Too perfect but also too awful!

MONDAY, JULY 15, 2013

Rem Rieder’s correct complaint about the mainstream press: This morning, in USA Today, Rem Rider hammers the mainstream press for the way it covered the killing of Trayvon Martin and the Zimmerman trial.

For twenty-one years, Rieder was editor of American Journalism Review. Three weeks ago, he became USA Today’s media editor.

This morning, he hammers the mainstream press. This is the way he starts, with the headlines in bold:
RIEDER (7/15/13): Media got Zimmerman story wrong from start/The role of the media cannot be ignored in the Zimmerman case

It's complicated.

Life is packed with nuances and subtleties and shades of gray.

But the news media are often uncomfortable in such murky terrain. They prefer straightforward narratives, with good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains. Those tales are much easier for readers and viewers to relate to.

Which brings us to Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.
As he continues, Rieder describes the simple-minded way this story was usually told. He correctly describes the “widely accepted” Standard Press Narrative:
RIEDER (continuing directly): The story of their tragic confrontation on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, was framed early on. Zimmerman, then 28, was the neighborhood watch captain/"wannabe cop" who racially profiled and ultimately killed Trayvon, an unarmed, hoodie-clad black teenager out on the streets of the gated community Retreat at Twin Lakes simply because he wanted some Skittles.

The storyline quickly took root, amplified by the nearly ubiquitous images of the two: a sweet-looking photo of a several-years-younger Trayvon released by his family, and a mug shot of Zimmerman from a previous arrest in which he looks puffy and downcast. The contrasting images powerfully reinforced the images of the menacing bully and the innocent victim.

Some of the media's major mistakes stemmed from stories that fit neatly into that widely accepted narrative. NBC News edited Zimmerman's comments during a phone call to inaccurately suggest that he volunteered that Trayvon seemed suspicious because he was black. In fact, Zimmerman was responding to a question when he mentioned the teenager's race. The network apologized for the error.

Similarly, ABC News broadcast a story reporting that a police surveillance video showed no evidence that Zimmerman suffered abrasions or bled during the confrontation with Trayvon. Shortly thereafter, it "clarified" the situation, reporting that an enhanced version of the video showed Zimmerman with "an injury to the back of his head."
We agree with this general portrait, although we note that Rieder doesn’t explain where the narrative came from, with its pile of fake facts. But good God! When the press corps accepts a pile of fake facts from a dishonest partisan player, everybody ends up getting stoned!

It happens every time! Having trashed the general process, Rieder turns around and states one of the many fake facts which defined this Standard Press Narrative:
RIEDER: This is hardly to suggest that Zimmerman is a candidate for canonization. This is on him. It was his reckless behavior that set this tragedy in motion. If he had stayed in his vehicle as he was told to do by the police, Trayvon Martin would be alive today.

As more details emerged, so, too, did a fuller picture of the events of February 26, 2012. But by then the popular view of what had happened had hardened.
Zimmerman was told to stay in his car! Right from the first week, this was one of the many fake facts which emerged from Team Crump.

Many news orgs correctly reported that the exchange in question came later, after Zimmerman was already out of his car. But so what? Major pundits kept repeating the more pleasing bogus fact.

Major pundits have repeated this fake fact a million times by now. This morning, Rieder repeats it too, right after correctly complaining about the overall process.

Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Also, George Zimmerman was told to stay in his car!

Fake facts invented by dishonest people are a standard part of our national discourse. When people like Crump are given free rein, even the critics end up repeating the fake, phony claims they have heard!

Bill Clinton had sex with a “21-year-old intern!” Remember that famous fake fact?

This is how George Bush reached the White House. But so what? Many years later, the nation’s “journalists” still adore repeating big piles of fake facts.

By now, we “liberals” enjoy fake facts too! But then, we’re extremely dumb people, as you may have noticed yesterday, watching our tribal cable.


