Not content with turning George Zimmerman into the “true” victim of the Trayvon Martin fatal shooting and Trayvon Martin into the villain, Fox News is now demonizing African Americans who are upset about Zimmerman’s acquittal by blaming their population at large for the entire tragedy. Oh, they don’t say so directly. But anyone with an ounce of insight can see that that’s the message behind Fox’s relentless lecturing that black-on-black crime is the “real issue” African Americans should focus on, instead of this case. Or, to put it another way, "Blame yourselves, not Zimmerman."
The messaging, which began well before the trial, goes like this: African Americans are opportunistically blaming Zimmerman/whites for problems of their own making in order to distract from the many faults among themselves that they should be addressing.
In April 2012, the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple reported on Bill O’Reilly’s debate with African American Marc Lamont Hill about a Shelby Steele editorial in the Wall Street Journal whose viewpoint O’Reilly shared:
O’REILLY: Black teenagers in Chicago fear other black teenagers in gangs---that’s who’s doing the murders and you can’t sit there and tell me they don’t fear them, ‘cause they do. The good black kids fear the bad black kids.
Wemple also noted that Fox’s Juan Williams had written a similar editorial, complaining that at least some African American concern about the Martin case was misguided:
Where is the march against the drug dealers who prey on young black people? Where is the march against bad schools, with their 50% dropout rate for black teenaged boys? Those failed schools are certainly guilty of creating the shameful 40% unemployment rate for black teens.
Wemple agreed that the issue of black-on-black crime is a legitimate one but he went on to say:
What lacks legitimacy, however, is the underlying intent of the Steele-O’Reilly-Williams argument, and that is to somehow strip the Martin case of its standing as a national preoccupation — of civil rights leaders and of the media. Those folks, along with the general public, have latched onto Trayvon Martin for a combination of several compelling reasons: How could a 17-year-old kid doing nothing wrong wind up shot to death walking home from the convenience store? How could the authorities bungle the case in so many ways? Do neighborhood watch captains provide protection or menace? What’s the deal with the stand-your-ground law?
Wemple righteously defended the media’s interest in the story but he seems to have missed a crucial element. These pundits are not just criticizing the media, they’re making a double-barreled attack on the African American community at large. First, they delegitimize, denigrate and dismiss its interest in the case. That’s done via a political sleight-of-hand that draws attention away from the issues Wemple ably outlines and fixes it instead on some of the worst aspects of the black community. Then, the unstated message is that African Americans have no integrity on the subject of crime. But the worst part is the underlying and implicit suggestion that the whole thing is their own fault because if blacks weren’t so violent, Martin would never have been shot in the first place.
…You dress like a thug, people are going to treat you like a thug. That’s true, I stand by that even in my own family. …That’s the reality. You don’t send your kids into the rainy night and then have them walk in back alleys in troubled neighborhoods and expect that a good result.
Even worse, Rivera suggested that Zimmerman waited too long to shoot and kill Martin:
So it’s a dark night, a 6-foot-2-inch, hoodie-wearing stranger is in the immediate housing complex. How would the ladies of that jury have reacted? I submit that if they were armed, they would have shot and killed Trayvon Martin a lot sooner than George Zimmerman did. This is self defense.
The other Fox pundits are in a nearly unanimous chorus of disdain for African Americans’ sentiments. Bill O’Reilly recently “asked” actor Levar Burton if black crime rates don’t “mitigate” racial profiing. Host Greg Gutfeld may have gotten a bonus for his twofer that included liberals in his attack on blacks getting “a pass” on the subject of black crime. This, as he gave fellow co-host Andrea Tantaros a pass for her recent remarks asking her radio-show listeners to “do me a favor” and punch an Obama supporter “in the face.” Even the usually progressive Jehmu Greene worked black-on-black violence into her generally sympathetic-to-Trayvon column:
While the country is fixated on #JusticeforTrayvon, shouldn’t we also broaden the focus in an attempt to save all the other Trayvons that haven’t yet been taken down by a bullet? The number one cause of death for young black men in America is murder. Most likely by a black man with an illegal gun, not by the police or a racial profiling neighborhood watchmen.
