In the past few weeks, the shooting death of Trayvon Martin exploded on the national stage. George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who shot and killed Martin, kept his head down and did not do any interviews. Few spoke on his behalf, until Joe Oliver, a calm, compelling public speaker took to the national airwaves, prompting the question who is Joe Oliver?
Anchor, Reporter and Mortgage Underwriter
As MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell and others have pointed out, Oliver's most recent connection to Zimmerman was as a coworker at mortgage underwriting firm Digital Risk. Oliver says he met Zimmerman through his wife, who is a "close friend" of Zimmerman's mother-in-law, and has known him for six years.
The Orlando Sentinel confirmed that Zimmerman worked at Digital Risk before the shooting. Oliver confirmed that "we're co-workers." Oliver's LinkedIn profile calls him a "Forensic Chart Review Specialist" -- he processes loans in default for forensic underwriting, a job related to Florida's continuing housing meltdown.
Previously, Oliver has been an anchor/reporter at WESH-TV in Orlando, at KRON-TV in San Francisco, and at CNN in Atlanta. His WESH profile lists his honors: "Joe recieved [sic] an Emmy nomination and worked on the Emmy award-winning newsmagazine 'The West/In American' while working at KCRA-TV, Sacramento, Calif. He also recieved [sic] an Environmental Media Award for his story about the effects that the politics of Haiti have had on the island for CNN's 'Earth Matters' newsmagazine show."
Zimmerman's Media Assistant?
These credentials may be why he came forward to defend a friend he claims is not a racist. But the "help" he offers has been characterized as "odd" or even "bizarre," "misleading." Out of the box Oliver raised hackles by asserting: "If we weren't sitting here talking about George shooting Trayvon, we'd be talking about Trayvon shooting George." All currently available information has Martin being completely unarmed -- famously carrying only Skittles, an iced tea, and the cell phone on which he was talking to his girlfriend.
In an interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball," he was asked to explain the racial slur that listeners claim can be heard on Zimmerman's 911 call: "Were you surprised when you heard he used the racial slur?" Matthews asked. "The f'ing c-word. Were you surprised he used a term like that?" Oliver said that, in his interpretation of the recording, Zimmerman could have said either "coon" or "goon," and tried to justify each: "There are a lot of parts of this country where people proudly call themselves coon-asses, Louisiana, in particular." He added that he didn't know "too many people under 40 that use that term as a racial slur." These assertions immediately brought howls of derision from multiple quarters.
Oliver says he had taken a leave of absence from his paper pushing job and is not being paid for this work. Yet, many suspect that the search for a new job is what motivates Oliver.