Seven times, Fox News anchor Jamie Colby tried to get George Zimmerman's brother to criticize the president and his speech about Trayvon Martin. And seven times, he declined to do so.
Robert Zimmerman has earned a reputation for his outspoken interviews. After the verdict, for example, he went on CNN and suggested that Martin was looking to get a gun and grow marijuana. During the case, he was a font of unswerving on-air support.
So, when Fox spoke with him by phone shortly after the president's speech today, they likely expected something other than what they got. In question after question, Colby tried to elicit some combativeness, some critique of the speech. And in answer after answer, he didn't rise to the bait.
Zimmerman's take: It was good the president spoke, and what he said was important. He agreed with the president — he didn't even object to the government's on-going investigation of possible civil rights charges. But most of all, he agreed that kids needed mentors. He kept coming back to this, turning Colby's leading questions into ways of advocating for mentorship.
We walked through each of Colby's seven questions to Zimmerman, excerpting it and the response. No need to take our word for it; you can watch the full interaction for yourself. But we also did a quick bit of translation: What Colby asked almost always had a subtext aimed at heightening the tension between Zimmerman's family and the White House. It never worked.
1. Describe your emotional response to what the president said.
Colby: Were you surprised by the president's remarks?
Zimmerman: I think the president took his time with his remarks and it was about time they heard from him. ... I'm glad he spoke out today.
2. You really think the president should have spoken?
Colby: Why would you expect the American people to want to hear from the president, with everything else going on in the world, on this case?
Zimmerman: No matter what your opinion of the verdict is, there have to be things that bring us together. ... We have some kind of a game plan going forward for what's going to help youth, in particular, is what struck me about the president's speech. ... The president talked about encouraging African-American youth, but I would say also youth of all colors.
3. Did the president insult your brother who — remember, viewers — had good traits?
Colby: Your brother did mentor minority teens as part of his work. The president also said one of the initiatives he'd like to see is training of law enforcement. Do you think he was talking about your brother?
Zimmerman: I'm not sure. ... I think mentoring all children of all colors is one of the ways we break the cycle ... sometimes the right encouragement and the right role models and sort of the right shoulder to lean on in very difficult times in life can prevent any kind of engagement with law enforcement or the criminal justice system whatsoever. ...
I'm not a person who has mentored children of any race or color. Perhaps I could do better in that regard.
4. Do you agree with the president's racial characterization?
Colby: One of the things the president said ... [if] Trayvon Martin would have been white and your brother not, that the outcome and the aftermath of this case white have been different. Is that part of the soul searching your brother is doing now?
Zimmerman: I don't know. ... We can speculate a lot about what would have been or could have been. ... There's youth in all different situations affected by poverty ... affected by having a lack of resources generally, even access to food that the first lady's been very positive force behind getting access to food and nutrition. ... I think it should be about promoting a colorblind America.
5. Wasn't the president being racist himself?
Colby: You're going a step further than the president did; he only talked about the African-American youth. ... [S]hould he have broadened it out to say that he would like us to soul search about all kids in America and the opportunities they may not be getting?
Zimmerman: I think the president was speaking off-the-cuff and I think he was very sincere in his remarks. ... No matter what any child's race is or creed or whatever political stripe they come from or we come from, it should be beyond politics to stand united in the sense we can organize ourselves to better address the needs of children. ... That person was George specifically, for African-Americans.
6. Does Obama only care about Trayvon's family? Isn't race playing a role?
Colby: (Interrupting) This is a very noble idea we can all reach out to the youth of America. ... I'm curious if your family has had any contact with the president or any from the White House or administration. Do you feel that the reaction to the verdict is divided among racial lines?
Zimmerman: We haven't had any contact from the president or the administration that I know of. But I think, you know, moving anything along racial lines is just a disservice to our country. ... [We should] do everything we can for children who are having difficulty. I really see eye-to-eye with the president on that.
7. Obama is still trying to go after your brother. Defend him. Tell us how you really feel. Speak clearly into the microphone.
Colby: The Department of Justice will look to see if civil rights charges can be filed, any other actions against your brother in this case. You've been fiercely defensive of your brother and outspoken as well. What's your message to the justice department about whether or not they should pursue any other action against your brother? Let's get it out there!
Zimmerman: I have defended my brother when he was a defendant. He is no longer a defendant. ... If the Justice Department is within their rights to investigate then they are within their rights to investigate. ... I'm not sure that necessarily an investigation is a bad thing. I'm a little bit concerned sometimes that our leaders are responding to pressure. ... I think the American people need to have some time to digest what really happened ... hopefully, the answer will be that we can all do more to support our youth throughout our communities.
And with that, the interview ended.