Trayvon Martin

The New York Times Admits Its Reporting on the Trayvon Martin Case Has Been Fundamentally Wrong


Pool photo by Joe Burbank

A New York Times story about jury selection in George Zimmerman's trial says the case is "spotlighting Florida's Stand Your Ground law." In the very next sentence, however, the Times concedes "that law has not been invoked in this case." As I have been saying since this story began attracting national press attention, Zimmerman's defense does not hinge on the right to stand your ground when you are attacked in a public place because he claims he shot Trayvon Martin during a violent struggle in which there was no opportunity to retreat. So why is "Florida's Stand Your Ground law" relevant? According to the Times, because it "was cited by the Sanford police as the reason officers did not initially arrest Mr. Zimmerman." But the provision cited by police, although it was included in the same 2005 bill that eliminated the duty to retreat, has nothing to do with the "stand your ground" principle.

The police said they did not charge Zimmerman right away because of a provision that prohibits a law enforcement agency from arresting someone who claims to have used deadly force in self-defense "unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful." In other words, the fact that Zimmerman killed Martin (which he has always admitted) was not enough; the police also needed reason to doubt his self-defense claim. We can argue about whether that is a reasonable requirement, but it is completely distinct from the right to stand your ground. Even a state that imposes a duty to retreat could still require police to meet this test before arresting someone who claims self-defense.

From the beginning press coverage of this case has routinely conflated these issues, implying that Florida's definition of self-defense is so broad that it gave Zimmerman a license to kill in circumstances that did not justify the use of deadly force. The New York Times has been one of the worst offenders in this respect, running one story after another that either obscured or misstated the legal issues while suggesting that both Martin's death and the delay in arresting Zimmerman somehow hinged on the absence of a duty to retreat. Now the Times is implicitly admitting that its reporting was based on a fundamentally mistaken premise.

Opening arguments in Zimmerman's trial are expected next week.

NEXT: Karzai is Prepared To Join Taliban Peace Talks

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The media is generally horrible with any complex issue. They either mess up the facts, or try to simplify things were things aren’t simple.

    In this case, the misinformation was too ubiquitous to be accidental. The taint of the jury pool has already occurred, and the politicization of the case is established. I’m rather doubtful they’d be going after Zimmerman for murder given the paltry evidence they seem to have without the media frenzy.

    1. The media is generally horrible with any complex issue.


      Any time I have had first-hand knowledge about something being “reported” on, the reporting has been seriously flawed.

      1. I have had the same experience with the media. Unforutnately Reason is not flawless either. Opening “Statements” are scheduled to begin next week. That is followed with a closing “argument.”

        1. Some of it is to be expected, since reporters can’t be experts in all other fields, but it would help if the media wouldn’t shade things one direction or another or make conclusions on inconclusive evidence.

          1. soooo thinking is an “other field” for reporters?

              1. can’t make up my mind whether to laugh or cry

    2. Fortunately the jury pool is so tainted that I doubt Zimmerman could possibly be convicted. We’ll never know what happened that day, but there sure as hell isn’t enough evidence to put a man in prison for the rest of his life.

  2. The media lied and obfuscated a story to create political spin for one of their pet issues? I’m stunned. Really, you could knock me over with a feather right now.

    1. Don’t let this shake your faith, man!

    2. And then they go and tell you that government jobs destroy private sector jobs. We’ll need to get the smelling salts out before PM links or the comments will be empty.

    3. I have been appalled at the media spin from the very beginning, whipping the entire country up into a frenzy of a lynch mob. But I appreciate your admitting now your error. I wish all media wouldn follow suit.

    4. How was the reporting flawed or messed up? This is the Times at it’s best! They accomplished what they set out to do.

  3. I don’t know why you guys are so flip and smug about this issue.

    Someone who isn’t a cop killed someone. Does that mean nothing to you?

    1. It means a lot, but two wrongs, do not make a right, and whetehr Zimmerman was within his rights to shoot Trayvon Martin, the press and the Al Sharpton’s of the world have been trying to railroad him in pursuit of their political goals. If he is denied a fair trial by erroneous media reporting or if the rest of us lose our rights to defend ourselves based on public misperception, then that would be a trajedy too.

    2. If it was truly self-defense, then what’s the problem? Self-defense is a natural right we all have.

      If it wasn’t, then he’s a criminal. We don’t know yet since the trial isn’t over.

      1. So you are going to accept the outcome of a clearly politicized trial as the determinant of what’s wrong or right?

    3. flip and smug

      Wow, I’d almost forgotten about those guys!

