Chris Wallace vs. Shep Smith: Does political rhetoric lead to violence?

Shepard Smith brought Chris Wallace on his show to talk about the bombing suspect and what followed a sparring match that got pretty testy by the end. Smith introduced the topic by saying, “Chris, you just can’t ignore the politics of all of this, even if you wanted to.” He continued, “These are people the president has gone after rhetorically. These are people this guy targeted. He’s a big supporter. It goes to the tone and tenor of the political discourse and the words that the president uses in his rallies and all the rest.”

Wallace immediately pushed back on that saying, “I don’t think you can draw any particular link or any responsibility on the part of the president for this action.” Wallace raised the attack on Rep. Steve Scalise by a Bernie Sanders supporter and asked rhetorically, “Is Bernie Sanders responsible for that?”

“No one is saying he’s responsible,” Smith replied. A moment later he added, “When you talk like this the concern is that that one crazy one might get empowered.”

“It’s a twisted individual and to hold President Trump responsible…” Wallace replied.

“I didn’t hold him responsible, Chris, come on,” Smith interjected. After some back and forth about being fair, Smith restated his case, “The rhetoric from the podium. The CNN-sucks chants. The lock-her-up chants, all the rest doesn’t bring unity.”

“I agree it doesn’t bring unity but it also doesn’t bring explosive devices,” Wallace shot back. He added, “I think that it’s really incorrect to somehow hold the president, either by implication or directly, responsible in any way for the misdeeds of someone who’s a psychopath or a sociopath.”

“No one did that though, Chris, and don’t say I did,” Smith replied, adding, “All I said was when the rhetoric gets loud the crazies come out sometime.”

There’s some heated crosstalk and Wallace once again points out that Bernie Sanders isn’t responsible for the nut who shot up the baseball practice. Smith said, “Back at the time when the Bernie Sanders stuff was true, people said it then too.”

“And it was wrong then,” Wallace replied. He then said it was a bad idea to draw links “of any sort” between rhetoric and violence.

“History will decide what the rhetoric has done in this society,” Smith said sternly. Wallace agreed.

It’s true that Smith didn’t draw a direct connection between Trump and the bomber. He’s not saying, ‘Trump caused this.’ But the only rhetoric Smith refers to is Trump’s and the only crazy he mentions is the bomber. So he’s pretty clearly insinuating that’s the case. I don’t blame Chris Wallace for getting exasperated when Smith tries to deny that’s what he’s doing. If Smith wanted to broaden this to all heated political rhetoric he should have offered some other examples. He failed to do that.

Wallace, on the other hand, is saying there is a bright line between strong rhetoric, even unfortunate rhetoric you wish the president would stop using, and mailing bombs.

I’ll say this much for Fox News, at least they are actually having this debate on the air. What many reporters and commentators seem to be doing is suggesting Trump is to blame because of his tone without quite making the connection explicit. It’s the climate of hate argument we all know and love. Kudos to Chris Wallace for at least pointing out this is what Smith was doing.

Here’s the clip: