Bill Keller: Martin protesters used case ‘to score political points’


A day after a Florida prosecutor announced murder charges in the killing of Trayvon Martin, former New York Times editor Bill Keller slammed Martin supporters for using the case to “score political points,” and accused the media of participating in a “rush to judgment” against George Zimmerman, Martin’s confessed shooter.

Asked by Joe Scarborough on Thursday’s Morning Joe to grade the media’s performance on the story, Keller, who continues to write for the Times, said:

I think the media generally were a little slow to the story. It took a while to understand that this was something that resonated beyond Florida. And then when they did realize that it was a big story, they did as they usually do and they overcompensated. They went a little too big. It’s hard to avoid, but I think the media became kind of complicit in this rush to judgment that this was a race crime, a hate crime. You notice that when the special prosecutor did her press conference – maybe this will come out later – but there was no reference at all to race being a factor in this crime. 

And yet the assumption among a lot of the protesters – not, apparently, his parents, but a lot of the people who have glommed onto his parents and used it to score political points – was that this was, as Al Sharpton said, Selma and Birmingham. And when something acquires that pitch, you have to always to some extent fault the media for not tamping it down and saying, ‘woah, wait a minute.’ And in fact my paper did a very nice job on a kind of massive reconstruction of everything that was known, that I think got us a bit beyond the hysteria.

It’s worth noting that the possible role that race played in the crime hasn’t yet been determined. The federal investigation, which is focused on whether the killing was a race-based hate crime, is still underway.

And given some of the facts in the case, it’s perhaps not surprising that both the media and Martin supporters put race front and center.

Scarborough, himself a Floridian, seemed to push back against Keller’s downplaying of the racial angle. He pointed out the apparent grievous missteps by the Sanford Police Department, and the city’s ugly racial history, calling racism “an institutional issue” in the region.

There was general agreement, though, that the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which makes it easier for defendants in shooting cases to claim self-defense and could complicate efforts to prosecute Zimmerman, should get a serious second look.

Stand Your Ground “ties the hands, to some extent, of prosecutors and police,” said Keller, adding that law enforcement “should be rising up against that law, because it puts the burden of proof on them.”

Bill Keller: Martin protesters used case 'to score political points'