The Trayvon Martin shooting was hardly in the national consciousness before fault lines emerged around the case. Was Martin as innocent as he seemed? Did Zimmerman fear for his life? Did Martin provoke the incident? Was Zimmerman a racist?
Perhaps most controversial among all of these was the question of identity. Yes, Trayvon Martin was black, but is Zimmerman white? For Martin’s sympathizers, the answer was yes. For Zimmerman’s, the answers ranged from “it doesn’t matter” to he “is actually a Hispanic nonracist person who acted in self-defense.”
In their early reports on the case, both CNN and the New York Times labeled him “white Hispanic,” sparking thunderous condemnation from right-wing critics. At Fox News, contributor Bernard Goldberg accused the Times of race-baiting. “I guarantee you that if George Zimmerman did something good—if he finished first in his high school graduating class when he was younger—they wouldn’t refer to him as a white Hispanic, he’d just be a Hispanic,” he wrote. Likewise, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg blasted several news outlets for “playing the race card” with the term. And in typical paranoid style, Breitbart’s Ben Shapiro accused CNN of “labeling Zimmerman a ‘white Hispanic’ in order to maintain the false narrative that the killing was race-based.”