When Trayvon Martin became national news earlier this month, many Americans were shocked that anyone could think such a sweet-looking kid was a menace, much less shoot him to death as he walked home with a bag of Skittles. But some media outlets want readers to see him differently. As the controversy has stayed in the news, some conservatives got the idea that liberals were somehow benefitting from it, and launched a campaign to show that Martin wasn't so adorable after all. Several right-wing bloggers, like the Drudge Report, Dan Riehl, and Michelle Malkin's Twitchy, have made this case -- sometimes using photos of the wrong teenager. But as The New York Times' Robert Mackey points out, The Daily Caller has been a leader in portraying Martin as a thug, using photos and slang-packed tweets to show him as a menace. The Daily Caller's stories about the Martin don't include him smiling at his birthday cake or proudly decked out for prom. Rather, the site seems to prefer photos of Martin flicking off the camera or showing gold teeth.
If you view more liberal media, this is the Trayvon you know:
But if you prefer more conservative media, this is your Trayvon:
The double middle finger photo turns out to be an unrelated Trayvon Martin at a different school in a different state, Mackey notes. To Twitchy's credit, the site noted its mistake. As for the hoodie picture, it's shown in both images because there is dispute over which version is real. The clearer version in the first image is the real one, Streetwise Pundit's Chuck M. Jines points out. The darker, blurrier one is a photo of a photo used to on a poster for a pro-Martin rally. But conservative blogger Dan Reihl insists the darker one is real, and that the media magically vastly improved the quality of the image to show Martin in a more flattering light. I would suggest this reveals more about what's going on in Riehl's head than what's going on in the media.
Here's how the Drudge Report has looked for much of the week:
From The Daily Caller's coverage:
FoxNews.com hasn't joined its ideological allies on the photo front, even though it's followed leaks that imply Martin was a troublemaker:
But Fox News has:
Note how George Zimmerman gets the photo that's more flattering than his mugshot, while Martin gets the least flattering one of the photos uncovered so far.
Meanwhile, sites aimed at primarily black audiences show Martin smiling, though not always, as conservatives allege, several years younger than the age he was when he died. Here's Global Grind, BET, and The Grio:
Most newspapers, like The New York Times, use current images of protesters to illustrate their coverage of Martin's death. MSNBC's coverage tends to pan over lots of photos of a smiling Martin:
Only Martin's family and friends know what he was really like. But having once been a teenager, I would suggest this image might be the most accurate:
It's taken from Martin's MySpace page. It shows a cute kid doing a wholesome activity with his family, and he's layered over it a teenager's idea of what a tough adult male persona is like. Most teenagers' ideas of the grownup world aren't quite accurate. So we shouldn't mistake Martin's imaginary version of adult life as an accurate representation of his own.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.