Cool Story, Bro, If Only It Was Accurate

It was huge news, as it should have been. The headline in the Washington Post read, “Juror B29, ‘Maddy,’ says ‘Zimmerman got away with murder’.”  Wow. Except as William Saletan writes in Slate, that’s not quite what she said.

The reports are based on an ABC News interview with Juror B29, the sole nonwhite juror. She has identified herself only by her first name, Maddy. She’s been framed as the woman who was bullied out of voting to convict Zimmerman. But that’s not true. She stands by the verdict.

ABC News hasn’t posted a full unedited video or transcript of the interview. The video that has been broadcast—on World News Tonight, Nightline, and Good Morning America—has been cut and spliced in different ways, often so artfully that the transitions appear continuous. So beware what you’re seeing. But the video that’s available already shows, on closer inspection, that Maddy has been manipulated and misrepresented.

I was as outraged as everyone else when I saw the headline news, and now I’m outraged at being lied to. Anything to create a controversy, to fuel a story, even if it’s not really a story at all. And everyone who heard it, read it, saw it, is now worse for having done so. Don’t blame the Constitution for granting the press the freedom to be wrong. Blame the press for choosing to mislead you to get an extra eyeball and a quick buck. This defiles the aspirations of the Constitution.

At the Faculty Lounge, a similar deconstruction of another story was laid bare by Michelle Meyer.

Now, the original police log of Zimmerman’s calls has been available to everyone with an Internet connection and two minutes to spare since March of 2012. Nevertheless, on July 16, 2013, The New Republic published an essay in which a distinguished law professor wrote the following (emphasis in original):

. . . Zimmerman was an edgy basket case with a gun who had called 911 46 times in 15 months, once to report the suspicious activities of a seven year old black boy.

That sentence contains three factual errors (the broader article contains others), two of which I noted in my prior post. First, and probably of least importance, many of Zimmerman’s 46 calls (reporting 43 incidents) were made to the non-emergency police number (not just to 911). Second, and of more import, Zimmerman made 46 calls over 7.5 years (not over 15 months). Third, and most egregiously, Zimmerman’s call (to the non-emergency police number) regarding a seven-to-nine-year-old black boy was placed because Zimmerman was “concerned for [the] well being” of that child, who was walking unaccompanied on a busy street (see page 37).

The New Republic at first made tepid corrections, bordering on technically accurate while remaining deliberately misleading. Because of the unrelenting pressure of Jonathan Adler at VC, it was finally corrected for real. Does it really need to be this hard to get press reports to be even relatively accurate?

It’s hard to justify our being fed quasi-truth, truthiness as Colbert called it, to mold our views and opinions to conform with political relativity or the media’s desire to create or maintain controversy to keep us watching long enough for a commercial break. I suspect for those who remain pinned to the belief that Zimmerman was a racist who should have been convicted regardless of law, their leanings make these half-truths, these lies, worthwhile.

If it’s worthwhile to keep people talking about it, then maybe people who subscribe to such beliefs won’t be troubled about the public being fed nonsense as long as it feeds their team view.

Sure, it sucks when you hold a belief so strongly that you desperately want the facts to bear it out, to prove your point.  Sometimes it seems that way at first, but later disclosures fail to support it. Sometimes it remains something of a mystery, and you try to conform the facts with Occam’s Razor to support your position. Sometimes it turns out that it just won’t work.

But to deliberately publish something that creates controversy, that promotes a political perspective, and turns out to be less than true, you are lying.

There exists an implicit trust between the media and the public, that the media won’t fabricate stories out of whole cloth and fill our heads with lies. The virtue of the First Amendment is that it prevents the government from silencing the media from telling the truth, because we must have the truth for a republic to function. When the press violates that trust, whether for well-intended reasons or crass, self-serving reasons, it is a blow to the gut. To whom do we turn if not the press?

I was all set this morning to write about Juror B29, Maddy, and her assertion, until I saw that it was the product of artful editing designed to mislead us, me, into thinking she said something she really didn’t. Instead, it’s another instance of people, me, being made stupider for having read it.

As was asked of me yesterday, why I get so angry about the media promoting misinformation for its own purposes, even if the information seems to back things that I believe in, it’s because my agenda, whether legal or political, takes a back seat to reality. Of course I want to persuade people that the things I believe in are right, true, accurate, but I do not want to do so by using lies and misinformation.

Others, perhaps, are of the view that they will use whatever is necessary to get people to agree with their perspective. I get it, the cause matters more than the truth. And for those who believe more in the cause than the truth, I’m dead wrong because I continue to sacrifice the cause in the name of telling the truth.

And maybe I am dead wrong. Maybe the cause matters more than the truth, but I don’t think so and I’m not going to close my eyes real tight, scream “lalalalala” and spread lies to get you to see things my way. Even if I am dead wrong, and my purpose will be lost to the facts, the truth is still more important than winning anyone’s heart and mind with lies.  This could be why nobody picks me to be on their team, but then again, I really don’t want to be on any team that has to rely on lies to win.



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