My expectations of mainstream media have gotten so low that, to quote Lord Feathering Walthamstone, they really have to “touch cloth” to get my attention these days. And that’s exactly what CNN.com did this morning with a homepage headline displayed at a size worthy of “JAPANESE BOMB PEARL HARBOR. AGAIN!!”. Sweating big black Franklin Gothic bullets at the prospect of losing viewership now that George Zimmerman’s courthouse seat is scarcely 12 hours cold, the headline reads: “WHAT NOW?”
Really, CNN? What now? Ordinarily, I’d think a man who’s been acquitted, even of the optional fall-back charge introduced mid-trial, would be allowed to leave the center ring. Not that he stands a chance in Hell of succeeding, not so soon, but he might at least be allowed to try.
Wait, though. You weren’t asking what the Zimmermans or the Martins will do now, were you? You weren’t asking the courts or the Florida legislature what they’re going to do, either. It was a rhetorical question. You were asking what you’re going to do now. How you’ll keep butts in seats, eyes on screens.
As if there were any doubt.
Jaded as I am, the headline grabbed me, just as it was intended to do, and I scanned the rest of the page for other after-show invites, just as I was intended to do. That’s how I found the link to an excerpt from Piers Morgan’s bear baiting session – I mean interview – with George Zimmerman’s refreshingly well-spoken brother, Robert.
Morgan, who was a carnival barker in a previous life (Or no … that’s what he is in this life, isn’t it? I stand corrected.) and who knows his audience all too well, asked Zimmerman, “What do you think happened?”
“What I think doesn’t matter,” came the reply. The jury has reached a verdict, Zimmerman said. Case, as the quaint notion used to go, closed.
Morgan pressed on: “If the situation were reversed (and your brother had been killed), how would you feel on a human level and an emotional level about that?” (The unspoken comma-delineated latter half of the question being, “you heartless Nazi brother of a baby-killing racist.”)
Again Zimmerman refused to bite. He said that if his brother had pounded another man’s head on the sidewalk and if that man had killed his brother in self-defense, his brother would have had a significant hand in his own death. Tragic all the way around, but there it is.
Morgan again: “You believe that Trayvon Martin caused his own death? A 17-year-old boy armed with a bag of Skittles?”
Florida’s stand-your-ground law does strike me as something left over from the mid-19th century, and it does seem to give heat-packing Floridians quite a bit of latitude when responding to perceived threats of bodily harm, but that’s not the issue, is it? Nor, I guess, is the possibility that our criminal justice system is as out of whack as our system of representative government. Nor the cold fact that if people like Morgan can’t find a fire to talk about, they’ll light one.
There’s no thoughtful discussion I can think of that would sell ads quite as well as “WHAT NOW?” or “17-year-old boy armed with a bag of skittles.” Certainly not. And that’s why CNN.com will continue to put its mouth where its money is and why Mr. Zimmerman, whether guilty, innocent or something in between, will continue to be “important” just until some half-time entertainer flashes nipple at a network camera and off we go again.
Meanwhile, a ratings tip for Piers Morgan … Next time you interview one of the Zimmerman’s, you might try leading with this: “So. Zimmerman. That’s a German name, isn’t it?”