Thursday, July 18, 2013

TALK SHOWS

Yesterday I got a call from a radio talk show in the Far West asking if I would agree to appear on a two hour segment this morning to discuss the coverage of the Zimmerman case. I was somewhat reluctant, as I am no fan of talk shows, but I agreed. At the appointed time, I received a call from the station and listened patiently to a series of commercials as I waited to go on air.

I was first asked what I thought it was about the case that made such a media splash. I said I thought it was the youth of the deceased, coupled with the even more youthful photograph that was initially shown in the media. The moderator said he disagreed with me, that it was race, pure and simple. He went on to make some remarks about how the media had manipulated public opinion by using such a youthful picture of Martin. I suggested that it might not be manipulation, but that the picture used was the only one the family had. I’ve had at least two cases where there was only one photograph of the victim available. The moderator said he wasn’t buying that at all, and it seemed to me that he was suggesting that I was being disingenuous. I responded that I had a policy of not attributing malice when some other explanation was available. I pointed out that this philosophy undergirds our criminal justice system.

He wanted to know what I thought about the verdict, and I said it looked to me as though the jury wanted to convict Zimmerman of something, but did not think that what he did constituted manslaughter or murder. I said I agreed with the jury’s verdict.

The moderator steered us back to the issue of race, and then he held forth at length saying that the coverage was about race, pure and simple, and that the age of the victim had nothing to do with it. I suggested that we perform a thought experiment. Imagine that Zimmerman had shot a 45 year old 6’6” black male convicted felon. Would there have been extensive coverage if that had been the case? He intimated that I was presenting irrelevant hypotheticals and, if I heard him correctly, opined that there would probably have been the same amount of coverage. We then cut to commercials. I got the impression that the longer I talked, the less the moderator liked me.

The underlying thesis of the show seemed to be that the left-leaning media had sensationalized the coverage and ignored the facts to advance their liberal agenda. During the commercial, I began to gather my thoughts to diplomatically express this thought. It appeared to me that he, as a right-leaning member of the media, just might be sensationalizing his coverage to advance a conservative agenda. Of course, I was willing to stipulate that he had not consciously done that because of my policy of seeking innocent motives for people’s actions. It is probably a good thing that I didn’t get a chance to voice this opinion. The first commercial had not finished before a representative came on the line, thanked me for my time, and said they wouldn’t need me anymore.

The Zimmerman case has become a political football, with rabid partisans on both sides of the political spectrum talking loudly about it. The debate is producing more heat than light. I reiterate the call I made in a previous post that everyone back off, take a deep breath, and calm down. The only thing that the Zimmerman verdict means is that the state failed to carry its burden of proof.