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Screams of pain(?)

August 31, 2012 2 comments

Over on the Frederick Leatherman Law blog, commenter ‘Patricia’ has a rather detailed hypothesis of how the altercation between GZ and TM occurred, in which she opines that the screams resulted from GZ having Trayvon gripped in some kind of pain-inducing ‘hold’, which he could have executed from either a superior position, or lying on his back with the youth above him trying to push himself away, but unable to do so.

The more I think about Patricia’s analysis, the more I find this idea that GZ had TM in some sort of painful ‘hold’ persuasive, and I am cross-posting here the discussion of the matter I placed on the Leatherman site.

We can ask: what would account for the KIND of screams heard on W11′s 911 call? There only seem to be 4 physically possible answers since there were only 2 people there:

1. George Zimmerman was screaming in pain for reasons he is covering up with lies.
2. George Zimmerman was screaming in pain for the reasons he told the police: Trayvon Martin was smashing his head into the ground and/or trying to smother him, and/or George was getting beaten in the face by Trayvon’s fists.
3. Trayvon Martin was screaming in anguished fear of death because George Zimmerman was pointing a loaded gun at him at point blank range.
4. Trayvon Martin was screaming in pain because George Zimmerman was hurting him physically.

Due to GZ’s thorough mendacity we can’t totally discount #1, but there’s no evidence for it so we’ll leave it aside.

#2 is essentially physically impossible by virtue of the nature of the sounds on the 911 call alone, not to mention GZ’s lack of serious injury.

#3 is what I had been assuming, but in light of Patricia’s argument I’m thinking the particular tone of the anguish is not consistent with psychological terror. I’m not talking about the INTENSITY of the distress, but literally it’s tonal quality. Even in the height of abject fear, I think a person might utter more words, and clearer words than we hear on the recording. Not just “Help!” but “Don’t” “Please” “Don’t Shoot” etc. Instead it’s hard to make out any words at all. Audio forensics expert Alan Reich has argued that the words “I’m begging you” are audible within the screams. But the fact that they are not that clear suggests they were articulated through some physical distress. the majority of the screams are really more like howls, of the kind I might make when I drop a heavy tool on the infected ingrown toenail of my left foot (as I did the other day…)

#4 not only matches the sounds themselves, but fits some conditions that seem to have been likely in the situation. In JohnW6′s 911 call, before IMHO he got ‘poisoned’ by suggestion, he describes the two men as ‘wrestling’, and all the witness statements taken together are more consistent with the men being quite close to one another on the ground, rather than some distance apart – even to the extent of one lying down and the other sitting up. The physical evidence from the autopsy and the examination of GZ suggests that this was not a struggle of blows at all, which leaves either not much struggle, or a struggle of holding and grabbing (i.e. wrestling) as possibilities. Zimmerman was able to obtain work as a bouncer. Barring the (plausible) possibility he lied his way into that gig without having any qualifications, bouncers generally have to know how to get a physical advantage on unruly patrons without permanently injuring them. Like, say, putting them in painful holds and asking them nicely to leave. I would also guess that Air Marshalls like GZ’s self-defense mentor Mark Osterman receive special training on how to gain physical control of unruly airplane passengers without permanently injuring them or causing potential harm to the flight or other passengers. Sounds like knowledge of ‘holds’ to me. It also just makes more sense that gung-ho vigilante that he may be, GZ would not go right to the gun, but would try physical restraint first. After all, it’s more manly and bad-ass c.f. Chuck Norriss.

Of course, If GZ was inflicting physical pain on Trayvon Martin, there’s no self defense claim and he’s guilty of Murder 2, even if he did only draw his gun in response to something he interpreted at Trayvon reaching for it. I’m not denying the possibility he may have decided he needed to shoot TM to keep the boy from telling his side of the story. (I think that’s possible, but not really probable…) that would be Murder 1, of course, but it would be awfully hard for the State to prove, and they can get him put away for a very long time not just on Murder 2, but even on Manslaughter with the mandatory special circumstances under Florida law.