  1. Again, simply superb and critically necessary analysis.

    1. You left out "scintillating and thought-provoking."

  2. Or, one might say more accurately (but basically making the same point) "he might have
    followed the training offered by his Neighborhood Watch and Martin would be alive today."
    But let's face it, Martin being alive today is something less than a big concern of Bob Somerby. He displays zero empathy for the pain and frustration the case has caused in the black community, however they have been mislead by the mercenary left wing press? He's stuck on his "fair play for dixiecrats" meme and you will not shake him from it.
    We can never know what happened when one confronted the other, Bob tells us endlessly. But does he care? Is he interested? Isn't THIS what logical speculation would lead us to consider? Nah, don't go there, it might reflect badly on poor George.
    Poor Bob. When the IRS scandal collapsed, his work actually scored a major (if easy) victory, but he has been too obsessed with poor George to take notice. Since the later case is so much more important, I guess, the left is clearly worse than Fox.
    Rider's piece is O.K., (I think arguably worse things were done, chiefly the obscuring of the real reasons for Martin's expulsion from school) but did ALL the media fall into lockstep? He's chiefly talking about Salon and MSNBC, with a little Peirs Morgan thrown in.

    1. The Dixiecrat meme is not Somersby's -- it was introduced into the comments at some point a few weeks ago (by you?). It would cause the black community pain to consider this a racial shooting -- why is that interpretation being inflicted on us all by the media when it is so inconsistent with the facts of this case?

      Your crocodile tears for Trayvon make little sense when no tears are shed for the many teens dying in Chicago each year as the logical consequence of being raised in environments and holding attitudes similar to that of Trayvon (based on all the evidence about his previous behavior that was withheld from the jury and the public in this case). When you cry for them, you can come back here and accuse Somersby of lack of empathy for black teens.

    2. Anon@147: aka Ben Shapiro.

    3. Poor sad Greg: There's always another reason why the facts are unimportant to him.

    4. There is pain in the black community over this because of race pimps and people like you who purposefully hide the truth so that you can pimp a fake racial angle. You suck.

    5. Doesn't take mind-reading to see the endless fake race-pimping over this case...

      Pretending the racial harm is due to Zimmerman, or to Somerby, or to commenters here who agree with Somerby, rather than to the lying race-pimps who've made the case about race -- that's the classless thing.

  3. And I thought Tucker was an idiot?

  4. Great post. The distortions will likely grow over time. A good exposition of this principle is given in Josephine Tey's classic novel, The Daughter of Time.

    1. Our Own Monotonous CrankJuly 15, 2013 at 4:05 PM

      "The distortions will likely grow over time."

      Over time? It happens every time you post a comment.

  5. Two rules for neighborhood watch groups are to always work in teams and to NEVER go out armed with anything, not a gun or a knife or mace or a blackjack etc....George Zimmerman broke some of those rules for sure. He was out already following Martin in violation of the rules, you're supposed to call the police and let them do all that stuff.

    1. He was on his way to Target, not cruising as a Neighborhood Watch patrol, when he saw Trayvon behaving suspiciously. At that point he did call the police and when they told him not to follow, he said OK and all the evidence suggests has was going back to his car at that point. But don't let the facts confuse you.

  6. Is there a lottery game somewhere where the prizes are given for each comparison of Zimmerman to a cartoon character that has a big "R" on his chest?

  7. "But there was much more to the story, as the obvious weakness of the prosecution's case against Zimmerman and the jury's not-guilty verdict make abundantly clear."

    Sorry. That's pure baloney. Zimmerman's self defense claim was based primarily on his own recitation of events. He's self interested. Suggesting that nothing ever comes out in a trial, that we all know the outcome based on "the facts" ignores the nature of this case which had very little physical evidence, as to the self defense claim. The injuries don't even matter in FL self defense!

    I do enjoy the switcheroo, though. The Zimmerman fan club were telling me just last week that "not guilty" was based on "state proves every element beyond a reasonable doubt". I abided by that! I accept the outcome! I believe he lied about the order and nature of the events that night and I STILL accept the outcome.

