The headline on New York Times media critic David Carr's column on media coverage of Trayvon Martin is only five words, "A Shooting, and Instant Polarization," but it really contains two arguments, neither of which bear up to facts. The first is "Instant" (we'll get to the "Polarization" in a moment). Here we find a familiar lament about the Web: it works too fast. The media, now working on Internet-speed, reaches conclusions before there is complete information. "That the public is rendering its verdict immediately and firmly may be routine," Carr writes, "but it’s been staggering to see it simmer and boil over in our hyperdivided media environment where nonstop coverage on the Web and cable television creates a rush to judgment every day." Whatever you think about the coverage over the Martin shooting, that hasn't been the case. Martin died 36 days ago. It took weeks for the national media to notice. And in the intervening days, the media actually did the sort of things that most media critics often call for: They did their jobs as newsgatherers, establishing facts and building a public record. There is still, of course, plenty about the case that is unknown, but the outrage was a reaction to reported facts -- particularly those gathered by local Florida media like the Orlando Sentinel.
Contrary to Carr's thesis, whatever one thinks about the state of the coverage, the Martin case is if anything an aberration from our ADD-driven media environment. Carr's colleague Brian Stelter offered a prebuttal of sorts last Monday, in his piece, "In Slain Teenager's Case, a Long Route to National Attention," in which he tackled the question of why "it took several weeks before the rest of the country found out" that so many people were upset by the Martin shooting.