MSNBC responds to questions about Sharpton's role in Trayvon Martin case as witnesses surface
There were few new protests, but the weekend still brought renewed attention to the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, as advocates for the shooter spoke up and I went on CNN to ask questions about media coverage.
Appearing on CNN's Reliable Sources show Sunday, I joined host Howie Kurtz in asking about the propriety of allowing Rev. Al Sharpton to serve as host of his MSNBC show from the same Sanford, Fla. rally where he was also serving as lead activist -- joining the family in meeting with the Justice Department. Sharpton, along with many other protesters, are demanding police arrest George Zimmerman, the 20-something self-appointed neighborhood watch volunteer who shot the unarmed teen as he was walking back from a convenience store.
After our segment, I emailed MSNBC about the questions we raised; spokesman Jeremy Gaines replied: "When Rev. Sharpton joined MSNBC, it was with the understanding that he would continue to do his advocacy work. We're fully aware of that work and we have an ongoing dialog. His participation in these events is very public and our audience is completely aware of where he stands on the issues. It's because of this work and his decades of activism that Rev. Sharpton brings such a unique perspective to our line up."
Tampa Fox affiliate WTVT-Ch. 13 also made an impact, building a story around an interview with a witness who claimed to see Martin fighting with Zimmerman just before he was shot. The interview appears to have been posted on the website for Orlando's Fox affiliate the day after Martin's Feb. 26 death, but WTVT didn't air the story until Friday, sparking links on a host of websites across the country.
The video became part of a backlash to the protests and public pronouncements criticizing Zimmerman, as some noted the witnesses statement that Martin seemed to be on top of Zimmerman, beating him before he was shot. But that account still leaves open the question of who started the fight and whether Zimmerman can claim self-defense if he shot the teen while losing a fight he started.
Another witness also began speaking out over the weekend, Mary Cutcher, who says she believes the person heard screaming in the background 911 calls is Martin (police say Cutcher told them a different story in the immediate aftermath of the attack). Zimmerman has told police he was screaming for help, not Martin.
Zimmerman's attorney and a friend, Joe Oliver, who was once an anchor at an Orlando TV station, also began talking to media over the weekend, declining to reveal any new details about the shooter's story, but insisting he did not single out Martin because of his race.
Their media appearances seemed an attempt to humanize Zimmerman, who has not spoken publicly and remains in hiding as protesters demand his arrest and fringe group New Black Panther Party offers a $10,000 "bounty" for him.