I didn’t know this until just now. But yesterday MSNBC momentarily aired a courtroom image of Trayvon Martin’s dead body at the crime scene. It was seemingly accidental and they quickly panned away. Our video team saw it but didn’t run it, which was totally the right decision by every standard we’ve always followed. I didn’t see it myself or even know about it until a few moments ago when Gawker ran the image.I’m sure it makes me sound a bit naive saying this but I was shocked when I saw it. Of course, I’ve seen dead bodies before. And I’ve seen countless crime scene photos of dead bodies. In terms of who’s guilty and who’s innocent, it is well worth noting just for the record that seeing a dead body is inherently inflammatory and disquieting. It’s not probative at all in terms of determining guilt, which is why there’s usually a lot of jousting in a courtroom about what jurors get exposed to.
But I wanted to share a personal reaction when I saw it. I felt guilty journalistically that it hasn’t been seen. Not guilty as us, TPM, but guilty in terms of journalism in general. We’re not going to run it because we’ve always had a pretty conservative editorial standard about running images that show gratuitous violence or death, dead bodies, etc. Whatever the merits of that standard, it’s probably not the right decision to depart from it now in this one case at the end of a trial we have not covered closely. And in any case, it’s already published if you want to see it. Before I link to it, seriously, think it over before you click. It’s upsetting. Here it is.
But back to the image itself. Seeing it, for all the tabloid coverage and endless CNN cable news coverage of the case, a big part of me feels like the real story here has been glossed over. Whatever the ins and outs of the legalities here, the odds of this happening to a white kid are just very slim. I knew that an hour ago. But I’m confronting it in a different way now.
I don’t have any other wisdom to share yet beside that. And that’s not much. But I immediately discussed this with our editors after I saw it because I felt it was wrong in a way that people not see it – for all the reasons I described above. So, as part of what TPM is about, it was incumbent on me to share it with you.
[We’ve opened up a thread on this difficult topic here.]