Trayvon and the MSM: “Who will guard the guardians?” UPDATED

It’s an ironic question, given George Zimmerman’s own ideas about guardianship, but it’s one that needs to be asked of the mainstream press.

A long time ago, in the midst of of a month-long discussion on media, I noted a piece by a journalist who bristled at the existence of alternative media. To his way of thinking, the internets lacked the scruples, ethics, and sensibilities of “the mediating intelligences” within traditional, mainstream media. I had suggested, back then, that the whole point of alternative media — particularly the pesky blogs — might be to answer the famous question, quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”,( or, “Who will guard the guardians?”) particularly as mainstream journalists seemed inclined to take divergent turns through the narrow alleys of “truthiness” and “fake-but-accurate”.

I don’t suppose Freedman would take kindly to anyone suggesting that, in a way, those pesky bloggers and talk radio people are – in some, clearly not all cases – the guardians of the guards, the gatekeepers narrowing their eyes at the gatekeepers and saying, “oh yeah? ‘Zat so? What’s your source? How come you left out this part of the transcript? Why should we believe all those “anonymous” comments and tips? Who are those “some” that Katie Couric keeps telling us “say” all those things?”

Well, Mr-Mediating-Intelligences, it does in fact seem that the guardians need some guarding, after all. From the Washington Post’s own blog:

NBC told this blog today that it would investigate its handling of a piece on the “Today” show that ham-handedly abridged the conversation between George Zimmerman and a dispatcher in the moments before the death of Trayvon Martin. A statement from NBC:

“We have launched an internal investigation into the editorial process surrounding this particular story.”

Great news right there. As exposed by Fox News and media watchdog site NewsBusters, the “Today” segment took this approach to a key part of the dispatcher call:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.

Here’s how the actual conversation went down:

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.

The difference between what “Today” put on its air and the actual tape? Complete: In the “Today” version, Zimmerman volunteered that this person “looks black,” a sequence of events that would more readily paint Zimmerman as a racial profiler. In reality’s version, Zimmerman simply answered a question about the race of the person whom he was reporting to the police. Nothing prejudicial at all in responding to such an inquiry.

It’s worth mentioning that without the existence of the internet and the many blogs and sites interested in (or in some cased dedicated-to) media scrutiny, we might never have even realized that someone within a mainstream media outlet had played such a devious and potentially destructive hand, with what appears to be a malicious intent.

A friend emailed:

[NBC's edit is] not only an injustice to Zimmerman to splice that video that way, it was cruel in my mind to do that to African Americans and the parents of that boy – throwing fuel onto a fire, needlessly, through a fabricated distortion of the truth.

Now, if you haven’t seen it, watch the full interview between Piers Morgan and Toure of MSNBC and their heated debate. Ask yourself which audio version of that 911 recording Toure was basing his argument on. Most sources only shared the last 5 minutes of the interview, but I recommend listening to the whole thing to get it all in context.

Yes, do watch the whole thing. It’s interesting to hear Toure note that folks “in the hallways of NBC” were laughing at Piers Morgan for “not challenging,” the Zimmerman narrative.

Perhaps NBC felt the best way to do challenge the Zimmerman narrative was to change it materially, at its factual source.

The Trayvon Martin case is a tragedy, and it has revealed that a nation capable of electing an African-American president has become less-convincingly “post-racial” than many had supposed. Shame on anyone — mainstream media, politician or alt-media crank — who sees the racial tension that has grown from the story (what with the NY Times’ sudden-and-insistent classification of Zimmerman as “a white-Hispanic”, Geraldo’s remarks about hoodies and now NBC’s edit) and makes the dubious, nay evil decision to introduce it to a flammable gas, either through rhetorical hyperbole or outright deceit.

UPDATE: Deacon Greg Kandra, who spent a couple decades writing at CBS News — and thus has an insider’s knowledge of how NBC’s bad edit might have gone down — enumerates the possibilities and then adds:

Whatever happened, there was widespread system failure here — and a deplorable absence of truth. And people wonder why nobody trusts the media. Seriously? It’s crap like this.

Heads should roll.

The mainstream media is increasingly diminishing itself into irrelevance and giving more and more of us fewer and fewer reasons to pay attention. As one who toiled long and hard in the vineyards of broadcast news, I find this stuff infuriating, and more than a little depressing. The nation needs a strong, vigilant, independent and courageous press.

What we’re getting, instead, is lazy reporting, cynical manipulation and lies.

The good deacon ends his piece on a decisive note!

UPDATE II: Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit is wondering if a walkback/stampede may be in progress:

Much of what they have done — for example, using the middle-school picture of Trayvon Martin almost exclusively in their coverage — isn’t actionable. The deceptive editing of the 911 call, however, might rise to the level of “actual malice,” thus supporting a libel action even though Zimmerman is a public figure.

I’m no attorney, but if I were a juryman, I’d be inclined to think malice and forethought were part-and-parcel of that NBC edit. Not so much, perhaps the bit at ABC, but the other, IMHO, yeah…

Meanwhile, Mark Shea, a lover of ironies and all things absurd writes NBC Lies: Investigates Itself for Lying:

“. . .this also provides further proof for my brand new theory about using things like “evidence” and “witnesses” in some sort of legal setting so that matters like this can be sorted out dispassionately and not only he basis of millions of ignorant people who were not there making snap judgments based on edited crap fed them by a media looking to gin up controversy in order to sell beer and shampoo.”