      Wilson, and … it’ll come to me shortly.

      1. yeah, yeah, Smug Shortly…I remember him…

    4. Paul, do you mean that it’s always ok when a cop kills someone and we should be relaxed about it?

      Am I being thick here?

      1. Pssst. He’s being sarcastic. Don’t tell anyone!

      2. you know who else was thick? (sorry for even posting that)

        1. Alan?

        2. Ian Anderson?

          1. + 1 brick.

        3. Beyonce?

          The Williams sisters?

        4. Jennifer Lopez?

  4. “Curiously, Mr. Zimmerman’s defense team has chosen not to invoke Florida’s controversial ‘stand your ground’ law.”

    1. I never thought they would, nor did a number of legal experts in Florida (who know more about our criminal law than I do, to be sure). But that’s irrelevant to the greater social justice picture.

      1. That was my feeble attempt to imitate a NYT “correction.”

  5. This is what happens when your staff is so adrift that you let people like Al Sharpton and black outrage lead the debate.

    At least try and get the facts and the law correct, because, you know, a free press is necessary for the functioning of democracy and all that.


  6. I don’t think NY Times reporters have ever held a gun, let alone tried to read and understand gun laws. They’re like Mormons spouting on about the various flavors of pale ale.

    1. I don’t think NY Times reporters are all that skilled in the basic reading department, let alone the understanding component…

  7. The New York Times is as transparent as the government. God help George Zimmermann.

    1. posting from Syria? How’s the connection out there?

      1. Liberty is sure to come soon with Lyle fighting the good fight. We are mere mortals standing in his shadow.

        1. How else did it come for the U.S.? How exactly was Florida made habitable for Americans?

          1. It was purchased from the Spanish. Then air conditioning was invented and new yawkers moved here.

      2. Nope, not in Syria. I reside somewhere in the good ole United States.

        Funny enough I’m not even advocating for the U.S. to intervene in Syria.

        But I can and will if I want to and when I want to. Woot!

  8. based on a fundamentally mistaken premise

    Mistaken, but no mistake. The confusion is deliberate.

  9. So why is “Florida’s Stand Your Ground law” relevant? According to the Times, because it “was cited by the Sanford police as the reason officers did not initially arrest Mr. Zimmerman.”

    The New York Times will not let technicalities like the statutes or the facts get in the way of the Great Crusade Against the Evil Guns.

    1. my guns are positively cuddly

      1. You gave them female names too?

  10. SYG is a problem. It lets peasants carry on as if they are the equal of state officials.

    1. But if a citizen shoots the wrong people in a pickup truck with the lights off, are they also immune from prosecution, and will the city cover the civil lawsuit payout?

  11. It’s like the “ground rule double” in baseball. It’s an automatic double when the ball bounces over the fence, and not one of the stadium-specific ground rules at all.

  12. So what are the odds that there will be race riots when Zimmerman is acquitted?

    1. So what are the odds that there will be race riots when Zimmerman is acquitted?

      You think he’ll be acquitted, how cute. It’s precisely the fear of race riots that will lead the the jury to convict him. Then he’ll probably get shived in prison.

      1. I don’t think there’s anything even close to “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

        1. And that will matter because? This case will be won or lost in voir dire.

          (It probably will matter to the appeals court.)

          FWIW, I don’t see how the prosecution can disprove Z’s self-defense claim beyond a reasonable doubt, and since Florida has to be Florida, that’s who has the burden of proof and the required amount of proof. So, he should walk. But I don’t think he will.

        2. It’s kind of cute you think this is the standard applied by American courts in reality, rather than fiction.

          1. Zimmerman had a broken nose, blood on the back of his head from having it pounded into the pavement, and a witness saw Zimmerman on the pavement with Trayvon on top of him just before the shooting. That’s totally consistent with Zimmerman’s story, and totally inconsistent with the “innocent teen attacked by racist for no reason” story told by the defenders of Trayvon. Unless some startling new info comes out in the trial, I don’t see how Zimmerman gets convicted of anything serious. (Though they might try to get him on some b.s. charge like “discharge of a firearm within city limits” or whatever.)

    2. Do you mean in Florida or elsewhere? If we’re talking about Florida then St. Pete is a sure thing. The Uhurus in SP will riot at the drop of a hat. I live twenty minutes south of Tampa so I don’t expect any problems on the homefront but I work in Tampa in the Temple Terrace area so that could get interesting. Outside of Florida, who knows? A lot will depend on how the “leaders” in the community react.

