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Conservatives Still Don't Understand the Trayvon Martin Story

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Writing in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, conservative Shelby Steele announced "Two tragedies are apparent in the Trayvon Martin case." The first was that Martin had been gunned down by a neighborhood watchman. The second calamity, according to Steele, was that the "liberal media" and the "the increasingly redundant civil rights establishment" have exploited the boy's death for their own gain.

It's telling what Steele did not consider to be a tragedy in the Martin case - the fact that the man who admitted shooting the unarmed teen, George Zimmerman, hasn't been arrested or charged with a crime. Indeed, the lack of an arrest is the central reason why the Martin story erupted into national headlines in recent weeks. And yet Steele, busy bashing Martin's advocates as well as the press, raced right past that salient fact.

Steele is not alone. Within the conservative media, it's now become commonplace to pontificate about the Martin story (while often condemning civil rights activists as "race hustlers") without ever mentioning why the story became such a blockbuster; without ever mentioning that the man who shot Martin has not been charged.

That's kind of a crucial fact. Yet conservative pundits seem eager to brush it aside. That amount of obfuscation raises doubts whether they even understand the fundamentals of the Martin story, or whether they are just choosing to ignore them because they raise difficult questions about the law and race in America.

Last week Media Matters noted that Fox News' Bill O'Reilly wondered, as more and more information leaked about Martin's past, whether a "gag order" should be placed in the "case." But of course, only a judge can issue a gag order and the fact is there is no Martin legal "case" because nobody has been arrested for the crime of shooting the unarmed teenager.

And recently, National Review editor Rich Lowry complained there was a double standard with regards to which black murder victims received more media attention, and which black crime victims sparked community protest. Lowry pointed to several black-on-black crimes that he claimed had not "gin[ned] up the outrage machine" the way the "allegedly racially motivated killing" of Martin had been turned into a "cause" and a "national symbol."

What did Lowry not acknowledge in his piece about the Martin story? The fact that the boy's killer, who authorities identified at the scene, hasn't been charged with a crime.

The conservative press has now spent weeks, in full force, trying to spin away the Martin controversy. The fact that so many far-right players won't even acknowledge a key facet of the case suggests it's a story they cannot deal with honestly.

Crossposted at County Fair, a Media Matters For America blog.