CNN, the news network that invented the 24 hours format, has taken news coverage to another level. One remarkable part of its savoir-faire is its capacity to bring the news back to one single story as if nothing else was happening in the US or the rest of the world. In this regard, George Zimmerman's trial for the shooting of Trayvon Martin is a masterpiece.
When the shooting occurred, it generated quite a few televised debates (many felt it had been a shooting motivated by racism, which in turn triggered marches and protests), but it is nothing compared to the actual trial - that happened to be in a State that allows cameras inside the courtroom! The amount of resources deployed by a news company of this size for one single story was impressive. They all got involved, including all the top anchors, and they all really seemed to care. A great number of experts where also invited to assist them. Together, they tried to foresee the outcome of the trial by assessing on a daily basis the tactics used by the defense and the prosecutors. It became some kind of very long Super Bowl final. But during the break, instead of a Beyonce show, we were served with the expectations created by the imminent arrival of one "special human being": a new member of the Royal family of the United Kingdom.
A show of skills and a super production. They really took the viewers through all the subtleties of the story. It felt like the Trial of the century!
The story reached its paroxysm with the verdict.The defense won.
Because this is what it was all about - two very qualified teams playing against one another. The jury, referee of that confrontation, finally took its decision, and George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second degree murder and manslaughter on the person of Trayvon Martin.
Then, everything went back to the starting point. Why did the jury decide unanimously that Zimmerman had acted in self-defense?
Can it be self-defense, anyway, when you are not actually attacked by someone?
On this matter, we found out that the State of Florida has its own legal interpretation. And it does not stipulate that someone, when sensing danger, should attempt to avoid that danger instead of confronting it. On the contrary. You can basically decide to avance on someone you FEEL threatening and end up shooting that person in an act of "self defense"! It is as if you are entitled to anticipate an act of "self defense" that may or may not happen. Weird!
Frankly, how can a jury of common citizens deal with such a tricky legal matter, bearing in mind that it took place in a complex context (it is quite wide indeed, Canadian blogger Stefan Molyneux, among many others, went through the whole thing and offered his own reconstitution and interpretation).
The bottom line is that this case is not about the "stand your ground" issue. The media, boosted by social media, took it back to the much more fundamental issue of race. And here comes the dichotomy of this tragic story. Some kind case all about racism was built in the public opinion, but it was tried as something merely technical.
I really ask myself how a country that rates itself so high, namely the United States of America, can still be immersed so deep into racial problems in 2013.
Does debating about race profit to somebody? Or is it because the issue of race is THE unsolved question of our societies to this day?
Nevertheless, CNN did its best to find out the truth for us, and while they were doing so, they had us reflect about race without really asking the hard questions about PROFILING, the main tool for the reproduction of racism. And they should have, because profiling seems to be legal grounds for shooting somebody in Florida.
But CNN was all about the show. And the post-trial phase has been even more intense than the trial itself. More experts and remembrances of past televised trials... Some great television moments, especially when they called back the amazing young lady that happened to be the key witness in that case. If I were to keep one positive part of this masquerade, that would be Rachel Jeantel. But they decided not to receive what she had to say because her language was not good enough for them!
What a trial.
As a demonstration of its power to control the story, CNN brought us juror B37. They made a point on helping us understand exactly why Zimmerman was not condemned. Did the jury make the right decision? We'll go and ask juror B37 to explain why she decided Zimmerman was not guilty of anything at all. After taking us into the court room, they've now put one foot inside the jury deliberation room. The sky is the limit.
How can a "common" story (as tragic as it was and very likely to be a hate crime) turn into a super production? Could it be a diversion? As a matter of fact, thanks to Zimmerman, CNN did not have to find ways not to address some huge stories happening at the time - the defection of Snowden and Michael Manning's trial.
With Snowden, there is more than the secrets he took out of the NSA. With Snowden, we can admire the capacity of media corporations to turn a banal domestic event into an international debate and stories of international interest into a rare appearance on a scrolling news feed.
When Snowden does appear, the trick is to portray him as a traitor. What the NSA have been doing does not matter, they do it for the well-being of good citizens, right? The American Constitution and the sovereignty of other countries can take one more blow for that good cause, can't they? Therefore, we must be made aware that the real danger comes from traitors and that whoever calls Snowden a hero cannot be in their right mind.
CIA contract worker Snowden is in possession of an unknown amount of extremely sensitive classified material, and he is living in Moscow international airport, almost going unnoticed. Ironically, Russia's top guy is a former KGB officer. I reckon that with regards to Manning, the media are waiting to see if they will be able to use him to reinforce the traitor narrative.
Meanwhile, let's take Zimmerman's trial as far as possible. Today, we are about to hear how Martin's parents feel, and we are still waiting for the president's statement. Is he going to comment? Should he? As an appetizer, a report explains everything about the cameras used by San Leandro's police in California to monitor license plates in great details. See the connection?
Having said that, let's go back to the international characteristic of CNN. As a matter of fact, the news network is supposed to inform its viewers about really important events happening around the world, and one such event happened to occur during Zimmerman's trial.
In Egypt (a regional power sharing a border with Israel), Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president since the fall of Mubarak, was taken out by the military.
This is commonly known as a coup.
There shouldn't be any confusion about the term, as it cannot be more simple - an elected civil president was removed by the military. Nevertheless, the media had a great deal of trouble to define if it was appropriate in this case. CNN used the word, but only to initially debate on its semantics. Webster's dictionary was used to show that the definition is not that simple. Jeffrey Martini from RAND was asked a few days later and explained why the US had better not use that term. Jim Clancy (CNN anchor) seemed relieved, as this meant that he could finally say the word, as far as he didn't question the fact that the government did not want to use it (The New York Times had apparently the same problem, and they chose to go for a wide range of synonyms in order to avoid the issue).
The highlight of Martini's analysis came through a question from Clancy : "Jeffrey, the bottom line is, it is not about politics, it is about economics. Who has a plan [to fix Egypt's problems]?" Martini gave us the good news. Friends of Egypt (Saoudi Arabia, Koweit, United Arab Emirates) are helping and the future looks brighter with technocrats such as Hazem El-Beblawi who are taking control of the economy.
Taking out the Muslim Brotherhood is not about politics. How can a journalist at this level seriously say such an aberration? Everything then comes into place. CNN's presence at the time of the coup, showing the popular support, showed the world that this coup could be acceptable.
This is why, in the end, CNN had better cover Zimmerman's trial. Regarding Snowden and Manning, they will understandably avoid the big national debate. They'll help to turn them into defectors and we'll all talk about race instead. CNN should just play movies like Remember the Titans all day long, they would get to help a lot more. But how would these experienced and skilled journalists get paid?