Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tucson Aftermath, Part 3: Reckless Rhetoric

At a press conference held in Tucson on the night of the shooting that left Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically injured along with a dozen others wounded and 6 dead, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik took the opportunity to address the heated political rhetoric coming from the media that could possibly provoke some to this type violence.

"When you look at unbalanced people," said the sheriff, "how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

In politics as usual, both the Left and the Right attempted to blame the other for what led to the shooting in Tucson. Though they made a point to say that there was no evidence that such incendiary talk directly influenced the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, in this incidence, many on the Left blamed the divisive and hateful rhetoric pouring out from the Right since the 2008 campaign and throughout the Health Care debate for creating a dangerous political climate that could lead to violence like that in Arizona.

Such examples of ugly, irresponsible rhetoric have come from Republican politicians such as Sarah Palin with her description of Health Care Reform as "Death Panels," Congresswoman Michele Bachmann who wanted Minnesotans "Armed and dangerous," Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle who called for "Second Amendment remedies," and Congressional candidate from Texas, Pastor Stephen Broden, who said that the option for the violent overthrow of the government was "on the table," among many others on the Right.

Conservative media figures were also criticized for their part in fanning the flames of hateful or violent sentiment; among others Glenn Beck, Joyce Kaufman, Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh, who with a long history of racist and inflammatory commentary once said, "I tell people don't kill all liberals; leave enough so we can have two on every campus - living fossils - so we will never forget what these people stood for."
After the shooting in Tucson, there were calls from politicians and those in the media to pay attention to the tone of political rhetoric. Host of MSNBC's Countdown, Keith Olbermann commented on the night of the shooting saying:

"Left, right, middle - politicians and citizens - sane and insane. This morning in Arizona, this age in which this country would accept targeting of political opponents and putting bull's-eyes over their faces and of the dangerous blurring between political rallies and gun shows, ended... Violence, or the threat of violence, has no place in our Democracy, and I apologize for and repudiate any act or any thing in my past that may have even inadvertently encouraged violence. Because for whatever else each of us may be, we all are Americans."

Olbermann also encouraged his counterparts on Fox News to repudiate their own reckless words and actions. 

Fox News CEO, Roger Ailes, said after shooting that he instructed his employees at his rightwing media outlet, including Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, and Sarah Palin, to "tone it down," in regards to the extreme rhetoric that he believes comes from "both sides" of the political divide. 

The toning down of the rhetoric, however, did not last long.
The Right  - those previously mentioned and others in the conservative Tea Party/ Republican spectrum of politics were quick to be defensive about the comments from Sheriff Dupnik and various voices in the media and from the Left for the Right to look inward and change their behavior.

On the Monday following the shooting, Bill O'Reilly took to The O'Reilly Factor On Fox News to comment on the tragedy. Reading dismissively from the teleprompter, devoid of any emotion, O'Reilly spoke of the shooting and its victims. Then after speaking of Loughner, whom he called "a psychopath," O'Reilly erupted in anger for what he called the Left's "exploitation of the murders by political zealots."

"The merchants of hate should be held accountable," said O'Reilly, blaming the Left, the media, and everyone else except the hate merchants such as himself on the Right. O'Reilly went on to attack what he called the "far-left newspaper," The New York Times for publishing an editorial that he found objectionable:

"It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman’s act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members," acknowledges the Times. "But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge. Many on the right have exploited the arguments of division, reaping political power by demonizing immigrants, or welfare recipients, or bureaucrats. They seem to have persuaded many Americans that the government is not just misguided, but the enemy of the people."

"That is flat-out reprehensible," said O'Reilly in regards to The Times' valid point. "And every American should condemn that New York Times editorial." O'Reilly also attacked a similar condemnation of hateful rhetoric by the National Organization for Women.

O'Reilly continued his rant to condemn MSNBC to which he ironically said: "The hatred spewed on that cable network is unprecedented in the media." He then went on to defend Sarah Palin's indefensible behavior and finally concluded his bout of rage by claiming that he is a victim of left-wing hate. "Far-left loons have attacked me in vile ways for years," he said. "I have to have security around the clock. Has the New York Times ever said a word about that?"

(Read Part 4 here)

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