    The author is now suggesting "not guilty" means "innocent and should never have been indicted". I knew the goalposts were moving last week, and the trial ITSELF was going to end up as an outrage on Zimmerman's honor. You know, his fans aren't doing him any favors. The whole point of the critics is that all one has to do is CLAIM self defense and they walk. Zimmerman's fans are now arguing this very thing! We shouldn't test his witnesses in a trial, let a jury look at the evidence, cross examine? He just walks when he makes the self defense claim? How nice for him, and the Zimmerman that comes after Zimmerman! Trials are so stressful. Why not just let Zimmerman's supporters determine the evidence is "clear" and save time?

    1. Well said, Anonymous @3:35. At to Cecelia's repeated comments here (and I do appreciate her insistence on the "assumed innocent" concept): we are talking about a trial and its outcome when we speak of guilt, innocence, not-guiltiness -- a person's status in the eyes of the jury and therefore of the state in its subsequent treatment of the person charged. Nothing requires any of us as fellow citizens or neighbors to agree with verdicts or, even if we agree that they were soundly arrived at in the context of the law and facts the jury was given to consider, to agree that the person was in fact guilty or innocent. "Not proven guilty" at least has the virtue of acknowledging not just the limits of a criminal trial's ability to arrive at the truth, but our freedom of thought, whatever the jury decided.

      It's precisely the smug "all has been established now" attitude of the Z zealots in these comments that makes me feel like I'm not supposed to be allowed even my own thoughts. (FREEDOM, conservatives' favorite word -- freedom for themselves, anyway.)

    2. Zimmerman's self defense claim is based on his recitation of events coupled with the evidence of eyewitnesses and the physical evidence. Eyewitnesses include people who saw Trayvon behaving suspiciously, Jeantel's phone conversation with him, John Good who saw Trayvon straddling and beating Zimmerman, and Zimmerman's calls to the dispatcher and statement to the police. Physical evidence includes Martin's DNA on Zimmerman's jacket, Zimmerman's physical injuries and Martin's lack of such injuries (except to his hands), the reconstruction of what occurred based on the angle of the shot and wound, and blood and gunpowder residue (as much as was preserved). This was what was available to the Jury. Additionally, we spectators have available the contents of Trayvon's cell phone, his problems with school suspension, previous fighting, previous involvement in burglaries, tox screen results showing drug use on the night he was killed, and the statements of his family.

      The anti-Zimmerman people have been emphasizing that there is nothing available on which to base an opinion except Zimmerman's statement (because Martin is dead) and then claiming that Zimmerman lied. This is a way to discredit Zimmerman but it does not address the large amount of evidence beyond his statement that tends to support it and to make it clear that self-defense was possible. At that point, there is a reasonable doubt and the Jury must acquit.

      The point now is that prosecutors, who are experts in evaluating evidence and understanding what the law requires for conviction, should have been able to see that this verdict was probably based on their own access to that same evidence, and they should have realized they had no case. The underhandedness of the prosecution largely results from the fact that they had no case, in my opinion.

    3. MCH, you are the one equating Sombery's reporting of media inaccuracies as aiding and abetting those who minimize racism.

      As though a condemnation of a trial by media must come with a caveat for your bugaboo about smug prejudice deniers.

      It's perfectly logical that one with answer THIS narrative with the fact that six jurors found the guy not guilty, despite the profound observation that a guy being tried for second degree murder might have some self-interest.

      Both sides made a case. I'm afraid that the outcome of that does bolster the arguments of those who differ with you on this matter.

      I am aware if these folks aren't outright abetting racism with their opinion they are essentially (and smugly) squelching your right to hold yours simply by bolstering their own arguments via the results of the trial...

      I suppose that goes right along with juror's temerity at not discounting Zimmerman's defense as "self-interest" at the onset and somehow finding it compelling enough to give them reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

      Please try to find it in your heart to forgive us all for squelching your opinions in this manner...

