The Parallel Controversies of Trayvon Martin

The Trayvon Martin legal case may ultimately turn on a single piece of evidence: whether the scream heard prior to the fatal, fateful gunshot is the voice of Martin or of George Zimmerman. The Trayvon Martin public controversy is much more complex than the legal case. The dynamics of this specific controversy are instructive for the more general role of perspective and perception in discourse.

The tragic incident in Sanford, Florida, has sparked three parallel conversations on race, justice, and gun rights. The conversations are occurring in isolation from one another. The Pew Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) project analyzed news coverage in both new and mainstream media outlets, and found significant disparities in the handling of the story.

If you are a Fox News viewer, the controversy has accounted for 15% of the news you watch. If you are an MSNBC viewer, the controversy has consumed 49% of the network’s news and opinion programming over the same period. If you listen to talk radio, the controversy is about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law and gun rights. If Twitter is your primary source of information, then the controversy is dominated by calls to bring Zimmerman to justice. If blogs are your preferred medium, then the controversy is fundamentally about race.

This sad story has struck a nerve in the American consciousness. It’s just not the same nerve for everybody.


About Ben Ponder, Editor-at-Large

Ben Ponder, PhD, is Editor-at-Large at Media Rostra. Ben has received decorative pieces of paper conferring upon him an unnamed set of “rights and privileges accorded thereto” from the University of Arkansas, Regent College, and Northwestern University (where he was a Presidential Fellow). He studied (in alphabetical order) architecture, classics, communication, history, political science, rhetoric, and theology. He is the author of American Independence: From Common Sense to the Declaration (“Sizzling.” – TMZ) and the co-editor of Making the Case: Advocacy and Judgment in Public Argument (“Six-pack abs-olutely great!” – US Weekly). Ben is currently an executive in the educational software industry. He and his organic wife, Amy, live with their four free-range kids in a farmhouse Ben designed and built. His personal site on the Interweb is, and he can be reached on Twitter @ponderben.