The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Blood Libel - II

I thought that by this morning, clear and compelling evidence emerging from Arizona would change the tone of media coverage with regard to the tragic shooting that left 6 people dead, many others wounded, and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, fighting for her life. But no, on both the far Left and to a lesser extent, on the far Right, claims and counter claims that the crazed gunman had some political association or was driven by external “hate speech” became the operative media meme.

Josh Kraushaar provides a useful summary of what we know:
It’s becoming increasingly clear that overheated political vitriol played virtually no role in Jared Lee Loughner’s shooting spree. His political thinking is hardly coherent, and his obsession with Giffords predated the tea party and Sarah Palin’s emergence in national politics. One of his few close friends told Mother Jones that he became fixated on the congresswoman when he asked her a question at a 2007 town hall about "the government having no meaning" and felt she didn’t answer. His killing spree wasn’t motivated by disagreement with her positions on health care or immigration.

Based on the available evidence, Loughner sounds like someone with untreated mental illness, whose grasp of reality grew ever more tenuous with time. He fits the profile of someone whose horrific shooting spree didn't have to be triggered by any provocative political rhetoric in the news.

But even with those facts out there, it didn’t stop numerous media outlets from connecting his beliefs to politics -- and isn’t stopping the continued rush to politicize this tragic event. The fervor to fit such craziness into a political matrix is regrettable, and, sadly, contributes to the overheated political environment that many in the media are condemning in the first place.

Proof is not hard to find. In a column in this morning's Slate, Jacob Weisberg writes:
… Extremist shouters didn't program Loughner, in some mechanistic way, to shoot Gabrielle Giffords. But the Tea Party movement did make it appreciably more likely that a disturbed person like Loughner would react, would be able to react, and would not be prevented from reacting, in the crazy way he did.

At the core of the far right's culpability is its ongoing attack on the legitimacy of U.S. government—a venomous campaign not so different from the backdrop to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Then it was focused on "government bureaucrats" and the ATF. This time it has been more about Obama's birth certificate and health care reform. In either case, it expresses the dangerous idea that the federal government lacks valid authority. It is this, rather than violent rhetoric per se, that is the most dangerous aspect of right-wing extremism.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, Weisberg erroneously conflates the Tea Party, a mainstream political movement that polls suggest is supported by between 35 – 40 percent of the American people, with a tiny fringe of far-Right extremists like Timothy McVeigh. That is blatantly dishonest, except in the fevered minds of people like Weisberg who cannot accept the notion that large numbers of Americans want the role of the Federal government to be limited.

In Weisberg’s view anyone who questions profligate Federal spending, unnecessary, fraudulent or inefficient Federal programs must be suspect. Anyone who suggests that our ever-growing deficit is ruinous is spouting vitriol. Citizens who question a big government ideology must be stopped, and the way to do that is to accuse them of a blood libel—in this case culpability in the slaughter of innocents by a deranged man.

It’s long past the time for the mainstream media to recognize that its inherent bias in reporting the news has as much or more to do with the tense political climate in this country as extremists on either the Left or the Right.