So the question becomes, what additional evidence could support possibility #4, and do we think the State investigators will bother to go look for it. Are painful restraints part of Osterman’s skill set? Did he teach his moves to George? Did George have any other training in that area, formal or otherwise? (Martial arts courses?) Did George ever display abilities to put people in painful holds on any other occasion, either for real or even as a gag? What medical tests, if any, could reveal if someone had been restrained via a painful ‘hold’, and if such tests were not performed on Trayvon’s body at the autopsy, would his remains reveal any telltale traces if the body were exhumed for a more thorough investigation?

GZ’s last u-turn

August 28, 2012 11 comments

At 7:11:15 in GZ’s NEN call, there is a ‘whoosh whoosh’ sound in the background, followed by a thump.  I am relatively sure this is GZ turning the steering wheel and then putting the truck back into ‘Park.’ My hypothesis is that GZ was parked on TTL facing the clubhouse (West), and that after Trayvon walked past him he made a u-turn so he could continue to surveil Trayvon. Thus he was parked facing East when he left the truck.

tchoupi’s security video analysis (http://imgur.com/a/bcAII) indicates GZ’s drove slowly past the mailbox area, continued East on TTL, and then made a u-turn and turned off his lights, all before he placed the NEN call. (Lights go off at ~ 7:09:00; GZ calls the cops at 7:09:34). tchoupi does not mention another u-turn after this in his analysis.

However, there actually is a ‘light event’ on TTL, captued by the East Pool security camera,  around the time I’m thinking GZ made that last u-turn during the call. That might be GZ u-turning, or not. You’d have to ask tchoupi to parse the patterns. If GZ did make a turn, he might not have turned on his lights right away.

What we DO know from the security video is that GZ did NOT have his lights on during the first part of the NEN call. There seems to have been enough light in the clubhouse area for him to see Trayvon there w/o the use of his headlights.

We also DO know, per NLME’s meticulous investigation into the Ridgeline warning chimes, that at some point GZ turned his lights back on, and he did not turn them off when he left the truck. We can also see that the the truck lights do NOT show up for any significant period of time in the East Pool video around the time he left the truck. Therefore, it’s logical to conclude that the lights were on, but the truck was facing the other way at this time.

This makes sense in terms of the fact that various witnesses have observed that the area of the T is poorly lit. Once TM walked past GZ’s truck, he not only would have been harder to surveil because GZ would have to use his mirrors, but also because he would have been heading into darkness.

If GZ did make that last u-turn to continue to keep Trayvon in sight, even without turning Trayvon would have had to see the headlight beams coming around and stopping when they captured him in their path. One would think this would have scared him enough to mention the lights to DeeDee, but she does not say anything about him describing movement of the truck. About this time, though, she is saying he’s scared, he says the man is following him, she’s telling him to run, and he says he’s going to wait to run “from the back.” The sounds I’m interpreting as this last u-turn occur 26 seconds before GZ sees Trayvon start to run. This is about the time is would have taken him him, walking fast, to travel from where tchoupi thinks the truck was stopped to just before the T where he took off running.

So,basically, i think everything adds up to there being one last u-turn about 30 seconds before GZ began his pursuit by foot.

I can only imagine how eerie it must have been for Trayvon to see those headlights swing around from behind and settle on his path, and what must have been running through his mind for those 26 seconds. He must have fought back his flight instincts, mustering the courage NOT to run, until he reached the North-South sidewalk.

911 call times – UPDATE

August 23, 2012 4 comments

I just realized there may be (another) slight error in my deduced match-ups of 911 callers to call start times. You know, the ones I identified as only ‘probable’ but the whole interwebs now seems to be taking as established fact without attribution or qualification (shame, shame, interwebs).

