Feeding a frenzy, as facts disappear: The Baltimore Sun has shown terrible judgment in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict.
For one example, consider an opinion piece which was prominently featured in last Saturday’s hard-copy paper. It appeared beneath a colorful headline:
“The new lynching,” the large headline said. That inflammatory headline has been cleaned up on-line.
We don’t know the non-journalist author of the piece, but we feel sure that he’s a good decent person. That said, good decent people can get caught up in frenzies, especially so when journalists fail to perform.
We were struck by the facts which didn’t appear in this citizen’s piece, which ran beneath an eye-catching headline.
“I am a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, a retired Marine Corps major general and the progeny of veterans of World War I and World War II who proudly served our country,” the author, Leo V. Williams, said.
Williams, who is black, described his upbringing in Norfolk “during segregation.” Then, he gave his first account of the Zimmerman verdict:
WILLIAMS (7/27/13): Sadly, at a time when I should be reveling in the conversations with my grandchildren about the limitless possibilities that await them in America, I now have to precede that conversation with one that warns them to be exceedingly cautious because somewhere in America, juries have the moral authority to find that taking the life of a human being who has not committed a crime to be not merely excusable but free of guilt, by law ("Trayvon and Brandon," July 23).Just for the record, juries have always had that moral authority in cases judged to involve self-defense. That said:
This new reality brings tears to my eyes for my beloved country.
In that passage, all we are told about this case is that Zimmerman “took the life of a human being who had not committed a crime.” That is a very limited account of what happened in Sanford. Since we don’t know who assaulted whom that night, it may not even be perfectly accurate.
That was a highly simplified account of what happened. But after Williams recalled the era of lynching, this was his second and final account of what happened in Sanford that night:
WILLIAMS: Today, we set ourselves on a pedestal as the world's foremost example of a country of laws. But in Florida, and other states with "Stand Your Ground" laws, the legal system can give cover to an armed man who murders a boy he "thought" was "up to no good." Sound familiar and retrograde?Was Zimmerman being “beaten up” that night? No less a figure than Chris Hayes once slipped up and said so right on TV. But no such complication was allowed to intrude on this exquisite moral fable, in which an armed man murdered a boy based on a mere suspicion.
I urge someone to help me understand how our "land of the free and home of the brave" has devolved to this reprehensible condition where a mere suspicion can lead to murder, and though the suspicion is proved unfounded, the murderer walks free.
The jury in the Trayvon Martin trial showed us that such an abomination was indeed possible. While it is highly unlikely that those six women thought through this revelation as a consequence, it is toweringly more important than the fate of one troubled man named George Zimmerman.
We don’t have the slightest doubt that Williams is a good, decent person. But the Sun employs the journalists here, and they shouldn’t have published that account, certainly not under a headline which describes this as a lynching.
Ten days earlier, a Baltimore citizen reported that a Mexican man was chased and beaten with a gun by teens who said they were doing it as payback for the killing of Martin. The Sun just went ahead with this inflammatory headline atop this angry, fact-free fable. (The headline was later cleaned up.)
We’re sorry, but this is dangerous stuff. It’s also terrible, horrible “journalism.”
Does the Sun know any other kind? As this exquisite frenzy rolls on, we’re really beginning to wonder.