Media reporting on the verdict that George Zimmerman is not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin suggested a misleading distinction between the defense attorneys' supposed use of "conventional" self-defense principles and Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law (also known as "Shoot First" or "Kill at Will"), ignoring the fact that the sole justifiable homicide law in Florida incorporates "Stand Your Ground."
Back when it was announced that media reporter Howard Kurtz was jumping ship from CNN to Fox News, Kurtz used his final appearance on CNN's Reliable Sources to assure everyone watching that just because he was moving to Fox News didn't mean he would abandon his "independent brand of media criticism." Well, Kurtz is now getting into the swing of being the media critic at a network that famously refuses to entertain any self-criticism, and so far his claims to remain "independent" aren't quite shaping up.
Kurtz appeared on Fox News four times on July 15 to talk about the media coverage of the verdict George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin murder trial. The segment below, from Special Report, is representative of all four: criticism of MSNBC and Al Sharpton, criticism of NBC's misleading editing of Zimmerman's 911 call, and highlighting some inflammatory tweets from professional athletes.
Except for the whack at Ted Nugent, there apparently weren't any conservative media figures who merited inclusion, and certainly none from Fox News. "All the media speculation about whether George Zimmerman's acquittal would lead to violent demonstrations turned out to be mostly wrong," Kurtz observed, without noting that much of that speculation originated from his new network colleagues. "So if the prosecution did present a weak case," Bill O'Reilly asked on July 8, "and he does get acquitted... are you expecting people to run out and cause trouble?" Geraldo Rivera is determined to say as many inflammatory and ugly things as he can about Trayvon Martin. Kurtz gave all of it a pass.
Commenting on the acquittal of George Zimmerman on charges that he unlawfully killed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent labeled Martin a "dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe" who was "responsible for his bad decisions and standard modus operendi of always taking the violent route."
In a July 14 column for conservative news website Rare, Nugent also claimed that the decision to prosecute Zimmerman was wrongfully influenced by "the race-baiting industry [that] saw an opportunity to further the racist careers of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, the Black Panthers":
Based on all evidence available to them, the professional law enforcement officers did not hold George Zimmerman on charges later that night. They saw it for what it was: cut and dried self-defense.
And so it was for a few weeks until the race-baiting industry saw an opportunity to further the racist careers of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, the Black Panthers. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, et al, who then swept down on the Florida community refusing to admit that the 17-year-old dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe Trayvon Martin was at all responsible for his bad decisions and standard modus operendi of always taking the violent route.
From the June 28 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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Mark Fuhrman, a former detective for the Los Angeles Police Department whose racist statements came to light during the O.J. Simpson trial, appeared on Fox News' America Live to discuss the role of race in jury selection for George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial. Zimmerman is accused by prosecutors of profiling and fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in February 2012.
From the June 10 edition of America Live:
During the 1995 murder trial of O.J. Simpson, the defense produced a tape of Fuhrman, who collected evidence in the case, using the word n*****more than 40 times over a 10 year period. The person who made the tape said Fuhrman used the slur "in a very casual ordinary pattern of speech. It was nothing extraordinary. It was just conversation." During the O.J. Simpson trial, a number of other witnesses testified that Fuhrman was a racist. Fuhrman, who testified during the trial that he had not used a racial slur in the past 10 years, pled no contest to perjury charges and was sentenced to three years of probation.
During a 2006 appearance on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Fuhrman, who is a Fox News contributor, said that the type of "people" he "dealt with ... for 20 years" while working in law enforcement will "kill somebody and go have some chicken at KFC. You will catch them eating chicken and drinking a beer after they just murdered three people." Co-host Alan Colmes challenged Fuhrman for using racially charged language, an allegation Fuhrman denied. Fuhrman has also appeared on Fox to defend a group of white police officers who were videotaped beating an African American man.
In yet another year plagued by horrific instances of gun violence, the media was quick to react to tragedies by labeling gun violence prevention efforts futile on the basis of the alleged ability of the National Rifle Association to ruin the political careers of anyone who dared to stand in the way of its anti-gun regulation agenda.
Earlier this year, Slate's Brian Palmer typified this narrative with an article titled "Why Is The NRA So Powerful?" that suggested that the pro-gun organization "considered by many the most powerful lobbying group in the country" can "reliably deliver votes." In the wake of the Newtown school massacre, Slate republished the article verbatim. Also following the Newtown massacre, NBC's David Gregory and Fox News' Chris Wallace both suggested that politicians who favored gun violence prevention measures would face serious reprisals.
