ERIC BOEHLERT/Media Matters For America
With final arguments underway in the trial of George Zimmerman, who is accused of killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin last year, most observers might focus on the central question of whether the neighborhood watch volunteer was guilty of murder, or whether he acted in self-defense the night Martin died. They might also ask why it took prosecutors six weeks to charge Zimmerman with any crime, even though he admitted to killing the youth.
But from the crooked perspective of the far-right media, the trial represents something far more insidious than justice on display. Unfolding beneath the sinister specter of President Obama's pugnacious interference, the Zimmerman hearing is being denounced as a Soviet-style show trial, by Lou Dobbs on his July 9 program, anda hoax in which the defendant is the real victim.
It's the defendant who faces a perilous future even if found not guilty we're told; a defendant who's being persecuted by "the race industry." And it's a trial that allegedly operates under the ominous threat of "riots" if Zimmerman is found not guilty.
In other words, the trial, and the irresponsible right-wing commentary surrounding it, represents the latest example of how the conservative press remains incapable of dealing honestly with issues that the nation grapples with, and especially any issue that involves race when an African-American (Democrat) sits in the White House.
Instead, the right-wing media once again gleefully stirs the cauldron of racial animosity. Uninterested in letting justice unfold in the courtroom, the far right mob has been obsessed with making Obama a central player in the saga. A Breitbart writer this week condemned the president for his "direct insertion" into the story, referring to the time, 16 months ago, when Obama answered a single question about the Martin controversy. Obama's quote was supposedly part of a larger, menacing White House plot "to gin up charges of racism" surrounding the case, according to the site.
Given that level of obsession, it's no surprise the right-wing press manufactured a story this week that allowed them to cast Obama as an essential villain in the Zimmerman controversy. Pointing to a report that confirmed the Department of Justice's Community Relations Service unit (CRS) had been dispatched last year to Sanford Florida, the scene of the Martin killing, most of the right-wing noise machine trumpeted the revelation as proof that Obama's Department of Justice was guilty of staging "anti-Zimmerman" rallies.
All of that, of course, was completely false.
The CRS employs peacemakers who work with civic and religious leaders when tensions flare up within communities. Its presence in Sanford was hardly proof that the Obama administration had taken sides in the case. And none of it was even news. As Media Matters noted, both the Miami Herald and the Orlando Sentinel wrote about CRS's presence in Sanford last year and detailed its efforts to successfully facilitate peaceful protests.
In other words, the Department of Justice under Obama did its job and helped keep the peace in Sanford at a time when community tensions were running high. Therefore Obama is guilty of fueling racial tensions in Florida? Of "instigating race riots," as Limbaugh put it. (For the record, there were no "race riots" last year in connection with the Martin controversy.)
It's classic Obama Derangement Syndrome, in which the president's professional opponents contort reality to place him at the center of every possible controversy, even murder trials, and cast him as an all-powerful thug. It's a hypnotic force that overrules common sense.
Note this opening sentence from a recent Breitbart News item, which suggested danger was lurking in Florida:
On Wednesday, Sanford Chief of Police Cecil Smith told Breitbart News exclusively that there is "nothing out there" suggesting civil unrest will take place in the city following the George Zimmerman verdict.
So after getting a quote from the head of Sanford police confirming there's no indication there will be civil unrest following the Zimmerman verdict, Breitbart then hyped a story about how officials are bracing for civil unrest following the Zimmerman verdict.
Talk about remaining committed to a race-baiting narrative.
This week Breitbart also trumpeted a piece headlined: "Broward County Sheriff's Office Prepares Zimmerman Verdict Riot Plan," claiming Florida law enforcement "released a video calling on the public not to riot."
But that wasn't the case.
The youth-oriented public service video released by police made no mention of fending off a "riot." It simply discouraged individuals from expressing anger through an act of violence. ("Raise Your Voice, Not Your Hands.") Getting angry and getting arrested does not constitute rioting. So why the right-wing echo chamber obsession about looming riots? On this show Monday night, Bill O'Reilly couldn't stop talking about the threat.
And note how O'Reilly couched most of his trial coverage.
From the Washington Post's Erik Wemple, who contrasted O'Reilly's complaint that the only reason the trial was getting so much attention was that "it's a light-skinned Hispanic against a black kid," as compared with the coverage on The O'Reilly Factor [emphasis added]:
Last night, O'Reilly delivered an editorial monologue on the George Zimmerman case; then he discussed it with commentators Kimberly Guilfoyle and Lis Wiehl; then he sat down with another guest, Jacques DeGraff, and talked about it. Much of the discussion concerned race.On Monday night, O'Reilly discussed the racial aspects of the case with LeVar Burton. In another segment on the same show, he discussed the case with Juan Williams and Mary Katharine Ham. Much of the discussion concerned race.Last Wednesday night, O'Reilly convened a panel with Wiehl and Guilfoyle on the trial.Last Tuesday night, O'Reilly blasted actor Jamie Foxx's Trayvon Martin T-shirt in a segment with Alan Colmes and Monica Crowley. That was all about race.
But in terms of unfiltered race baiting, nobody has matched Rush Limbaugh's invective about the Zimmerman case, and the talker's obsession with portraying Obama as a driving force in the story. Latching onto the phony spin surrounding CRS, Limbaugh accused the president of "promoting racial strife" so that the "rest of us can get a taste of" slavery.
The confirmation that the right-wing media's loudest voice was using the murder of a young, unarmed black teenager to suggest America's first black president was trying to fuel racial tension so white Americans could "get a taste" of what the crushing pain and humiliation of slavery felt like, really does defy common sense and civility, ever for a confused hate merchant like Limbaugh.
With the Zimmerman trial, Rush Limbaugh had once again won the race to the bottom.