In the aftermath of the shootings in Tucson, the media instructed us that we needed to have a series of national conversations — on “extreme rhetoric,” gun, and more appropriately on the handling of the mentally ill. Tony Blankley, former editor in chief at the Washington Times, says that the conversation that needs to take place is about the media:
Because even though the Tucson shooting did not cause the media irresponsibility — this time — continued media misreporting and bias is now so ingrained that such dangerous behavior could be triggered by any number of future public events.
Now is the time for us all to pause, and consider how the working members of the media can live with their biased liberalism — yet not allow it to permeate their work and undercut the political dialogue and political process that is the foundation of our democracy.
Indeed, it may well be the case that the now institutional failure of the mainstream media to do its job with reasonable objectivity may itself be the cause of the incivility in political dialogue. Without an objective umpire in the political debate, the players are forced to shout louder and louder so that their interpretation of the state of play on the field can be heard by the fans. But political incivility is a topic for some future discussion. Now is the moment for the nation assembled to try to come to terms with the tragic failure of the media to report objectively about political incivility.
I’d say that Blankley has it right, at least to an extent, but that focusing on “incivility” is not necessarily all that important anyway. The “incivility” that did actual damage in this case was the incivility of the media in rushing to find a convenient scapegoat for the tragedy. No one really cares that Markos Moulitsas tossed out some vitriol on Twitter; what does matter was the way the national media framed the entire incident as a result of vehement political debate in absence of any evidence to support that contention.
Incivility itself will exist as long as civility does, and will be part of politics for as long as humans engage in it. It’s worthy of criticism when it arises, but criticism should apply to all sides. Otherwise, it’s just another partisan wiffle bat, and those wielding it partisan hypocrites. The media exposed themselves as just that — while convincing no one at all but the partisans who benefited from the irresponsible criticism of conservatives. The conversation the media really needs is one that might salvage their own credibility.
Update: In case the media misses this point, a new Quinnipiac poll shows that only 15% believe that “heated political rhetoric” had anything to do with the shooting — and only 9% think gun control would have helped:
Saturday’s shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, in which six people were killed, could not have been prevented, 40 percent of American voters say in a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. Another 23 percent blame the mental health system, while 15 percent say it was due to heated political rhetoric and 9 percent attribute the tragedy to lax gun control.
Update II: One reader points out that the Q-poll question is whether heated political rhetoric was the main reason for the attack, not whether it had anything to do with it. Good point.