In making these claims, the media simply advanced a years old narrative suggesting the NRA wields unlimited political power without citing any actual evidence for that position. In fact, 2012 was a year full of indicators that the extent of NRA influence has been wildly exaggerated. The media should keep this in mind as they prepare to cover the NRA's press conference this morning responding to the Newtown massacre.
During the past year, the National Rifle Association was abandoned by political and business allies and spent nearly $18 million in a failed attempt to keep supporters of gun violence prevention out of Congress and the White House.
Even as the NRA's brand was deemed toxic by the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative "model legislation" group, and faced withering criticism in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, the media myth has persisted that the NRA has the capability to punish politicians who oppose its extreme agenda.
Fox News host Megyn Kelly sharply critiqued a Montana self-defense law that has been cited by the local prosecutor as the reason that Brice Harper will not face charges after fatally shooting Dan Fredenberg in Harper's garage on September 22. Fredenberg, who was unarmed, entered the garage to confront Harper who was having an affair with his wife.
During Thursday's segment on American Live, Kelly stated "it looks like that guy who did the shooting, who was having the affair is going to get away with it" and said that Harper "is getting off. Why? Because of the 'stand your ground' law or the 'castle doctrine' in Montana." Kelly also expressed the belief that the law effectively makes the punishment for unlawfully entering someone's property "the death penalty."
Montana's "castle doctrine" law allows an individual to use deadly force while in their home if the individual has a reasonable apprehension of assault. The deadly force requirement was created in 2009 by HB 228, a bill that expanded the circumstances under which deadly force could be used in self-defense and also loosened rules on the carrying of concealed weapons in public.
While the bill was under consideration, National Rifle Association lobbyist Brian Judy called it "our most important bill of the session." The proposed legislation, however, was opposed by some members of law enforcement who cited public safety concerns.
Even as numerous states have expanded self-defense laws in recent years (often at the behest of the NRA), Montana's "castle doctrine" law stands out for the extremely low requirements that an individual must satisfy before using deadly force. Under Montana law, an individual may use deadly force on someone who unlawfully enters his or her property if that individual "reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent an assault."
During today's meeting of a Florida taskforce that is investigating the "Kill At Will" law implicated in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, National Rifle Association representative Marion Hammer said that the NRA was "proud to have been a part of the process" in enacting the law in 2005.
We believe the law is doing what the legislature intended. It is protecting the rights of people who defend themselves against attackers and intruders. The NRA supported this law. We are proud to have been a part of the process. We are proud to say we worked with legislators from both sides of the aisle to protect self-defense rights. And although there may be other bodies of law that do not go far enough to protect the innocent and the righteous, we don't see any basic need to change the premise of this law.
Hammer, who in closing stated that the NRA "see[s] the law as protecting freedom," served as president of the National Rifle Association between 1995 and 1998 and remains the organization's top lobbyist in Florida. She is hardly the first member of National Rifle Association leadership to express full-throated support for "Kill At Will." In April, NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox told attendees of the NRA's annual meeting that despite "post-media hysteria" in the weeks following Trayvon Martin's death the gun rights organization "will defend those laws." At the same annual gathering, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre blamed controversy surrounding the law, called "Stand Your Ground" by its proponents, on the national news media.
Hammer previously acknowledged in an interview with Media Matters that the NRA helped draft the law and "support[ed] it through the process." This account was confirmed by Florida Today reporter Paul Flemming who stated, "There is no doubt about it. Marion Hammer, the NRA lobbyist here, former president of the NRA wrote the legislation and she would tell you so."
During an appearance on NRA News, Jim Wallace, the executive director of Gun Owners' Action League, the state firearms association of Massachusetts, suggested that strict gun laws did nothing to curb gun violence in his home state of Massachusetts. Wallace, who is also a candidate in this year's National Rifle Association Board of Directors elections, went on to deny that crime guns are trafficked into Massachusetts from states with weaker laws.
To the contrary, trace data made available by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) indicates that the majority of crime guns traced in Massachusetts originate from states with lax gun laws.
During the segment, Wallace also referenced supposed attempts by the media to "hype up" the fatal shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and a July 20 massacre at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater that left 12 dead and scores injured. From the September 14 edition of Cam & Company:
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: Because even in Massachusetts running explicitly on a "we need more gun control platform," I mean if that's your campaign you're gonna be facing an uphill battle? Is that--?
