Bill O’Reilly last night addressed the racial dimensions of the Trayvon Martin case. The host’s jumping-off point for the segment was an op-ed by Shelby Steele in the Wall Street Journal, in which the Hoover Institution fellow wrote that civil rights leaders are essentially hopping on the wrong case:

The absurdity of Messrs. Jackson and Sharpton is that they want to make a movement out of an anomaly. Black teenagers today are afraid of other black teenagers, not whites.

Steele throws the media into the mix as well:

The civil rights community and the liberal media live by the poetic truth that America is still a reflexively racist society, and that this remains the great barrier to black equality. But this “truth” has a lot of lie in it. America has greatly evolved since the 1960s. There are no longer any respectable advocates of racial segregation. And blacks today are nine times more likely to be killed by other blacks than by whites.

O’Reilly picked up Steele’s ram and used it to do some battering of his own. In a discussion with Columbia University Associate Professor Marc Lamont Hill, O’Reilly pointed to the example of crime in Chicago:

O’REILLY: Black teenagers in Chicago fear other black teenagers in gangs---that’s who’s doing the murders and you can’t sit there and tell me they don’t fear them, ‘cause they do. The good black kids fear the bad black kids.

HILL: I don’t know that I make distinctions between good and bad black people but what I will say....

O’REILLY: Wait, wait, wait, the bad black people are the ones that murder, OK? So if you don’t have it clear, now you do.

Steele and O’Reilly have company in Juan Williams, a Fox News political analyst who has also used the op-ed section of the Wall Street Journal to deplore misplaced focus on the Martin case (while at the same time dropping a couple of logs on it.) Williams wrote in the Journal’s March 28 edition:

[W]hat about all the other young black murder victims? Nationally, nearly half of all murder victims are black. And the overwhelming majority of those black people are killed by other black people. Where is the march for them?

Where is the march against the drug dealers who prey on young black people? Where is the march against bad schools, with their 50% dropout rate for black teenaged boys? Those failed schools are certainly guilty of creating the shameful 40% unemployment rate for black teens.

No one can deny the legitimacy and urgency of the points raised by Steele, O’Reilly and Williams. Black-on-black violent crime is a national disgrace — all you have to do is take a look at the numbers.

What lacks legitimacy, however, is the underlying intent of the Steele-O’Reilly-Williams argument, and that is to somehow strip the Martin case of its standing as a national preoccupation — of civil rights leaders and of the media. Those folks, along with the general public, have latched onto Trayvon Martin for a combination of several compelling reasons: How could a 17-year-old kid doing nothing wrong wind up shot to death walking home from the convenience store? How could the authorities bungle the case in so many ways? Do neighborhood watch captains provide protection or menace? What’s the deal with the stand-your-ground law?

Those issues may not have the heft of black-on-black crime. But there’s no law directing the media to obsess only over the country’s most socially pressing problem at any given point in time. The media responds to stories, and the tragic incident that went down on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., qualifies many times over. The more attention to this case, the better.