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How Media Coverage Of The George Floyd Story Plays Into His Accused Killer's Trial

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Jury selection continued for a second day in the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd last May. Of interest to lawyers on both sides is the media diet of potential jurors. And joining us to talk about that is our media correspondent, David Folkenflik.

Hey, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So both legal teams, the prosecutors and the defense - those defending former officer Derek Chauvin - they're focused on how potential jurors have been following this case. What are they looking for?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, we get a decent road map for what they're looking for with a questionnaire that was put before prospective jurors. And they walk through a series of questions, what they feel they know about the case or their feelings about all kinds of issues that are somewhat related.

But on Page 5, there's a pretty intense series of questions about media, about media coverage but, really, about how they absorb the news. You figure, well, they'd be asked about local TV and newspapers. Yeah, that's right. But before even asking about that or about, say, their use of Facebook or Twitter, they're asked even about podcasts - what podcast they listen to, how often they listen to it. They get pretty granular information here.

If you think about this whole case, you know, it was really - got saturation coverage, like, late last May with the death of Mr. Floyd. It stoked the Black Lives Matter movement. It took protests to the streets. And you saw real differences in how it was covered. The more liberal outlets often minimized property damage and some of those things. But to a very great degree, an asymmetrical degree, Fox News, Sinclair, conservative outlets stressed the idea that Antifa was stoking these protests as opposed to a broad-ranging sense of injustice. They said incidents and accusations against police were overblown. And there was all this kind of spin, information, misinformation, all of which tended to affect how people understood what took place.

KELLY: Absolutely. Let me turn you to what's striking you about coverage now, how these early days of the trial are being covered.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, look; I think let's start with what you're seeing on the right. You're seeing some strong defense of the police action, strong defense of the defendant in this case - particularly struck a couple of weeks ago by Tucker Carlson, you know, who's been - hit this theme before, but he did it again. What you're about to hear about Mr. Floyd's death is simply not true. But here's what Carlson had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TUCKER CARLSON: There was no physical evidence that George Floyd was murdered by a cop. The autopsy showed that George Floyd almost certainly died of a drug overdose - fentanyl. But by that point, facts didn't matter.

FOLKENFLIK: Now, let's be clear. Mr. Chauvin is not facing technically a murder charge. But, actually, the coroner, while he did find that fentanyl was in George Floyd's blood - significant levels - he did not in any way tie it to George Floyd's death - that he said that George Floyd's death was attributed to asphyxiation. And he called it homicide, so that characterization is just wrong. And you're seeing others on the right finding similar ways to justify the former police officer's actions, making claims that, at least so far, don't match the facts we have in front of us.

KELLY: OK, so to stress one more time what we heard there from Tucker Carlson - not true, but it is how people are hearing it. Just a few seconds left, David. But that's how Fox is covering this. What about other news outlets?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you're seeing - beyond the conservative media, you're seeing it being covered in the context of Black Lives Matter and greater awareness of police brutality, particularly so many instances of brutality against protesters and even journalists. That's night and day. It's - real question here for the news media if they can help the public process all this or they can inflame and divide us on what was, of course, such an incendiary episode all those months ago.

KELLY: Right. Thank you, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

KELLY: NPR's David Folkenflik. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.