparent result? The mighty newspaper corrected one of its boatload of errors. The assertion that two shots were fired stands uncorrected to this very day. Beyond that, no attempt was ever made to address the lurid false story Alvarez peddled—a lurid false story which may have caused many Times readers to explode in anger.
The Sentinel attempted to address the harm it had done. Tomorrow, we’ll show you how the New York Times handled its boatload of errors.
Many people exploded in anger when that read that gruesome report. Those people had been vastly misled.
The New York Times didn’t seem to care. But then, this appalling newspaper has behaved this way for quite a few decades.
We’d say the pattern is obvious here:
Average people get treated like fools. Upper-class players don’t care.
Tomorrow: As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, false claims without end. Amen.
What better judgment looked like: The Associated Press showed much better judgment concerning Jackson's lurid false claims.
What did better judgment look like? Details tomorrow.