Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bending an image toward bias

I haven't expressed an opinion on Trayvon Martin because we're still missing a commodity distinctly lacking in this case: The facts. Yeah, I know -- silly me. But I can make a related observation. Mainstream media and blogs have insisted on using the photo seen at left when referencing Trayvon. This now iconic image is everywhere on TV and the Internet. The photo was taken when Trayvon was a 12-year-old. It's a nice picture -- and straight out of Central Casting for any role calling for an angelic-looking kid brother. Fine. But on the rainy night Trayvon and George Zimmerman fatally locked horns, Trayvon was a 17-year-old, 6-foot-1, ex-football player who probably weighed at least 180 lbs. These facts are (probably) neither here nor there in terms of the murder case. Trayvon's death is still a tragedy. But you see the problem. The portrait of Trayvon as a sweet-smiling kid evokes sympathy whether it is warranted or not. In contrast, an unsmiling, unshaven Zimmermann was usually shown wearing a prison-orange shirt, mugshot-style. His image evoked suspicion whether it was warranted or not. (Since his arrest, a dour Zimmerman is now shown in an actual prison shirt, but at least it's accurate.) The arc of media good intentions is long, but in this case it bends toward bias.

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