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Point the Finger at You: Who to Blame for the Zimmerman Trial?


The following by SMU Daily Campus Editor-in-Chief Rahfin Faruk first appeared in the July 13, 2013, edition of The Huffington Post.

July 15, 2013

By Rahfin Faruk

For the last month, the George Zimmerman trial controlled the airwaves. From MSNBC to 20/20, every news program has provided disproportionate coverage to a case that has sparked important discussions about American race relations, identity and politics.

Syria's ongoing humanitarian disaster, a stalled immigration reform bill and the Bradley Manning trial -- another important case on another controversial topic -- have all taken a back seat.

Academic elites and the cultural bourgeoisie have thrown their arms in the air at larger society. Yahoo's main page currently features articles titled "Miley Cyrus' head-turning dollar dress," "What stands out the most at star's summer party" and "Details on jurors deciding Zimmerman's fate."

As much as many of us might want to blame for-profit media organizations, we can't. Firms respond to the laws of supply and demand, and the George Zimmerman trial is no exception.

FOX News and CNN -- the news organizations with the highest ratings from April to July -- respond to what keeps viewers on their respective channels.

CNN, fresh off its coverage of the Jodi Arias trial, and off a ratings bump thanks to the Zimmerman trial, is simply following a framework that has brought it revenue and viewers.

The optimist in me says the American public wants more, but in order for us to gain more from our media, we must demand more.

Here is what we can do to create a more responsible media:

1) Turn to nonprofit media sources like NPR or Democracy Now for news coverage. Nonprofits have less pressure to respond to short run changes in viewership. Executives' jobs do not depend on revenue.
2) Turn to foreign media sources. Much like civil society activists in transitional democracies tune into the BBC World Service or the Voice of America, foreign coverage can offer us fresh perspectives and unique storylines.
3) Reward news organizations for coverage you deem merit worthy. Write a letter, post about a piece on social media and tune in the next day.

A friend recently asked me, "The market wants cable news to over-cover Zimmerman's trial. Why should your informed, enlightened preference matter more than the market's preference?"

The simple answer is that it shouldn't. My preference is inconsequential. But, we have a fundamental choice when it comes to media coverage: voice, exit or silence.

Exit -- turning to a different channel -- and voice -- expressing your thoughts on coverage -- can make all the difference.

I am afraid that the silent majority continues to stay silent. Silence does not and has never led to change.

We should embrace the power of the free market -- the very free market that currently results in disproportionate coverage of certain high profile cases.

Hundreds of thousands of preferences can result in disruptive, fundamental changes. Microeconomic choices have macroeconomic consequences.

Maybe I'm completely wrong. Maybe we will continue to see some issues come to the forefront and some issues continue to float under the radar. Maybe we will demand amplified coverage of racially-charged trials and continue to ignore growing problems like inequality and poverty -- problems that are embedded in our racial and socioeconomic history.

A case that certainly deserves coverage has become a monopolist.

The George Zimmerman jury deliberated the fate of a man accused of a heinous crime.

We can take this opportunity to return a verdict on what kind of national discourse we demand.

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