Litigation PR: Media tools and treatment of the Trayvon Martin shooting

Nick Augustine is the principal of Pro Serve PR Marketing, a firm that provides marketing and public relations advising and services for law firms. Nick’s niche in litigation public relations grew out of time spent in litigation trenches. Nick is a frequent national speaker on law firm public relations, risk, strategy and public opinion management. Nick earned a communications and rhetorical studies degree from Marquette University and a law degree from The John Marshall Law School, where he is an active Alumni Board member.

If you were not paying attention to the Trayvon Martin shooting and flipped to one of the cable news networks, you might think you were watching witness and trial commentary, well before the decision was made to arrest George Zimmerman. Consider how much we “know” well before we get to court.

You can’t blame the media for the attention because their job is to report the news. As long as people want to talk about the issues arising out of the shooting of Martin, there will be a full media push to spread and share information. Attorneys: Be prepared ahead of time and seek counsel of a crisis management public relations representative. Always manage media relations in high profile litigation.

Several media outlets are under fire for “sensational” reporting. The National Rifle Association is one outspoken organization, upset by the media creating celebrity victims while the everyday victims go unnoticed. Apparently inundated with phone calls, I’m not entirely sure the NRA is upset by the increase in media attention. Does an attack on firearm ownership put the NRA in a defensive position as another victim? I imagine gun sales recently spiked.

Some of the media tools used in this case include: 1) Enhanced video (appearing to show injury to the back of Zimmerman’s head); 2) Audio editing and enhancement (what did Zimmerman say?); 3) Wikipedia; 4) Social media; and 5) Innuendo. The Wikipedia page is particularly robust with content including the 911 emergency recordings.

This case is a good example of how media is used to try cases in the court of public opinion before courts of law get involved. If you have been watching the news lately, you hear everyone talking about how the police treated Zimmerman. Last week I saw Zimmerman’s brother on a commentary program. He declined to offer a sympathetic statement to Martin’s family – that sends a (strategic) message.

Subterfuge? The way I see it, a larger issue here is the Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law and its application in this case. Was Zimmerman acting in self-defense or did he taunt Martin? If you didn’t follow this case intently and caught recent news you might think this is a simply a police misconduct case. Is this statute good law? Who is the victim here? Did you already assess blame and culpability?

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