JIM WALLACE, GUN OWNERS' ACTION LEAGUE: Oh, absolutely. There is no doubt about it. You know the one thing that has been helpful -- and I don't know if [Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs executive director] Scott [Bach] has seen it as much as I have, I know we have talked about it-- is that no matter how much the general media tries to hype up issues like what happened in Florida with Trayvon Martin and so forth and in Colorado, for the most part, unless they are rabidly ignorant, the general public really gets this now--
WALLACE: --that random acts of stupid violence like this are occurring because of the people that we're allowing on our city streets. They are not occurring because guns are supposedly easily accessible. They understand for the most part now that times have changed, they've lived through in Massachusetts almost a decade and a half of severe gun control--
WALLACE: --with incomprehensible laws. And gun crime has gone up. So what do we do from there? "Oh, we blame New Hampshire," says the Mayor [of Boston Tom Menino]. Well, you know New Hampshire's crime rate is pretty low, mayor, so where are you going to go? I remember one time debating one of the mayor's people on the radio and he said, "Well, you know, we have the strict laws here, but it's the other states that are the problem." And they said, "You know people can go across the border to New Hampshire and legally buy guns." Well first of all that's incorrect. There are 13 legal steps you have to go through to get a gun from New Hampshire to Massachusetts.
WALLACE: But, being that said, you know, he said, "You can go to Georgia and buy them at gun shows." And I said, "So, okay, what you're saying is the mayor has the most loyal criminals in the country. Because they will travel a thousand miles to get a gun, but they will always come home to commit the crime."
WALLACE: So, you know, they are very friendly to criminals in Boston.
According to an e-mail sent by the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), Mark O'Mara, the defense attorney for George Zimmerman, will speak at the SAF-sponsored Gun Rights Policy Conference (GRPC), which will begin September 28. The conference will be held, for the first time in its 27 year history, in Florida.
Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on February 26. The conference will take place at an Orlando hotel less than 25 miles away from the site of the shooting.
According to a GRPC flyer, the event will provide attendees with the "once a year chance to network, get an insider's look and plan pro-gun rights strategies for the coming year." Whether O'Mara will divulge any new information about the ongoing criminal case remains to be seen. So far the Florida attorney has largely remained mum about the specifics of Zimmerman's self-defense claim, other than to indicate that that Florida's controversial "Kill At Will" self-defense law, called "Stand Your Ground" by its proponents, will likely play a significant role in his client's defense.
Although the guest list has not been finalized, it is likely that O'Mara will get the chance to rub elbows with some of the most ardent defenders of "Kill At Will." The invitees include Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb, discredited gun rights "researcher" John Lott and unnamed representatives from Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, the National Rifle Association, and Gun Owners of America.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) may have eliminated the task force responsible for doing the National Rifle Association's bidding, but that hasn't stopped the coordination between the right-wing groups. In the latest example of their friendly cooperation, the NRA plans to hold a trap shoot in conjunction with ALEC's annual meeting later this month.
In a missive to state legislators published by the Center on Media and Democracy, which researches ALEC, NRA director of state and local affairs Charles H. Cunningham invites state legislators to attend the "annual shoot," promising that it "will prove to be just as fun as in years past." According to CMD: "For the past several years, on the Saturday of ALEC's annual meeting, the NRA has regularly hosted an outing for ALEC legislators and lobbyists to go shooting together -- with complimentary guns and ammo plus plenty of food and drink (this time it is a barbeque)."
In April, as corporate sponsors fled their organization in the face of pressure from liberal activists angry with the group's support of "Kill at Will" self-defense laws and voter ID bills, ALEC announced that they were disbanding their Elections and Public Safety Task Force, which worked on those issues. At the time, that task force's chair told Media Matters that such issues were no longer a priority for ALEC.
The NRA was reportedly extremely unhappy with ALEC's reaction to public pressure regarding the "Kill at Will" laws, which spread to dozens of states after ALEC adopted a model bill based on the Florida statute that was cited as an influence in the case of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. An NRA representative reportedly criticized the group for dismantling the task force during a meeting of conservative leaders, warning other participants that ALEC could flee from their issues as well.
But the continuation of the NRA's annual shoot at ALEC's annual meeting suggests that the two conservative groups have patched up their differences and are again working together to promote right-wing legislation.
In April the NRA vowed to defend "Kill at Will" laws across the country.
During an hour-long interview with George Zimmerman, who admitted to shooting and killing unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in February, Sean Hannity tried to cast Zimmerman as the victim in this case -- of a media that was too quick to condemn, of an unjust movement that has stoked racial animus, and of a group that wanted him "dead or alive."
Hannity said that Zimmerman has "had multiple death threats" and brought up Spike Lee "tweeting out what he thinks is your home address," and Al Sharpton and NBC News, who Hannity claimed "trie[d] to use this case to bring up the issue of racial profiling," to make his point. He also cited the New Black Panthers, the fringe group that placed a bounty on Zimmerman's head, to continue his months-long narrative that this case has had just as much impact on Zimmerman.