What a concept!

Rick Moran is not expecting much to come of it

Who is demanding censorship?

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • fiestamom

    The mainstream media always claims it has layers and layers of fact checkers as opposed to those horrible bloggers. And yet that NBC piece got through, ABC News may or may not have purposely put a chyron on top of video of Zimmerman to disguise whether he had injuries on his head. And how in the world does Al Sharpton still have a job as a host on MSNBC after this? I know he’s not a journalist, but still!

    And don’t even try to ask the (fair) question, of why aren’t Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton marching in South Chicago every weekend. Black kids are getting killed by black kids every day in this country, and it’s an outrage.

    Interesting that Hollywood hasn’t shunned Spike Lee like they have Mel Gibson.

  • doc

    I disagree with Deacon Greg when he says the coorporate media are giving us lazy reporting (his other 2 observations are accurate). Corporate media relentlessly push an agenda dedicated to the election of Democrats and the pushing of a leftist narrative. These “reporters” are not lazy. They’re fanatics willing to wreck their own reputations in the service of their Party. Like Pravda, only less cynical. These well-paid clowns need to be mocked and then ignored. Let them all achieve the value of Newsweek.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I have to agree with you, doc;

    “Laziness” doesn’t really explain the relentless energy the media puts into pushing stories that serve their agenda, or tweaking them, when they don’t quite fit the approved narrative.

    Meanwhile, OWS is fighting with the police again.

    I fear it’s going to be a long, hot summer.

  • Pingback: “Widespread system failure here — and a deplorable absence of truth” | Wizbang

  • Manny

    Wow, good research and good blog Anchoress. I throw my hands up as to understanding what happened in that young man’s death. I refuse to make any judgements either for Trayvon or for Zimmerman. I don’t know, and I can’t see how anyone else can know. They should let the justice system work it’s way through this.

    But here’s a surprise. The media is not biased, did all their deligent homework, and decided not to follow hackneyed narratives.

  • Fr. Rob Johansen

    If NBC is serious about “investigating” what happened and making it right, they will give the results of their investigation as much play as they did the airing of the doctored recording.

    That means names, dates, and a full accounting of what happened, along with details of who was fired as a result.

    Anything less than that, and NBC is still trying to whitewash it.

    Anyone want to lay bets that NBC will actually try to make this right?

  • Manny

    Just checked the Deacon’s blog. Wow, those are very strong words coming from our gentle Deacon.

  • John

    Your e-mail friend is right, manipulations such as this one are an affront to each and every person who has been misled. Especially when the misinformation has spurred action: protesting, voting, etc.

    But it happens every day, not only in racial matters — economics, environmental, social… The narrative is crafted to manipulate, and alternative media is often the only “entity” trying to tell the other side of the story.

  • Bender

    A little objectivity would be nice.

    So what is with using Martin’s first name again to refer to him in the headline, while using George’s last name to refer to him?

  • Gail Finke

    Okay, I’m sorry I am not a sports person, so I don’t remember the game or the network. The All Start Game, maybe? Anyway, I heard it live myself and I couldn’t believe it — last year in little feature they played a cute montage of photos with a soundtrack of kids saying the Pledge of Allegiance — without the words “under God.” The montage had the kids say the pledge TWICE that way. After a public outcry, the network said it didn’t mean to offend anyone, but the piece had to be shortened (you know how long it takes to say “under God” twice!) and that just got edited out.

    Of course no one’s life is at stake with that one, but it’s the same principle. I don’t know if it’s the rise of reality TV, or what — but people who used to see editing as a way to tighten things up to better tell a story now seem to think they can use footage to tell whatever story they want to tell, regardless of the truth. Or maybe they really believe they make the truth?

  • doc

    It’s why I gave up TV, Gail. The networks don’t deserve my business. Neither do daily newspapers. I hear HBO is dropping subscribers like flies due to their blatant hostility to anyone who doesn’t think like Bill Maher.

  • John

    Hey doc, I’m with you but I thought I was alone. The networks live on viewership and I refuse to give them mine. Same for the newspapers that insist on treating me with such contempt. I don’t even want to be a “comp” on their subscription rolls. Or a pageview on their websites. On the flipside, I subscribe to several publications I don’t even have time to read — because they make an effort to be honest.

    I like to think there are others out there doing likewise but I suppose real grassroots stuff is bound to stay under the radar. Shareholders should be extremely angry at media company executives but I suspect they are all clueless about the havoc they are creating.

  • SKay

    I would not be surprised if those involved in the dishonesty at both networks quietly get a promotion.

  • Mrs. O

    I so agree with Shea and the others. Now you have states, who are wanting to “do” something proposing measures to make those in neighborhood watches be registered. I have news for you, you can watch without being an official member. And this cartoon seems all the more true. BTW, the artist had to apologize after the fact. .,0,2989517.story