Has George Zimmerman Won the Media War?

A year after he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, the defendant's press
 blitz is paying off.

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George Zimmerman (Getty Images)

(The Root) -- Tuesday, Feb. 26, marked the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old, self-appointed neighborhood-watch captain, who now awaits trial for murder in the second degree. 

Trayvon would have celebrated his 18th birthday this month. A Million Hoodie March was organized in New York City this week in remembrance. The teen, whose untimely death sparked a national debate about racial profiling and the meaning of self-defense, was once described by a teacher as an "A and B student who majored in cheerfulness."

According to official reports, Trayvon walked to 7-Eleven to buy Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea before returning to a gated community in Sanford, Fla., where he was visiting his father. Zimmerman called 911 upon seeing Trayvon, claiming the boy was "suspicious" and looked "like he's on drugs." Zimmerman followed the teenager; a confrontation ensued and Trayvon was shot to death.

What appeared to have been a prima facie case became blurry when Sanford police released Zimmerman without charge -- accepting his assertion of self-defense under Florida's "Stand your ground" law. However, after widespread media focus and a federal investigation, the special prosecutor concluded that Trayvon was racially profiled, aggressively pursued and murdered.

Zimmerman's criminal background didn't help his claim of innocence. Reports emerged that Zimmerman had been arrested for assaulting a police officer and had a history of domestic violence. After being charged with Trayvon's murder and released on bond, Zimmerman was detained again when prosecutors discovered that he and his wife, Shellie, lied under oath during his bond hearing.

The picture began to fit the crime. 

After a few months, Zimmerman gave his first televised interview, in which he said his shooting of Trayvon was "God's plan" -- an insensitive choice of words. This followed a racially tinged interview with Zimmerman's father in which he attacked President Obama and civil rights activists like the Rev. Al Sharpton for inciting "hatred."

In the months that followed, the Zimmerman team embarked on a media tour. 

Robert Zimmerman Jr., George's older brother, has emerged as the family spokesperson. The move to try the case in the public sphere appears to be a deliberate strategy designed by Mark O'Mara, George's media-savvy defense attorney. Robert, who is tempered and articulate, has appeared on CNN with Piers Morgan, HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher, Fox's Good Morning Los Angeles and Univision, the Spanish-language channel. Robert has offered several interviews to local Florida networks and conducted an exclusive talk sponsored by the Orlando chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

The purpose of the media blitz has been to reframe George Zimmerman as a likable guy who embraces his partial Hispanic heritage -- and somehow could not possibly be racist. Robert made a point of telling Maher that their mother is of "Afro-Peruvian" descent, and in his interview with Univision's Jorge Ramos, he went so far as to accuse Trayvon supporters and the mainstream press of paddling a racist narrative. "Racism is a very lucrative sport in this country," Robert said. "A lot of people make lots of money ... accusing others of racism, without even proving it."

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