I had originally deduced:

7:16:11   JenniferW11
7:16:41   W3 (“white shirt”)
7:17:06   TeresaW19 (concerned for “elderly gentleman”)
7:17:15   JayneW18 (‘the teacher’)
7:17:54  Mary Cutcher
7:18:00  JohnW6
7:19:04  W15 (Austin McLendon’s sister)

I based these on synching up as best I could the one constant in all but the first and last calls: the point at which the caller first mentions the arrival of a person with a flashlight on the scene. There’s some room for error there in that the witnesses do not necessarily mention this right as they see it. They may be talking to the 911 operator about something else, finish that thought, and then note ‘there’s someone here with a flashlight now.’

But what I didn’t know at the time I made this correlations was where JayneW18 lives. She’s the only 911 caller, and only witness we know of so far, who lives in the building running East-West North of the ‘T’. All the other callers live on one side of the North-South ‘dog walk’ sidewalk or the other. What this means is that W18 is the only witness (with the possible exception of Jennifer and Jeremy, who say they were hiding and not looking outside after the gunshot) with a view of RVC and the East end of the sidewalk between TTL and RVC. So she would have been able to see JonW13 as soon as he rounded the corner from the front of his home, and also Ofc. Smith as soon as he turned onto the sidewalk from RVC.

Thus, she would have been able to spot each of the two flashlights several seconds before any of the other witnesses who mentioned them. Taking that in mind, and also that Mary Cutcher did not call 911 until AFTER she and Selma Mora had attempted to speak to Zimmerman, my adjusted deduced call times are:

7:16:11   JenniferW11
7:16:41   W3 (“white shirt”)
7:17:06   JayneW18 (‘the teacher’)
7:17:15   TeresaW19 (concerned for “elderly gentleman”)
7:17:54  JohnW6
7:18:00  Mary Cutcher
7:19:04  W15 (Austin McLendon’s sister)

As you can see, both of these adjustments only entail relatively short differences in time, 9 seconds and 6 seconds respectively. However, they have two possible points of significance, relating to JayneW18’s call. First, she told both Anderson Cooper and Ashleigh Banfield of CNN in ‘disguised’ interviews that she was on the phone with 911 when the gunshot went off, but the recording clearly starts AFTER the shot. However, if she connected at 7:17;06, it’s somewhat more likely that she had the phone in her hand and was in the process of dialing when the shot went off, thus going to her credibility. Second, the more clarity on where and when she saw Ofc. Smith, the better we can estimate Smith’s arrival at the actual scene of the shooting, measuring the time that passed between the shot and the point JonW13 showed up, and the time that passed while GZ and JonW13 were talking before Ofc. Smith showed up and took GZ into custody.

Click clack, gun rack wack

August 13, 2012 1 comment

I’m seeing a lot of crazy conjecture in the Team Trayvon blogotubosphere, as people parse the recording of George Zimmerman’s police call, coming up with some far out claims about words they think they hear in the background, or interpretations of what the audible background noises MUST be. By far the most attention has been paid to the sequence of three clicking sounds that occur at 7:12:15 (about 2:41 into call), at the end of GZ’s active chase of Trayvon, and just before he tells operator Sean his last name is “Zimmerman.”

A lot of people seem to think this sound is George Zimmerman  ‘cocking’ his gun, or rather, as the gun experts point out, racking the magazine to be precise since automatic weapons do not need to be cocked. A YouTube user with the handle “Zimmerman Lies” posted a video titled “George Zimmerman Cocking Sound” comparing the sound on the police call recording to the sound of a Kel-Tec PF9 being racked as obtained from a demo video of the gun. The video shows some sound waveform patterns to go along with the audio, and while “Zimmerman Lies” doesn’t openly claim the sounds match, that would seem to be the implication.

The sounds are not the same. If the Kel-Tec demo is what a gun being racked sounds like, then the clicks on the police call are not a gun.