    4. "Please try to find it in your heart to forgive us all for squelching your opinions in this matter..."

      As someone constantly bemoaning the level of nastiness in discourse nowadays, you sure have a hard time following your own advice.

    5. On the contrary, I haven't simultaneously argued against Zimmerman by suggesting that he could be lying out of self-interest, while simultaneously suggesting that it's "smug" to reply that his defense persuaded six jurors in a court of law.

  8. "make abundantly clear."

    "Clear" is a weasel word in law, although I guess not in journalism. If a lawyer writes something is "clear" she wants you not to think beyond that point. After all, it's clear! She just said so!

    In Scotland, they say "not proven" instead of "not guilty". It's a better phrase. It's clear! It means the state didn't prove the elements. It fits where the burden goes. No one is declared innocent, not there and not here.

    1. I didn't think we had to be declared innocent in this country.

      I thought that every defendant was assumed to be that.

    2. One is found "not guilty". That's because the state had to prove guilt. There is no "found innocent."
      If we had "found innocent" we'd be saying the defendant has to prove innocence, which is a much higher bar than "not guilty'. That bigger burden runs the other way, to the state.

    3. There's no "found innocent" because that is your assumed status in the first place.

      You have to prove guilt, not innocence.

    4. A criminal defendant does not even have to offer a defense at all. The prosecution is required to prove the entirety of its case beyond a reasonable doubt and that burden never shifts to the defendant.

      At one time, the Arizona self-defense statute required the defendant to prove - by a preponderance of evidence (ie. more likely than not)that she or he acted in self-defense, but the Supremes held that it violated the 5th amendment (to many of you surprised that there are more than 2 amendments, sorry, there's more than 2).

      Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with anything Somerby posted here, but what else is new.

  9. Somerby,
    A few "facts" regarding the fatal incident.
    1) Trayvon Martin is dead.
    2) George Zimmerman killed him.
    3) Zimmerman followed Martin, first in a SUV, then on foot.
    4) In calls to the police Zimmerman referred to Martin as one of those "fucking punks" and one of those "assholes".
    5) There was a confrontation.
    6) Neighbors heard cries for help.
    7) The cries for help stopped immediately after a gunshot was heard.

    And don't tell me "Zimmerman says.." I'm sure he would never be self-serving as to what happened. And whatever he says is not a "fact".
    And to those among your commentors who have the nerve to lecture black people on how to raise their children, go fuck yourselves.
    Remember James Earl Ray (Martin Luther King), Byron De La Beckwith (Medgar Evers), Jeffrey Dahmer (who killed, butchered and ate black men), and Timothy Mcveigh (OKC bombing (168 dead). How did their parents raise them?
    Don't fucking lecture me.

    1. AnonymousJuly 15, 2013 at 4:35 PM -- I agree that the seven items you listed are true. So, what's your point?

    2. Ignorance is bliss; it's folly to resist.
      Look again at Somerby's many posts on this issue and count the number of times he writes that "Zimmerman says...".
      i.e. If Zimmerman says it, ipso facto, it's a "fact".
      I could write a song: "Zimmerman says..., Zimmerman says...".

    3. We're any of these points kept from the jury or disputed by the defense ( or Somerby)?

    4. Is Zimmerman a free man because Bob Somerby declared him not guilty, or was there an actual trial where the defense and prosecution both presented their cases to a jury?

    5. Willful ignorance is no way to go through life CeMc. Where did I mention testimony to the jury? Where did I assert that Zimmerman goes free because of anything Somerby said? Re-read what I said. Somerby asserted time and again, to bolster his arguments, that "Zimmerman says...". But he decries everyone else (liberals) who say things that are NOT factual.
      To reiterate: Martin is dead. Zimmerman killed him. Your rationalizations for the killing are only that. You, I (or Somerby) have no idea exactly what happened.
      List the known "facts" that I omitted.
      Not what "Zimmerman says...".

