LAKE MARY, Fla. (AP) — Whether they think that he got away with murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin or that he was just a brave neighborhood watch volunteer “standing his ground,” many Americans can’t seem to get enough of George Zimmerman. And he can’t seem to stop giving it to them.
So it’s hardly surprising that everything Zimmerman does produces a Twitterverse explosion and spins out into heavy news coverage. Comedian Deon Cole nailed it during an appearance on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” a couple of days after the July 13 verdict. Merely being found not guilty, he said of Zimmerman, “doesn’t mean that you’re a free man.”
He certainly hasn’t been free from the spotlight.
—Two stops for speeding.
—A cellphone photo of a smiling Zimmerman touring the Florida factory where the 9 mm semi-automatic pistol used in the February 2012 shooting was made.
—And, this week, police dash-cam footage of Zimmerman kneeling in the street to be cuffed after an alleged scuffle with his estranged wife and father-in-law.
Like gangster Al Capone going to Alcatraz for tax evasion and O.J. Simpson serving time for robbing some sports memorabilia dealers, some interpret this series of unfortunate events as part of some cosmic comeuppance for a wannabe cop.
But is he a kind of George Ziggy-man, perpetually stalked by storm clouds, or more like one of those California wildfires, creating his own weather patterns?
Seems like a little bit of both, according to crisis management expert Mark McClennan.
“How does he keep resetting his 15 minutes of fame?” said the Boston-area consultant, who’s on the Public Relations Society of America’s board of directors. “I’d say it’s a two-way street.”
Granted, Zimmerman didn’t expect his visit to the Kel-Tec CNC Industries factory in Cocoa, Fla., to be a public event. Zimmerman has turned down all Associated Press interview requests since his trial, and his lawyers didn’t respond to messages about this story. But Shawn Vincent, a spokesman for the law firm that defended Zimmerman, told Yahoo News of the factory visit: “That was not part of our public relations plan.”
But McClennan wasn’t surprised when TMZ published a photo of Zimmerman shaking hands with a Kel-Tec employee — and Zimmerman shouldn’t have been, either.
“Instead of being a 24-hour news cycle, it’s now a 24-second news cycle for anything to spring up,” said McClennan, a senior vice president at Schwartz MSL. “You need to be careful of what you’re doing. … And if there’s anything you do that is newsworthy or interesting, people are going to write about it, talk about it, share about it, tweet it, put it on YouTube — because it’s going to drive clicks, drive interest, and it’s going to spread virally.”
It’s not just his public outings and repeated brushes with the legal system that have kept Zimmerman in the spotlight. Martin’s parents were prominent participants in last month’s 50th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington, and several civil rights leaders have called for the repeal of “stand-your-ground” laws, which generally remove a person’s duty to retreat if possible in the face of danger.
Even when he helped extricate a family from an overturned SUV in July, Zimmerman couldn’t catch a break.
The grateful couple canceled a news conference, defense attorney Mark O’Mara said, “for the possibility of blowback against them.” People immediately suggested the incident was staged — or at least poked fun at the timing.
“Let’s get this straight,” Nigel Stevens wrote on the site http://www.opposingviews.com. “Zimmerman, in his only documented venture into the real world, heroically transforms into Volunteer Paramedic and rescues someone from deadly circumstances. Is this really happening? Aaron Sorkin and Steven Spielberg couldn’t have collaborated to come up with that ending. ”
Stevens — after dubbing Zimmerman “the most vilified man in America” — went on to suggest the next acts on the watchman’s “Karmic Redemption Tour”: Providing emergency childbirth assistance to Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, balancing Detroit’s budget and capturing NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
Zimmerman certainly has his supporters. Several groups launched petition drives urging the Department of Justice not to pursue federal civil rights charges against him.
“The jury has spoken and found that the prosecution failed to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that George Zimmerman had malice or racism in his heart or even a reckless disregard for Trayvon Martin’s life when he shot the teenager,” declared a petition on dickmorris.rallycongress.com. “The Justice Department should now butt out.”