CNN Goes ‘Beyond Trayvon,’ Searches for Solutions

By Merrill Knox 

More than 12 hours after “Starting Point,” CNN’s Soledad O’Brien finished her Thursday moderating a town hall on the Trayvon Martin killing.

TVNewser attended the taping in front of a live studio audience at Time Warner Center. The more than two-and-a-half hour town hall will be condensed into a one hour program airing tonight. Among the panelists were Martin family lawyer Benjamin Crump, New York streetfighter Curtis Sliwa, former NAACP president C.L. Bryant and HLN host Jane Velez-Mitchell.

While many of the panelists seemed to take the side of Trayvon Martin, it was left to O’Brien to challenge her guests about George Zimmerman’s side of things. Zimmerman, the armed neighborhood watchman, has not gone public with his story, leaving that to his lawyer, friends and family members.

One of the night’s most vocal audience reactions came during a discussion of the media’s role in the case, when Geraldo Rivera’s hoodie comments were played for the crowd. Although O’Brien noted Rivera has since apologized, the panel — including Roland Martin, no stranger to controversy himself — took the Fox News anchor to task for his remarks.

“Geraldo, have some street cred,” Sliwa quipped.

What didn’t come up was the role Rev. Al Sharpton has been playing as both storyteller on his MSNBC show and activist for the family.

After the taping, we spent a few minutes with O’Brien, who says hosting a long-form conversation was a welcome departure from the quick 4-5 minute segments the case has been reduced to on most cable news shows.

“I never think too much is a bad thing,” she said. “I always much more worry about how descriptors become very shorthand because you only have 35 seconds to make your VO. So it becomes, ‘black teen,’ that’s many fewer words than ‘Trayvon Martin, African-American,’ so we’re going with this one, it’s shorter.”

O’Brien acknowledged the cable networks have differed in coverage of the case, noting her strength lies in her years of covering the topic of race in America.

“Many of the issues that we’re talking about in this particular case, [like] racial profiling, are stories that we actually did in our first ‘Black in America’ back in 2008,” she said. “You’re talking to a lot of people who, certainly within our company, have had a lot of experience talking about the issues in this particular case.”

“Beyond Trayvon: Race and Justice in America” airs tonight at 8pm and 10pmET.