To those of us who pay attention to the news media, it is clear that journalists played a major role in stirring up public outrage over the Trayvon Martin killing by essentially assuming George Zimmerman’s guilt before all the facts of the case were known. But on Tuesday, ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams tried to absolve the media of any wrongdoing in covering the shooting and subsequent trial, claiming that he and other journalists “evolved” in their view of the incident.
On the July 16 edition of his eponymous program, PBS host Charlie Rose asked Abrams to evaluate the media’s coverage of the Zimmerman trial. Abrams made a confession that might have applied to many journalists and many Americans in general:
"[L]ook, I`ll admit when I first heard this case I assumed that George Zimmerman, you know, basically assassinated Trayvon Martin and that there were no charges filed. It seemed ludicrous."
Then the facts came out and Zimmerman’s guilt became less and less clear. This left many people angry at the media for their premature condemnations of Zimmerman as a racist murderer. Although Abrams acknowledged this anger, he did not think the media was at fault: “I don`t blame the media. I think it is consistent with the way the media has covered other stories."
Is that the best excuse he could come up with? The media certainly have gravitated toward juicy conflicts in the past. They have played the race card, and they have reached premature conclusions before. But why should their past irresponsibilities justify their present irresponsibility? Abrams continued:
"[F]or someone like me who has evolved, so to speak, coming into this sort of thinking, there is going to be no way to explain George Zimmerman`s behavior and coming out of it and saying I don`t think that the verdict could have been anything but not guilty. I don`t think I am sort of an outlier with regard to the way the media covered the story."
How good to know that Abrams and some others in the liberal media “evolved” into responsible journalists over the course of the trial. It would have been better if they had been responsible from the start.
Joe Scarborough should not have labeled George Zimmerman a “murderer” on MSNBC in March 2012, before Zimmerman was even arrested. (Scarborough was one media figure who certainly evolved in his opinion on this case.) NBC News should not have edited Zimmerman’s 911 call from that fateful night to make him appear racist. And ABC News should not have tried to cover up Zimmerman’s bruised head while showing the video of him arriving at the police station that night.
Abrams should not try to excuse media behavior that was entirely avoidable.
Below is a transcript of the segment:
CHARLIE ROSE: Because of your legal background you have been covering so many of these sensational trials that draw the media`s intense interest. Was the media coverage here -- what was it, how do you judge it? What was the impact of it? Is that why so many people now are upset even though reasonable people say the jury reached a verdict that they can understand?
DAN ABRAMS: Look, the media has a bias towards conflict, right? I mean in general, when there is a conflict, the media likes it. The media gravitates towards it and there is no question that at the outset when there were no charges filed, particularly when we didn`t know that many of the facts. And look, I`ll admit when I first heard this case I assumed that George Zimmerman, you know, basically assassinated Trayvon Martin and that there were no charges filed. It seemed ludicrous.
And as the facts came out, it became more nuanced, as George Zimmerman`s injuries came out it became more nuanced, but I think that the -- the media narrative, you know, there are a lot of people who are Zimmerman defenders, in particular, who are furious at the media coverage, saying it is the media`s fault. The media`s fault that this happened, that charges never should have been filed, et cetera.
I don`t blame the media. I think it is consistent with the way the media has covered other stories. And I think that the coverage of the trial was fair and for someone like me who has evolved, so to speak, coming into this sort of thinking, there is going to be no way to explain George Zimmerman`s behavior and coming out of it and saying I don`t think that the verdict could have been anything but not guilty. I don`t think I am sort of an outlier with regard to the way the media covered the story.