Trayvon Martin Iced Tea v. Watermelon Juice Error Led to Self-Defense Debate, Activist Says
Our October 31 article on self-defense laws in Arizona had two mistakes, as far as we know.
Culling information about the Trayvon Martin case from media reports, we misidentified the beverage Martin had on him when he was shot by George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012, as "an Arizona Iced Tea."
In fact, as firearms activist and author Alan Korwin pointed out to us, the beverage was Arizona Watermelon Fruit Juice Cocktail.
To him and others, it turns out, this detail makes a world of difference.
At first, Korwin thought we made the error for the same reason he believes other news media outlets around the country made the same error: Out of political correctness.
We assured him this wasn't true -- it was an honest mistake, and it pains us whenever we make any mistakes because we strive for accuracy in news reports. In this case, the detail seemed so innocuous, we didn't bother to double-check it.
As we learned, thanks to Korwin, the error had deeper meaning than the mere flavor of the drink. Plenty of other readers who've become armchair experts on the Martin case may have been left with the same mistaken impression Korwin had before we talked to him about this, namely that we were trying to hide something. Critical reports about Martin had noted something we missed -- the watermelon drink may have had something to do with Martin's thirst for "purple drank."
Yet Korwin has another take on the iced tea vs. watermelon problem: The stereotype that black people like watermelon led the news media to sort of whitewash the tale, starting with the flavor of the beverage and continuing with the idea that Martin was just an average kid instead of a drug-abusing punk-thief.
"The ice tea lie leads directly to every fallacious element of the trumped-up case, and the overt racism of every element of the reporting," Korwin wrote to us in an e-mail last week.
On Wednesday, during an all-day seminar put on by the Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law about self-defense and firearms laws, Korwin fleshed out his theory, saying the national debate about so-called "stand-your-ground" laws began with the media's "lie" about the iced tea.
"Why wouldn't the media say a black kid had watermelon juice?" Korwin, part of a three-member panel for a session on "Stand Your Ground," told an audience of about 150 people. "Because the media is racist."
"Somehow in the middle" of the biased coverage of the shooting of Martin, the news media brought up 'stand your ground' laws, which had nothing to do with Zimmerman's shooting of Martin, Korwin says.
A search of Google News shows that on March 16 and 17, the Christian Science Monitor and New York Times published two of the earliest (if not the earliest) stories that link the phrases "Trayvon Martin" and "Stand Your Ground." Both articles describe Martin's beverage as "iced tea."
The March 17 NY Times article contains a correction that also applies to our feature article: Zimmerman called 911 to report suspicious people 46 times over eight years, not 14 months. Our article says "two months" -- a dreadful mistake that we picked up from yet another erroneous news report.
We regret both of those errors, dear readers.
We believe you can trust our nearly 5,000-word article, the bulk of which was based on original reporting, unlike the one-paragraph summarization of the Martin case that we screwed up. But a firearms instructor quoted in our story said he found the story accurate, as did David Appleton, the Scottsdale lawyer whose shooting case we detailed.
Again, we would have put "watermelon juice" if we'd realized that was the truth about the beverage. Why wouldn't we? The bigger question posed by Korwin is not necessarily the mistake in our article, (the origin of which we, at least, can be sure of), but the mistakes in the many news articles we found online that contained the erroneous detail.
Did certain members of the news media know the Arizona brand drink's flavor, but put "iced tea" regardless? And if so, why did they do it?