Last week, Breitbart.com revealed that NBC had edited the tape of George Zimmerman’s 911 call in a way that makes Zimmerman, the man who shot Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in February, look racist. Even Kevin Drum, a blogger for the left-wing magazine Mother Jones, called NBC’s deceptive editing of the tape a “cockup.” But the edited 911 tape is just the tip of the iceberg; mainstream journalists have consistently misreported the facts surrounding Martin’s shooting. It’s enough to raise questions about the integrity of those journalists, and whether they’re allowing their personal biases to affect their reporting.
Nowhere is this bias more apparent than in the case of ABC News reporter Matt Gutman. Gutman has broken at least three important stories on the Martin shooting. He was the first to suggest that the Sanford police had ignored witnesses’ testimony about the facts surrounding the shooting. He was the first to report that Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump had obtained an affidavit from Martin’s girlfriend in which she gives a timeline that starkly contradicts the one that is central to Zimmerman’s defense. And he was the first to obtain a copy of a Sanford police surveillance video that many initially agreed showed very little damage to Zimmerman’s face and head (though it has since become clear that the video does indeed show signs of bruising and swelling on Zimmerman’s nose and head).
But there’s reason to question Gutman’s impartiality. In fact, it’s clear from his Twitter feed that he’s sympathetic to Martin and critical of Zimmerman. On March 13, Gutman tweeted, “Sanford FL neighborhood watch captain who shot 17 yr old teen bc he was black, wore hoodie walking slowly, likely not 2 be arrested. #Trayvon.” On the same day, Gutman passed along a tweet seeking signatures for a Change.org petition from Martin’s parents that accuses Zimmerman of “murdering” Martin and calls for Zimmerman’s arrest. And on March 16, Gutman tweeted, “Prepare to hear the chilling 911 tapes from #Trayvon Martin shooting. Neighborhood watchman stalks him shoots him down. Screams help! On @GMA.”
Gutman may turn out to be correct, and perhaps in hindsight we’ll all realize that we should have signed that Change.org petition to get the Sanford police to arrest Zimmerman. But all of that was speculation when Gutman tweeted about it, and it remains speculation now.
Mainstream journalists have a virtual monopoly on the facts surrounding Martin’s death; the public is arguing over the few scraps they’re being thrown. So the question becomes, can we trust the journalists who are charged with sifting through the facts of this case — or any other?
Chuck Rudd holds a Master’s degree in Economics from Wichita State University. He has written for various online publications including The Good Men Project. He operates the blog Gucci Little Piggy.