Yesterday I made my first appearance on Al-Jazeera’s English-language channel to discuss the Tucson massacre and the attempt to pin the blame on Sarah Palin and the “heated rhetoric, particularly from those on the Right and the far Right,” as the host put it. He presses repeatedly on this point, while I point out that there is absolutely no evidence that the shooter had any connection to the “Right,” or any other rational political movement. When he asks why we shouldn’t tone down our political speech on the off chance a lunatic might be listening, I explain that we can’t calibrate our political debate to the lowest common denominator of sanity — and that it isn’t the job of politicians to do that anyway.
On Sunday, the New York Times published a front-page story, “Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics.” Nowhere did it mention the vitriol hurled at Tea Party activists, who are routinely derided to as “tea baggers” and racists, and now stand accused of incitement to murder. If you want an example of the lack of civility plaguing our political discourse, look no further than this weekend’s shameful efforts to use this tragedy to demonize the Tea Party.
The only thing that happened this weekend is that the media ratcheted up their rhetorical attacks on grassroots conservatives.
Update: The Economist’s Democracy in America blog is less than impressed as well:
At this point, there is simply no sound reason to believe this deranged young man was fired up by “toxic” or “eliminationist” conservative rhetoric from Michele Bachmann or whomever. Why are we even having this conversation? It’s nuts. It’s offensive. Is there any, you know, evidence that political rhetoric is now more vitriolic or incendiary than usual? Maybe there is, but I know of none. A feeling in Mr Krugman’s gut doesn’t cut it. Doesn’t it seem at least as likely that a 22-year-old would be inspired to an act of high-profile atrocity by violent video games or films? As far as I know there’s no evidence of that, either.
Mr Loughner’s obsession with language as a form of control seems rather less like Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin than Max Stirner, Michel Foucault, or even left-leaning linguists such as George Lakoff and Geoffrey Nunberg. Our own Johnson discusses speculation about the possible influence of one David Wynn Miller. But nobody’s going to try to smear Max Stirner, George Lakoff, or David Wynn Miller in the pages of the New York Times by recklessly associating their teachings with the tragedy in Tucson because, well, that would be completely bonkers and, more importantly, Max Stirner, George Lakoff, and David Wynn Miller didn’t just recapture the House.
That’s the real reason “jumping to conclusions” has become the favorite participatory sport of the media this week.