Whenever my father mentions news to me, red flags go up. It usually means that Fox News is pushing something hard. I assume this not just because he watches the network. He generally only watches Shepard Smith. There’s always one or more outrages on Bill O’Reilly each night, but Smith can often be mistaken for an actual journalist. The story was about the murder of the college student Christopher Lane. To him it was another outrageous example of cultural decline. “What is wrong with people?” he asked. I have a few ideas about what is wrong with people, but I took the rhetorical question for what it is and left it there. Anyway, I had a different question in my mind.
“Why did you even hear about this vile tragedy?” Make no mistake: the story is horrible. Lane was out running, I assume to stay in shape because he’s an athlete. The three teens were bored so they killed him. There is something about the casualness of the crime that makes it particularly awful. But what’s even more awful is that this kind of sociopathic behavior is fairly common. It’s the kind of thing that makes the local news, but nationally it is “dog bites man.” There are about 40 murders every day in the United States. There was nothing especially notable about this one.
Soon the information started coming in. Fox News was pushing the story as a counter to the coverage of the murder of Trayvon Martin. You see, these were young black men who killed a white man. What does the president have to say about that? Huh? Why is he silent about this?! I don’t know if the conservatives pushing this story are stupid or just disingenuous. But it is definitely one or the other. The only reason that the Martin case got any traction—the only reason that President Obama talked about it—is that the perpetrator wasn’t arrested. Sure, there were racial aspects to it. But in the end, the outrage was over the fact that an adult could kill a teen and not even be arrested. In fact, the police not only didn’t do a background check on Zimmerman, they did do one of the dead Martin. The police handling of the murder was horrible. And that’s why it became a big story.
So how does this new horrible crime relate to the Trayvon Martin case? As far as I can tell, it doesn’t. It is just an excuse to complain that Obama talked about the Martin case, as if that compels him to comment on every new trumped up story that Fox News focuses on. But as Chris Hayes discussed on last night’s All In, Fox News didn’t even get the facts right. Of the three teens who were arrested, one is black, one is mixed race, and one is white. What’s more, they then went to kill a schoolmate who was black.
There is plenty of racism wherever you go. No one is immune. But I think most people try to keep any racist thoughts they have out of the public sphere of life. But the conservative claim that whites are the real victims of racism is a very public declaration of racism. When Ed Henry asked the White House about the “three African American young men” he wasn’t just misinformed. If he had known they weren’t all black, he never would have asked the question. He wasn’t interested in the crime. His only interest was in pushing this tired racist meme. In the 1970s, the National Review did a lot of damage control, walking back their pro-Jim Crow racist opinions from only a decade earlier. Eventually, Fox News (or at least its reporters) will have to do the same thing.