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The Zimmerman's Trial on Trial
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2013-07-15 10:13:04
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As I write this the jury for the trial of George Zimmerman is deliberating on whether or not the defendant will be found guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin or not. No matter what the outcome the controversy on his guilt and innocence is sure to go on for a while, for no other reason that for the last month or so the 24 hour news media (such as CNN or FOX news) has obsessively saturated the airwaves with this trial to the near total exclusion of international news such as the military coup in Egypt or important domestic news such as the attempt by the House Republicans to bring down the immigration bill passed in the Senate.

One would like to think that this is so because the trial has important social implications on the ongoing  racial divide in America, not to speak of the gender divide. But is it? It may be worth examining the phenomenon before the jury is out on the trial and the controversy on their final judgment obfuscates the trial itself.

The first crucial question that needs to be asked of the media is this: Is it true journalism, the news media’s business to cover courtroom events from gavel to gavel as seems to be the case nowadays? Does the Zimmerman trial go beyond a mere gossipy celebrity trial? Or is it a simply lazy way to fill in 24 hours of news reporting for a whole month? In other words, has the media justified its extensive coverage by explaining to the viewers the deeper social implications of the trial?

In my opinion the answer would have to be an unequivocal no. True to form, they have managed to trivialize the social significance of the trial. How many times can one replay a 911 call and try to determine who’s yelling for help? The context meanwhile is wholly ignored. The context, if we are to start the story at its origins is this: the reason for so much raw emotion when the shooting first happened is that a grown man had admitted to killing an unarmed black teen and wasn’t even charged with anything. Somehow he “had stood his ground.” He went home to sleep in his bed that night. As the prosecution pointedly asked: imagine if the shooter had been Black and the victim white: would he have been allowed to go home with no charges against him?

A glaring example of trivialization by both the media and the defending attorneys was the way the testimony of Rachel Jeantel was handled. We need not wait for the jury in her case. She was found guilty even before her 6 hour long witness deposition was finished; in fact, at times, one was left wondering whether or not she was the one on trial rather than Zimmerman. But all the snickering and patronizing observations about her by both media and defending attorneys had precious little to do with the veracity of her testimony. Her weight, attitude, her grammar, her diction, her dress, her hair, her inarticulation, her ghetto image, were all duly noted with the insinuation that they were somehow connected to her veracity, but in reality it was a pretext to laugh at the stereotyping of  a poor, black teenager from the kind of America which they rather not even acknowledge it exists. In other words, Jeantel would have been fine in a ghetto but not in a courtroom full of educated Americans.

What was recreated here was Trayvon Martin’s walk through a privileged gated community. Privilege in our society does not believe that the Martins and the Jeantels of this world belong in a gated community. Martin was not supposed to be there, and neither was Jeantel supposed to be in a courtroom. Before one proceeds to actions one needs to dehumanize one’s target first. This is in fact what Zimmerman did the fateful night when he pursued Marin, and what the news media and the defending lawyers did in court before impugning the veracity of Jeantel. Lack of refinement and improper demeanor and polish makes you an immediate “ suspect” in a gated community or in a courtroom, therefore, aggressive defense attorneys and journalists conclude, we can dismiss what she has to say.  

The next crucial question that needs to be asked is this: how did this story change from the untimely tragic death of a black teenager and the misguided no initial accountability for the killing, to the story of George Zimmerman’s innocence who allegedly has become the victim “standing his ground”? This transformation is especially visible on FOX news who for the last year or so Zimmerman has been presented as a victim, somebody who needs to be defended and protected from those liberals whipping up the controversy, for after all as Shawn Hennity of FOX news elicited from Zimmerman in an interview, it was in God’s plans that Martin should die that night. Even President Obama was brought in the controversy by Rush Limbaugh who has charged that Obama wished to foment social and racial unrest. Consequently, the trial has been seen by this “fair and balanced” news-media through their biased eyes of hatred for Obama.

But of course, when all is said and done the TV rates are up and that purports to prove that Americans are fascinated by court trials. The media is just providing what the public wants; so surmise the brave new journalists of our brave new world. But in fact, all that it actually proves is that some Americans prefer living in their own cocoon of reality and could not care less for international affairs around the world. Actually CNN has received a viewership of some half a million people for the Zimmerman trial, in a nation of 330 million. It appears that not even celebrity trials as reality shows interest that many people any longer. That would be a challenging of assumptions in itself, but the biggest exposé in my opinion, is what the coverage of this trial has revealed about the sad state of affairs of today’s journalism and our misguided  indifference to what goes on in the rest of the world outside our little cocoon.






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