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What effect will the media have on the Trayvon Martin case?

In a world in which news is generated minute by minute, readers in Virginia and throughout the nation are constantly inundated by an endless barrage of information. None of us is immune to our own beliefs, fears, and experiences skewing the way in which we sift through information as we try to get to the truth. Even journalists, whose job it is to provide accurate, unbiased information, are not always able to completely remove bias brought on by personal inclinations. In an age in which news and views are reported on television, radio, blogs and social media sites, how do media affect the results of criminal defense?

As many Virginia readers are aware, the recent shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin has gained a great deal of media attention. According to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, about 20 percent of the total news space was devoted to the incident. From March 19 to March 28, MSNBC devoted nearly half its coverage to the shooting. In comparison, the case made up 40 percent of CNN's coverage and 15 percent of Fox News'. Perhaps more important than the amount of coverage is the way in which details have been disputed by more partisan corners of the media.

Many people following this story have gotten radically different accounts of what happened depending on the news source. In some reports, Martin has been portrayed as an innocent victim of racially charged violence, and other sources have focused on his Internet postings, portraying him as a streetwise young man who might provoke a confrontation.

George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who shot Martin, has been portrayed as a racist would-be cop who used racial slurs on the 911 phone call that was made during the incident. Other accounts deny any racial slurs on the 911 tape, and portray Zimmerman as a mixed-race man who acted in self defense.

The shooting has become a racially charged event that undoubtedly deserves a great deal of attention to determine what really happened. No matter what the pundits say, anyone accused of a crime is afforded certain protections under the law. As we search for answers, will the media affect how we believe the events played out? Is a fair and just trial possible for Zimmerman? Will the biases that have been formed by the media coverage affect the result? These are questions Virginia residents may want to consider as the case makes its way through the court system.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Media gives ample coverage, little clarity to Trayvon Martin case," James Rainey, March 31, 2012

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