Giffords, Ghouls and Gimmicks

On Saturday, Jared Loughner attempted to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). He killed a federal judge, a nine-year-old girl and four others, and injured many more. Their fates were still unknown when political ghouls leapt from their muck to blame Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and other assorted elements of the right. Doug Mataconis and Gabriel Malor identify some of the more prominent ghouls and respond to them, so I need not do so at length.

Notably, the most prominent ghouls reek with the stench of hypocrisy and disingenuity. For example:

And there are more where that came from. This was sadly predictable, although one might have thought the sheer horror of this incident might have given the ghouls a moment’s pause before taking the lowest of roads for political gain. However, it was equally predictable that the shooter would not turn out to have any sort of conventional association with the right. The ghouls have a solid track record of failure in this regard.

Given the total lack of evidence for the smear, the saner provinces of the media were not about to jump aboard the ghouls’ bandwagon, especially while the evidence mounted that Loughner was a disturbed man with an ideology — to the extent one could be discerned — far outside any definition of the mainstream right, with a long-standing grudge against Giffords. Something more subtle would have to do. People on Twitter could watch the groupthink develop in real-time. When Politico’s Glenn Thrush wrote, “Whoever the shooter–this is a watershed moment that will immediately redefine current debate and view of pols embracing of extreme rhetoric,” it was quickly echoed by the paper’s Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman, the Hotline’s Josh Kraushaar and dozens more. This was the narrative pushed by the New York Times within hours, leaving the evidence that Loughner was a nutter with a liberal past to a separate piece. The WaPo echoed the narrative by the end of the day. By Sunday, the establishment media had its talking point firmly in hand, summarized in The New Yorker headline “It Doesn’t Matter Why He Did It.” Had Loughner turned out to be a Tea Party activist in good standing, who he was and why he did it would be the sole topic of discussion. But he wasn’t, so by Saturday evening, I was tweeting [in reference to Sullivan’s own attempted backfilling] about the center-left’s emerging fallback position of “Fake, But Accurate.”

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today succinctly exposing the intellectual dishonesty at the heart of the “Fake, But Accurate” gimmick:

To paraphrase Justice Cardozo (“proof of negligence in the air, so to speak, will not do”), there is no such thing as responsibility in the air. Those who try to connect Sarah Palin and other political figures with whom they disagree to the shootings in Arizona use attacks on “rhetoric” and a “climate of hate” to obscure their own dishonesty in trying to imply responsibility where none exists. But the dishonesty remains.

To be clear, if you’re using this event to criticize the “rhetoric” of Mrs. Palin or others with whom you disagree, then you’re either: (a) asserting a connection between the “rhetoric” and the shooting, which based on evidence to date would be what we call a vicious lie; or (b) you’re not, in which case you’re just seizing on a tragedy to try to score unrelated political points, which is contemptible. Which is it?

Of course, intellectual dishonesty is very much about having and eating one’s cake. When someone tells you not to think of an elephant, it is impossible to not think of one. When the establishment media tells everyone that there is no evidence to blame an elephant, while reciting the smears from the ghouls, and raising questions about “the discourse,” they know they are forcing people to think about the elephant. They are dressing the ghouls in nicer clothes, and are quite content to do so. Indeed, the Politico could bury in its coverage an anonymous quote from a “veteran Democratic operative” urging Pres. Obama and the Democrats to “deftly pin this on the tea partiers.” They could hardly be less deft than the ghouls and the establishment media, who have been as subtle as a truck loaded with horse manure crashing through a plate glass window.

Mind you, a few of the smarter ghouls (and Keith Olbermann) will be careful to stress that the rhetoric needs to be toned down on all sides. Indeed, in Saturday’s Extra-Special Comment, Olbermann even blamed himself. This tactic is known as the “Neutral Story Line,” a gimmick perhaps older than “Fake, But Accurate.” Hypocrisy is at the core of this gimmick, just as it is with the ghouls.

After all, anyone who was awake through the last 10 years — as opposed to just the last 2 — knows that violent and hateful rhetoric has been a recurring theme of the left. But you would never know it from the establishment media. The death threats at anti-Bush rallies? The establishment media must have been out on an eight-year smoke break. Did they wring their hands over The Bush assassination porn in movies, books and art? Not really. When a man — an avowed MSNBC viewer — was convicted of threatening Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL) in the aftermath of the healthcare debate, was there a concerted stroking of chins, or wagging of fingers? How about when a man made a bomb threat against a Republican fundraiser featuring Senate candidate Linda McMahon? When fmr. Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA) suggested that Rick Scott, now the Republican Governor of Florida, be shot? How about when Sarah Palin’s church was burned down? (Aside: Imagine the media coverage had Obama’s church had been burned down.) How about when then-candidate Obama bragged that he would bring a gun to a knife fight? That was not condemned, but celebrated as scrappy an pop-culure savvy. The list goes on and on. When Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 and wounded 30 at Fort Hood, it was very important to the NYT and CNN that no one speculate on a possible motive; now both are keen to blame the rhetoric of others for the actions of Jason Loughner.

All of this is the “who, what, where, when and how,” which leaves the question of “why.” Surprisingly, Slate’s Jack Shafer is willing to identify “The awesome stupidity of the calls to tamp down political speech in the wake of the Giffords shooting.” Unsurprisingly, Olbermann called Shafer’s piece “100% tonedeaf,” by which he means off-message. The entire point of the exercise here is to suppress speech. The blatantly unconstitutional bill to outlaw political target maps being floated by Rep. Bob Brady (D-PA) has no chance of passing, but exists solely to milk the ghoulish exploitation for all it’s worth. And as the litany of examples in this post shows, the left and the establishment media rarely show any interest in policing hateful extremist rhetoric of the left when it happens. Rather, they only acknowledge it much later (once the stories have lost any political saliency) to feign fairness when attacking the right.

Thus, in practice, the proposed suppression of free speech is not about tone, but viewpoint. It is nothing less than a naked power play by those in the business of manufacturing consent to a center-left agenda, using the shop-worn gimmicks of “Fake, But Accurate” and the “Neutral Story Line.” If that means dressing up ghouls in nice clothes and exploiting the murder of a nine-year-old girl… well, that’s just the cost of doing business.