As media outlets gave blanket coverage to the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin, they regularly turned to a virulent racist with a history of crime to defend Zimmerman.
Mother Jones reporter Mariah Blake uncovers that Frank Taaffe, Zimmerman's "most visible and outspoken defender" in the media, was uniquely unqualified to pontificate on sensitive issues of race and criminal justice considering his "lengthy criminal record that includes charges of domestic violence and burglary, and a history of airing virulently racist views." Taaffe volunteered for the same neighborhood watch as Zimmerman and told Greta Van Susteren in a recent Fox News interview that shortly before Zimmerman's arrest, the two men met and Zimmerman shared a list of "several talking points" he wanted Taaffe to promote.
The breadth of Taaffe's media footprint is staggering. He was quoted by numerous major newspapers and appeared on or was otherwise quoted by ABC News, CNN, NBC News, Fox News, CBS News, MSNBC, and CNN-spinoff HLN. Taaffe made more than 60 separate primetime appearances on HLN alone.
Blake reports that Taaffe -- who used his media platform "to cast Martin as a drug-addled Hoodlum and Zimmerman as a community-minded do-gooder" -- has made recent appearances on a podcast called The White Voice, hosted by a man with ties to white power groups. During these appearances, Taaffe has, according to Blake, "argued that whites and blacks have no business mingling" and talked about how the Zimmerman trial is "waking up white America."
Taaffe has saved perhaps his most odious comments for his Twitter feed, where he has written things like, "the only time a black life is validated is when a white person kills them."
From Mother Jones:
Taaffe's private Twitter feed (@pinsones) also reeks of racial animus. In one tweet, he bashed Michael Skolnik, who directs hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons' political operations, saying "how much nigga cock do u suck an one day or maybe u like it pounded up ur hebe ass." In another he wrote, "the only time a black life is validated is when a white person kills them."
As explained by Blake, Taaffe's extremism was evident in his media appearances, where he repeatedly argued with actual experts about technical aspects of the Zimmerman case:
These kinds of extreme racial views infused Taaffe's media commentary. He told the New York Times that his gated community had been burglarized by "Trayvon-like dudes with their pants down" and taunted his black fellow talk show guests with race-tinged jibes. On a recent episode of HLN's Dr. Drew on Call, the topic turned to racial profiling. Taaffe shouted down a fellow panelist and launched into a bizarre diatribe: "You know, Whitey, us...we've had a little bit of slavery, too," he said. "Back in 1964 or 1965, then-President Johnson signed an executive order; it was called affirmative action. And you want to talk about slavery?" Taaffe's fellow guests seemed stunned that he'd been given a national platform to broadcast these ideas. "It's like every word that comes out of his mouth is a turd falling in my drink," said African American radio personality Brian Copeland. "I don't understand why he's allowed to go on like he does."
CNN and its sister network, HLN, have repeatedly invited Taaffe to weigh in on legal and technical aspects of the Zimmerman case, from the implications of witness testimony to the meaning of forensic evidence, such as the grass stains found on Martin's pants. Taaffe sparred on-air with attorneys about the finer points of criminal law and tangled with forensic experts--including Lawrence Kobilinsky, the chair of the science department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice--over whether the small quantity of THC in Martin's blood could have made him violent. (Taaffe insisted that it could; Kobilinsky called this argument a "red herring.")
Taaffe made by far the most appearances on HLN, where he was a nightly fixture during the trial. Taaffe was hosted on Dr. Drew 14 times, Nancy Grace 22 times, and Jane Velez-Mitchell 29 times. Multiple times as the trial wound down, Taaffe appeared in a single night on all three programs, which air between 7-10pm ET on that channel. (His interviews were often combative; Nancy Grace cut Taaffe's microphone during one of his July appearances on her program.)
Starting in March 2012, Taaffe was also quoted or interviewed on the following evening and primetime programs* on network and cable news: Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN), Erin Burnett OutFront (CNN), On the Record with Greta Van Susteren (Fox News), CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, World News with Diane Sawyer (ABC), Dateline NBC, 20/20 (ABC), NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, John King USA (CNN) and The Ed Show (MSNBC).
Quotes from Taaffe defending Zimmerman also appeared in several major newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, NY Post, Orlando Sentinel, The Baltimore Sun, and Miami Herald.
*Note: Due to the limitations of the Nexis database, Media Matters limited research on Taaffe's media footprint to evening and primetime programming. Unlike the other cable networks, Nexis includes extensive transcripts for CNN's daytime programming, which reveal that Taaffe was repeatedly quoted by or interviewed on that channel during non-evening and primetime programming.