Saturday, January 8, 2011

Political rhetoric blamed for Arizona shooting

The news spread quickly. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was fighting for her life after a deranged gunman went on a rampage in a scene that is becoming all too familiar in this age of mass shootings and homegrown terrorists. The shooting in Arizona left six people dead, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl.

The Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 sparked intense debate about gun violence, gun laws, the system of treating mental illness, and the media's coverage of these types of tragedies. Since the shootings by a Virginia Tech English major, hundreds of people have been injured or killed in similar events. The media has been blamed for inciting copy-cat incidents, played out by people with mental problems and a paranoid hatred of government policies.

Not long after the Arizona massacre, news stations were playing an interview with Giffords from last march urging Republicans, especially Tea Party members, and specifically Sarah Palin, to cool the rhetoric. Palin had posted on her Facebook page showing her congressional district in the crosshairs of a gun.

The gunman's motive is not yet known, but in Arizona's Pima County, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik suggested "all this vitriol" in recent politics might be connected to the shootings. "This may be free speech," he said at a news conference, "but it's not without consequences."

The debate has spread at a speed unprecedented even in the age of the Internet, with liberal bloggers and social media commentators blaming the attack on Palin and the violent imagery evoked by some Tea Party candidates and other conservatives during the recent midterm elections.

In a Facebook posting, Palin did not address the past language she has used but offered her condolences to the shooting victims. It was widely reported in blogs and in the media that Palin has taken down the crosshairs map from her web page.

The attack on Giffords comes after what has been a particularly ugly season in American politics, especially when it comes to last year's passage of the health care reform bill. Last March, the glass door of Giffords' Congressional office in Tucson was smashed in the middle of the night.

"Community leaders, figures in our community need to say 'look, we can’t stand for this'", she told Chuck Todd on MSNBC a few days later. "This is a situation where the rhetoric is firing people up and, you know, for example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. But the thing is that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. And when people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that action."

"But in fairness, campaign rhetoric and war rhetoric have been interchangeable for years," Todd said, and then asked, "And so, is there a line here? I understand that in the moment it may look bad, but do you really think that’s what she intended?"

Giffords' response: "You know, I can’t say, I’m not Sarah Palin. But I can say that in the years that some of my colleagues have served - 20, 30 years - they’ve never seen it like this."

Giffords brushed off Todd’s idiotic comments that campaign rhetoric has borrowed from war rhetoric over the years, noting that it’s much worse now than it ever has been.

Thomas Hollihan, a USC professor of political rhetoric, said people like the Arizona shooter "get affected by a kind of toxic political culture that makes them angry and paranoid that their government is being taken away." But he warned against coming to any conclusions. "People who commit crimes like this are often just unhinged," he said.

The information slowly coming out about the alleged shooter, 22-year-old high school dropout Jared L. Loughner, did not suggest he had any clear political motivation. Although he complained in online diatribes about terrorism and "mind control", what drove him to violence has not been established.

"We don't yet know what provoked this unspeakable act," President Obama said from the White House. "But we're going to get to the bottom of this."

While we still have no clear explanation of the shooter's motive, and we may never know (so far he's invoked his right to counsel), Saturday's shooting set off an eruption of anger, much of it by bloggers, but also on Web sites like Twitter and Facebook. If you spend any time online, the Tea Party seems to be the number one instigator, getting most of the blame, followed closely by Arizona's permissive gun laws and conservative media pundits such as Glenn Beck.

When asked by The New York Post if his daughter had any enemies, Giffords' father responded: "Yeah, the whole Tea Party."

In this age of the Internet, when figuring out who is responsible for the political rhetoric that set this tragedy into motion, it doesn't take long to see who the clear winner is. It's Sarah Palin.


  1. The media needs to take a step back and look at ways to correct this madness... and Chuck Todd should know better.

    As for Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck and associates, I wonder how they sleep at night.

  2. Sarah Palin and the tea party are being blamed for this, along with other conservatives. Maybe it will put an end to their political clout, as if they had any crediblity with rational people in the first place. Hopefully Sarah and the ridiculous tea party will fade to oblivion where they obviously belong.

  3. Why in the world would u need 30 bullets? To kill people that is why. Reasonable gun control is a good thing.

  4. This type of thing is becoming more and more common. But it is possible to reverse the trend if the media makes an effort to be more responsible. It's not likely, but it's possible. It would take media to stop making celebrities out of people whose only purpose is to stur up hate.

