By Steven Youngblood, Center for Global Peace Journalism
Whether it’s the Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial (1935), the Jody Arias trial, the O.J. Simpson debacle, or the just completed George Zimmerman trial, there’s nothing quite like a courtroom drama to bring out the very worst in America’s press.
During the Zimmerman trial, both the extent and tone of the coverage reflect little more than shameful pandering.
The extent of the coverage was practically wall-to-wall on CNN and the other cable networks, and non-stop on HLN. This flood of coverage is all about ratings, of course, and sadly, is virtually unconnected to any sense of actual newsworthiness.
The tone of the coverage—speculative, breathlessly sensational, incendiary—may be even more reprehensible than its overwhelming volume.
Several conservative pundits, who are typically correct .001% of the time, were actually right when they pointed out how the mainstream media swallowed and then regurgitated the politically correct, prosecutor-planted narratives about Zimmerman and about the racial elements in the case. The portrayal of Zimmerman was one dimensional, while the racial elements in the case were sensationalized, if not outright exaggerated.
Naturally, Fox News balanced being correct on this issue with eager speculation by its pundits about a possible violent reaction to the verdict; speculation fed by and feeding into a stereotypical, negative media narrative about violent African-Americans.
Both the tone and extent of the Zimmerman trial coverage represent the antithesis of peace journalism. A peace journalist (and a peace journalism media outlet) would have covered the trial, but not wall-to-wall. We would have sought always to put the trial into the proper perspective—that while tragic, Trayvon Martin is just one of 6,100 U.S. gun victims since the Newtown shootings last December. Peace journalists would have given much less airtime to racial demagogues from both ends of the political spectrum, and instead sought to hear from those who seek a middle ground. Peace journalists would have speculated less, and tried to stick much more to the facts. After the verdict, peace journalists would be busy exploring how incidents like these can be prevented in the future, starting with a persistent analysis of gun availability and stand your ground laws. Finally, peace journalists would lead an ongoing discussion about race in the U.S.—a discussion that doesn’t just occur during a crisis, but an ongoing dialogue giving voice to moderates and peacemakers.
Until peace journalism approaches become standard practice, America’s press will continue to soil themselves every time there is a sensational trial, particularly when race is involved."
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