Activists and journalists are stuck in the racial resentments of the 1960s

When Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012, the media constructed a racial narrative around the case—especially NBC news, which doctored tapes of George Zimmerman’s 911 call. It wasn’t until much later that pictures were shown of Zimmerman’s dark-skinned, Peruvian mother. Had those pictures been publicized earlier, the public might have understood that Trayvon Martin’s tragic death was not an example of a Klan-like murder.

In Ferguson, the media’s preferred narrative—a “gentle giant” of a young black man gunned down for no reason by a racist cop—was short-circuited by a videotape, taken minutes before his death, depicting Michael Brown strong-arming a diminutive store clerk who’d caught him stealing a box of cigarillos. Deflated, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer described the video as a “smear.” Does he think the tape should have been suppressed? His CNN colleague Jake Tapper, just back from apologizing for Hamas in Gaza and justifiably angered by the misuse of military equipment to intimidate suburban civilians, subjected the state’s Democratic governor, Jay Nixon, to a vigorous grilling. Tapper suggested that Nixon had some atoning to do for his supposedly racist past before he could be relied on to take action in Ferguson. If only Tapper had been so hard-edged with Hamas.

Historian Colin Gordon has revived the old chestnut that the rioting owes to the failure of big cities to incorporate suburbs. The problem, argues Gordon, is that small towns and cities compete with each other to attract businesses. If they had higher taxes, it’s implied, they could afford to spend more on social services. But does anyone think that Ferguson would be better off incorporated into a dysfunctional St. Louis? The vast city of Los Angeles, with its 469 square miles (compared with St. Louis’s 69) saw two of the most violent “rebellions” of the last 50 years. What, in Gordon’s estimation, accounts for that?