March 25, 2012
In Slain Teenager’s Case, a Long Route to National Attention
By BRIAN STELTER
Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, was fatally shot on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. The next day his death was a top story on the Fox-affiliated television station in Orlando, the closest big city to Sanford. Within a week it was being covered by newspapers around the state.
But it took several weeks before the rest of the country found out.
It was not until mid-March, after word spread on Facebook and Twitter, that the shooting of Trayvon by George Zimmerman, 28, was widely reported by the national news media, highlighting the complex ways that news does and does not travel in the Internet age.
To me, the obvious comparison is to how fast the news spread in the local shooting of an 18-year-old by a federal agent and a local cop that I did some amateur snooping into a few years ago. However, that wouldn't be an obvious comparison for anybody else because the news of that shooting never spread much at all. Exactly 168 hours after the killing, my wife and I ran into the dead youth's parents standing alone at the scene of the crime trying to figure make sense of the sketchy handful of datapoints the police had deigned to release, and the fishy-sounding spin they had put on the story. We encouraged the mother to pursue a lawsuit to bring the facts out.
It's not surprising that that case didn't spread because Stuff Happens all the time in a huge country like America, and the dead kid didn't have an identity politics team rooting for him.
That Trayvon’s name is known at all is a testament to his family, which hired a tenacious lawyer to pursue legal action and to persuade sympathetic members of the news media to cover the case. Just as important, family members were willing to answer the same painful questions over and over at news conferences and in TV interviews.
Indeed, but it definitely helps to have a racial angle. (Or have a beautiful white daughter.) There is a deep hunger in America for Real Life Cases of evil white racists slaughtering black children to validate all those countless works of fiction. In the case I looked into, the dead youth turned out to be white, so there was no national outcry.
Notably, many of the national media figures who initially devoted time to the shooting are black, which some journalists and advocacy groups say attests to the need for diversity in newsrooms. The racial and ethnic makeup of newsrooms, where minorities tend to be underrepresented relative to the general population, has long been a source of tension for the news industry.
In other words, the Trayvon story was promoted by affirmative action beneficiaries who want to use the story to get more affirmative action.
... National coverage increased somewhat the week of March 12, but really intensified only after March 16, when tapes of 911 calls were released, showing that Mr. Zimmerman had been told by a dispatcher that he did not need to follow Trayvon. Having the audio — which the police had previously declined to release — was critical because it gave radio and TV reporters more material for their segments and because it aroused more suspicion about Mr. Zimmerman.
The criminal justice system holds most of the cards that news stories can be constructed from. In my local shooting, for instance, there was one eyewitness, whose name was not released by the cops to the parents in the first 168 hours. The cops first arrested him, then released him, then arrested him again, then released him. Eventually, he posted his version of the story online in a blog comment, which I forwarded to the mother's attorney.
The other main players in the game are civil suit attorneys, who are entitled to eventually see the police files. They mold a lot of stories for the press.
Within days of the national media scrutiny, the Justice Department said it would investigate the case, and on March 23, President Obama addressed it directly, furthering the media dialogue.
Of course, as it turns out, there were a huge number of other facts that the national media and the President didn't have. None of these facts, like that young Trayvon was working hard on developing a Thug Life vibe for himself, shouldn't have come as a surprise.
In theory, this should prove embarrassing to the press and President, but, you are forgetting that they hold the Microphone, they promote the Narrative, and you are just an Evil Racist, so Shut Up with all your little hatefacts.
On television, the family spoke early and often to the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist who has radio shows and an MSNBC television show. He was made aware of the shooting by Mr. Crump, who had previously enlisted Mr. Sharpton to speak out against the death of a Florida boy at a boot camp in 2006.
As you go through life, it's a good idea to learn and remember the name of the appropriate local sleazebag attorney who is plugged into your appropriate national identity politics sleazebags like the Rev. Al. For example, if you are a woman in California and you want to sue a man for anything, get in touch with Gloria Allred.
“The attorney called and said, ‘I need you again,’ ” Mr. Sharpton recalled in a telephone interview from Florida, where he staged a rally Thursday night to call for justice. He took his radio and TV shows with him, thereby amplifying his call.
Mr. Sharpton has used his shows for all manner of advocacy He analogized radio, with its hours of airtime and calls from listeners, to “ground forces” and MSNBC as “air strikes” and said, “If you have a war, you’re going to need both.”
Indeed, the reputation of [Tom Wolfe's] first novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, has suffered because its plot is now often thought of as a pastiche of stories ripped from the headlines about Al Sharpton's Tawana Brawley hoax, the arrest of the bond king Michael Milken, the Crown Heights anti-Semitic pogrom, the Rodney King riots, and the O.J. Simpson case.
But Bonfire appeared in 1987 … before all those events it seemingly reflects.
America's most distinguished jurist-intellectual, Richard A. Posner, has admitted this in his book Overcoming Law:
"When I first read The Bonfire of the Vanities … it just didn't strike me as the sort of book that has anything interesting to say about the law or any other institution…. I now consider that estimate of the book ungenerous and unperceptive. The Bonfire of the Vanities has turned out to be a book that I think about a lot, in part because it describes with such vividness what Wolfe with prophetic insight (the sort of thing we attribute to Kafka) identified as emerging problems of the American legal system… American legal justice today seems often to be found at a bizarre intersection of race, money, and violence, an intersection nowhere better depicted than in The Bonfire of the Vanities even thought the book was written before the intersection had come into view."