Hannity also sought to dispel reports that he may have offered to pay for Zimmerman's legal fees, saying that it "never happened." Hannity was referring to an "off the record" conversation he had with Zimmerman in April, during which he claimed that the two discussed only Zimmerman's case and Hannity's wish for an on-air interview. Hannity also stressed that Zimmerman was "offered nothing to do this interview."
As corporate sponsors fled from the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the media's scrutiny increased earlier this year, ALEC's allies at the right-wing Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity rushed to the organization's defense.
ALEC, which uses donations from major corporations to promote conservative model bills for use in state capitals across the country, came under fire in April from progressive groups. This followed the revelation of ALEC's involvement in voter ID legislation as well as legislation based on Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law written by the National Rifle Association and linked to the death of Trayvon Martin. ALEC subsequently eliminated the task force that had approved those model bills, but corporations have continued to abandon the group, with five leaving this week.
Over a nine day period that month, the Franklin Center published vigorous defenses of ALEC from Franklin Center's president, vice president of journalism, and one of its board members, who acknowledged serving as public sector chair of an ALEC task force.
Yesterday Media Matters' Joe Strupp noted in a lengthy profile of the Franklin Center:
The Franklin Center is a multimillion-dollar organization whose websites and affiliates provide free statehouse reporting to local newspapers and other media across the country. Funded by major conservative donors, staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with the Koch brothers, and maintaining a regular presence hosting right-wing events, the organization boasts of its ability to fill the void created by state newsroom layoffs.
The group's editors claim that their "professional journalism" work is walled off from the organization's more nakedly political operations and say that their "pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, free market perspective" doesn't compromise their accuracy or independence. But many journalism professionals - even newspaper editors who reprint the work of Franklin Center affiliates in their own pages - speak warily of the group's ideological bent.
According to the Center on Media and Democracy, a progressive group that monitors ALEC, "The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity was a 'Vice-Chairman' level sponsor of 2011 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Annual Conference, which in 2010, equated to $25,000. The Franklin Center was one of about 60 companies and institutions represented in the conference exhibition hall." In October 2011, CMD reported extensively on the Franklin Center's ALEC ties.
National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre appeared on Fox News' America Live yesterday to comment on the controversial "Kill At Will" law that has been connected to the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. LaPierre's appearance came the day after The Wall Street Journal reported on a new study that linked the NRA-backed "Kill At Will" laws to higher homicide rates, though America Live host Shannon Bream failed to raise the results of the study with LaPierre.
Starting with Florida in 2005, at least 25 states have enacted some form of "Kill At Will." The study, conducted by Texas A&M University economics professor Mark Hoekstra, reached the damning conclusion that the expansion of such self-defense laws since 2005 led to an increase in the incidence of homicides:
[W]e find the laws increase murder and manslaughter by a statistically significant 7 to 9 percent, which translates into an additional 500 to 700 homicides per year nationally across the states that adopted castle doctrine [Hoekstra's term for laws passed since 2005 that expand the right to self-defense]. Thus, by lowering the expected costs associated with using lethal force, castle doctrine laws induce more of it. This increase in homicides could be due either to the increased use of lethal force in self-defense situations, or to the escalation of violence in otherwise non-lethal conflicts. We suspect that self-defense situations are unlikely to explain all of the increase, as we also find that murder alone is increased by a statistically significant 6 to 11 percent. This is important because murder excludes non-negligent manslaughter classifications that one might think are used more frequently in self-defense cases. But regardless of how one interprets increases from various classifications, it is clear that the primary effect of strengthening self-defense law is to increase homicide. [emphasis added]
Hoekstra also found no link between the enactment of "Kill At Will" laws and a decrease in other types of crime:
Results indicate that the prospect of facing additional self-defense does not deter crime. Specifically, we find no evidence of deterrence effects on burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. Moreover, our estimates are sufficiently precise as to rule out meaningful deterrence effects.
The study undermines LaPierre's organization's defense of "Kill At Will" laws, which were enacted across the nation after dogged lobbying efforts by the NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council. LaPierre wasn't asked about the study during his Fox appearance, but was instead given free rein to make a number of misleading claims about the nature of "Kill At Will" laws.
LaPierre described Florida's "Kill At Will" law, and similar laws nationwide that remove the duty to retreat before employing deadly force outside of the home while often adding the presumption that the use of deadly force was lawful, as "completely unremarkable." Contrary to LaPierre's characterization, increased scrutiny of "Kill At Will" laws has uncovered numerous instances in which the laws have been tied to seemingly avoidable killings.
From the June 1 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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