Trayvon Martin update: Arrest of George Zimmerman moves media coverage to Casey Anthony land
That's the sense you get, watching officials' public statements following special prosecutor Angela Corey's decision to charge George Zimmerman with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
It is the outcome protesters and Martin's family said they wanted all along; a day in court to try proving that Zimmerman acted criminally in ending the life of their 17-year-old son. That so many skeptics seem to willfully overlook this notion -- wondering why civil rights activist Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson haven't protested over other murders where perpetrators have been arrested and are being prosecuted -- almost seems to prove the protesters' point.
Some people, it seems, will say anything to suggest that the system works. Even when it seemed ready to allow a man who killed an unarmed teenager obeying the law to escape prosecution.
The arrest of George Zimmerman also moved the case into more familiar territory for us Floridians; a prosecution with intense media interest based on the death of a youth. Yes, we're about to face another Casey Anthony-level trial.
I'm hopeful that, in addition to calming down protesters, Zimmerman's arrest calms the media, which has committed its typical atrocities while scrambling to find new angles on a story where the central questions are locked down in police files or may be unknowable.
One of those angles turned out to be Michelle Williams, a Tampa activist who has also been listed as chief of staff for the New Black Panther Party, a group listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a "virulently racist and anti-Semitic organization whose leaders have encouraged violence against whites."
Yet, somehow, it was considered news when Williams went on a podcast and connected those views to Zimmerman, calling white people "crackers" "pigs" and "pink people."
When local shock radio host Bubba the Love Sponge Clem broadcast her words on air earlier this week, it kicked off a minor media frenzy, as local news outlets which had interviewed Williams on other issues went back to probe her racist words. WTSP-Ch. 10 reporter Mike Deeson looked into her background and discovered that she's had several brushes with the law, besides.
But there are lots of people from fringe groups saying stupid things in the wake of Martin's killing and the push to arrest Zimmerman. Tampa NBC affiliate WFLA-Ch. 8 reported Wednesday that neo-Nazi groups were handing out literature as people gathered just before Corey announced her decision on charges.
There are plenty of racist white people filling their own media outlets with awful words inspired by this controversy. The National Review, a storied conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley, has fired two contributors in recent days for writing racist columns or having ties to white supremacy organizations. Here's the story of one, John Derbyshire.
There are lots of people seeking to use the Martin killing as proof of their own theories about race and racism. And members of the New Black Panther Party have proven time and again their willingness to feed white people fears of black militancy to boost their own publicity.
Focusing on the racism of fringe activists helps assure some conservatives the entire controversy over Martin's death is invalid. And it grabs attention for media outlets looking for a new, controversial angle on the story.
But media should be more responsible. We don't run to neo-Nazi groups for comment on every racial controversy because we know two things: such groups only represent a small sliver of opinions, and giving racist groups media attention only helps them grow and spread.
If I had been running a local TV newsroom, Williams' words and tearful apology would have been a 30-second story; more attention than any white bigot has gotten from local media over the issue, but warranted at least because she has some profile as a local activist.
At the very least, if media outlets are going to highlight her words, they should also turn to real leaders in the black community -- people who run churches, established advocacy groups such at the NAACP and political leaders for perspective from people who actually represent a significant constituency of people. Real leaders.
It is the simplest thing in the world to point a camera or microphone at someone capable of saying something outrageous. It's far harder to put such remarks in context, and avoid sensationalizing an already volatile situation.
Click below to hear my interview with local public broadcaster WUSF-FM, where I spent a half-hour with host Carson Cooper, pushing back against a lot of the less logical memes now infiltrating coverage of the Martin case: