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Why the Right-Wing Media Spent 16 Months Smearing a Dead Teenager

Apalling behavior has been on display for some time.

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As Kevin Drum  wrote at Mother Jones last year:

There's no special conservative principle at stake that says neighborhood watch captains should be able to shoot anyone who looks suspicious. There's no special conservative principle at stake that says local police forces should barely even pretend to investigate the circumstances of a shooting. There's no special conservative principle at stake that says young black men shouldn't wear hoodies.

And if you go back and look at the coverage of the Martin story as it began to unfold nationally in the winter of 2012, the conservative media, including Fox News, were especially slow to take interest in the matter. That's in part, I suspect, because there was no natural angle to pursue. As Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab  wroteat the time, there was "no good way for gun proponents to spin the death of an unarmed teenager." The Martin killing didn't fit the far right's usual narrative about violence and minorities and how white America is allegedly under physical assault from Obama's violent African-American base.

At the time, National Review editor Rich Lowry even wrote a blog post headlined "Al Sharpton is right,"  agreeing that Zimmerman should be charged with the killing of Martin. (Lowry slammed the shooter's "stupendous errors in judgment" that fateful night.)

That same day, on March 23, President Obama  answered a direct question about the controversy and said, "My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon." That quickly sparked a mindless right-wing media stampede as Obama Derangement Syndrome kicked in. "Once Obama spoke out, caring about Martin became a 'Democratic' issue, and Republicans felt not just free but obligated to fling all sorts of shit," Alex Pareene  wrote last year at Salon.

Pledging to uncover the "truth" about the shooting victim and determined to prove definitively that anti-black racism doesn't exists in America (it's a political tool used by liberals, Republican press allies insist), many in the right-wing media have dropped any pretense of mourning Martin's death and set out to show how he probably deserved it.

Along with the fake photo of Martin being passed around online, chatter about his alleged drug-dealing past, and his teenage Tweets being dissected, bloggers also pushed the phony claim that a photo of Martin used by the news media had been lightened to make him look more "innocent." (The charge was bogus.)

Then Glenn Beck's The Blaze  published a laundry list of criminal offenses Martin may have committed while he was alive:

• Aggravated assault

• Aggravated battery against a non-staff member

• Armed robbery

• Arson

• Assault/Threat against M-DCPS employees or persons conducting official business

• Battery or Aggravated battery against M-DCPS employees or persons conducting official business*

• Homicide

• Kidnapping/Abduction

• Making a false report/threat against the school*

• Sexual battery

• Possession, use, sale, or distribution of firearms, explosives, destructive devices, and other weapons.

It was a textbook example of trying to blame the victim. And it's the miserable course Rivera, Nugent and others continued this week.


Eric Boehlert is a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, and a former senior writer for Salon. Boehlert's first book, "Lapdogs: How The Press Rolled Over for Bush," was published in May. He can be reached at

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