    6. Whatever Zimmerman says is not a fact...because he says so. It may be a fact however if it is supported by other evidence, as many of his statements were. You cannot automatically believe something because Zimmerman said it, but you cannot automatically discount what he said simply because he said it either. You establish the facts by corroborating them.

      I do take issue with #4. It isn't clear whether Zimmerman was referring to Martin or whether he was referring to burglary suspects in the past who did get away. He referred to Martin's behavior as suspicious or on drugs. With his statement about punks, he could have been referring to the more general frustration that past suspects have gotten away before the police arrived, without talking specifically about Martin. The prosecution tried to build this up into intent based on animosity but the language is too soft for that and his tone of voice is calm when he says it. Martin's comment about Zimmerman is much worse in terms of betraying animosity.

    7. Anon at 5:59, you need to consider the words in their context. He is talking with the dispatcher who tells him to wait for the police. He then says the line about the punks always getting away. He is not talking about Trayvon but about the difficulties with waiting for the police and he is frustrated about the delay. Punk and asshole is soft -- I call people assholes in traffic when they do something annoying. Punk is hardly a strong word and many people say "fucking" as part of everyday conversation, almost every other word. It is only heated when accompanied by a tone of voice and in a context, and even then there are a lot worse words. Trayvon's use of crazy-assed Cracker is worse because it is specifically derogatory of a racial group, whereas punk and asshole is not. So, yes, I think it was pretty soft language and not specifically racial on Zimmerman's part. Again, context matters and both men were young, male and from a social class that uses casual profanity. And yes, guys do use slurs as terms of endearment in many contexts. Tone of voice matters. To try to parse language without considering these things is to distort meaning. Somerby's point has been that distortions have been motivated to support a particular narrative. If you want Zimmerman to look bad, profess shock at the word "fuck" even though no one blushes at that any more. If you want Martin to look bad, "crazy-assed Cracker" does the job. He may have meant it with no more heat than Zimmerman -- I don't know because we have that via Jeantel's testimony, but anyone who has heard urban teens talk wouldn't assume much from it. Neither phrase belongs on your list of incriminating facts, in my opinion. Item 4 is part of the prosecution's attempt to gin up bogus hostile intent that the jury wasn't convinced existed. It is dishonest to use language that way.

    8. Anon@532: get your quote right. Dean Wormer told Flounder "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

    9. Anonymous on July 15, 2013 at 4:57 PM,

      You've got the words right, but not the tune. When TDH quotes Zimmerman, it's not to declare that what he said is truth but that what he said is disputed. On 4/18, TDH complained that Charles Blow wrote that Zimmerman pursued Martin after being advised not to do so by a police dispatcher. But that's not a fact; it's a statement from the special prosecutor's information (i.e., the indictment). Zimmerman says otherwise. I doubt TDH thought that self-serving statement was a fact either. Most of the "facts" about the last moments of Martin's life are in dispute. It's a tragic irony that the reason is that Zimmerman killed the only other eyewitness to most of those moments. But that doesn't mean we thereby know what happened.

  10. Anonymous 0532, please tell me what fact "liberals" gave in this matter that Somerby decried.

    Is it factual for the media to flatly report that Zimmerman did not obey the 911 dispatcher simply because Zimmerman said he did return to his truck?

    Wouldn't an accurate statement in reporting this be that Zimmerman was told to go back to his vehicle and he claimed to have complied?

    Is it okay to bemoan the fact that it wasn't reported in this manner?

    Is that too biased on the side of Zimmerman for you?

    Is it too biased as well for people who differ with you to argue that the defense not only claimed this but via a time line and physical dynamics persuaded a jury as well?