 

The sounds have a similar pattern, but the ‘timbre’ is quite different, as the above video demonstrates. To be more specific, the sharp attack and direct decay of the noises on the NEN call is characteristic of sound made by an impact. In this case, my guess is it’s a battery bouncing against the inside of a metal flashlight barrel. On the other hand, the longer rise times and the sustain of the waveforms of the gun are characteristic of something sliding against something else, in this case quickly enough that it sounds like a ‘click’ at normal speed. I know nothing about guns, but I guess that’s how they work: you pull the slide back, a bullet pops up into the chamber, and then the slide goes forward. Each of those is metal moving against metal, rather than metal sharply striking metal. The top waves look like the first, the bottom ones like the second.

Also, we know GZ had a phone in one hand, and was also carrying a flashlight. Unless he’s an alien with a concealable third hand, racking a magazine at the same time would be a neat trick.

Who keeps the gate in the gated community?

August 13, 2012 17 comments

A recent comment on the Leatherman blog (http://frederickleatherman.wordpress.com/) about how Mark Osterman would have gotten through the gate at The Retreat got me thinking about the gate.

Back in the days when there were functioning discussions of the Martin case on wagist.com, someone inquired when The Retreat closes its gate. Someone who lived in the area, and had actually gone to The Retreat to look into renting a townhome there before the shooting reported that the gates close at 7PM.  After that, guests arriving have to call a resident to let them in.

I’m not sure exactly how the gates work. There’s no guard shack at the entrance, so they’re not controlled manually. I would guess they’re motorized, so that when a resident arrives after they close, the resident puts a key or keycard into a box, and the gates swing open. There is a box before the gate that looks like it might contain a phone panel for guests to call residents to be let in.

So, I have two questions:

1. Would calls from this phone system show up on any telephone records? Of course, guests might call their hosts via cell phone as well, and not use whatever system is in place, but of course that would leave a record in the cell phone call logs. Since I’m guessing The Retreat’s system interconnects with the land-line phone system, I’m thinking it might generate records of calls as well.

2. When the gates close at 7PM, is that just an automatic event triggered by some kind of clock, or does some human being actually go out and make sure the gates close and are working properly? Does someone act as a gatekeeper and walk to the gate area at 7PM?

Why these questions are relevant:

1. If you can’t get into The Retreat after 7PM without a.) someone who’s already at the gate opening it for you, or b.) making some kind of phone call that would be logged by some telecom provider, then it’s almost certain Mark Osterman would have to have made such a call if, as he said, he arrived at The Retreat after the shooting, having been contacted by Shellie Zimmerman. If there is no record of Osterman making some kind of call to request entry, that would indicate he arrived at The Retreat before 7PM. This would add support to the ‘tip-off’ hypothesis: Osterman saw Trayvon taking the Northwest shortcut as he drove down Oregon Ave., saw the young man walking as he drove counterclockwise on Retreat View, and mentioned to George Zimmerman that he had seen a stranger on the grounds when he got to his friends home.

2. DeeDee’s statement places TM under the mailbox awning at 6:54. If the State could prove that was the case beyond a reasonable doubt, then they prove beyond a reasonable doubt that GZ did not spot TM by Taaffe’s while driving to Target, and that will have to make an impact on a jury (or a judge in an immunity hearing). But DeeDee alone doesn’t get them beyond reasonable doubt. If they have just one corroborating witness that saw TM under the mailbox awning, and could verify that the time was before 7PM, then that solidifies DeeDee’s timing, and the whole first chunk of GZ’s story is gone. If someone actually goes out to close or check the gate at 7PM, there’s a good chance they would have seen Trayvon under the awning, had he been there, and of course they would remember the time. Establishing that Trayvon was at the mailboxes before 7Pm, thus before GZ could have left his home, shows GZ to be fabricating major elements of his account, beyond a reasonable doubt, and in a simple, easily comprehensible way that doesn’t involve anything as esoteric as parsing light patterns in the security videos, or doing the math to show that GZ’s account of events in the ‘re-enactment’ don’t match the times it would have taken tose events to occur.

