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Opinion: Columnists

The media, race, and the Oklahoma shooting

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David Freddoso,Columnists,MSNBC,Analysis,The New York Times,Media,Race and Diversity

News from Duncan, Oklahoma, has shocked the nation. Three kids randomly shot and killed an Australian college baseball player, 22-year-old Christopher Lane, while he was on a morning jog.

It's bad enough as it is. It's slightly worse that some conservatives - who felt that issues of race and crime were warped and treated unjustly by the media during the recent murder trial of George Zimmerman - think this case offers a nice riposte, just because two of the three alleged perps appeared to be black.

The way to combat the media's bias is not to play up the racial angle of a random killing that probably had nothing to do with race.

Rush Limbaugh suggested that the Oklahoma killing was "Trayvon Martin in reverse, but worse." Of the media, he asserted, "they're not focusing on the racial component of any of the people involved in this." Limbaugh added that there was more outrage over an "Obama rodeo clown" than there was over this completely senseless killing.

Sure, it's worth calling the media out when an important story doesn't get the coverage it deserves. But exactly what isn't being covered here? And just what is it that this incident is really supposed to prove about race?

Yes, the media tried to turn Zimmerman's murder trial into something it wasn't - projecting national racial issues onto a simple, violent story about two individuals, to the point that the New York Times coined the phrase "white Hispanic" to describe Zimmerman.

But as fair as it is to point that out, it's also fair to note that two media wrongs still wouldn't make a right. It would serve no purpose for the media to make the same mistake twice by turning this Oklahoma story into a racial conflagration.

Does a racial focus on this Oklahoma shooting serve any public benefit, or is it just a form of trolling? At best, one might argue that it evokes a public policy discussion about policies like "stop and frisk," which are typically applied in neighborhoods where all or nearly all of the subjects are guaranteed to be non-white.

But think about this, for a moment, from a conservative's perspective: Given that we have a Fourth Amendment in this country, as well as a Second Amendment, how is that any more constitutional than the knee-jerk targeting of gun owners every time there's a mass shooting?

You can argue all you like that black men commit or are victimized by a disproportionate number of crimes. Forty-three of 44 "be on the lookout" crime notices on the D.C. Police Department's Twitter feed last week were for black male suspects.

But 100 percent of gun crimes are also committed by people who have guns. Does that crude and almost certainly misleading statistic justify the blanket elimination or reduction of gun owners' constitutional rights? Would it justify public suspicion or public animus against gun owners per se?

The frustration here is easy enough to understand. Conservatives are justifiably tired of being accused of racism for every political position they hold, up to and including the mere desire to limit taxes and the growth of government. (The pundits on MSNBC scream: "It's because blacks hold those government jobs you're killing!") They see the ridiculous Zimmerman coverage, and then this new killing appears to offer a foil for it.

But please, resist the temptation. The way to combat the media's bias is not to play up the racial angle of a random killing that probably had nothing to do with race. Three extremely stupid kids went out and did something really evil.

All the potential that once existed in four human lives is now gone. There aren't any winners here, so don't try to make yourself one. As Mediaite's Noah Rothman put it, "the race of Lane's killers is as relevant as was the race of Martin's killer, which is to say not that relevant at all."

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