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HARPER: Media reveal their prejudices in Zimmerman coverage

- - Wednesday, July 17, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If you had any doubt about the prejudicial attitude of the media toward George Zimmerman, you only needed to read or listen to the vitriol directed toward him and the Florida jury that acquitted him of killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

"America is racist at its core. I used to doubt this simplistic claim. Today I cannot," Harvard professor Lawrence Bobo wrote in The Root, a website devoted to blacks' issues.

Is he serious about a country that elected a black man as president and has another black man as attorney general?

Many members of the media compared the case in Sanford, Fla., to those of civil rights icons Emmett Till and Medgar Evers — an incredible stretch of fact and logic.

Hermene Hartman, a columnist in the Huffington Post, compared Trayvon Martin to Emmett Till, the 14-year-old from Chicago who reportedly flirted with a white woman while in Mississippi in 1955. The woman's husband and his half-brother pulled Emmett from his bed, beat him, gouged out one of his eyes and shot him before tossing his body into a river.

Is Ms. Hartman serious that Mr. Zimmerman's actions were in any way comparable to those of Emmett's murderers?

Others compared Trayvon with Evers, a civil rights leader who was assassinated by members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1963 outside his house in Mississippi. Are they serious in suggesting that Mr. Zimmerman's actions were similar to those of the Ku Klux Klan in 1963?

Charles Blow, the "visual op-ed columnist" of The New York Times, mused yet again about what he should tell his sons as a black single father. Tell them to walk away from trouble rather than toward it — the same advice I give my daughter and almost every parent suggests to their children.

HLN's Nancy Grace — never to be outdone for hyperbole — inaccurately stated that Mr. Zimmerman referred to blacks as "f***ing coons" in his telephone call to police the night of the fatal confrontation in February 2012. I guess Ms. Grace missed the first two words of the opening statement from the prosecution when the state's lawyers accurately stated that the word the defendant used the night of the shooting was "punks." (Full disclosure: I am an expert witness in a lawsuit that Mr. Zimmerman has brought against NBC and MSNBC over its pretrial reporting.)

One of the most outrageous analyses — one seconded by a large number of journalists — came from University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos on Salon.com.

"Suppose Trayvon Martin had been a 230-pound, 30-year-old black man, with a loaded gun in his jacket. Suppose Zimmerman had been a 150-pound, 17-year-old white kid, who was doing nothing more threatening than walking back from a convenience store to his father's condo?" he asked.

Mr. Campos indicated that he thought in that case the Sanford jury of five white women and one Hispanic woman would find the defendant guilty.

Mr. Zimmerman was 28 at the time of the shooting and did not weigh 230 pounds. Trayvon was taller and more athletic than Mr. Zimmerman. The victim's father did not own the condo; his girlfriend did. On what basis does the professor assume the jury would reach such a verdict?

If a law professor provides a scenario, he should at the very least get the facts right.

Although Trayvon's death was tragic, a jury found — and almost everyone who followed the trial closely agreed — the prosecution failed to make its case of second-degree murder against Mr. Zimmerman.

After the verdict and the venomous reaction, I thought about three important events being commemorated this year. The Emancipation Proclamation and the Battle of Gettysburg both happened 150 years ago. Fifty years ago next month, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech at the climax of the March on Washington.

Would a Department of Justice case against Mr. Zimmerman for violating Trayvon Martin's civil rights succeed? Most legal analysts doubt it. What it surely would do is exacerbate an already volatile division in the country.

Shouldn't we focus more on what unites our country rather than what divides it? I would hope so.

Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and "20/20." He can be contacted at charper@washingtontimes.com. Twitter: @charper51.