Millions of Americans have tuned in to watch the murder trial of George Zimmerman, but the major TV network censors have spared their eyes from most of the gruesome and upsetting details of the case — until now, that is.
On Thursday evening, MSNBC's trial coverage accidentally showed a graphic courtroom image of 17-year old Trayvon Martin's body soon after he was fatally shot in the chest by Zimmerman. The image was picked up by Gawker and published on Friday morning in an article titled, "This, Courtesy of MSNBC, Is Trayvon Martin's Dead Body. Get Angry."
Underneath the photo, the article's author, Adam Weinstein, wrote, "This is Trayvon Martin's body. These are the last skinny jeans he wore, cuffed once at the bottoms. These are his stylish kicks, his sockless ankles. There are Trayvon's taut neck, his slack jaw, his open eyes."
I won't provide a link to either the image or the Gawker article here; you can Google it at your own risk. Be warned: the article displays the image front and center, so once you click, there's no going back.
The Gawker article has already drawn a tremendous amount of criticism for the fact that the image was featured so prominently and so unabashedly.
One commenter, KilgoreHTrout, wrote, "You did it for the page views, everything else is rationalizations on your part. I clicked, I read, I looked. I'm disgusted with myself, feel dirty, nauseated... to say this is poor taste would the understatement of the year, but I guess it was inevitable, so enjoy the cash that comes with it."
"Gawker are just shameless click-whores nowadays," declared another commenter, scrabbleicious.
In the article, Weinstein apologizes to Martin's parents, Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, for feeling compelled to share the image. Stating that "Good old-fashioned rage" drove him to publish the photo, Weinstein wrote, "I wish I were a better person than that, but I'm not."
While some Gawker readers called Weinstein an immoral promoter of voyeurism, others hailed him as a journalistic hero.
"Thank you for posting the photo. For months, racists have painted a picture of Trayvon as some drugged-out, super-human, monster predator. But no amount of lies can counter one photo of truth - A child murdered solely due to the color of his skin," said one user, Redrum73.
"Everyone should see this," commented Ianmac47. "That the photo of a dead kid is something people don't want to see is the very reason that should have to see it. The vilification of Martin and exoneration of Zimmerman by the media, talking heads, conservative politicians and general public is a disgusting example of the imbalance of power between being white and black in America."
Many viewers were struck by the way Martin appeared in the photo, laying face up in the grass, uncovered. "He looks like a child, not hulking, scary man," said Twitter user Stacy Herbert.
"Jesus, the kid was wearing khakis," observed Gawker reader mayfly.
As of 12 PM Friday, the mainstream media hadn't picked up the story. Closing arguments will wrap up Friday afternoon, and the jury is set to begin deliberation soon after. Given that there will be little fresh courtroom news for TV pundits to discuss once the jury enters the deliberation room, I'd be surprised if Wolf Blitzer and Co. don't at least mention the image by Friday evening.
Regardless of whether it makes prime-time news, the emergence of the photo on the internet is likely to spark a wide-ranging debate about media censorship, sensationalism, and the role of television cameras in the courtroom. In addition, it will likely re-ignite emotions over Martin's death, which could quickly spiral into a public outcry if Zimmerman is not found guilty.
Gabe Grand is an editorialist for PolicyMic who covers the George Zimmerman trial. For more live updates and opinions on the proceedings, follow him on Twitter.