Fox News Watch Fails Media Criticism 101 In Trayvon Martin Case


There are an untold number of issues to ponder when discussing the media's coverage of the Trayvon Martin killing. The Poynter Institute, for example, recently examined some of them, including looking at how the photos of Martin that media outlets are choosing to show can unconsciously reinforce certain stereotypes. But of all the issues surrounding the coverage of the killing, Fox News' media criticism show, Fox News Watch, chose to focus on this question today: "Was this a story for the national media?"

Host Jon Scott added: "No doubt a tragic story -- does it deserve the attention of national media?"

As this question demonstrates, Fox News Watch is not a serious media criticism program. This is the same program that repeatedly fails media ethics 101, whose host once reproduced a GOP press release -- complete with typo -- and passed it off as his own research. The program regularly ignores Fox News' own ethical problems in favor of bashing other news outlets.

But asking whether the Trayvon Martin killing is a national story must be the program's most amazing failure to date.

An unarmed black teenager is killed on his way home, and the admitted killer, George Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, is not charged.

Those facts alone may restrict the story to local news, indeed. But the story vaulted to national prominence when the City of Sanford, under pressure for its police department's decision to not charge Zimmerman in the killing, released the 911 tapes from the shooting. Moreover, the fact that the Sanford police cited the state's 2005 "stand your ground" law as justification for letting Zimmerman walk and that 23 other states have similar laws, championed by the NRA, on the books is another indication of the story's national play.

Add to that the month-long outrage from Sanford, Florida, to cities nationwide, from social media to mainstream media, to the FBI and the Department of Justice launching investigations into the case, to the White House commenting on Martin's death, and one begins to ask why a national media outlet is not covering this story.

For her part, Fox News Watch panelist Judy Miller noted as such during the discussion. But here is how Fox News contributor Jim Pinkerton replied to Scott's question:

PINKERTON: The media have certain predilections. They're always interested in the cute child that gets murdered; they're always interested in the blond coed that gets murdered; and they're interested in the black victim of racism as another thing. There are about 300 murders a week in this country and they pick out certain ones and then we can name them. And this case was in the tradition of sort of Emmett Till or James Byrd or Yusef Hawkins until on Friday the president of the United States jumped in in a very personal way.

So according to Pinkerton, the only reason the media covered the story at all was because they could play up the "black victim of racism" angle?

Here is how the journalism works: A local paper reports on a story it finds compelling in its coverage area. A major paper in that market decides to cover the same story, expanding on the original details. Following more revelations and developments, other major papers in the area pick up the story, and television and cable networks jump in. A major national paper seizes on it, does its own reporting, and the rest of the media follow.

In the case of Trayvon Martin, here is how it unfolded:

The shooting occurred on February 26. The Orlando Sentinel had a brief report on February 29. The first major Florida newspaper that started reporting more key details was The Miami Herald on March 8, which noted, "After getting few answers from police, Martin's grieving family has hired an attorney and is publicizing his death on CNN, Good Morning America and other national media outlets." The Orlando Sentinel and the Herald followed with more reports over the next few days.

During this same period, Reuters and the Associated Press published stories on Martin, as well.*

The Christian Science Monitor began picking it up on March 16. The New York Times' first story appeared on March 17, which is also the same day columnist Charles Blow's column on Martin garnered attention. The Washington Post reported on the Justice Department's planned investigation on March 20. The Los Angeles Times picked up an Orlando Sentinel report on the case on March 20 as well.

CBS' This Morning had a report on the story on March 8, ABC's Good Morning America on March 10, and CNN on March 12, according to a Nexis search.

That's a textbook case of how a local story goes national, so let's dispense with the "black victim of racism" angle and ask better questions.

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