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.
Need proof? Here's a timeline of the media coverage of the story:
February 26: Martin is shot. Over the next 10 days, local reporters have the space to do their jobs of gathering facts out of the glare of national punditry and Web wiseacres.
March 8: CBS News airs the first national story, Stelter says, and The Huffington Post and TheGrio.com also have stories that day. National interest grows over the next week.
March 16: 911 recordings are released, which leads to wider coverage. "Having the audio — which the police had previously declined to release — was critical because it gave radio and TV reporters more material for their segments and because it aroused more suspicion about Mr. Zimmerman," Stelter wrote.
March 20: The Florida state attorney sends the case to a grand jury. The Justice Department says it will investigate the shooting.
March 23: President Obama says if he had a son, "he'd look like Trayvon."
March 26: The Daily Caller scours Martin's social networks to find photos of him using slang and showing gold teeth, implying that he was a scary thug.
March 27: Looking at data covering March 22 to 25, the Pew Research Center finds the Martin story is the No. 1 news story people are most interested in -- and that interest actually outpaces news coverage.
March 28: So many reporters have flooded the Sanford, Florida that the city sends out a press release saying it "will not hesitate to make an arrest for stalking," if reporters keep pestering city employees "when they are in their roles as private citizens." George Zimmerman's father tells a local news station that Martin threatened to kill Zimmerman.
March 29: Police release video of George Zimmerman entering the police station, sending people searching for evidence that Zimmerman was injured in a fight with Martin.
March 30: The Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that the Martin story has become the first story all year to be covered more than the presidential race in its analysis of coverage from March 17 to 28.