A Framing Racialized Discourse: Media Coverage of Killing Trayvon Martin Story

Shui Leung Cheuk, Kannis

Media is a mirror of society. Media do provide significant influence over public understanding and opinion. However, media report story with racial bias. In this blog post, as Teun van Dijk explains the concept of “ideology infuses language”, I will provide a depth view of Martin and Zimmerman story; analyze how the media focused on racialized discourse coverage of the killing story by framing Martin and Zimmerman’s character, to shape the (mis)understanding of public.

(Picture from http://mattbredmond.com/category/black-panther-party/)

Trayvon Martin, a 17 years old African American high school student was shot by a off-duty neighborhood watch captain in Sanford Florida in 2012. The neighborhood watch, George Zimmerman, 28 years old mixed race Hispanic, shot the teen and claimed in self-defense. Zimmerman was judged acquittal but judged of second-degree murder and of manslaughter charges in August 2013.

Framing allows the media to present a story in a particular way, emphasizing specific aspects (Hirji, 2014). Media use the mono-angle (racialize discourse) to report the story of Zimmerman, to frame Zimmerman’s character as a fundamental racist and a violent white murder. According to a Washington blogger, Erik Wemple pointed out NBC News edited the dialogue of Zimmerman’s comments to a police dispatcher on the night he killed Martin. in cutting pieces. NBC reported the viewers heard Zimmerman say, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” However, the full version is, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.” “OK, and this guy, is he black, white or Hispanic?” “He looks black.”

trayvon-martin-300 20120409-750-61
(Picture from People.com)

On the other hand, media emphases on Martin’s identity, to frame Martin’s character as an innocent, black American victim. In the early investigation, People Magazine’s April 9, 2012 cover, which featured an old-age photo of Martin, look young and innocent and headline as “An American Tragedy.” More than that, Martin was framed as “unarmed teen”, “is killed in a Florida neighborhood”, “was fatally shot” and “How a chance encounter turned deadly”. We may question, it this cover represented fair judgment and accuracy? Kevin Z. Smith examines the cover with two uncompromising tenets of a responsible press. “Martin didn’t look like their respective images, …, with other photos at their disposal, elected to use ones that skewed reality and failed to provide a balance of truth about these suspects and victims, and that meant intent to deceive and establish an agenda.”

20120409-750-60 images
(Picture from People.com)

Apart from that, the mainstream media, including CNN, CBC, BBC and New York Times (etc.) focus on reporting Martin’s family, how his parent respond, to frame the public emotion. The photos (as showed above) and headlines like, “Justice system ‘didn’t work for us,’ Trayvon Martin’s father says”, “Trayvon Martin’s dad recalls mild-mannered boy”. As the result, it shapes the public awareness and sympathy. Slogan like, “We are all Trayvon Martin” and “Trayvon is my neighbor” spreading all around.

In this case, media emphases on the racial difference of Martin and Zimmerman, and I believe that this mono-angle is the main reason to shape and lead to the issue of racism intentionally and drastic conflict among the black and the white community.

CBC News (2012, March 28). Trayvon Martin’s dad recalls mild-mannered boy. CBC. Retrieved from July 6, 2014, http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/trayvon-martin-s-dad-recalls-mild-mannered-boy-1.1199392

CNN Library (2014, Feb 22). Trayvon Martin Shooting Fast Facts. CNN U.S. Retrieved from July 6, 2014, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/05/us/trayvon-martin-shooting-fast-facts/

Ford, David (2013). Justice system ‘didn’t work for us,’ Trayvon Martin’s father says. CNN. Retrieved July 6, 2014, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/18/justice/trayvon-martin-parents/

Helling, Steve (2012). George Zimmerman Prays for Trayvon Martin, Says Friend. People Magazine. Retrieved July 6, 2014, from http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20582259,00.html

Hirji, Faiza (2014). The Colour of Difference: Race, Diversity, and Journalism in Canada. McMaster University.

Rocke, Ethan (2013). Reporting The Trayvon Martin Story: Media Ethics And Discourses On Race. University of Oregon.

Smith, Kevin (2012). ETHICS. Quill Magazine. Retrieved July 6, 2014, from http://digitaleditions.walsworthprintgroup.com/display_article.php?id=1088550

Wemple, Erik (2012, December 6). George Zimmerman sues NBC over Trayvon Martin reports. The Washington Post. Retrieved July 6, 2014, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2012/12/06/george-zimmerman-sues-nbc-over-trayvon-martin-reports/


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