The cynical answer to Heather’s rhetorical question is “because it’s a job and Al Sharpton’s got to do it.” But the point’s well taken. The tragic killing of Trayvon Martin is turning into one of those Leatherman issues — it’s used to perpetuate racial animosity, bolster stereotypes, muster support for gun control, silence Rush, and defeat Republicans. How the significance of people like Sharpton is shaped by the way the press descends on tragedies like this one is the subject of Harry Stein’s essay today in The Fortnightly Review.
In France, where a presidential election is shaping up, there are only wanna-be Sharptons. Marine Le Pen’s attempt to exploit the killing of Jews in a Toulouse schoolyard by an Islamic jihadist, for example, isn’t helping her at all, according to this report in Le Monde. François Bayrou’s earlier, desperate attempt to milk votes from the tragedy also failed. I asked one of my neighbors in my mildly conservative corner of France how he and his friends saw the Toulouse murders. “Well, a man went crazy and started shooting children,” he said, which went to the point without detouring past some unpleasant and even exploitable truths. That’s not to say l’affair Merah will not be used by one side or another in this many-sided race, but it’s likely to have little impact on the election for two main reasons: The election’s about the stupid economy, and in France, outside Paris, the newspapers aren’t very mighty. In America, if my NBC Nightly News podcasts are an indication, “growing outrage” seems to be the way the press uses manipulation as fertilizer.