Shooting deaths in the United States may be tragically common, but when three Oklahoma teenagers shot and killed Australian baseball player Christopher Lane 10 days ago, the circumstances were gut-wrenching. The suspected killers, ranging in age from 15 to 17, later said they murdered Lane because they were simply "bored and didn't have anything to do."
Since the terrible incident in the town of Duncan, however, U.S. conservatives have decided Lane's death is a political opportunity. This is especially true of Fox News, whose White House correspondent, Ed Henry, had this exchange last Wednesday with White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest:
HENRY: Do you have any reaction to the Christopher Lane case?
EARNEST: I'm not familiar with it, actually.
HENRY: In Oklahoma, this 22-year-old Australian -- 22 or 23, I've seen different reports -- baseball player, came from Australia, was targeted apparently by three African American young men who -- the Australian was out on a jog and these young men apparently told the police they were bored and they thought it would just be fun to kill him. Any reaction to that?
Note the specific wording of Henry's question: "three African American young men." In reality, one of the alleged shooters is black, one is white, and one is of mixed racial heritage. But for the Fox News correspondent, this became "three African American young men."
The back-and-forth continued as you might expect it to -- the White House spokesperson said it "sounds like a pretty tragic case" and add some related thoughts on the importance of reducing gun violence. Ed Henry, unsatisfied, wanted an explanation as to why President Obama commented on the Trayvon Martin case, but not this one.
And almost immediately, the rest of the conservative media began pushing the same line, almost as if it were coordinated. In the blink of an eye, the murder was the right's new rallying cry to express a racial/political grievance -- if the shooting of an unarmed black teenager was a national controversy, then the shooting of an unarmed white baseball player should be, too.
In one especially jarring instance, Drudge published a piece on this Friday carefully omitting the mugshot of the white assailant, showing only the other two suspected shooters. The racial subtext was so obvious, it was no longer a subtext at all.
It was part of a much larger push, which quickly started ignoring relevant details.
Adam Serwer had a great piece on this.
Referring to Obama's remarks following the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012, Townhall columnist Katie Pavlich identified the suspects as black and asked sarcastically, "If Obama had a son, would he look like Chris Lane?" Pavlich later corrected her post. Obama's remarks about Martin, which set off another conservative firestorm in 2012, were intended as a gesture of sympathy towards black parents who fear their children may be mistakenly profiled as criminals and harmed as a result.
Even after learning that one of the suspects was white, conservative media insisted the killing must have been motivated by anti-white racism. "They got bored and said, 'Let's go shoot a white guy!' Folks, I gotta tell you, there's something else about this. This is Trayvon Martin in reverse, only worse," Rush Limbaugh told listeners Wednesday. "No matter where you look in the media, it's not a racial event. Nothing about it is racist. This is the epitome of media irresponsibility."
The degree to which conservative media have gotten the details wrong matters. The right has said there were three black shooters, which isn't true. Conservatives have said the violence appears to be racially motivated, but to date no evidence has emerged to substantiate the claim.
And the right sees Lane's slaying as obviously comparable to the Trayvon Martin shooting, but this too is misleading.
Let's not forget what made the Martin case a national issue: it wasn't just the fact that an armed black teen was killed, but also the fact that his shooter wasn't arrested and went uncharged for months. In contrast, Lane's shooters were immediately found, taken into custody, and charged.
To see the Lane tragedy as "Trayvon Martin in reverse" is to put one's far-right blinders on too tight.
But there can be little doubt that this will continue. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) yesterday urged Obama to publicly express his feelings on the incident, and conservative Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker offered this rather twisted perspective yesterday:
Barack Obama helped lead the way when he identified himself with the parents of Trayvon Martin, shot by George Zimmerman in the neighborhood-watch catastrophe with which all are familiar. Stepping out from his usual duties of drawing meaningless red lines in the Syrian sand, the president splashed red paint across the American landscape: "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."
In so saying, he essentially gave permission for all to identify themselves by race with the victim or the accused. How sad, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the march Martin Luther King Jr. led on Washington, that even the president resorts to judging not by the content of one's character but by the color of his skin -- the antithesis of the great dream King articulated. [...]
Maybe in his remarks on the 50th anniversary of the greatest peaceful demonstration in history, Obama can remind Americans that if we had sons and fathers, they'd look like Christopher Lane and Delbert Belton as well as Trayvon Martin. Victim in chief is no role for a president.
I find this hopelessly bizarre -- and the timing only adds insult to injury -- but if the last several days are any indication, these attitudes from the right will only grow more intense.