With modern 24/7 news coverage of trials and court rulings by both print media, bloggers, and social networks, we seem to be constantly pressed into taking sides on issues in which we would otherwise have little interest or if fact know they exist. And, in many cases, the rush to publish even on social networks leads to misleading or even blatantly false “news”.
A recent case that followed this pattern is the George Zimmerman trial and the coverage barrage that followed. For those who followed the trial, it was clear from the first day that the prosecution of Mr. Zimmerman was strictly political and there was little if any evidence that would lead to a conviction. But, there was a constant presence of “talking heads” on TV who constantly and vehemently dismissed any possibility that the shooting was little more than a tragic accident. But, the evidence from every side constantly eliminated any possibility of intent by Mr. Zimmerman.
That factual evidence seldom made any headlines but any unsubstantiated rumor seemed to be cast as fact by the numerous special interest groups ranging from anti-gun to the NAACP and even the president of the United States who took the opportunity to try to point to some racial overtone that simply did not even exist in the Zimmerman case.
The day after the jury verdict of not guilty, a “story” about a black female whose story was compared to Zimmerman’s case went viral especially on Facebook. The black female was supposedly convicted and sentenced to 20 years by a Florida jury for firing a warning shot into the ceiling to stop her abusive husband. It was apparently an effort to directly compare “if Zimmerman were black” to the Alexander case. The “story” even made it onto ABC’s “Good Morning America” with Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos reading the “story” on national TV in what appeared to be purported as fact.
But, looking into the facts of the case of the black female, Marissa Alexander, the state proved beyond doubt was that Ms. Alexander was in fact the aggressor with a history of violence and the “warning shot” was actually fired at “adult height” very close to her husband and her two sons. In other words, physical evidence and testimony proved she shot at but missed her husband. The Florida Times Union ran a factual story on the case in May of 2012 shortly after the conviction which included the actual 911 call recording.
In this case as well as countless others, defense lawyers casting the aggressor as victim sometimes wins throngs of supporters in the court of public opinion but it mostly has little influence in a court of law. In Alexander’s case, the 20 year sentencing was due to Florida’s “10-20-life law” and the judge had no option but the mandatory 20 year sentence.
Many, and in fact most drug offenders, in prison have been subject of similar mandatory sentencing laws and prison terms often have little to do with facts of their arrest and prosecution.
The social network, special interest group, and part-time blogger publications without substantiating fact make for sensational “news” and get out attention and lead to higher “hits” for bloggers but they do not stand the test of time and fact. But, there are many who believe the false or misleading “news” and do not bother to learn or even believe truth when it eventually comes out and vast divides among us are created and enforced.
Who do we blame? This is America and we all have an absolute right to free speech. This is America and we have a press that is free to print without censorship. And, this is America and we are all free to believe what we want. Much like our free enterprise system, we have to believe and hope that the media system will see those actors who have no credibility lose status and just go away. If not, the entire system stands to lose what credibility that remains.
As Walter Cronkite, the host of CBS Evening News for 19 years, ended every broadcast, “That’s the way it is” (it may not be what we want but it is what it is).