Paul R. Lehman, The media fails its responsibility in the Trayvon Martin case.April 1, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Posted in American Bigotry, blacks, Disrespect, equality, fairness, Media and Race, minority, Prejudice, Race in America | 5 Comments
Tags: African Americans, American protest and prejudice, black and white, current-events, environment, European Americans, George Zimmerman, Jonathan Capehart, politics, Prejudice, Sanford, The Post, Trayvon Martin
Who is Joe Oliver? If you have been following the Trayvon Martin case, then you know that for a few days Oliver was on all the major news shows telling the audiences what a good friend he is to George Zimmerman, the killer of Martin. Why was Oliver on all the news shows? The answer is because the media did not do their jobs. They took the word of some unknown person and let him have an audience with the program viewers. The media is at fault for creating much of the confusion surrounding this case.
Without first checking his credibility before allowing him air time, the media did the public a disservice because what Oliver had to say contributed absolutely nothing to our understanding of this case. One reporter, however, Jonathan Capehart, a writer for the Post, realized that Oliver was seeking publicity and had nothing concrete to share because it was not based on facts. Oliver convinced the media that he was “A man who knew the man who shot Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. A man who could vouch for Zimmerman’s personal growth and character. A man who knew the gunman so well that he was certain that the voice screaming for help on one of the 911 calls was Zimmerman’s.” According to Capehart, while Oliver might have believed all this, the facts proved otherwise.
The game Oliver had been playing with the media came to a head on the MSNBC show The Last Word, with Lawrence O’Donnell. Capehart was also a guest on this show and took part in asking questions of Oliver. Any number of responses from Oliver to the questions put to him by O’Donnell could have proved Oliver’s lack of credibility, but one response to a question sealed the deal. Oliver said that “I wouldn’t put myself out here on the line like this if I didn’t know in my heart that George Zimmerman was in a life-or-death struggle.”All the guests realized simultaneously that they had been had. What does knowing something in “your” heart have to do with hard facts? Nothing.
Finally, Joe Oliver was no longer invited to talk on any of the news shows simply because he had nothing to contribute. Why did not the media know this before hand? We might assume that part of the reason is the desire to be first in presenting what has been called “breaking news.” The problem with this concept is that the line defining news has been blurred to the point that one questions what really is defined as news today. Reporters and journalists used to verify their information before offering it to the public. However, since the advent of “breaking news” it seems that speed is more important the accuracy. Oliver is not the only person seeking “air time” regarding this case and the media has in a number of instances accommodated them.
Another problem that the media seems to create in a subtle way involves the subject of race. When a question about race is raised by a reported or journalist, then race inters the story. From the introduction of race comes the question of racism. Once racism has been introduced the charges of being or not being a racist become the center of attention. For some people, simply knowing someone of a different ethnicity is proof enough that the accused is not racists. Unfortunately, once the bridge to race, racism, and racist has been crossed the water beneath the bridge becomes too tainted to be of use. Using race as a decoy has become a popular ploy to try and defuse an issue. With respect to the killing of Trayvon Martin, we do not know for certain that it played a part. We do know that Trayvon is dead. As a society we need to stop using the words race and racist as catch-all words. In reality bigotry might have played a larger part in the activities surrounding Trayvon’s death than did racism. A person can have prejudices and not be a racist.
One thing the media can help the public to understand is that racism and prejudice is not the same thing. If they want to be accurate in reporting, they should try and ascertain the difference before assuming that race was involved. By not making a clear distinction between racism and bigotry the media is complicit is promoting the confusion. If they do not know the difference, then they should avoid using the words because their use creates a definite impression with the public. After all is said and done, if the public is not made aware of the misuse of the words race, racism, and racist chances are we will be back at the same place as before the news story of Trayvon broke—uninformed.
We have been led to believe that he media has a responsibility to the public, and part of that responsibility involves reporting facts. If we cannot depend on the media to provide us with the facts then they have outlived their usefulness to us and the public good. Unfortunately, what passes for news today is little more than entertainment, and not good entertainment at that. So, who is Joe Oliver and why do we want to hear what he has to say? Mr. Capehart was right when he said “Don’t trust Joe Oliver’s ‘gut feeling about his ‘friend’ George Zimmerman.” My response to that statement is why did I have to listen to Joe Oliver in the first place?