…Have we been conditioned to disregard the murder of African-American boys and men unless they are killed by someone of another race or ethnicity? Now that folks are paying attention, what should we demand?
That’s not to say that the issue of crime in the black community is not worth examining. But Fox’s concern has more of a ring of accusation than concern. When, for example, has the “fair and balanced” network attempted to investigate those issues with statistics, sociologists, criminologists and, yes, civil rights leaders as opposed to pundits with flashy talking points and an axe to grind? Furthermore, there’s the question of timing. Fox’s sudden enthusiasm for this issue, just as many other people are in the middle of grief and mourning, is more than tone deaf, it’s mean spirited and hostile.
It’s also very convenient for the Fox News agenda. While they’re pointing the finger at African Americans, they don’t have to listen to those very issues that African Americans and other like-minded folks are thinking about: racial profiling, stand-your-ground laws, disparity in sentencing and the ultimate question of how an unarmed teenager, walking home from a convenience store could wind up shot to death by Fox's guy Zimmerman without being held accountable.
It’s pretty clear who the real distractors are here. But it’s worse than that. Instead of showing any real respect for a grieving community, Fox chose to pour salt on the wound and demonize the mourners at the same time. It's hard to think of how anything that calls itself a news network could be any more despicable.
“I CAN’T BELIEVE THERE’S A F***ING DARKIE IN THE WHITE HOUSE!”
“So it’s a dark night, a 6-foot-2-inch, hoodie-wearing stranger is in the immediate housing complex. How would the ladies of that jury have reacted? I submit that if they were armed, they would have shot and killed Trayvon Martin a lot sooner than George Zimmerman did. This is self defense.”
Yeah, Gerry, it is—or rather, it would be if (a) the person in question were Georgette Zimmerman and (b) the incident took place at night, instead of broad daylight—albeit a rainy and overcast day.
Care to remind us all why you’re known as “Geraldo Rivera” instead of “Gerald Riviera?” Perhaps it was because your last name was a little, shall we say, too Puerto-Ricany and your first name was a little, shall we say, not Puerto-Ricany enough?
What’s wrong, Gerry? Being half-Jewish (although, under Israeli law, you qualify as “all Jewish” since your mother was Jewish) wasn’t enough for you or your first employer?
Perhaps Gerry’s current downturn into FoxNoise dementia can be traced back to that time when his show featured a confrontation between white supremacists, skinheads, and Black and Jewish activists and Gerry got a chair in the face. At the time, the only perceived injury was a broken nose. Maybe there was more?
The right wing narrative on this case from the beginning has been to try to turn it back on itself. The basics of the story, of course, don’t lend themselves easily to the effort: 17 year old black high school student is profiled while walking home from the store, unarmed and committing no crime, and in the ensuing confrontation with an enthusiastic Neighborhood Watch volunteer, winds up shot to death. So how does Fox News and the right wing media handle such an explosive matter?
First, they attempt to dismiss the entire story out of hand. “There’s nothing to see here. What about (fill in various typical and distracting crime blotter stories) rather than this story? Why doesn’t everyone look at (fill in typical outrageous shooting story from crime blotters)? Why aren’t we talking about black on black crime?” Now, the attempt to do this is outrageous and offensive in the first place anyway. This story is noteworthy because it’s an example of an unarmed 17 year old, profiled based on his race and clothing, who wound up dead because a Neighborhood Watch volunteer assumed he must be up to no good. Sorry, but that’s an explosive story, and it’s not the same thing at all as a typical case of a drug dealer being shot, or a robber shooting someone while committing their crime. Newspapers are filled with the latter kinds of stories every day. A story like this becomes a national headline because it’s emblematic. It crystallizes problems we know exist in the society (racial profiling, lax gun permitting) and gives them a face and a name.
