Former television reporter and anchor Joe Oliver continues to make the media rounds on behalf of his friend George Zimmerman, who shot and killed 17 year old Trayvon Martin, and whose claims of self defense Oliver seeks to bolster. On Tuesday morning’s Starting Point, Oliver offered up some new claims from Zimmerman, some fresh contradictions, and in response to panelist Keli Goff, his reaction to the idea that he’s being used as a racial human shield for Zimmerman.
The interview, between host Soledad O’Brien and panelists John Fugelsang and Keli Goff, was illuminating in some ways, yet frustrating in others. Oliver is obviously a practiced media professional (which is one of the reasons he gives for having volunteered to go on tour for Zimmerman), adept at getting his message across (or adjusting it as needed), while deflecting and evading tough questions.
Oliver began by telling O’brien that he spoke to Zimmerman yesterday, and that Zimmerman corroborated the report that police leaked yesterday (of Zimmerman’s own account), and gave him additional details, which he said “unfortunately at this time i’m not able to discuss,” leaving him free to inject new “facts,” while avoiding any questions about them. Far more than just a character witness, Joe Oliver is making offers of fact to a potential jury pool that George Zimmerman will never have to back up.
John Fugelsang asked Oliver if Zimmerman explained to him “why he did not choose to seek medical care until the next day for a broken nose?”
Oliver seems to have picked up on the fact that if you say something in a soothing anchor voice, it doesn’t really matter if it makes any sense, as he told Fugelsang “Well, with a broken nose, it’s something that, you know, unless it’s on the side of your face, you don’t really know.” (emphasis mine)
O’Brien asked if Zimmerman is worried that someone is going to track him down and find him, and Oliver responded that “that’s why he’s in hiding basically, he hasn’t been back to his apartment,” adding that “he’s being treated for post traumatic stress disorder, for depression, for insomnia. He cried for days after this happened. The George Zimmerman I know is not here anymore, because he knows that he took someone else’s life, and he’s extremely remorseful.
Oliver then sought to manage the outrage that has built up in this case, telling O’Brien “I understand completely the fear and anger that he’s out there over this case. If I didn’t know George Zimmerman, I’d be right out there, too, but i do know George and I do know the portrayal that young black men have had. I’ve experienced that growing up. I get that. I understand that, but in this one specific incident, that wasn’t the case. Race had nothing to do with it.”
It was an eloquent defense that was slightly undercut by his next response. Asked if this man that Oliver is such close friends with had ever discussed race issues with him, Oliver replied “No,” adding “whenever I saw george, it was in a social atmosphere among friends and family, and so we talked what everybody else talked about, you know, there were no pressing issues.”
So, Joe Oliver is such good friends with George Zimmerman that he knows he couldn’t have profiled, stalked, and shot Trayvon Martin to death, but they only ever engage in small talk at parties?
O’ Brien then asked Oliver about the 911 tape that seems to show Zimmerman using a racial slur, and while he abandoned the nonsense that he told Chris Matthews last night, he added something new that might not be that helpful to his friend. “It could be a hard hard ‘g’ or a hard ‘c,'” he said, meaning that Zimmerman was either saying “goons” or coons” on that tape, and added that “My daughter has played it over and over again. One minute she hears a hard ‘c’ and the next hard ‘g.'”
Asked why his daughter plays the tape over and over again, Oliver responded, “She loves George, and she knows George, and she herself has had to deal with repercussions at school because of her relationship with him.”
She loves the guy, yet after playing the tape over and over again, still isn’t sure he didn’t say “coon.”
Here’s where things go awry for Joe Oliver, factually. Soledad O’Brien reminds Oliver that the police dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon Martin, and he did anyway. “No, he did not,” Oliver replied. “He said, no, you don’t have to do that, after he asked him if he was following him, and George responded, okay. So what happened after George said okay? Well, according to the police report and according to George, he started heading back to his SUV.”
Except that’s not what Zimmerman told police. He didn’t say he gave up his pursuit based on the dispatcher’s instructions, he said “he lost sight of Trayvon and was walking back to his SUV when Trayvon approached him from the left rear, and they exchanged words.”
It’s also not what Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend, who was on the phone with him at the time and is the only living witness to their first contact, says. According to her, Trayvon ran, and thought he had lost Zimmerman, only to be accosted by him and asked “What are you doing here?”
TheLoop21.com‘s Keli Goff asked Oliver a provocative question. “When people often get in trouble when it comes to race,” she began, “one of the things you hear is ‘I have a black friend,’ so my first question is, do you feel as though that is your role, were you asked to speak on his behalf to represent that?”
“And my second question is, do you think it is impossible for someone to know someone who is black and to have a friendly relationship with them, and yet to not also display racially insensitive characteristics towards black strangers? Plenty of studies show that can happen and be the case.”
“I’m sure that could happen and be the case, but I’ve not had that experience,” Oliver replied. “As far as being George’s only black friend, you know, the friends of George’s that I know are my friends, so I would have to search through them to find out how many black ones there are, but the point is, I’m here not because — i volunteered, because I know George. I volunteered because I know George was going to be in a maelstrom because he had no idea, I volunteered because of my understanding of the media, I volunteered because I’m a black man and I understand what is happening because of this story.”
Take Oliver’s answer for what you will, but Goff’s question, combined with Mr. Oliver’s indications that he really doesn’t know Zimmerman all that well (or at all where race is concerned), cast some doubt on the value of his assessments.
Here’s the clip, from CNN’s Starting Point:
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