Hannity contacted by shooter in Martin case

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By DAVID BAUDER, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity has become the second cable news host whose involvement in the Trayvon Martin shooting case has gone beyond merely talking about it on the air.

Hannity acknowledged having a conversation with a man he believed to be George Zimmerman, who shot and killed the black Florida teenager Feb. 26 in a case that has ignited racial tensions. Zimmerman's former lawyers, in quitting the case Tuesday, noted that their client had talked to Hannity more recently than with them.

Hannity, who last week interviewed Zimmerman's father on Fox, said there has been a "rush to judgment" about the shooter.

Over on MSNBC, Al Sharpton has participated in marches and demonstrations in support of Martin while continuing to discuss the case on his evening talk show. There have been stark differences in the attention and focus on the case at the two networks.

Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second-degree murder on Wednesday. He turned himself in and arrived at jail in Sanford, Fla., where the shooting took place. Cable networks ramped up their coverage to make note of the news.

Hannity's involvement in the case came to light Tuesday at a news conference held by Zimmerman's former lawyers, Hal Uhrig and Craig Sonner. Hannity, who said on his show Tuesday night that he's been pursuing a Zimmerman interview for weeks, said he was contacted Monday by a man he believes was Zimmerman.

"He reached out to me, we spoke on the phone about his case and I agreed not to report on the contents of that conversation," Hannity said.

On his radio show Monday, Hannity said he had confirmed that Zimmerman was a mentor to minority children. "Now, if you were racist, I don't think you'd be a mentor to minority children," he said.

With Uhrig and Sonner present, Hannity last week on Fox interviewed Zimmerman's father, Robert. Robert Zimmerman's face was concealed during the interview.

During the interview, Hannity told Zimmerman that "I would argue there has been a rush to judgment." He cited statements made by political and civil rights leaders about the shooting being racially motivated — George Zimmerman's father is white and his mother Hispanic — and mentioned President Barack Obama's comment that if he had a son, he would likely look like Trayvon.

Zimmerman's father said he agreed. "I just believe it's very sad that so many people are not telling the truth for their own agenda," he said.

During the interview, Zimmerman's father said he had never heard his son utter a racial slur and, prompted by Hannity, recalled a time when his son helped a black homeless man.

Hannity also devoted a portion of his show Tuesday to discussing a report that the New Black Panther Party had put a bounty on George Zimmerman's head.

There was no progress to report Wednesday on Hannity's attempt to get a George Zimmerman interview, according to Fox.

Cable news networks had sharply different appetites for the case, according to research by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. From March 19 to 28, MSNBC — where the prime-time hosts are liberal — the network devoted 49 percent of its on-air time to the Martin story. During the same period at Fox, where the prime-time hosts are conservative, 15 percent of the news hole was spent on the case. It was 40 percent at CNN.

On March 26, for example, MSNBC carried 14 minutes of a mid-afternoon news conference by Martin's parents live and uninterrupted by commercials, the project said. CNN aired the news conference for a little more than five minutes. Fox didn't mention the story at all in that hour, the Excellence Project reported.

The topics that drew the most attention about the case on MSNBC concerned gun control and Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, the project said. On Fox, the most time spent was on Martin's background and statements in defense of Zimmerman.

With Zimmerman's arrest on Wednesday, Fox aired a lengthy live segment of a news conference held by the defendant's new lawyer shortly after 7 p.m. ET. At the same time, MSNBC showed Sharpton interviewing Martin's parents.

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Associated Press writers Kyle Hightower in Sanford, Fla., and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee contributed to this report.

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