Of course, even if there isn’t a human gatekeeper, someone else could have noticed TM in passing. If i were the prosecutor, I would have investigators canvassing the whole complex for anyone who might have seen TM at the mailboxes, or anywhere inside The Retreat for that matter, BEFORE 7PM…

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I was quoted in the ‘Miami Herald’ (out of context, of course)

August 7, 2012 1 comment

Co-incidentally (or not), as I was working on my last post about the nature of journalistic reporting as not-evidence (not that it should be, even if it could, which it can’t…), an article on “amateur sleuths” blogging about the George Zimmerman – Trayvon Martin shooting appeared in the Miami Herald — in which I was quoted!

http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/08/04/v-fullstory/2933157/the-trayvon-martin-truth-squad.html

So here’s my little part of the article:

“You have a CSI phenomenon, where people think you can take a blurry video, focus it and find the truth,” said a blogger who goes by “whonoze.”

“On the other hand there are indisputable facts: the non-emergency call, Google maps and a clock. Stick those things together. People were not doing that, and were coming up with scenarios that were physically impossible.”

Not very clear what i mean there, IMHO. I talked to the reporter, Frances Robles for like over 2 hours. That got condensed in the article down to the 55 words above. I knew something like that would happen and I’m not surprised. (FWIW, Robles seemed nice, reasonable, and disposed to the healthy skepticism toward actors in this case that old-school journalists are supposed to affect.) My quotes do appear out of context, though (which may be Robles’ construction, or the result of snips made by her editor), so I thought I should explain here more precisely what I was trying to talk about.

The first sentence is a reference to the false belief, bolstered by TV and movie fictions,  that low-quality recording can be ‘enhanced’ to reveal previously hidden ‘truths.’ In the martin/Zimmerman case this is evidenced most paradigmatically by the many interpretations of the surveillance vid of GZ arriving at SPD — all of said interpretations, seeming to either support GZ or undercut him, basically being full of bull puckey.

The second sentence refers not so much to the temporal impossibilities of squaring GZ’s statements and re-enactment with the NEN call, but to the early media coverage of the “no arrest scandal” that either implied GZ directly chased TM down instigated a confrontation and shot him, or explicitly presented that sort of scenario: for example a ‘walk-through’ created by Joy Anne Reid on theGrio.com, and used on a couple MSNBC shows.

The ‘people’ I was referring to as not mining the physical evidence for the incontrovertible facts that are there were the mainstream press. I was expressing my disappointment that the press did not interrogate that evidence in a way that would led to more accurate reporting. Frances’ reply to this was basically, “that’s not my job.” And, as my previous post indicates, I know that to be true. So my remark quoted n the article was more along the lines of that post here: a critique of institutional values and standard practices, not a charge of negligence aimed at any specific reporter or media outlet.

It would be a good thing for society, democracy, yadda yadda, if news media did a lot more investigative reporting on all kinds of things. That’s not going to happen because news is a business, and a struggling one at that, and investigative digging doesn’t help the bottom line. (Where have you gone, I. F. Stone?)

That’s how I got started in this whole thing. I was so PO’ed the media couldn’t put a clock on the NEN call, I did it myself. I was so PO’ed the media couldn’t report which 911 call came in when, i figured it out myself. I was so PO’ed they couldn’t cross-check the time factors established by these calls with the space factors revealed by a Google satellite view of The Retreat, I did it myself.

Note to Jose Baez: I am old, and kind of a shut-in, but I’m male and I only have one cat. She weighs over 17 pounds, a bit chubby but mainly just huge. I can’t imagine dealing with nine of her kind. There’d be no place to step on the floor without stomping on sleeping cat. And the cat hair… I can only shudder.

