No matter who ends up the victim in the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case, the media is going to go down in history as the bad guy.
Once the sensational nature of the story began to die down, various news outlets began turning on each other to reveal shortcuts and manipulations that they took to skew the events of the night Martin died.
One of the most noticeable is the selection of photos almost every news syndicate used when the story broke. A smiling, young Martin appears in stark contrast to a frowning Zimmerman wearing a distinctly orange shirt. The photos carry a heavy suggestion of who is the victim and who has committed a crime.
Add the appearance of the sullen-looking Zimmerman to the 911 call transcript NBC’s Today Show provided. In the transcript, Zimmerman said Martin looked suspicious because Martin was black, and the case reveals itself as at least fueled by racism, if not a hate crime.
As it turns out, however, that transcript was selectively edited. On Monday NBC told The Washington Post that it has launched an internal investigation into the editing decisions made for the story. Zimmerman never said Martin looked suspicious because he was black. The only time Zimmerman described Martin’s race was when the dispatcher directly asked that question.
The shooting occurred on Feb. 26 but did not appear in the national media until March 10 when Martin’s parents appeared on Good Morning America. That’s when the discussion of a racially-charged crime first hit the news stands.
Unlike the first story that appeared, the facts in the Feb. 26 shooting are not black and white. From the first news reports, a relatively informed citizen could have reasonably believed that Zimmerman, acting as a vigilante neighborhood watchmen, took his job a little too seriously and shot a young black man in a hoodie who was on his way home with some candy.
As more information has come to light, it is harder to assume such a simple story line. Conservative news outlets have published pictures and tweets that show a less innocent Martin than his mug might suggest. Jewelry and traces of marijuana were found in the backpack Martin was carrying when he was shot.
Again, these details neither confirm nor deny that Martin was anything other than an average teenager who made harmless, though possibly poor, decisions.
Nobody but Zimmerman knows what happened that night, but it isn’t the role of the media to fill in gaps in the timeline with conjecture. Unfortunately for the entire institution, that is exactly what seems to have happened. If the gaps have not been positively filled in, the possibilities for the missing pieces have been altered by selective editing and biased photo choice.
It might be the case that Zimmerman acted aggressively because he racially profiled the young black man walking home late at night.
It might also be the case that Martin decided to pick a fight with an armed night watchman living in a stand-your-ground state who exercised his right to shoot his attacker.
It has not ever been, and never will be, the role of the media to determine which of those scenarios took place. It is instead the role of the media to report accurate facts gathered from reliable sources and presented fairly so that the public can stay informed and draw its own conclusions.
It’s time all news syndicates, conservative or liberal, get back to that model of journalism.