Today the Commercial Appeal has announced its new managing editor. There is a glowing article about Mark Russell on the front of the Local section. They mention his connection to the Trayvon Martin case. They say he was “laid off” because of restructuring. Others call it fired.
Judging by the comments on the article, many Memphians are not pleased at this. This one sums up a lot of the feelings: “Please explain how an editor with what the story says “award winning coverage) gets fired and now lands in Memphis as managing editor? Something odd about this hire.”
Here’s a current YouTube video of him being interviewed at Gaylord Palms for the NABJ after his Panel discussion of “The Verdict: Black Journalists’ Role in Covering the Trayvon Martin case and The Portrayal of Black Males,” moderated by Al Sharpton.
The interviewer is from Pavlina’s Kidz Place which airs on radio stations in Florida and beyond:
There is also this interesting account from TheLastRefuge. It discusses the “brutal bias” from the Orlando Sentinel in the Zimmerman case and was posted August 11, 2013.
Perhaps people already knew this and I’m the first to catch on to the obvious.
When Rene Stutzman, a reporter for The Orlando Sentinel, informed me about the editorial board deciding “what” content would be “permitted to be discussed”, within the Trayvon Martin reporting of her newspaper, I had no idea the Senior Vice-President/Director of Content was African American.
Nor did I know the editor she was talking about, Mark Russell, was also African American.
It just never crossed my mind to ask.
Now I see two articles discussing who was actually behind those decisions she was speaking toward, it all begins to make sense.
The editor in charge of the Sentinel was Mark Russell. Obviously, based on the extreme position taken by the editor and shared with me via Stutzman, the position was such that no aspect of Trayvon Martin’s background would be covered by the paper. It was clearly a racial position.
A position amplified by the fact the Director of Content, Avido Khahaifa, would also be the key decision maker, and who was/is also demanding his reporters filter the news on the basis of race first.
Now it all makes sense.
At the time I was directed to contact Rene Stutzman by author Jack Cashill who was privy to the back story we were discovering. It was around the time we discovered Trayvon Martin had been expelled -not suspended- from Krop Senior High School, which came as a consequence of having his police engagements diverted to alternate discipline methods.
The trail of provable evidence from inside the Miami-Dade School Police Department was not a matter of opinion, it was fact.
We paid for, and received, via Public Records Requests, numerous provable sworn statements which outlined the criminal conduct of Trayvon Martin and the diversionary (Crisis Intervention Team) practices in place within the Miami-Dade School System which ultimately kept him from being held to account.
Jack Cashill thought, obviously mistakenly so, some reputable journalistic enterprise would want to report on such an explosive discovery. He recommended contacting either the Miami Herald, or the Orlando Sentinel.
Both organizations would have interested readership, based on geographic content, who were familiar with the story. Both organizations should want to write enlightening storylines, against the backdrop of the Zimmerman trial, as it was appearing in all the national headlines.
It was after talking to Mr. Cashill about the material we held in hand, I personally reached out to share the now available public documents we had in our possession.
As I said to Cashill at the time, we want no credit for it, we just want the truth to be shared so that people could have a firm grasp on exactly what led to the George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin encounter. [Cashill is writing an in depth soon-to-be-released book, and had requested access and print permission to the research archives we had meticulously outlined – Hence our contact]
So it was that impetus which spurred me to call Ms. Stutzman. It was from that call, with the trial beginning merely weeks away, I was informed by Ms. Stutzman her editorial board had numerous meetings with the reporters. Meetings where the content of how the Trayvon VS Zimmerman story would be permitted to be shared.
Stutzman shared her editor, along with content controller (Avido Khahaifa) had specifically stated that nothing about the life story or background of Trayvon Martin was to be written. Nor was anything to be included, shared or published that would cast a shadow upon the already formed public opinion.
She gave me specific examples of what was, and what was not, allowed.
Included in the non-allowed examples was anything to do with the family structure of Tracy Martin or Sybrina Fulton. In essence they could only write “as if” they were a complete *traditional* family unit from birth to death.
Also off limits was anything about Trayvon Martin the 17-year-old which would include his school suspensions, records of drug use, social media, gang affiliations, or anything of similar disposition.
As I shared the information about the burglary case, and shared about the M-DSPD encounters and diversionary practices, Stutzman stated those items would fall into the “Off-Limits” category. Further, she was certain of this because she and her colleagues had just completed another meeting with “the editor” and the “editorial board“, who reminded them once again what was permissible.
One of the more striking parts of that conversation was her talking about the Orlando Sentinel’s financial stake in the trial taking place as scheduled. In essence Stutzman shared her organization having already invested considerable finances in the trial coverage and nothing that might shake up those investments from providing a return would be permitted entry onto their pages.
Again, I wrote later about being shocked at what I was told. However, my shock in the bias described, and the perceived reasoning for the non-interest, was more directed toward what I considered plain, old-fashioned ’liberal bias’.
It never crossed my mind, because I do not look through racial prisms, the underlying reasoning from her editor and board was due to their own racial prejudice.
I never even thought to ask about it; in hindsight that was really naïve.
However, now having read the latest post-trial discussions from the National Association of Black Journalists, and the black advocacy groups, it all makes sense.
One last semi-related point came from later regarding the Orlando Sentinel non-interest in this aspect:
You might remember Daryl Parks, coming to the microphones on June 27th, 2013 (after Rachel Jeantel gave the famous “cracka” testimony), and proclaiming: “this trial was never about race“.
At the time I asked why no-one from Sentinel was challenging Daryl Parks because this was insufferably hypocritical. I presented the following fact-based support to evidence how brutally silly this claim by Daryl Parks was:
On March 23rd, 2012, while speaking to the National Association of Black Journalists, in the height of the national conversation.
[…] Parks, who also is president of the National Bar Association, said he does not believe the Justice Department will pursue federal hate crime charges against Zimmerman.
Even without hate crime charges, Parks said:
…it’s clear that race played a role in Trayvon’s killing and that the family believes Sanford police actively covered up the racial component to protect Zimmerman.
“Trayvon’s situation is very tragic for this family and, I think, for every black person who lives in America,” Parks said. “We all know many situations where the person of color was not given the benefit of the doubt.
That’s a subtlety in America that a lot of people don’t talk about.”
I wondered why Ms. Stutzman said a question to Martin Family Attorney, Daryl Parks, challenging him in that regard, would be “far off limits“.
Now I know, and….. well,…. now you know.