It may be that the first apology for the partisan rush to lay twenty shootings and five deaths at the doorstep of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, and conservatives came from Arizona Daily Star’s cartoonist, Dave Fitzsimmons, and the paper itself in an editorial today. It began with a statement from the cartoonist, and continued:
“Today I have offended many with my emotional, partisan and inappropriate remarks, broadcast on CNN, regarding the horror of this day. As Congresswoman Giffords battles for her life let us join in prayer for her, for the dead and for the injured. Reflecting on the moment, I know my remarks would have disappointed Congresswoman Giffords, a public servant who is admired for her nonpartisan, gracious and intelligent approach to public discourse.”
Columnists are human and have strong and immediate reactions to awful news, but those are best kept private until facts are known. As Fitzsimmons acknowledged on CNN, he wasn’t reporting and didn’t know at the time who the shooter was or his motivation.
Both Fitz and the Star apologize.”
Fitzsimmons had, as you can probably guess, been one of the large number of commentators and politicians who chose the aftermath of a madman’s massacre to try to make conservatives, particularly the Tea Party, conservative talk radio and Sarah Palin, de facto accomplices to murder. They had what could be called an itchy trigger finger (except that by the logic expressed over and over again on the airwaves this weekend, such imagery would be irresponsible because it might inspire the deranged to reach for their guns) to find the Oklahoma City bombing equivalent that Clinton Administration pollster Mark Penn and others had noted was just what the Obama Administration needed after its recent rejection at the ballot box. Just as Timothy McVeigh’s bloody act was deftly manipulated by Clinton’s political team to make all critics of government look extreme and dangerous, left-leaning pundits rushed to paint Jared Loughner as the inevitable product of anti-big government ideology and rhetoric. That would have been unfair even if he has been a card-carrying member of the Tea Party and the Sarah Palin Fan Club, but fairness wasn’t on the radar: making political points was the sole objective, and the end—taking the wind out of Republican sails—justified the means: blood libel, as law professor Glenn Reynolds correctly dubbed it.
Unfortunately for the credibility of the media and the dying illusion that politicians have some hidden shreds of decency, facts just wouldn’t cooperate with fantasy. Loughner wasn’t an admirer of the Tea Party; he was a registered Independent. He was obsessed with Congresswoman Giffords for unfathomable reasons, and may have been planning the attack since 2007, before there was a Tea Party and in those blissful days before anyone had heard of Sarah Palin. He was angry at the Republicans for talking about repealing health care, though his anger was broad, wide, and indiscriminate. He was inspired by the writings of Marx and Hitler, not a flag-waiving, Constitution revering Tea Party type; and most of all, he was completely out of his ever-lovin’ gourd, writing gibberish and obsessed with mind-control.
As Emily Litella would say in such an embarrassing circumstance, “Oh. Never mind!”
“Never mind,” however, is not sufficient, not when the slander that blood was on the hands of conservative advocates dominated the commentary on the networks, cable, print and internet for two days. The list of supposedly responsible commentators and elected officials who engaged in this is too long to compile, but everyone should take note of which of them has the integrity and the honesty not only to apologize to those they smeared and the public they willfully misled, but also to pledge never to do something like this again.
David Fitzgerald and the Arizona Star have shown that they know when they have done wrong, and what the civilized, fair and ethical remedy is.