Mark Follman

Mark Follman

Senior Editor

Mark Follman is a senior editor at Mother Jones. He is a former editor of Salon and a cofounder of the MediaBugs project. His reporting and commentary have also appeared in Salon, Rolling Stone, The Atlanticthe Boston Globe, USA Today, and on Fox News and NPR's All Things Considered. The in-depth investigation into mass shootings he led for Mother Jones has been honored with multiple awards: The 2013 Izzy Award, two Society of Professional Journalists awards for reporting excellence, and an Online Journalism Award.

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Does George Zimmerman's Story Add Up?

| Thu Jun. 21, 2012 3:59 PM PDT

Does George Zimmerman's account of what happened on the night he shot and killed Trayvon Martin add up? That question, and whether or not he acted legally in self-defense, will be adjudicated in a Florida court. Aside from Zimmerman landing back in jail for allegedly lying during his bond hearing, the story on the Martin killing has been relatively quiet in recent weeks. But now, on the court's orders, Zimmerman's legal team has been forced to release additional documentary evidence, including a written statement from Zimmerman and a police video (above) in which he reenacts the deadly altercation for investigators the day after it went down.

It isn't hard to see why Zimmerman's attorneys were reluctant to make the material public. It raises more questions and reveals apparent discrepancies in his story.

In a four-page written statement to police on February 26, the night of the shooting (see the document below), Zimmerman says Martin "circled his vehicle" and then disappeared into the darkness as Zimmerman spoke to a police dispatcher on his cell phone. When the dispatcher asked him for his location, Zimmerman wrote in the statement, "I could not remember the name of the street so I got out of my car to look for a street sign."

His stated reason for exiting his vehicle may not be implausible, but it's certainly odd: After all, Zimmerman had lived in the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a small gated community, for years. And he was a leader of its Neighborhood Watch program; prior to the night he killed Martin, he'd called the police no less than 46 times since 2004 to report alleged incidents in the neigborhood. This is a guy who now doesn't recognize which street he's on in his neighborhood?

Also eyebrow-raising is Zimmerman's recollection of the violence that took place after he exited his vehicle. In the written statement, Zimmerman describes reaching for his cell phone to dial 911 as Martin accosts him, comes at him, and punches him in the face. "I fell backwards onto my back," Zimmerman wrote. "The suspect got on top of me."

But in his reenactment at the scene, filmed the day after the shooting by police investigators, Zimmerman describes moving forward after Martin punches him in the face, not falling onto his back. "I think I stumbled," he tells investigators, gesturing forward with his right hand from the spot where he says Martin punched him. "I fell down, he pushed me down, somehow he got on top of me."

An investigator then asks, "On the grass or on the cement?" 

Zimmerman points and walks forward about six paces, the camera following him, as he responds: "It was more over towards here. I think I was trying to push him away from me, and then he got on top of me somewhere around here, and that's when I started screaming for help."

Zimmerman has a right to his day in court. It's important to keep that in mind. But as more information from the investigation emerges, it doesn't seem to be doing much for his case in the court of public opinion.

 

Selling Trayvon Martin for Target Practice

| Fri May. 11, 2012 3:43 PM PDT

There's a new low in the highly charged Trayvon Martin case. According to a report from Florida TV news station WKMG, an unidentified entrepreneur aimed to profit by selling paper gun targets depicting the unarmed teenager slain in February. The targets, which were advertised for sale online until Friday, feature a hoodie with crosshairs over the chest—the place where George Zimmerman shot Martin at point-blank range. While there's plain black in lieu of Martin's face, tucked into the hoodie's arm are a bag of Skittles and can of iced tea like the kind Martin was carrying on that fateful night.

An advertisement for the targets had been posted on a popular firearms auction website, according to WKMG, in which the sellers stated that they "support Zimmerman and believe he is innocent and that he shot a thug." In an email exchange with WKMG reporter Mike DeForest, the seller acknowledged: "My main motivation was to make money off the controversy." The ad reportedly has since been removed, but the seller told the Flordia news station that the response was "overwhelming" and that the targets were "sold out in two days." Customers included two Florida gun dealers, he said.

Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's attorney, offered condemnation in an interview with the TV station. "It's this type of hatred—that's what this is, it's hate-mongering—that's going to make it more difficult to try this case," O'Mara said.

A Huffington Post report linked to a cached version of a GunBroker.com web page (the link now appears to be broken) belonging to a seller named "hillerarmco" from Virginia Beach, Va., which showed the paper targets being sold in packs of 10 for $8. The product description read:

Everyone knows the story of Zimmerman and Martin. Obviously we support Zimmerman and believe he is innocent and that he shot a thug. Each target is printed on thick, high quality poster paper with a matte finish! The dimensions are 12"x18" ( The same as Darkotic Zombie Targets) This is a Ten Pack of Targets.

Meanwhile, Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, has appeared in a poignant new gun control video rolled out for Mother's Day in which she advocates against Stand Your Ground, the Florida self-defense law which allowed Zimmerman to walk free for six weeks before he was eventually charged with second-degree murder. We'll have much more on Stand Your Ground laws—now on the books in various forms across 25 states—in our forthcoming July/August issue of Mother Jones; in the meantime, catch up on essential background and developments in the case with our comprehensive Trayvon Martin explainer.

Here's WKMG's report:

Jhumpa Lahiri Was Abandoned by Her Editor

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 11:08 AM PDT

In an essay exploring her love of sentences in last Sunday's New York Times, the great writer Jhumpa Lahiri put together some awful sentences. I say "put together" intentionally: The sentences themselves were mostly fine, at turns even terrific, but in several places they were assembled quite awfully. This surprised me in light of Lahiri's literary talent and the reputable publication to which she was contributing. Where the heck was her editor? 

A few paragraphs into the piece (inaugurating a Times series called, ahem, "Draft"), Lahiri explained how artful sentences are essential to great literature—that they "remain the test, whether or not to read something." The rest of the paragraph was a demonstration of a writer allowing her impulse for metaphor to spring off the page, wrestle her to the floor, tie her to the desk, and run out to the corner store for a six-pack and a lottery ticket. She continued:

The most compelling narrative, expressed in sentences with which I have no chemical reaction, or an adverse one, leaves me cold. In fiction, plenty do the job of conveying information, rousing suspense, painting characters, enabling them to speak. But only certain sentences breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil. The first sentence of a book is a handshake, perhaps an embrace. Style and personality are irrelevant. They can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. They can obey the rules or break them. But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates.

This seems to taste like chicken, but is dissatisfying because you know it's not chicken. Chew on it again, this time with a brief annotation of its tangled metaphorical sinews:

The most compelling narrative, expressed in sentences with which I have no chemical reaction, or an adverse one, leaves me cold. [chemistry, temperature] In fiction, plenty do the job of conveying information, rousing suspense, painting characters, enabling them to speak. [visual art, and possibly mechanics or magic] But only certain sentences breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil. [meaning what? tree roots? worms? gophers?] The first sentence of a book is a handshake, perhaps an embrace. [now they are human] Style and personality are irrelevant. They can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. They can obey the rules or break them. [with human traits and behaviors] But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates. [or objects possibly carrying electricity]

I decided to keep reading even though there was additional metaphorical muck to wade through. ("Sentences are the bricks as well as the mortar, the motor as well as the fuel." A nice harmonic touch there with "mortar" and "motor," but say what?) I'm an admirer of Lahiri's work; her first collection of short stories, the exquisite Interpreter of Maladies, was a touchstone for me as a MFA student and resides in my cherished-books section at home. Even here, with her very next paragraph, Lahiri takes your hand and pulls you close, sharing her enthusiasm for reading in a foreign language and what that can teach the true lover of language. It’s the same length as the prior paragraph but uses only one metaphor.

Maybe I’m being a little unfair here—after all, the piece was in a newspaper, not one of the Pulitzer prize-winning author's books. And Lahiri did include a few lines I found memorable: "The urge to convert experience into a group of words that are in a grammatical relation to one another is the most basic, ongoing impulse of my life." Now that’s an impulse I can relate to.

If anything, Lahiri’s essay underscores a truth that most of us who spend our days crafting sentences know: Unless you were born the equivalent of Mozart or Michael Jordan, you not only appreciate but also demand having a good editor to back you up. Even if the only one available is, well, you.

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