Categories: Uncategorized

The difference between journalism and evidence

August 7, 2012 1 comment

In my last post I noted that ABC news had edited a soundbite from DeeDee’s interview with Benjamin Crump “in a way some commentators may find questionable.” My somewhat vague and obtuse language there indicates that am not prepared to condemn ABC for making a vague reference to who started the altercation between GZ and TM sound more damning of Mr. Zimmerman. Nor do I think anyone should have been fired over the NBC story that edited out dispatcher Sean’s request for Zimmerman to describe the person he found suspicious before he said “and he’s black.” Nor did any news agency go over  some un-crossable line ending their soundbites of Zimmerman’s police call to end at, “Are you following him?” “Yeah.” leaving the impression that Zimmerman pursued Martin directly until he caught up with then young man, when in fact the very next thing that happened is that Zimmerman lost contact with Martin, and thus was no longer following him.

Each of these instances are ‘sketchy’, to use the vernacular of the day, and would be serious breaching of ethics, I would assume, if presented in court without explanation. If I were Mr. Zimmerman, or his attorney, I would be unhappy about all of them. We could certainly debate the proposition that journalists shouldn’t do things like this, or at least not when covering trials. But I doubt we’d get very far, because we would have a very hard time distinguishing inappropriate ‘things like this’ from the things journalists do all the time. every day.

Journalism, by which here I mean ‘reporting,’ is one of the most mystified activities in public life. People think, they know how it works, but they don’t. Though the line between ‘reporting’ and ‘commentary’ has all but been obliterated on cable news channels, we may still hold to some conceptual distinction, that it is possible to separate these things, or to label this bit of verbiage as one and a different bit of verbiage as another. All in all, this mixing on the cable channels isn’t necessarily a horrible thing, because it can help us realize that we never understood the nature of ‘reporting’ anyway.

The journalism establishment, going back about a century to the point where the New York Times displaced the sensationalist papers of Hearst and Pulitzer, has long raised the banners of ‘objectivity,’ ‘fairness,’ ‘balance,’ and similar sorts of hooey. And so journalists really have only themselves to blame for the fact that the public does not understand what they do, and holds them to standards they can never meet. The doctrine of objective journalism, the facts and nothing but the facts, rose in Western culture about the same time as the doctrine of scientific objectivity and detachment, and people sometimes get he two confused. Reporting is not science, and oh yeah, those ‘objective and detached’ scientists created nuclear, chemical and biological warfare.

I have never been a professional reporter myself, but I have a PhD from a school of journalism and am pretty well read in the extensive sociology of news. I know what reporters do, what they have to do. Their job can best be described as “Provide information about the subject your editor has assigned you in a way that will make it both quickly comprehensible, and dramatic enough to cut through the noise field of postindustrial everyday life so it will get your reader’s attention.” A political agenda one way or the other is the farthest thing from a reporter’s mind. Just filling the news hole on deadline is job 1. Job 2 is making it ‘sexy’ (dog bites man isn’t even fishwrap, man bites dog is news). Job 3 is making it make some kind of sense, more or less. And to do all this, you have a few hours at best, before the next broadcast or the next web edition goes up. So the everyday bias of all reporting is toward the neatly intertwined ends of simplification and sensation. It grans eyeballs, and it’s easy to understand.

So you’ve noticed that real life is more complicated than anything you ever see on the news. Do you know what happens when you try to deal with that complexity? You go that way just a little and you wind up on PBS with 1/10th the audience you had before. The viewer s are in a hurry. They’re just skimming. If they can’t pick up what you’re saying, their eyes glaze over and they don’t even hear you at all!

