Updated below, 7/26/13, 11:30 am.
Recently, I wrote about the Zimmerman trial and my disappointment (if not complete surprise) at how irresponsible many journalists, scholars and lawyers have been in reporting, discussing, and drawing conclusions from that case. As I noted there, one of the most serious, and most obviously incorrect, of the many widespread errors about the case is that Zimmerman racially profiled a seven-year-old black child. Now, the original police log of Zimmerman's calls has been available to everyone with an Internet connection and two minutes to spare since March of 2012. Nevertheless, on July 16, 2013, The New Republic published an essay in which a distinguished law professor wrote the following (emphasis in original):
. . . Zimmerman was an edgy basket case with a gun who had called 911 46 times in 15 months, once to report the suspicious activities of a seven year old black boy.
That sentence contains three factual errors (the broader article contains others), two of which I noted in my prior post. First, and probably of least importance, many of Zimmerman's 46 calls (reporting 43 incidents) were made to the non-emergency police number (not just to 911). Second, and of more import, Zimmerman made 46 calls over 7.5 years (not over 15 months). Third, and most egregiously, Zimmerman's call (to the non-emergency police number) regarding a seven-to-nine-year-old black boy was placed because Zimmerman was "concerned for [the] well being" of that child, who was walking unaccompanied on a busy street (see page 37).
After being alerted to at least some of these errors, TNR eventually edited the sentence. Two changes were made — one acknowledged at the bottom of the TNR article, and one unacknowledged — while a third error was left unaddressed. The acknowledged change addresses the least damaging of the three errors: TNR replaced "called 911" with "called the polics [sic]," thus implicitly acknowledging that many of GZ's calls were to the non-emergency number rather than to 911. A more damaging error remains: that GZ made 46 calls within "15 months," instead of over a period of 7.5 years, as the call log readily shows.
But it's TNR's unacknowledged change in response to the third, most serious, error that really chafes. Here's how the sentence now reads (once again, italics in the original):
. . . Zimmerman was an edgy basket case with a gun who had called the polics 46 times in 15 months, once to report on a seven year old black boy.
TNR replaced "report the suspicious activities of a seven year old black boy" with "report on a seven year old black boy." The charitable characterization of this edit is that it is very, very lawyerly. Yes, the TNR piece no longer explicitly falsely claims that GZ called the police about a black boy because GZ found the child suspicious. But in the context of a paragraph meant to demonstrate that "[v]igilante justice . . . is especially menacing to minority racial groups who are often sterotyped as criminals," and in the absence of disclosing the benign (indeed, laudatory) reason why GZ did call police, the reporting of GZ's call about "a seven year old black boy" — complete with incredulity italics — strongly implies what the article only technically no longer says: that Zimmerman "reported on" a young black child because Zimmerman stereotyped that child as a criminal.