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Trayvon Martin Iced Tea v. Watermelon Juice Error Led to Self-Defense Debate, Activist Says

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Our October 31 article on self-defense laws in Arizona had two mistakes, as far as we know.

Culling information about the Trayvon Martin case from media reports, we misidentified the beverage Martin had on him when he was shot by George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012, as "an Arizona Iced Tea."

In fact, as firearms activist and author Alan Korwin pointed out to us, the beverage was Arizona Watermelon Fruit Juice Cocktail.

See also: - Shooting People from a Car in Alleged Self-Defense Is No Crime in Arizona

To him and others, it turns out, this detail makes a world of difference.

At first, Korwin thought we made the error for the same reason he believes other news media outlets around the country made the same error: Out of political correctness.

We assured him this wasn't true -- it was an honest mistake, and it pains us whenever we make any mistakes because we strive for accuracy in news reports. In this case, the detail seemed so innocuous, we didn't bother to double-check it.

As we learned, thanks to Korwin, the error had deeper meaning than the mere flavor of the drink. Plenty of other readers who've become armchair experts on the Martin case may have been left with the same mistaken impression Korwin had before we talked to him about this, namely that we were trying to hide something. Critical reports about Martin had noted something we missed -- the watermelon drink may have had something to do with Martin's thirst for "purple drank."

Yet Korwin has another take on the iced tea vs. watermelon problem: The stereotype that black people like watermelon led the news media to sort of whitewash the tale, starting with the flavor of the beverage and continuing with the idea that Martin was just an average kid instead of a drug-abusing punk-thief.

"The ice tea lie leads directly to every fallacious element of the trumped-up case, and the overt racism of every element of the reporting," Korwin wrote to us in an e-mail last week.

On Wednesday, during an all-day seminar put on by the Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law about self-defense and firearms laws, Korwin fleshed out his theory, saying the national debate about so-called "stand-your-ground" laws began with the media's "lie" about the iced tea.

"Why wouldn't the media say a black kid had watermelon juice?" Korwin, part of a three-member panel for a session on "Stand Your Ground," told an audience of about 150 people. "Because the media is racist."

"Somehow in the middle" of the biased coverage of the shooting of Martin, the news media brought up 'stand your ground' laws, which had nothing to do with Zimmerman's shooting of Martin, Korwin says.

A search of Google News shows that on March 16 and 17, the Christian Science Monitor and New York Times published two of the earliest (if not the earliest) stories that link the phrases "Trayvon Martin" and "Stand Your Ground." Both articles describe Martin's beverage as "iced tea."

The March 17 NY Times article contains a correction that also applies to our feature article: Zimmerman called 911 to report suspicious people 46 times over eight years, not 14 months. Our article says "two months" -- a dreadful mistake that we picked up from yet another erroneous news report.

We regret both of those errors, dear readers.

We believe you can trust our nearly 5,000-word article, the bulk of which was based on original reporting, unlike the one-paragraph summarization of the Martin case that we screwed up. But a firearms instructor quoted in our story said he found the story accurate, as did David Appleton, the Scottsdale lawyer whose shooting case we detailed.

Again, we would have put "watermelon juice" if we'd realized that was the truth about the beverage. Why wouldn't we? The bigger question posed by Korwin is not necessarily the mistake in our article, (the origin of which we, at least, can be sure of), but the mistakes in the many news articles we found online that contained the erroneous detail.

Did certain members of the news media know the Arizona brand drink's flavor, but put "iced tea" regardless? And if so, why did they do it?

True, maybe some editor or reporter did it on purpose. However, "Arizona Iced Tea" has become something of a proprietary eponym for all of the Arizona Beverage Company drinks, and is often mistaken for the name of the company.

Anyone who believes a conspiracy by the news media is responsible for the failure to label the drink properly in the Trayvon Martin case must ask themselves this: What about Miley Cyrus' drink?

In early October, the headline-grabbing pop singer made the news for a series of racy photographs taken in a hotel room. In the photos, numerous media outlets -- like this example from USA Today -- refer to Cyrus simulating sex with a can of "Arizona Iced Tea."

Yet the pictures show clearly that Cyrus is holding a can of Arizona Grapeade.

A Google search returns 100 times as many hits for Cyrus and "Arizona Iced Tea" than Cyrus and "Arizona Grapeade," suggesting the error was made far and wide.

Overall media coverage of Cyrus' transformation into a seemingly sex-crazed nudist has no more to do with the flavor of an Arizona-brand drink than does the coverage of the self-defense issues in the Martin case.

Korwin, though, maintains that stories like ours, and the national debate still raging over stand-your-ground laws, (Florida lawmakers were poised today to vote on a Democrat-backed bill that would repeal that state's stand-your-ground statute), wouldn't be happening if not for the push by the news media, which he believes is left-leaning and supportive of restrictions on firearms.

Nobody cared about such laws before the Martin media frenzy, he said on Wednesday, adding that the public doesn't support the alternative, something he calls "run-away-and-hide" laws.

State Senator Steve Gallardo (D-Phoenix), who was on the mid-afternoon panel with Korwin and Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles, pointed out that the idea of reviewing Arizona's self-defense laws, which include stand-your-ground-type features, is supported by both Democrats and the likes of Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and U.S. Senator John McCain, both GOP stalwarts.

Our feature article is grounded in the debate that stemmed from the Martin case, and we'd like to believe that debate revolves around some of the serious issues we confronted in our article, which legislatures around the country are contemplating. We don't agree that the public couldn't have cared less about Martin's death if the media's portrayal of the teen had been more critical from the outset. But, knowing how the public sometimes views drug users and petty thieves as less worthy of sympathy, it's possible.

We'd like to know what you think, so please take our poll:

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

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