Post on Trayvon ‘Hoodwink’: The issue is Sharpton and Jackson, according to a ‘prominent former NAACP leader’

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Today's tabloids, March 27, 2012. ()
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Each day, the New York tabloids vie to sell readers at the newsstands on outrageous headlines, dramatic photography, and, occasionally, great reporting. Who is today's winner?

New York Post: Today's the first weekday, I'm pretty sure, that either tabloid has put the story of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager who was killed in a confrontation with armed neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman, on its front page. It's the first day altogether for the News; the Post devoted its entire Saturday cover and part of its Sunday cover to the affair.

It has to be one of the biggest stories in the country right now, eating up hours of airtime and the public schedules of seemingly most elected officials. The Post goes big with bold, black text that reads "TRAYVON HOODWINK." Three state senators who wore Trayvon Martin-style "hoodies" under their suits during the legislative session yesterday are pictured large; Martin himself gets a small black-and-white face pic in the upper right. The dek, underlined and bold, reads "Tragedy hijacked by 'race hustlers.'"

This is ostensibly not the Post saying the tragedy was hijacked by race hustlers but by C.L. Bryant, a former NAACP leader who's now a Tea Party activist. And it wasn't the Post he said it to, but conservative news site The Daily Caller. That Bryant represents the most marginal possible faction among African American leaders is part of why he's given such prominence; also, I suspect, because John Podhoretz and Bob McManus and other Post bigs would love to say what he's saying, but feel they can't because they are white.

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What Bryant objects to, it seems, is the "use" of the Martin case for the political ends of the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton—which seems to me a bit like saying that Roe's case was "used" by lawyers attempting to advance the legalization of abortion. Of course it was!

Anyway, assuming that it is not possible for the Post to express its disapproval of the mounting national reaction to the Martin case, today it manages something very like that, and quite absurd. The Post, speaking through Bryant through The Daily Caller, would have you believe they are outraged at African-American leaders on behalf of Martin's family.

Daily News: A much straighter approach for the News, as it suddenly fronts the Martin story with one of its smaller developments: Martin's mother is angry that details of Zimmerman's testimony are being released to the press, and at the zeal of the conservative press to paint her son as a delinquent. Big red single quotation marks hook around the text that serves as the main headline, a longish quote: "They killed my son. Now they're trying to kill his reputation."

Sybrina Fulton is the star of the cover, and she looks mournful in an Associated Press photo; inset in the lower right is a small picture of her son, and a bit of lede text.

By the way: Madonna's 15-year-old daughter, Lourdes Ciccone Leon, was photographed by a paparazzo smoking a cigarette with her arty friends; Splash News has distributed the photo far and wide, and the News picks it up in a strip up at the top of the page. "OH LORDY, LOURDES!" reads the yellow text over the blue box. "DON'T TELL MAMA: SOMEONE'S BEEN SMOKIN.'"

Observations: Sometimes a national story is so big, the local papers have to just embrace it. Send reporters down to Florida and get what everyone's getting out of the Trayvon Martin frenzy.

What we are getting are referenda on everything from stop-and-frisk policies, gun-control policies, and endemic racism. What I fail to understand is what the Post seeks to gain by going one step further and attempting to position itself in the conversation. People will buy Trayvon Martin news, and some subset of the population might well be getting annoyed with the story, or with the unanimity of the media response. But that's not the broad audience, I don't think. The broad audience just wants the facts as they develop.

There is another counternarrative not being advanced by right-wing media and kooky ex-NAACP speakers, after all: George Zimmerman's. He's on a media campaign not to stop the conversation about race that's developing out of the Martin case, but to explain his feeling that Zimmerman acted in self-defense. That's just straight news, and it's a lot of what's for breakfast this morning. Which is why the Post seems just wacky to me. I don't think Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson is really "hoodwinking" anyone, whatever you think about their politics. I think, for the broad audience, the story that cuts past the politics is the story of the bereaved mother, and the reputation of her son, and the story of the man who shot him, and getting to the bottom of it. The News may be a bit of a snooze, but the Post is trying to be provocative and instead just coming across as gratuitous and weird.

Winner: Daily News.