Nathan R. Jessep: “You want answers?”
Lt. J.G. Daniel Kaffee: “I want the truth.”
Col. Jessep: “You can’t handle the truth.”
Or would that very familiar last line from the court martial scene of “A Few Good Men” be more appropriate to the ongoing national debate over the George Zimmerman verdict if someone claims, “You aren’t really interested in the truth.” And, to take it a step further, are we really interested in the facts or are those pesky little things just something else to get in the way of our preconceptions?
Sorting through the facts and arriving at the truth can lead one down a prickly path. Law enforcement officers perform that task daily. Average Americans who are asked to sit in judgment as members of a jury find themselves determining the fate of individuals based solely on presentation of facts. They must determine whether or not those facts point to the truth.
Jurors are expected to not let emotions, public opinion or politics sway how they arrive at a decision. In cases like the Zimmerman trial, jurors are sequestered so that nothing outside the courtroom can influence their decision. It’s a system that works very well.
The facts in the case which doesn’t seem to have an ending are simple. George Zimmerman, by his admission, shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was not armed. Their confrontation apparently occurred when Zimmerman confronted Martin after being told by a 911 operator to remain in his vehicle.
A jury believed Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense and found him not guilty. That jury did not find Zimmerman innocent. Many, including your humble observer, believe Zimmerman is guilty of using horrible judgment. We do not believe, however, that those voices clammering for further prosecution should be doing so simply because they are unhappy with how six individuals ruled on facts these clammerers did not hear. More on that later.
It isn’t surprising that a primary factor in the continuing outrage is how the national media is now covering and has covered this case from the beginning. In the days following Martin’s death, media reports led us to believe that a white man named Zimmerman had killed an unarmed black teenager. That claim came in a March, 2012 story (the shooting occurred in February) when the AP wrote, “The neighborhood watch leader is white.”
Wrong, but the “white” term didn’t go away. Both CNN and The New York Times labeled Zimmerman a “white Hispanic” which, intentionally or not, continued to feed a notion the killing was racially motivated and the result of profiling. Perhaps the most egregious example of a media push for a racial motive in the incident came from NBC.
On a March, 2012 “Today” show, Zimmerman is heard on tape telling a police dispatcher on the evening of Feb. 26, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” That, however, was the version of the tape after NBC did a little selective editing. The original, unedited version of the tape told an entirely different story:
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.”
Unfortunately, many in this country need less help than provided by our major media outlets to make this a racial incident. Even after NBC admitted the editing job, commentators continued to push the racial profiling angle.
As expected, the case hasn’t ended with the jury’s verdict. Varying statements range from, “Thank God the jury got it right…” to “Only white life is protected in America.”
A Gallop Poll conducted between June and July, 2013, shows 70 percent of Americans surveyed found race relations between blacks and whites, and between whites and Hispanics to be either very good or somewhat good.
There’s an old adage that says a journalist should never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Add another: “Believe me, because the truth is what I tell you it is.”
Pat Culverhouse is a journalist and political columnist who lives in Minden.