When I'm interested in a high-profile trial, one of my go-to sources for analysis is the liberal blogger Jeralyn Merritt, whose TalkLeft focuses on crimes with political implications. Merritt is a criminal defense attorney in Denver who has been running the blog for over a decade.
While reading her posts on the George Zimmerman murder trial, I was surprised by a comment she made to a user of her site:
I have repeatedly warned Ricky not to ask readers to help prove the prosecution case. ... He is sounding more and more like a stealth commenter. Commenters may not use this site to try and build a case for the prosecution in areas they fall short.
Despite being a TalkLeft reader, I wasn't aware that comments were treated differently based on what they express about a prosecution. This was such an unusual policy that I asked her about it in email: "Given the way you allow commenters who are sympathetic to the defense to talk, it appears to me that by design you impose more limits on a pro-prosecution commenter than on a pro-defense commenter. If this is true, why do you think that's necessary?"
Here's her response in full:
I have decided to take your question seriously and respond.
TalkLeft is not a neutral site. It's mission is to promote the rights of those accused of crime. Our "about page" clearly states our mission.
That said, I take great pride in the accuracy of TalkLeft's reporting. If I see something that is incorrect or that misstates the known facts or evidence, it is deleted regardless of the views of the person who posted it. If I make a mistake, I correct it as soon as someone makes me aware of it.
Personal attacks are not allowed on anyone. Nor are discussions about prejudicial information that neither side is seeking to introduce at trial. For example, this is one of the few sites where you will not see a discussion of Trayvon Martin's Twitter feed. I have been very strict in not allowing attacks on Martin or his parents. If the defense moves to introduce such evidence it will be discussed in the context of its applicability to issues in the case, not to denigrate him or them.
I am also adamant that TalkLeft will not be used to spread misinformation or to promote guilty verdicts. People can watch the mainstream media coverage if that is what they suppport. TalkLeft views the proceedings though the lens of the Constitution. The point is for George Zimmerman to get a fair trial. Unless the trial is fair, the verdict will lack integrity.
None of us have all the information available to the state and defense. But due to Florida's open records law, most of the discovery is available as is every filed pleading. All of the hearings have been televised and live-streamed. Most readers, reporters, commentators and bloggers have not read every single pleading, examined every piece of discovery that is not under seal (I have because I purchased it from the state), watched every moment of every pre-trial hearing, jury selection and the trial to date, or extensively researched Florida case law and jury instructions as have I and many of those participating in our forums.
Our rules for commenting are clearly stated. Because of the amount of misinformation being spread about this case, and the tendency of commenters to think their use of a pseudonym allows them to engage in gross speculation and personal attacks, I created special rules for commenting on this case. For example, if a witness' identity has been protected by the Court, you will not see it exposed on TalkLeft. Nor will you see them "doxed." If you have not read the rules, they are here.
Our coverage is about the legal aspects of the case, not race issues or larger social justice issues. Zimmerman is not charged with a hate crime and the state never alleged his actions were racially motivated. Unfortunately, because lawyers and a public relations firm with an agenda inserted themselves into the case early on, held press conferences accusing the police of not conducting a fair investigation less than a month after the shooting, announced they had found a witness who "blew the defense claims out of the water" and made unfounded and untested accusations against Zimmerman in their attempt to influence official action and have him arrested and beyond, and the media repeatedly falsely portrayed the facts (like the mis-editing of Zimmeran's call to police), debunking of those efforts has also been included in our coverage.
I have also set up forums where the rules are relaxed a bit and every facet of the case can be discussed.
A lesser factor for not wanting armchair prosecutors opining how they would prove the case: The state combs the internet coverage of sites focusing on the legal aspects of the case. Even if they haven't seen something here, if it's helpful to their case, one of their supporters will send it to them. I have no interest in tipping them off as to how they can improve their case or what they have overlooked.
This is not the only case TalkLeft has covered in depth. The Duke LaCrosse case is probably the most similar to this because of the huge interest in it, the extreme positions people took against the defendants and the prejudical (and demonstrably false) media spin. The only two cases I have had to set up separate forums for are the Duke La Crosse case and Zimmerman.
There are hundreds if not more internet sites covering this case. The information in my posts is accurate and informed. My conclusions and opinions are clearly stated as such. While I monitor comments as best I can, since I have a full-time law practice, I cannot read every comment. Stating the rules upfront, and disclosing we are not a neutral site, allows readers to know what to expect here. If they don't approve, they are free to visit one ot the many other sites covering the case.
I hope this answers your question.