The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Federal judge, and 18 others yesterday has exposed media bias and unfairness at its despicable worst. That so many reporters, commentators and bloggers learned of Arizona parking lot carnage and immediately thought, “Wow, what a chance this is to pin everything on Sarah Palin and the Tea Party!” speaks volumes about the ethics and integrity of America’s journalists. The Daily Beast, for example, began a column this way:
“No motives have emerged from today’s senseless shooting in Tucson, but Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has a long history of being targeted by the Tea Party—sometimes in violent terms.”
Is there a shred, an inkling, a hint or a clue anywhere that the man who did the shooting had anything whatsoever to do with the Tea Party? No. Is there anything at all linking Tea Party rhetoric to his motives for the shooting? No. So how can this paragraph be explained? Easy. The Daily Beast doesn’t like the Tea Party movement, and saw this horrific shooting as an opportunity to discredit it. As a special bonus, the shooting presented an opportunity to indict Sarah Palin too, the favorite villain of liberals everywhere. She, in her typically over-the-top way, had used a gun-sight graphic to designate which House Democrats the Tea Party was “gunning for.” That meant Giffords was literally (if only two dimensionally) placed in the cross-hairs by Palin! Brilliant! So the shooting is her fault! Never mind that no one has suggested that the shooter ever saw Palin’s website, or that he cares what she thinks, or at this point, even that he was specifically trying to shoot the Congresswoman.
There is so much hysterical, dishonest, self-serving nonsense being spewed out at the moment on cable news and the Internet, much of it ignoring this: The issue of civility in political discourse and the shooting in Arizona are absolutely distinct and separate. The motives and/or reasoning ability of anyone who suggests otherwise should be regarded as suspect.
- Civility in political discourse is desirable for its own sake. Demonizing opposing views and using fear and hate as tools of persuasion is wrong because it makes reaching societal accord more difficult. It is no more important or less important because of the acts of a mad shooter in Arizona, and his actions should not serve as the rationale for a change in behavior.
- Incivility and heated rhetoric does not cause sane people to start killing, and we cannot and must not, as some actually were suggesting on the Sunday talk shows, decree that advocates, commentators and politicians calibrate their words to avoid inciting the looniest and most unstable among us.
- The intolerable level of incivility is not a partisan problem. It is a cultural problem, and the current effort to turn a tragedy into one more reason to hate the Tea Party is as much of a manifestation of that problem as any rant by Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann.
- Even if it is ultimately shown that the shooter in Arizona did consider himself a Tea Partier, or frequented Palin’s website, using those facts to implicate Tea Party rhetoric in the shooting would be pure consequentialism of the worst sort, and consequentialism is backwards ethics. The fact that one madman is set off by extreme rhetoric does not make that rhetoric objectionable if it wasn’t objectionable already. If it is determined, for example, that the killer took action after watching Robert Altman’s film “Nashville,” in which a loner shoots a singer at a political candidate’s rally, would that act mean that “Nashville” provokes violence and should be censored? Former Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson told the nation that Republicans wanted people to die. If an individual stressed with health care costs and the absence of insurance decided to shoot up a Tea Party rally, would that have made Grayson’s conduct (which Nancy Pelosi specifically refused to condemn) worse than it was from the moment the words left his mouth? No, and no.
- Much has been made of the fact that Palin took down the cross-hairs graphic on her site after Giffords’ shooting, as if this was an admission of guilt. Obviously, leaving the crosshairs graphic over the Congresswoman’s name after she had been shot would have been in atrocious taste. Taking it down was simply right, whether or not putting up the original graphic was appropriate. Related tip to the Snickers people: Running that TV ad where Aretha Franklin says “I’m dying back here” after it has been reported that the singer is, in fact, dying of cancer, is in questionable taste. Related tip to the media: If Snickers does stop running the ad, it doesn’t mean that the candy bar-makers think that they gave Aretha cancer.
Let me end, for now, with a quote from another Daily Beast column, this one from media critic Howard Kurtz, who does an excellent job reviewing past instances when violence was exploited to score cheap political points (always against the Right), and clearly senses, as do I, that another assault on political speech in order to stifle dissent (look out, Rush!) is in the wind:
“This isn’t about a nearly year-old Sarah Palin map; it’s about a lone nutjob who doesn’t value human life. It would be nice if we briefly put aside partisan differences and came together with sympathy and support for Gabby Giffords and the other victims, rather than opening rhetorical fire ourselves.”