Five years ago, serving on a Los Angeles jury trying a civil case, I, listening to the plaintiff’s lawyer’s opening statement, became convinced of that defendant’s liability. As the case proceeded, however, with witnesses offered their testimony and being subject to cross-examination, I found gaping holes in the plaintiff’s case, notably their failure to corroborate her accusations — particularly her lawyer’s failure to ask the one witness who, she had claimed (in her testimony), had seen the defendant sexually harassing her.
For that was the nature of the case.
There was indeed strong circumstantial evidence suggesting sexual harassment, but nothing substantial. Which brings me to the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case. When I first head the story, I assumed, as did most Americans, that this had been a miscarriage of justice, but like my experience on that LA jury, I wanted to learn the facts before rendering final judgment.
The contrast, however, is that in my jury experience, I fist heard the narrative from an interested party, in that case, the plaintiff’s attorney, but with the Martin/Zimmerman story, my sources were the legacy media (if you count CNN, Yahoo! and AOL as “legacy”). It was as if they were playing the role of the plaintiff or prosecution, presenting one side of the case, not of a neutral arbiter trying to find the facts.
The media, to borrow an expression from Ann Althouse, operated as participants “in the use and exploitation of these 2 unfortunate men.”
In the past few days, they have started their walkback, with this image appearing on Yahoo!’s home page:
The facts present a far murkier story than the initial media narrative. And the picture that emerges of George Zimmerman far more complex. We learned that at least one “news” outlet was just presenting the facts beneficial to their side, but presenting them in such a way as to better make their case.
Having “completed its investigation into the mishandling of the police dispatcher’s conversation with George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case“, NBC, writes the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, has now acknowledged its error and apologized.
Shouldn’t the network have had safeguards in place to prevent its journalists from making such errors?
Instead of acting as independent arbiters, all too many in the legacy media instead act as zealous prosecutors, convinced the facts will fit their
arguments narrative. When they did not, they found themselves in an awkward position, chastened perhaps, but also better able to understand why distrust in the U.S. media has reached a record high, with only one in four Americans having a high (or very high) level of trust in journalists.
They might increase that level of trust if they stopped pretending they were judges while acting like prosecutors.