And then there’s the fact that media technologies really do mediate. They are not magic windows onto remote realities. You, the viewer, are NOT there. Though, as I said,  I’ve never been a reporter, I do have a good deal of experience making documentary films, which is a similar venture in that our goal is to go out into the real world, and record some kind of audio and video ‘actualities’ (things that happen outside of the filmmakers’ arranging to have them happen) that can be used to tell some kind of ‘truth’ about the world. Upon embarking on one’s first serious such attempt, the beginning documentarian is typically brutally struck by the inadequacy of the medium to convey the reality actual experienced by a human witness to events in a real place in real time. You come back to edit lab with your footage of something you actually saw that was compelling in some way or another. You watch the footage. It seems flat. it’s NOT speaking for itself. Your first instinct is to cut it in a fairly strict chronological order, trying to preserve as much of the ‘reality’ of the event as possible. You realize this makes the result worse. It fails to communicate the reality you experienced. So you look at your resources and ask, “OK how do I communicate what’s really important here, using these pieces?” And you start cutting out parts, shifting things around a little, and things butt up together in a way they didn’t in reality, but in a way that EXPRESSES what was important about what did really happen. This is bascially how every documentary filmmaker from Robert Flaherty on has worked.

Now news is a little different. In my experience ‘reporters’ are less sophisticated about the medium, less conscious of the fact they’re “lying to tell the truth”. They also don’t have the same ‘on the ground’ relation to ‘reality’ as documentarians do. They may not have been on the scene at all, or only briefly. But the problem they face is the same. They have to make a call about “what do people really need to know about this thing?” and then they have to present their material in a way that the audience ‘gets’ that important thing. And working under the time pressures they face, and the limited exposure to events they have, their best most honest guesses about “what’s really important? what do people really need to know?” are wrong at least to some degree fairly often.

So, I would assume then, that when NBC made that audio edit that got people fired, the person who created the ‘package’ was trying to get to the heart of the matter, and had determined by listening to the call in it’s entirety that race seemed to be a factor in Zimmerman’s suspicion and pursuit of Martin. Cutting in a more ‘accurate’ unedited soundbite could actually be considered MORE un-ethical because it would confuse the audience and give the impression that the reporter  had determined race played no role in Zimmerman’s actions. The same goes for the edit in DeeDee’s remarks. If the editor leaves in the vague reference to the fight starting in a soundbite that is acting, in the context of the news package, as a synecdoche for DeeDee’s statement as a whole, the arguably the story misrepresents the overall statement by accurately presenting the specific phrase un-editied.

The thing is, journalists are TELLING STORIES not OFFERING EVIDENCE. Fox News’ “We report. You decide.” is actually a far more pernicious lie than “Fair and Balanced” because the fundamental fact of journalism is that the journalist must decide what to report and how. What details exactly? In what order? And in the soundbite driven world of the constantly refreshing here-today-gone-this-afternoon news cycle, the stories have a powerful bias towards the simple-minded and away from complexity. Which means that reporters, however sophisticated an analysis they may be capable of generating, develop habits-of-mind toward simple-mindedness. But even more nuanced stories are about painting a bigger picture, not nitpicking details.

If this sounds like I’m giving ‘the media’ a pass, I’m not really. By my own concept of what journalistic practices ought to be, I think once MSNBC decided to cover the Martin case, they should have tasked a good investigative reporter to review the physical evidence, and any minimally competent researcher would have recognized that the way “Are you following him? Yeah!” was being used was misleading and prejudicial.

But my point in this post is about how we should treat media reports, either as amateur/semi-pro or whatever sleuths trying to figure out the Martin/Zimmerman case, or just as citizens trying to become informed. It is incumbent on us to understand how reporting works, to realize that we are being told stories, not presented with evidence, to take the news for what it’s worth – which is not nothing, even if it isn’t what we think it is.

Specifically, whenever you encounter any type of soundbite you must understand that it has been taken out of context. The reporter probably has chosen it because the reporter believes the selected part is an accurate trope for the whole, but the reporter may well be wrong. In addition to the edit pulling it out of context, the soundbite may well be edited internally with elements deleted or re-arranged. This alone does not make it dishonest or false. It is, rather, a human interpretation of the significance of events and statements, which is all the media can offer. You are NOT there. You are NOT seeing things and hearing things for yourself. Somebody has selected some pictures and some words to present to you, out of an infinite field of facts, because that somebody believes those pictures and words will tell you what THEY think is important. That’s the only thing they can do. You just need to realize it is what it is, and treat it as such.