The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 17, 2013

Geoff Caldwell, guest columnist: In Zimmerman trial, media obsessed with race

By Geoff Caldwell
Special to The Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — Two trials, almost two decades apart, both ending in the same two words: “not guilty.”  

Both had the nation holding its collective breath while the jury deliberated.  Both had millions across that same nation give a collective gasp as they came to grips with the fact that the man they all felt would be spending decades behind bars would, in the next few hours, be walking free instead.

One verdict was delivered 18 years ago this coming November, the other just four days ago.  

One was accepted as the rule of law and our nation’s judicial system at work, the other a travesty of justice for not returning the verdict invested parties wanted.

One involved a black man accused of killing two white adults, the more recent a “white Hispanic” man killing a  black teenager. One involved the sports superstar-turned-actor O.J. Simpson, the other a wannabe cop, George Michael Zimmerman.

Both involved the race of the accused and of the victims, but only one involved a media obsession with race.

Be it the venerable New York Times, The Associated Press, CNN or the new kids on the block HLN and MSNBC, each has pushed the narrative of Zimmerman the white aggressor against Martin the black innocent.  

For reasons still not clear, when it was revealed to the Times that Zimmerman had Hispanic heritage, he magically became a white Hispanic. So desperate were the media to keep the race narrative front and center, a new race was invented to keep it there. That such a misnomer has been so easily accepted as common nomenclature (AP and CNN both are also now using the term) speaks volumes to agenda-driven media.

There is no denying that race is still a major issue in American society today, yet how much of that issue is being exploited for profit by the very same media that claim to lament it?

Does anyone truly believe that MSNBC gave Al Sharpton (of Tawana Brawley, Crown Heights, Duke lacrosse team fame) his own show to further a national discussion on race?

If the Zimmerman trial has taught us anything, it is that, in the minds of far too many network and newsroom executives, there is no better news than race news. And though race news may not be good news — or as in the Zimmerman case not even true news — it is most certainly profitable news.

In less time than Trayvon Martin spent upon this earth, our national media went from reporting on a trial (if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit) to molding it (white-Hispanic Zimmerman “profiled” from the beginning).

So as you watch all those calls for justice and demands that the federal government try Zimmerman on civil rights violations, take pause and ask yourself: Are the media reporting the story? Or are the media driving it ... all the way to the bank?  

Geoff Caldwell lives in Joplin.