Washington Post Distorts Trayvon Martin News

How did the shooting death of one person resulting from an altercation of some sort make it out of the local news coverage in Sanford, Florida, to become not just national news, but virtually the biggest national news story going?  It’s certainly a legitimate question, and it’s one we hoped to see answered by the lead story in today’s Washington Post Style section, “How Martin Case became Martin Story,” subtitled “Scant coverage early on sparked PR campaign.” (Online title, “Trayvon Martin story found the media”)

We can stop right there.  We do learn from the article that there was, in fact, a public relations campaign.  “A pivotal, if little-known, figure in the Martin story’s development was Ryan Julison, an Orlando public relations executive who began working with the Martin family at the behest of its attorneys, Benjamin Crump and Natalie Jackson,” says The Post. 

What this means, one may presume, is that the Martin family hired a public relations firm to publicize the story.  But was the initial coverage of the story really unduly scant, thereby “sparking” the PR campaign?

Here’s how the body of the Post article starts:

It began as a routine police-blotter item, a journalistic afterthought. On Feb. 26, the Orlando Sentinel’s online edition devoted a few dozen words to the fatal shooting of an unnamed teenager in the nearby town of Sanford. The story also made the late news that night on WOFL the local Fox affiliate.

The Sentinel followed a day later with another brief item, this one noting the young victim’s name and age: Trayvon Martin, 17. The paper said it wasn’t identifying the shooter, a man in his 20s, “because he has not been charged.” The early police accounts of the episode made it seem nothing more than “a fight gone bad,” recalled John Cutter, the Sentinel’s associate editor.

And then…nothing.

Absent a public relations campaign isn’t this about the coverage one would expect in such a case?  The police had examined the matter.  George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer, was on his home turf.  The police apparently saw sufficient physical evidence to support his assertion that he shot in self defense, and they filed no charges. 

As The Post tells it, it was the Martin parents’ outrage over the lack of a criminal charge that led them to the lawyers and thence to this amazingly effective PR guy.  But was it really the family’s public relations campaign that has vaulted this story into the national news, or has something more sinister been at work?  You can read this Style section article as thoroughly and carefully as possible, and nowhere will you find any mention of the malicious role played by NBC and its editing of the tape of the 911 call that Zimmerman made, which makes Zimmerman out to be a racist.  The Post knows about it because it had this little item on Erik Wemple’s very hard to find blog exactly a week ago:

Brian Stelter of the New York Times is reporting that NBC has fired a producer “involved” in the shameful abridgement of the George Zimmerman conversation with an emergency dispatcher just prior to the killing of Trayvon Martin. Here’s the meat of Stelter’s scoop:

The person was fired on Thursday, according to two people with direct knowledge of the disciplinary action who declined to be identified discussing internal company matters. They also declined to name the fired producer. A spokeswoman for NBC News declined to comment.

A dismissal is certainly commensurate with the offense in the case. As this blog has repeated several times, the edition of the “Today” show at the center of this story quoted Zimmerman as saying the following:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.

Yet the transcript of that portion of the call reads as follows:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

The effect here is to portray Zimmerman as a hardened racial profiler, when in fact he was asked to provide the racial information to the dispatcher.

The story of NBC’s Zimmerman scandal is now officially following a drip-drip-drip pattern. About a week ago, this blog reported that the network was investigating the episode; on Tuesday, it issued a threadbare statement on its findings, including an apology and an acknowledgement that it had erred. Yet it didn’t go into detail on exactly what had happened and what disciplinary measures would be taken.

And so the media industry press has sawed in to the narrative. Reuters yesterday provided some detail on what had gone down internally at NBC since the fiasco emerged. And now the New York Times pitches in with a significant new wrinkle.

Yet it’s not sewn up. We still don’t know the name of the dismissed producer; we don’t know if the network gave any consideration to apologizing directly to Zimmerman; we don’t know if warnings were issued to other NBC employees; and so on.

NBC could have headed off this story sprawl by publishing a fuller account of the incident earlier this week. Since it failed to do so, this scandal will have a life well beyond Easter.

Indeed so.  But none of what Wemple is saying here seems to be making it into the main part of The Washington Post, either print edition or online.  Rather, their major thrust is completely in step with NBC and the other major news media in fanning the flames of racial discord.  Consider what it wrote in a bannered online editorial just yesterday:

[State Attorney Angela B. Corey’s] appointment occurred only after Mr. Martin’s parents publicly decried the handling of their son’s death, seemingly incriminating 911 tapes involving Mr. Zimmerman were released, and the Justice Department announced plans to conduct its own investigation. (emphasis added)

The Post is apparently not alone in playing this double game.  I don’t subscribe to The New York Times, but the absence of a page number from the print edition suggests to me that the Brian Stelter article referred to by Wemple of The Post is another one of those hard-to-find online blogs.

Apparently, at least some newspapers, like the Miami Herald and Pasadena Star-News are giving NBC’s virtually criminal journalistic malpractice some of the attention it deserves.  This is from the Herald’s columnist, Glenn Garvin, a reprinted in the Pasadena newspaper:

…the police dispatcher, not Zimmerman, raised the question of race, and Zimmerman - watching from a distance on a rainy night - offered only a provisional judgment. By chopping three sentences out of the tape, NBC turned an innocent answer to a dispatcher's question into a damning racist indictment.

But the network continues to gaily insist that its editing was just a routine "error," like a misspelled name in an on-screen graphic - "a mistake and not a deliberate act to misrepresent the phone call," as NBC News President Steve Capus told Reuters in his only comment beyond the official statement…

But if the editing was just an innocent screw up, why won't NBC tell us who did it? Or how it got on the air? NBC won't even confirm reports from several other news agencies that a producer was fired last week over the editing. NBC's silent-as-a-tomb approach practically begs for a cynical interpretation. For instance, that any serious look at what happened on "Today" might lead to questions about editorial linkages between NBC News and its mongrel cousin MSNBC, where notorious race huckster Al Sharpton has a show. Sharpton is on the air covering the Zimmerman case one minute, out in the streets demanding his arrest the next.

But let us return to the culpability of The Washington Post in this matter.  It’s de facto suppression of the pernicious role played by NBC in this act of racial incitement reminds us of nothing so much as its avoidance of the news that Rosie O’Donnell had stirred up a lot of people by raising questions about the official 9-11 story in its story in the wake of O’Donnell’s removal from the TV show, “The View.  See “Post Suppresses News on Rosie’s 9-11 Doubts.” 

David Martin

April 13, 2012


Addendum 1


It has come to our attention that the Washington Post, although it mentions early coverage of the story by the television station WOFL, is remiss in not revealing the very exculpatory evidence that was presented in that excellent coverage.  It is available for anyone to see on YouTube


David Martin

April 14, 2012


Addendum 2


Immediately after posting this article on April 13, I sent the following email query to Paul Farhi, the writer of the Washington Post Style section article in question:


Hi Paul,

In your story today you write, "The [Zimmerman 911 tapes], which Sanford police had resisted releasing, gave news outlets fresh material to report, and added another emotional element to the story."

How do you justify omitting all mention of the crucial NBC editing of the tapes which certainly did add a very emotional racial element to the story, but at the expense of truth and justice?  Surely you must know about it because your news blogger, Erik Wemple, has been all over the story.  Would you deny that this NBC spin helped make this story much bigger than it was before?



Mr. Farhi has not yet responded.  His email address is farhip@washpost.com.  If anyone else has better luck than I in eliciting a response from him, I would appreciate their informing me.


The print writers for The Post continue to hew to the line that the Sanford authorities initially took this case too lightly, rather than that it is the ginned up national hullabaloo that is the main thing that’s wrong here.  The following passage is from regular Post columnist E. J. Dionne (ejdionne@washpost.com):


We need to know more about why officials in Florida were so slow in investigating and ­ultimately charging George Zimmerman in the Martin killing — and one can hope that things will become clearer as the case moves forward.


If anyone is unduly slow in actually investigating, it is reporters and columnists like Farhi and Dionne in The Post and elsewhere in the mainstream press who have chosen to trumpet the case to the nation.  Even such a severe critic of stand-your-ground gun laws as Alan Dershowitz argues persuasively that it is the belated indictment that is flawed, not the initial investigation.


David Martin

April 16, 2012






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