Zimmerman Trial Turns MSNBC/Fox Divide From Blue/Red to Black/White

george zimmerman verdict

Political polarization turns toward race as channels analyze controversial verdict

MSNBC and Fox News have long been divided into blue and red camps. But since the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, the color palette has increasingly been reduced to black and white.

Ugly and quarrelsome in the best of times, this polarization between the two talk-oriented cable networks has felt even more pronounced this week, as the two gravitate toward diametrically opposed – and racially divided – poles in reaction to the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.

MSNBC’s progressive hosts have featured a number of African-Americans expressing their dismay and outrage over Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Martin, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, an activist before he joined the network, who has announced plans to orchestrate vigils this weekend pertaining to the case.

On Thursday, Sharpton could be seen all across the network’s lineup, repeating portions of an interview he conducted with Martin’s parents.

The tone at Fox, meanwhile, has been set by its most prominent hosts, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, who have dismissed the contention blacks face inequalities within the criminal-justice system. Other lesser lights – such as Eric Bolling – have been even more strident, particularly in regard to defending Florida’s permissive gun laws.

MSNBC officials have been criticized in the past for Sharpton’s dual pursuits – including his involvement with the Martin case — and the inherent conflict in the fact he continues functioning as a civil-rights leader while working for the channel.

As for Fox, Hannity’s softball interview with Zimmerman essentially provided much of the testimony he declined to give on the witness stand, albeit without having to face anything that resembled cross-examination.

Having committed itself to being “The Place for Politics,” MSNBC is awkwardly positioned to pivot into a reporting mode, inasmuch as everything seems filtered through a political prism. CNN is generally the beneficiary during breaking-news events, but has consistently struggled to maintain the audience that tunes in at those moments, which explains current attempts to inject more pizzazz into its presentation.

One of the principal achievements of Fox News under Roger Ailes, by contrast, has been its ability to weave the DNA of a partisan political operation into the framework of a news channel, despite a posture that during key parts of the day more closely resembles talkradio. It’s a trick MSNBC hasn’t fully mastered.

Conservative antipathy toward the Obama administration has been highly beneficial for Fox, setting the network up as perhaps the most formidable and cohesive voice of the opposition. Yet even with that, Fox’s response to the Zimmerman verdict appears to be doubling down on speaking to (and for) an older, predominantly white and conservative-tilted audience.

Some moderate and conservative commentators have suggested such an approach is likely a losing one for the Republican Party because of the nation’s shifting demographics. In a recent column about immigration reform, for example, the New York Times’ David Brooks wrote “this country is heading toward a multiethnic future. Republicans can either shape that future in a conservative direction or, as I’ve tried to argue, they can become the receding roar of a white America that is never coming back.”

Still, issuing that roar appears to be a perfectly viable formula for Fox, which doesn’t need to gain support from 51% of registered voters but merely attract enough viewers to dominate the cable ratings race. And despite cosmetic changes to the network’s talent lineup, those marching orders are unlikely to change.

Where does that leave us? As usual, with two so-called news networks that have largely cast aside any pretense objectivity and can’t even agree on a set of facts, much less the terms for a constructive debate. And the oddities never seem to end, such as MSNBC’s Chris Matthews taking it upon himself to apologize on behalf of “all white people.”

In showbiz terms, it’s a more colorful way of receiving news — and one reason CNN has struggled to compete by occupying a middle ground.

When it comes to the rancorous tone, though, watching this white-black divide unfold over the past week has bled into a thoroughly depressing shade of gray.

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  1. itsme says:

    Hey this is wild. I didn’t read the other comments until after I posted the comment I just made. It’s amazing, I thought I was the only one who was waking up to the fact that both sides are biased and untruthful. Apparently great minds really do think alike. Okay mine might not be so great but some of you are clearly ahead of the curve. I think that confirms it. I’m swearing off tvland once and for all.

  2. itsme says:

    I use to love MSNBC and I thought FOX was evil incarnate. Now I’m not so partisan. It’s not that I suddenly love Fox. It’s more in the nature of I’m starting to notice some pretty funky stuff going on with the side that I once thought was all goodness and light. Maybe I better switch over to CNN. They may be a little bland over there but I won’t have to have my BS meter on such high alert. Or better yet, I’ll just restrict my news intake to Google, BIng and Yandex. Just stay away from the networks and cable entirely. That’s what I’ve been doing lately and it seems to work pretty well. Actually the only reason I ever even watch TV is to catch The Walking Dead and even that show is starting to get a little stale. My kids are all grown now and out of the house. None of them even has a TV. Maybe that’s the way to go.

  3. Jeremy Garcia says:

    The biggest problem with both FOX and MSNBC is the fact that their hosts are extremely biased and leave out the facts or downplay the facts regarding the opposition.

    We all know FOX news’ embarrassing bias, but MSNBC is newer in its blatant bias (starting with the 2008 election and getting worse every year). Like protesting Obama should be on Mt. Rushmore, and dismissing political scandals such as the Fast and Furious scandal as “targeting Obama and Holder because they’re racist”.

    MSNBC is against whatever republicans say or want, and FOX is against whatever democrats say or want. Honestly, if you watch either channel for news or intelligent commentary, you’re wasting your time and filling your mind with falsehoods.

    TV news is regarded as old media due to the fact that it’s slower than social media on the Internet, and less reliable (as they only report so much). If you want a truly unbiased point of view, you won’t find it here either, but at least you can find out the facts for yourself. My advice, stay away from both MSNBC and FOX news outlets. You won’t learn anything.

    • Chris says:

      MSNBC has ZERO hard news programs. Fox News has several. All of your criticisms of Fox News seem to center around their analysis, which no one will deny is heavily tilted towards the right (O’Reilly, Hannity, and The Five).

      “MSNBC is newer in its blatant bias”. You must have just turned on the TV. Welcome!

  4. Carroll Robinson says:

    As one who watches both CNN and MSNBC and spends the rest of my time discussing— or trying to — current events with friends and relatives, many of whom watch Fox, my main complaint is that they don’t seem to know facts–my conservative sister swore up and down to me that Reagan never raised the national debt,even though he did, and most of my conversation with Fox viewers boils down to listening to a bunch of talking points with no facts to back them up–I realize the review was less about factual content presented by the cable newsies and more about performance and ratings etc, but gone are the days of William F, Buckley and a conservative right that one could debate with based on facts, to be replaced with the new voice of the Right today: Rush Limbaugh and Fox News— which about says it all.

    • Redflower says:

      Agree, no facts coming from Fox(fix) news.

      • Jon says:

        Why is everyone in the liberal camp making this punk a hero. He wasn’t some innocent kid walking down a public sidewalk. He was Trespassing (a crime), he had every opportunity to run away but chose to attack instead. He was a punk plain and simple and it wouldn’t have mattered what color his skin was, the outcome would still be the same. If you attack someone then you better expect that person to defend themself with any means possible.

      • Chris says:

        Wait, so Fox News DIDN’T say that Trayvon was beating up Zimmerman before he was shot? So Fox News DIDN’T say that the Stand Your Ground law had NO part in this case? So Fox News DIDN’T say that this trial had NOTHING to do with race as the FBI had determined months ago? Please tell me which “facts” Fox News missed.

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