Having failed to dismiss the story in general, the right wing press then went to the next level – they attacked the victim. Trayvon Martin went from being portrayed as an unarmed teen to being played on the right as an uppity punk and a vicious street thug who deserved to be shot to death. Commenters on Fox News said at various points, “The person responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death is Trayvon Martin”. Relying solely on George Zimmerman’s version of events, the right wing painted a picture of Martin as a sinister figure, attacking gentle George Zimmerman without warning and attempting to viciously kill him before the good man was forced to defend himself with his handgun. Adding to the fun was citations of Trayvon Martin’s spotty school record and selected quotations from his texts and social media entries, all intended to paint him as gangster or a drug dealer or just an all-around thug who everyone could imagine as a potentially fatal menace to Zimmerman. (Interesting to note that the right wing media went out of their way to dismiss the various accounts of Zimmerman’s own spotty past and the nastier portions of his social media entries, but no matter…)
With that approach in hand, the right wing media proceeded to the trial with an attitude of “Why is this case even being brought? It’s obvious that Zimmerman was defending himself! He was right to shoot the thug!” This attitude permeated the Fox News coverage from even before jury selection began.
And we should note about the jury: the comments by jurors since the verdict have at least established one major factor in how the matter was decided. Race really was a factor for this jury. As it turns out, the defense team did a much better job with their work on jury selection than the prosecution did. The prosecution clearly didn’t want to play up the racial angle of the case – their thought on the jury was that if they had an all-female panel, and if they had several mothers in there, they would get the attention of people who would react badly if their own child was killed while walking home from the store. But the prosecution didn’t factor in that if they had a nearly all-white jury with not a single black member, you could have a situation where the jury couldn’t relate to the victim of the crime. As the interviewed juror revealed, she couldn’t understand Rachel Jenteal and just assumed that black people in general just use phrases like “creepy ass cracka” as normal speech. This would be humorous if we weren’t discussing a murder case. The defense team, of course, knew that if they had a nearly all-white jury with a conservative lean to their thinking, there would be a considerable barrier to the prosecution making their case. And what happened here? The seated jury was unable to understand or relate to key witnesses, leaving them in a place where they wound up with more doubt than certainty. And that’s how they wound up unable to agree on manslaughter, even after multiple jurors indicated they wanted to rule that way.
To add insult to the injury of the coverage, we then were treated to the spectacle of “They’re gonna riot!!”, which was a shorthand for saying that “Black people can’t handle a verdict they don’t like, and they’re gonna burn your city down!” There were two pieces to this – part of it was the snide condescension that the case would immediately lead to acquittal after five minutes in the jury chamber. And to this was added the insult that black communities would immediately lose their minds after that happened. Frankly, this was the lowest point in the coverage for me. And what happened? The jury struggled with their instructions for two days, before finally turning in a verdict that they admitted they didn’t think they had much choice about based on their instructions. Further, the jurors admitted, again, that they didn’t understand and couldn’t relate to key witnesses.
But what happened next? Martin’s parents, community leaders and the President called for calm reflection and positive work after the verdict. And overwhelmingly around the country, that’s exactly what happened. People gathered peacefully (albeit unhappily) and expressed their disagreement with this result. Undaunted, the right wing media then seized on the tiny number of isolated situations where lawbreakers took advantage of the protests to try to cause trouble. I would consider this to be the final poke in the eye for the matter. Having been denied the visuals of mass rioting and cities on fire, the right wing frantically grasped at any little embers they could to prove their foregone conclusion.
It’s going to be important to remember what happened here for the future. In years to come, Bill O’Reilly and the rest will be telling a very different narrative about this matter – in the same way that they tell different stories about O.J. or about Ramos & Compean. It’s important that someone remember the truth. And I would argue it’s the very reason that a site like this one needs to exist.
Oh, yeah- Because I was already pondering doing that, and what I just read here was the winning point for the “Do it!” side.