Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

On Pinterest and in Documentaries, Don’t Judge a Killer By An Image

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Doc Soup Man saw a graphic on Pinterest that paints Trayvon Martin’s killer as a victim of media bias. What does it mean for the social networking site that the image was false?

I was recently checking out the new social media site Pinterest when I came upon this image:


Striking, isn’t it? I’ve been following the tragic killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, a man who says he shot him in self defense, like most people. I’ve read some articles in The New York Times and I’ve read some coverage by some websites. The two pictures displayed at the top of the above graphic were immediately familiar to me. The bottom ones were not.

This graphic raises a lot of interesting questions about the power of the image, something that every documentary filmmaker is intimately familiar with.

Let’s start with the obvious: We see what we want to see. Having read details of the night, it’s easy to believe that Zimmerman was overzealous, at least, or a racist vigilante, at worst. And whatever Martin did, he didn’t deserve to die. Those two top pictures confirm that narrative.

But the bottom two pictures demand that we question those beliefs. In it, Zimmerman, who the Orlando Sentinel reports as being a well-liked loan underwriter, sure looks like a nice guy, while Martin looks like a punk who’s looking to provoke.

So these two bottom photos call things into question, but are they any more or less valid to sway my beliefs than the top two images? No, certainly not. What someone looks like in a photo can’t be used as evidence when determining what his or her actions might be in an extreme situation. That’s obvious. But it’s also naïve to suggest that such pictures don’t influence our feelings about a person’s ability to commit a crime.

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris has been great at tackling these issues. He writes about them frequently for The New York Times, which lead to a 2011 book, Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography, about truth in documentary photography, and his 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line, which employed stylized reenactments persuasively, helped free a wrongly convicted man. I wish he’d have a go at this one!

But the way I stumbled onto this image continues to nag at me. Where did this graphic, which was spread by Pinterest and no doubt other social networks, come from? And would I be able to confirm its veracity?

I’m going to have to be the hater here. Everyone’s raving about Pinterest, with its bulletin board aesthetic and funky, po-po-mo mis-en-scene. Look, there’s Dave Eggers floating in the ether next to a quote from Hunger Games! Look, there’s a Van Halen album cover idling next to a copy of Little Women. And, yes, look at this compelling image of Zimmerman and Martin. Except that, as it turns out, after doing some digging, I came upon the truth that the bottom image isn’t the Trayvon Martin who was killed by Zimmerman. It’s an image that the blog Street Wise Pundit alleges a white-supremacist group began circulating.

Several outlets have since revealed this sham, and the woman who posted the image on her Pinterest board has since removed it. But that doesn’t mean that hundreds, thousands or millions of people didn’t already see it there, and that they didn’t get duped. A still image can be stunning and powerful. And social media sites can provide delightful ways to get information. But, from my very first introduction to Pinterest, I am seeing how dangerous it can be. Who curates this bulletin board? Who’s responsible for placing this hateful propaganda in a featured spot on Pinterest’s “Film, Music and Books” section? Was it some random algorithm? Or, what, it’s the people speaking?

There’s a long history of public witch-hunts, skewed by the narratives we hear and see in the tabloid media. Just think of Tawana Brawley or the Central Park Jogger. Now, we have platforms like Pinterest stirring the pot. They seem innocent and cool. All I can say is beware of the image.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki




  • BellaVida

    You need to update this article.  The bottom photo is not Trayvon Martin. 

    • Paul

       um read the article…

  • Darlenekwiatkowski

    So is that to say that all of those Trayvon Martin findings of ‘@nolimit_nigga’ and such are a different Trayvon Martin?

  • Darlenekwiatkowski

    So is that to say that all of those Trayvon Martin findings of ‘@nolimit_nigga’ and such are a different Trayvon Martin?

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for making us aware of the power of these images. Some folks, even here, are not actually reading the article – only responding to the image; demonstrating the point of the article quite clearly. 

  • JB

    Thanks for pointing out the fraud in this. This demonstrates how vital REAL investigative reporting is in the facts-don’t-matter-anymore “opinionshere”.

  • Luimelend25

    No one is looking at pictures… This about Zimmerman following this kid when he was repeatedly told not too… if he stays put like he was told this would have never happened… I’m full blooded Mexican and I think this Guy should be put in jail. Im not looking at no damn pics.. I’ve seen nerds throwing up gang signs in pictures now u going to tell me they are gang members cmon on now don’t be so dumb… the only reason y we are in this situation is because Zimmerman followed the kid when he was told not too.. plain and simle

    • Ivancruz365

      It’s because of people like you the I’m ashamed to say I’m Mexican. You have no business commenting if you don’t understand the damn article. Plain and simple.

