Different Stations, Different Coverage
The George Zimmerman trial continued yesterday, July 9th with the defense calling its star witness, Dr. Di Maio. Di Maio, a forensic pathologist, testified that based on his analysis of the gunshot wound, he determined that Trayvon Martin was on top of George Zimmerman when he was shot. Though this witness seemed to be the lynchpin for the defense’s case, the prosecution was able to get Di Maio to admit that though Martin might have been on top when he was shot, Di Maio could not determine who initiated the confrontation. While I watched this moment of the trial, I came to the realization that most Americans have no idea what actual courtroom proceedings look like. If Di Maio’s cross examination by the prosecution was on an episode of Law & Order, Jack McCoy would have bombarded the doctor with questions trying to get him to go against his testimony or admit his error and support the prosecution’s case. Once he got the answer he wanted, there would have been a dramatic pause and music in the background signifying to the viewer that a big event just happened in the trial. When the prosecution managed to get Di Maio to admit that he could not tell who started the fight, there was no such moment. I barely even noticed this small victory and its importance was only revealed to me when the experts on CNN and Fox talked about how good the prosecution did on cross.
The defense also called another witness, a former neighbor of George Zimmerman, who had to testify via the internet because she was sick and could not make an appearance in court. What she had to say was hard to understand and did not seem to carry much weight; however, the news coverage jumped on the topic of whether testifying through an internet connection was as effective as in person testimony.
In reviewing the coverage both by Fox News and CNN of the George Zimmerman proceedings that took place on July 9th, I realized that neither station was going to even make a small reference to the larger issues this case brings to light: race and gun control. Each station was going to stay the course by trying to obtain ratings by referencing the drama of the trial and unknown fate of Zimmerman. Instead of going off on a rant about the news media turning into an entertainment source, like I did in my previous post, I decided to examine the different way the two news stations covered the trial. I wanted to see if there was a difference in the way Fox News (generally thought of as a conservative news source) and CNN (generally thought of as a moderate or left leaning news source) talked about and covered the trial.
All in all I will say the coverage between the two stations was pretty much the same. The programs I viewed were during the day while the Zimmerman trial was in session so most of the coverage was the live feed from the courtroom and then brief interruptions from the news program asking for analysis from their guest experts. I wonder if I watched the news stations’ primetime programming if the coverage would be much different since there would be more time to fill with no live feed from the court (look for this topic to be addressed in an upcoming post). Both CNN and Fox focused on the impact of the expert witness, Dr. Di Maio, and the ineffectiveness of internet testimony compared to in court testimony. I was amazed that neither station brought up that the defense’s witness who testified via the internet was black and claimed that she believed that it was George Zimmerman’s voice on the 911 tape. To me, it seems that the main purpose of this witness was to show the jury that a black witness was providing testimony in support of the Zimmerman’s defense. One expert on Fox News in her closing statement briefly brought up the witness’s race, but this remark was passed over and nothing more was made of it. It almost seems like both stations are trying to avoid commenting that race is an issue in the case, which seems odd since race is one the major underlying concerns of this trial.
Though the topics discussed by the anchors on both news stations were similar, I did notice a difference in the visual representations shown on the programs. When CNN showed pictures of Trayvon Martin, they followed the same theme as those shown on news programs of victims. There was one of Trayvon as a young teenager, one of him smiling with his girlfriend, and a family photo of him with his mother. These resembled those photos most often shown on the news of victims of a car accidents or homicides. Clearly CNN sees Trayvon as a victim of an untimely demise even if Zimmerman believed he was acting in self-defense. Fox on the other hand took a different approach to the photos shown of Martin. The pictures were gritty and in none of them does Trayvon have a smile. One was just a close up of Trayvon’s face, looking into the camera, with a serious expression. The other was another close up of Trayvon with a hoodie on and once again not smiling. These pictures almost resembled those shown in the media of potential suspects or criminals. It seems like Fox is subliminally taking the stance that Trayvon brought this on himself and that his death was justified.
It is interesting to see how two stations can try to get their opinion out on the case without actually coming right out and saying it. It is disheartening that as this case winds down to the conclusion (analysts say that the defense could rest at the end of Wednesday or early Thursday) that the larger issues are still not being addressed by the media. It made me wonder if all news organizations are just giving the play by play of the trial and not addressing the national issues of race relations and gun control. I went online to see if publications that do not rely as much on ratings were just giving the details of the trial. I was delighted to see that NPR understood the significance of the trial and wrote an article about how this trial can be a jumping off point to discuss other issues of racial profiling. Hopefully, once the trial goes into jury deliberations maybe the television news stations can stop being so obsessed with the events of the trial and start discussing the bigger issues represented in this case. Until next post….