Political polarization on every issue

To the Editor:

Those who followed the recently concluded trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin were presented with strikingly different portrayals of the case.

On the MSNBC channel, the commentators described a 17-year-old in a hoodie, walking home from a store. It was only about 7 pm, but winter darkness had set in. If the teenager had had white skin, he would have arrived home safely. But Martin’s skin was black. George Zimmerman, driving by, saw this young black man. Zimmerman, imbued with the hyper-zealous spirit of a vigilante, phoned the police, parked his car, followed Martin on foot, instigated a confrontation, and shot Martin dead.

FOX News and right-wing talk radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Howie Carr embraced a quite different version of the encounter. In their narrative, an unsuspecting Zimmerman was, without provocation, suddenly and viciously attacked by Martin. The 17-year-old knocked Zimmerman flat on his back, broke his nose, sat on top of him, and began pounding his head against the pavement. Facing death or terrible bodily injury, Zimmerman pulled out his gun and fired it at the man on top of him.

From the FOX News perspective, this was an open and shut incident of justifiable homicide in self-defense. The file should have been marked “case closed.” But the victim was black. And so a hue and cry was raised by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the NAACP, Van Jones, the liberal media, and the other usual suspects. The two most prominent black office holders in our federal government, President Obama and Attorney General Holder, responded by pressuring the reluctant Florida authorities into bringing a murder indictment against Zimmerman. It was an outrageous exercise of political muscle by the two men, which added to their record of egregious malfeasance in office, which FOX News has been gleefully documenting since January 2009.

At MSNBC, sympathies are entirely with Martin. His death is seen as an American tragedy. A young man, because of the color of his skin, had his life cut short at age 17.

In the view of FOX News and right-wing talk radio, the victim is Zimmerman. Racial politics has caused him to be vilified and persecuted. Although an obviously innocent man, he was forced to undergo the expense, notoriety, and anxiety of a murder trial.

FOX News, if at all possible, tries to find a linkage between President Obama and whatever may be going awry in the world, whether in the U.S. or abroad. The jury’s verdict of acquittal for Zimmerman is welcomed by FOX as another stain on the record of this out of control president whom the voters, regrettably, have twice elected to office.

Whatever your views on the Zimmerman trial, the case highlights the deep ideological division among Americans. The division that has produced gridlock and a dysfunctional government in Washington appears even in this encounter between two men on a dark Florida street. The usual line emerges: FOX News against MSNBC.

When will American public opinion shift decisively to one side or the other of this political divide? I see nothing to suggest it will happen soon.

R.E.L. Knight

West Tisbury