The lawyers in George Zimmerman's murder trial are very interested in its potential jurors — their daily reading habits, their favorite Fox News shows, the newspapers they throw out. After all, these are the people who are going to decide whether or not Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin. Of particular interest to attorneys on both sides, however, is how much these 10 already over-scrutinized men and women mopped up from the ink spilled in the nearly 16 months since the shooting — and, of increasing importance, how many of the stories leaked in the last few weeks they've vacuumed into their objective consciousness.
Jury selection began Monday in Sanford, Florida, but the grilling is really getting nitty-gritty today. A look at live-streams from the courtroom and Twitter feeds from journalists inside reveals an almost non-stop disclosure of mini-media diets from Average Joe jurors in waiting:
This other potential juror doesn't quite have the same taste:
And this one — well, this one just uses newspapers as toilet paper for her bird:
One the one hand, it's sort of riveting: Here is a cross-section of America and their daily information consumption. (It's sort of reassuring that there are still people who subscribe to print versions of a newspaper.) But then there's the cold truth: Depending on which side you listen to, these people are being selected, dismissed, and/or kept around because of what they've read about the case — even though they're not supposed to have read anything at all.
Of course, finding someone who knows absolutely nothing about Trayvon Martin in this country is not unlike finding a unicorn — or, you know, a woman who has been sequestering herself with her parrot and and her newspaper. Except for that damn newspaper! The publication, it turns out, may matter to the makeup of this pool: If you go to the right-leaning Daily Caller and other conservative websites, you might find stories about Martin's suspensions from school and his text messages — a history that Judge Debra Nelson has ruled bears no relevance in court, no matter what the defense claims. On Fox News, you may have seen pundits like Geraldo Rivera say that Martin's "hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was," or you might have experienced ex-Fox pundit Dick Morris trying to connect Martin's death to Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Or more recently, the network had a lawyer guest on-ar to say that Martin could have killed Zimmerman with a bad of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea.
The bias isn't one-sided though. NBC had the ugly incident when producers were fired for editing audio that made Zimmerman sound racist. Rush Limbaugh has recently insisted that media outlets using younger photos of Martin are part of some sort of conspiracy to make him seem more innocent. Our own Elspeth Reeve reported over a year ago that there was a sharp difference in photo of Martin used by right-leaning and left-leaning outlets.
Essentially, a potential juror watching Fox News, reading The Daily Caller, and listening to Sean Hannity might be a more appealing juror for the defense than someone who's reading the Global Grind's coverage of the case. And of course all of this depends on people trusting news outlets enough to influence their decision-making.
And then there's the layer of the jury influencing that has gone unspoken, may be illegal, and is nonetheless undeniable: Zimmerman's defense team has continued to leak stories about Martin's character, his history of "violence," and his marijuana use to the press. Most recently, Zimmerman's lawyers mischaracterized a video found on Martin's cellphone, saying it depicted Martin and his friends beating up a homeless man, when in reality Martin filmed two homeless men fighting over a bicycle. Zimmerman's lawyers leaked that video on Sunday — just one day before jury selection began — and stated that it could prove Martin's voice was on a 911 call. But it could also be seen as an attempt to smear Martin's reputation ahead of the trial, a strategy has been chastised by the Martin family at length.
Has Team Zimmerman's leak-and-influence strategy messed up their case? Depending on what the jury pool has been reading and how much they believe it, it could save their client 25 years in jail. They only have to convince just one person on that jury — possibly not the parrot-lover.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.