    1. CeMc, CeMc, CeMc,
      Somerby has flayed "liberals" and the MSM incessantly for saying many things that are not "facts". Correctly so.
      If you don't know this then you are new to his web site.
      Just a few examples of the falsity of the "MSM" & "liberals" as cited by Somerby:
      1) Zimmerman was told to stay in his vehicle when he was already out of his vehicle (see his post above).
      2) Ms. Jeantel was not 16 years old but 17. (Yesterdays post).
      There are many, many more.
      My issue is when he writes that "Zimmerman says..." and expects me to accept these statements as "fact". These are trivial examples used to make the point, again. Because "Zimmerman says..." does not make it a "fact".
      "Zimmerman says...", "Zimmerman says...". I could write a song.

    2. Balance would require a reporter to acknowledge what Zimmerman says, not ignore it. What he said is a fact, even if his claims are not factually true. Are you saying that Zimmerman shouldn't have his side reported in a balanced news article?

    3. Anon714, your problem lies in the fact that you inexplicably equate a demand for media accuracy in conveying the entire story, as an attempt to get you to believe something.

  11. Anonymous at 4:35. Here are some known facts you excluded from your list for some reason:

    3a. Zimmerman said OK and stopped following Martin. Based on his position when the attack occurred, he was headed back to his truck.

    3b. Martin, instead of going home, spent 4 minutes talking on his cell phone, at the end of which he confronted Zimmerman near his truck, asking him why he was following him (based on Jeantel's testimony of the cell conversation). To do this, he would have had to double back from the direction he was going in when Zimmerman was told "we don't need you to do that." We know this position because of the location of the body after the shooting.

    5a. The confrontation got physical and Zimmerman was hurt during it (based on medical examination of his wounds). Other than the fatal gunshot, Martin's wounds were only to his knuckles (based on medical examiner's testimony).

    5b. There was a credible eyewitness who saw Martin straddling Zimmerman and beating him with both arms.

    6a. Martin's family members were inconsistent about whether Martin was calling for help. Zimmerman family members were consistent that it was Zimmerman's voice calling for help.

    7a. After the shooting Martin was unable to call for help due to his injury. Zimmerman had no further need to call for help because he was no longer being beaten.

    8. Immediately after the shooting there was an investigation in which Zimmerman's gun was taken from him, his wounds were noted, his statement was taken and he was released. It was determined that sufficient probability of self defense existed to preclude successful prosecution against a self-defense claim.

    9. Pressure was instigated by the family's attorney via civil rights activists and media to force the federal government to investigate hate crime allegations and charge Zimmerman with a crime. Claims of bias were made against the police. A variety of false statements were made and propagated by the media against Zimmerman accusing him of racial animosity and vigilantism.

    9. Zimmerman lost his job. He and his family had to change address to escape harassment. He and his wife had to put up a large bond once he was charged with a crime and had to secure services of an attorney to defend himself. They handled their financial difficulties poorly and Zimmerman's wife lied to the court about funds raised for his defense on the internet (it is unclear whether that was deliberate or mistaken). Zimmerman has suffered a major disruption of his life, gaining a great deal of weight since his arrest. Personal events of his life have been publicized and distorting to present an ugly picture of him as a human being. He has been championed by unsavory characters and fringe elements on the right in ways that may not have been welcome either. He is still alive but his life has been altered irreparably and he has had to face severe stress and challenges as a result of the confrontation apparently instigated by Martin (based on the timing, location, and Jeantel's testimony about their cell phone call).

    10. Things aren't over yet. People on the internet are calling for Zimmerman to be shot (by people who will then claim self-defense). Corey is calling for the justice department to get involved again, which it may do. Martin's lawyers are still talking about filing civil suits (despite these being precluded by Florida self-defense law).

    1. Re: your point 9.
      Actions have consequences. Hopefully Zimmerman will learn from his mistakes.

  12. I like the way he blames we, the people, for the media's malfeasance. Why does the media like these simple narratives? Because "Those tales are much easier for readers and viewers to relate to."

    See, it's the readers and viewers who won't eat their vegetables (facts) that's why we feed them sugar and salt instead.