The George Zimmerman trial and The Philadelphia Inquirer

Were we to ask Robert J Hall, the Publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer, or William K Marlmow, the Editor, or Harold Jackson, the Editorial Page Editor, about the journalistic integrity and accuracy of their fine and historic newspaper, they would all tell us that they strive diligently to get all of the facts right. If seems, however, that the facts sometimes take a back seat to their political agenda when those two things do not agree. Today’s lead editorial:1

Zimmerman’s acquittal shouldn’t lead to riches

George Zimmerman smiles after the jury delivered a not-guilty verdict in the slaying of Trayvon Martin.

Posted: Monday, July 15, 2013, 1:07 AM

It would be a shame if the unnecessary death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin produced more paydays for the man who fatally shot the unarmed black teenager in the heart during a scuffle. But George Zimmerman, the Sanford, Fla., neighborhood watch captain who has already received hundreds of thousands of dollars from gun-rights advocates and other supporters, is likely to be offered millions through lucrative book and movie deals.

I suppose that we will see if Mr Zimmerman is actually able to profit from the experience through which he has been; I have said previously that I doubt that to be the case, and that I believe that his life is forever ruined, with Mr Zimmerman being effectively unemployable. I see no reason that a man who has been tried in a court of law and found not guilty by a jury of his peers and fellow citizens should not be allowed to make a living any legal way that he can, but I can understand that that is the Inquirer’s opinion. But a couple paragraphs further down is where I have a real problem:

That a verdict was returned at night almost seemed by design to reduce the possibility of sparking protests that might turn violent. But heated arguments stemming from Martin’s death at the hands of the white Hispanic defendant 17 months ago will likely continue for a long time. People remain bitterly divided not only by race, but their attitudes toward Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law. The eight-year-old law, which has been mimicked in more than 20 other states, is an abomination. It extends the so-called Castle Doctrine – which gives a person the legal right to use deadly force in his home – to anywhere, anytime. Zimmerman’s lawyers contended that Florida’s law, which does not require a person to use deadly force only as a last resort, gave their client the right to shoot Martin. They presented testimony suggesting that Zimmerman, though he outweighed Martin, was unable to protect himself otherwise in their fight. Given that the law was such a huge hurdle to overcome, the decision to charge Zimmerman with second-degree murder is being criticized by other legal experts. Indeed, the prosecutors all but admitted failure to prove that charge when late in the trial they succeeded in getting the judge to instruct the all-female jury – five white women and one Hispanic – that they could also consider convicting Zimmerman of the lesser charge of manslaughter. But in the end, Stand Your Ground prevailed.

No, no, no, no, no! Possibly because Judge Debra Nelson had rejected a “stand your ground” defense in a prior case, Mr Zimmerman and his attorneys did not use the “stand your ground” laws as part of their defense:

But not in this case, which is testing Mr. Zimmerman’s claims of self-defense and spotlighting Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. That law has not been invoked in this case, but was cited by the Sanford police as the reason officers did not initially arrest Mr. Zimmerman.

Emphasis mine.

I suppose that we ought not to be surprised that the media, much of whom abhor the stand your ground laws, would try to use this case to attack those laws, but at least The New York Times article noted that Mr Zimmerman did not try to use that law.

You will have to follow the link back to the Inquirer original to read the rest,2 but, if you do, you will find an editorial that was either deliberately misleading or written by an editor who failed to familiarize himself with the facts. If that editorial happened to be your only source of information about the trial, you would almost certainly believe that Mr Zimmerman and his attorneys used “stand your ground” as their defense.

The Inquirer has every right to oppose the various “stand your ground” laws editorially. But for a major metropolitan daily, one which prides itself on its history and reputation, to either deliberately or negligently use a case in which the “stand your ground” law was never invoked as a means to attack those laws is journalistically unethical.
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  1. The Philadelphia Inquirer, Monday, 15 July 2013, p. A-10
  2. Inquirer articles are sometimes deleted after a given amount of time, which is why I provided the citation to the print edition in the previous footnote.

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