  • Sdfsdf


  • Tom Roston

    Thanks to ericholsinger, ivancruz365 and @timhorsburgh for pointing out the blaring irony that people here are not bothering to digest this post, and pretty much just responding to the image. I’d say this is kind of sad, but I really find it hilarious. It’s a 639-word piece, people! Doesn’t anyone read any more? By the 451st word, I reveal that that’s not Martin. IT’S NOT TRAYVON MARTIN!

    • Cate

       When people read on the web, they scan, so if you have an important point to make you need to make it boldly and up front. Sorry that journalism suffers for it, but those are the new rules. And frankly, pictures wherever they appear always need to be looked at carefully. It’s media studies 101 and new media isn’t any different.

      • Jared Bell

        Not all people, and I don’t advise changing anything in any context to facilitate the stupid of our population. What would that accomplish?

  • OliviaA

    The above photo of GZ has been altered.  There’s a black outline around his head and under his chin, and the blue shirt collar appears painted on.
    I think GZ’s head was cropped from a photo, and added to a cropped photo of a person in a suit jacket and tie.

    I’m surprised people haven’t noticed the extra blue pixels on the right side of the neck, and the extra dark-colored pixels on the right side of ZG head where it meets neck.

    Someone wanted everyone to see a photo of smiling GZ in a suit and tie, but they did a poor Photoshop job.  The jacket doesn’t even look realistic.  Where’s the lapel?

  • Brewingtona

    The point you are making “beware of the image” is valid though I’d say from the comments it missed its mark. You should label those pictures better. Also, one does say/write “po-po-mo” ever. In any context

    • Brewingtona

      Does not* say

  • Remembertrayvon

     Actually it’s funny because the racist hispanic didn’t have a cut on his head in his little police pictures. We all saw them, I in fact most of the pictures claiming that zimmerman was assaulted(rightfully so if it did occur) by Trayvon have never surfaced. The photo of blood dripping down his head is not real. The original just should a red cut. So this is the work of jews protecting their own plain and simple.

  • NakedTruth

    This whole case has been a rush to judgment. To much racism on both sides. None of you were there to know what really happened. Please let the courts figure it out.

  • Heather

    This case is ridicules. Im sorry but look at the FACTS. George Zimmerman has no bad record but Trayvon did. George did not wake up and think “I’ll shot a black kid today” no, not what happened. He was NOT shot cause he was black, he was shot in self defense. Shot because he was beating up George. Yes George probably shouldn’t of followed him but as a neighborhood watchmen its his job to protect his neighborhood. Neighbors have said they saw a man in black on top of a man in red as he threw punches. So how exactly is Trayvon this innocent child who was shot? The media keeps using the mugshot of george against the 5 year old trayvon martin. HELLO he’s not 5 anymore, he was 17! kids change, people change and its not always in a good way. Drugs and theft are among Trayvon’s history and should not be overlooked. So please everyone get over the fact that the mexican shot the black. Its far more than race in this situation. A kid lost his life and a man could lose his due to a tragic incident that took place. Look at the facts, and follow the trial and think beyond the small thing of race, because the color of your skin is not the cause or affect of everything that happens. Peoples actions are.

  • Deb

    George Zimmerman most certainly does have a record. He fought with a police officer over a ticket, domestic violence. Honestly, I can’t even have a rational conversation with you. You sicken me. Trayvon smoked pot……so what. I am a fifty five year old woman who has never smoked pot and I think so what. Let’s kill all the kids who smoke pot. Have you ever lost a child? Have you ever raised a child? I can answer yes to both questions. You don’t get your child back….NOT EVER!!!!!!! I hope you feel real pain one day and it is funny how life teaches us lessons.

  • Pingback: The George Zimmerman Trial – Reopening a Nation’s Wound. | thinkablecritter

  • Jared Bell

    Tom, if your point hinges on the accuracy of the TM photo, well there are plenty more of him flipping the double bird with gold teeth, blowing smoke out of his mouth, etc. Why would a racist group manufacture a bogus photo when there were several other real ones that would have had just the same impact? I haven’t followed this case and I rarely watch the news because I can’t stand the stupidity, but I question your thinking here. We’re now supposed to take what a blogger alleges as credible? You’re kidding, right?

  • Kathy Parker

    Anyone want to change their mind on George in light of the fact that he threatened his wife and father-in-law last week? George was stalking Trayvon. When George called the police they told him to leave, not to continue to follow the boy. Had George listened, that boy would be alive today.

  • Justice For Trayvon

    That’s not even Trayvon on the bottom picture, stupid