      1. I think we know how the “leaders” will react. They showed their hand we they tweeted the address of an innocent man out to a pissed off group of people. What do you think they hoped would happen. A mob were going to go by and ask for the facts.

  13. The media jumped the gun on this one. They have been hoping and waiting some ccw carrying white man would shoot a minority for no reason other than being in a white neighborhood. They tought they had it but then found out it was a self identifying Hispanic and a kid with a checkered past. Oh well, can’t let the narrative go to waste, time to edit some tapes and coin the term “white” Hispanic. Just like the president is a “white” black.

    1. I don’t disagree with your overall point (and I don’t pretend to know what happened that night. Perhaps Martin started the physical confrontation, perhaps Zimmerman did, but IMO there’s nowhere near enough evidence to convict Zimmerman), but the term “white Hispanic” was not invented for this case. Hispanic isn’t a racial term, and many Hispanics (in some countries a majority) are white. In Zimmerman’s case his mom is a mostly indigenous Peruvian and his dad is non-Hispanic white. I will say that the media used the term out of bias in this instance, because it’s not usually used, because America has a long history of being extremely stupid when it comes to racially labeling people and a lot of people seem to think that Hispanic automatically means not white

      1. Agreed. There is on every government form a white non-Hispanic option. I mean to note that if Zimmerman had rescued a baby from a burning building the media would have labeled him Hispanic or no label at all. The race of the people involved in this tragic shooting should not have been an issue. Only the facts involved.

      2. “Mestizo” is already a word, and, for the record, he is decidedly not a white Hispanic. He is a mestizo. He is not a pure-blooded Spanish person residing in Latin America. Just mestizo.

        Unless for some reason “white Hispanic” means “not an indio”, this is totally wrong.

        1. I was talking about the term itself, not necessarily how it applies to Zimmerman. Without taking a DNA test, it’s difficult to say exactly how white Zimmerman is (though it’s at least 50% and in all likelihood higher, since the vast majority of Peruvians have at least a little European ancestry). My best friend is a Bolivian of mixed race, but predominately white. He got the dark skin genes and looks like a fairly typical mestizo, leaning a little more towards the European side phenotypically. His sister is white enough to pass for being 100% European (though of a Southern European variety). In any case, I would say that I don’t disagree with your point, but I do think it’s applied inconsistently to different racial mixes. Very few people have a problem calling someone who is half white and half black just black, or calling a half Asian half white person just Asian. To be called white, in most instances, that person must have little or no sign of non-white admixture.

  14. The jury has been selected for the Zimmerman trial. It is all women. What is everyone’s thoughts on this? Is it really a jury of your peers if your sex is not represented? Does an all female jury help or hurt your chances of acquittal? Discuss.

    1. I think it helps Z., because most women do not like street thugs like Trayvon.

      1. Cold blooded.

    2. “Jury of your Peers” isn’t in the Constitution. The term itself originates from English law where nobles were “entitled” to a jury consisting of other nobles so that they would not be judged by commoners. Being as we have no nobles and reject the notion utterly, the concept didn’t get carried over into the American justice system.

      The Sixth Amendment, which codifies the right to trial by jury, states that “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

      Notice the lack of language regarding “peers”.

  15. If history is any indicator, I smell PULITZER! For all you USEFUL IDIOTS that think this is some oversight on the part of the Times, I got two words for you – WALTER DURANTY!

  16. That weighty responsibility of being “the paper of record” for the Nation, if not the World, must have slipped down and obscured their duty to accurately report facts in the news columns, and to leave editorializing to the likes of MoDo, Brookes, and Krugman, who are eminently fair in their evaluations of critical social events.

    In other news, I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.

  17. my best friend’s aunt makes $60 hourly on the laptop. She has been out of a job for nine months but last month her check was $15914 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this site

  18. The “mistakes” in coverage made by the NYT were not accidents. It was ideology driven lies designed to scare blacks into supporting Tyrant Obama “If I had a son he would look like Trayvon”. Just as the Dems preyed on the weaknesses of southern whites for political power they prey on the prejudices and fears of blacks.

  19. I think Jacob is the one who is mistaken, but the difference is subtle. The NYT writes that the case shone the spotlight on “the Stand Your Ground law”, not the stand your ground principle. They’re talking about the law, which includes both the section about standing your ground and the one regarding the standard that must be met in order to face trial.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.