Media – Truth-telling Friend or Biased Foe?

Guest Post by Breana Glisch, Corporate Communication Student

It would probably be fairly difficult to find someone who isn’t somewhat familiar with the Trayvon Martin case. Maybe you know a few details, overheard people discussing the verdict or maybe you watched every moment of the trial.  Whether you know some of what happened or you watched the trial and chose a side, the Trayvon Martin case is a perfect example of how media coverage and the portrayal of individuals can influence people’s perceptions or possibly alter the reality of a situation.

Most of the time it’s not hard to figure out whether the news coverage you’re watching is right or left. While media is supposed to be objective and unbiased, everyone knows Fox News is conservative and MSNBC is liberal with CNN in the middle, supposedly neutral. Journalists are supposed to search for and report on the truth, but whose truth is it and does it greatly affect an outcome? It’s nearly impossible for a source to be completely neutral, just ask the people who watched coverage of Trayvon Martin’s death.

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So, which side did you hear? Trayvon Martin – a hoodie-wearing thug who initiated a fight with the neighborhood watchman? Or Trayvon Martin – a teenager, who was walking home on a rainy night when he was followed, confronted and ultimately killed? Maybe you watched coverage showing a slightly old picture of Trayvon – a young smiling boy and his killer – a mug shot of a wannabe cop who profiled and shot him. Maybe you saw a different source showing Martin in a hoodie, not smiling and Zimmerman smiling and cleaned up in a suit and tie. Whichever story you heard and whichever pictures you saw likely had some effect on your feelings about the incident. One could say the truth is this – Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old was involved in an altercation with George Zimmerman, a 28 year old neighborhood watch coordinator who fatally shot the teenager one rainy night.

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This case received so much attention and had strong opinions from many different outlets. It was nearly impossible not to see some coverage of Zimmerman’s trial and if you did see it, you more than likely had your own opinion of who was the aggressor and who was the victim, but how much did the media portrayals of those involved influence what you saw as the truth? One could argue that the real truth was only known by two individuals and one of them is dead. However, journalists still have a duty to report on the case, but how responsible are they? Do they always need to be completely ethical when searching for and reporting on tragedies such as Trayvon Martin’s death or do they just need to find a story that will sell? Does what they say really affect how we think or feel about these incidents?

I would argue that journalist should do their best to find all the facts and report on these, being fair to all sides and with as little bias as possible. At some point we all form an opinion, but we should have facts. Still, the facts could come from Fox News, with Trayvon Martin as a troubled teen who started the altercation or from HLN with Trayvon Martin as a scared young boy with nothing but candy and a beverage making his way home. Regardless of where “truth” comes from, what we see and hear from the media does have some effect on how we feel about things such as Trayvon’s death and the verdict for George Zimmerman.

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