  5. Blame it on a single deranged individual. To blame it on "political rhetoric" is a thinly veiled attempt to squelch poltical discourse and legitmate dissent.

  6. The media is covering this event non-stop. and now the Congress has temporarily decided to stop major legislation in the House on Monday, including health care.

    By giving one individual the power to change how our government operates is not a good thing. This type of person craves the spotlight, and in the age of reality, anyone can be a star.

    Maybe the Virginia Tech shooting caused a wave of copy-cats, maybe not. But by reporting the news non=stop is only fueling their mental instability.

    The internet follows the lead of the mainstream media, and of course it's going crazy. Just turn on the TV.

    This single individual is obviously to blame, and he is unstable. But the political rhetoric doesn't help. If anything it spreads out of control on the social media sites, and people are bombarding us with ideas, some good and some obviously very disturbing.

    Political discourse is one thing, but using references to guns and using cross hairs doesn't do any good. It can only hurt.

  7. So sad for everyone who got caught up in this. I think the young man is very disturbed. Here's a link to his favorite video that he made. It was made in OCtober before the elections were held.

    I don't know all about everything here, but I know the tone before the elctions was pretty ugly and disturbing. I think a lot of people just began to feel fed up with all the government talk and divisiveness. Maybe not Sarah Palin is responsible alone but all the media and people talking about taking America back by violent means. We need to rethink how to communicate because this kid wasn't a good communicater and he just allowed the hate to be his way of dealing it it. Politicians and media should be an example for good, not for bad ways to express your frustrations.

  8. The straight talk by the sheriff in Arizona is greatly appreciated. Clarence Dupnik is not afraid to speak his mind, even if it may upset gun rights advocates and the out-of-control media. The guy makes a lot of sense.

  9. Within minutes of the shooting, pages began disappearing from the web.

  10. So, after reading the entire blog, the bottom line, against all points given for and against such conclusion, the blog ends with saying Palin was the "winner" in this.

    How inciting is that, on the flipside?

  11. This guy wasn't in his right mind. I bet he was not animated during the shooting, but really, as if sleep walking. He was redirected to the end of the line and went. This was probably happening to him, in a sense.

    If the authorities want to tie him to some group, they will. He didn't live in isolation, and he was on the net. He would have tried to find like minded people. He needed a reason for the thoughts he was having. He found reasons that justified his feelings. In a dream, if you feel your feet cold, you might dream you are walking across snow. If some sane person manipulated him, then we will get him.

  12. who's going to want to go into politics now?

  13. As a result of the recent events, two congressmen will now be packing heat.

  14. The motive is not yet known, so it is prmature to blame Sarah Palin or other conservatives for this particular tragedy. That being said, the hateful rhetoric and commentary by these people can be taken literally by some people with mental problems and other impressionable people.

  15. The violence on television shows and movies is much worse than the rantings of conservatives. Even some mass murderers have been influenced by music.

    In a free society, we allow pretty much any type of political discourse. And history has shown that there will always be individuals with a grudge against the government.

    If we want to make this type of tragedy less common, we should take a look at all forms of mass media, including conservative talk shows. But the First Amendment protects most of what is said, and movies will continue with violent imagery as long as the box office is good.

    We have always been a nation that comes back from adversity, and we will figure ways of coping, but we can never completely put an end to lone individuals who are mentally ill.

  16. Paul Solomon treats the subject of political rhetoric without falling into the trap of most bloggers, and placing the blame. Until the last sentence. Although the wording is ambiguous, it would seem that the author blames Sarah Palin. Is that really fair? It depends on whether you're conservative or liberal. But why does the media have to take sides? I think that's the point of the argument. We'd all be safer if the rhetoric was toned down.

  17. If Sarah Palin isn't to blame in this case, I'm sure that there is some crazy individual somewhere who is being influenced by this type of political "vitriol".

    This crosshairs thing is disgusting. If the shooter was actually swayed by Sarah Palin, or any other person, they should be held criminally liable for being an accessory.

  18. The problem now is copy cat killers. Just like Columbine and Virginia Tech, deranged people start acting on their fantasies. Now politician are maybe more susceptible to crazies.

    To blame the killings on any individual or group is premature right now. It does look like this was one seriously sick individual, so he probably didn't need much encouragement from the tea party or Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck.

    How was an obvious mental case able to buy a gun? Arizona must be pretty lax in their gun laws. And he was giving hints on his Myspace page. Didn't anyone notice?

    The Homeland Security wants us to be vigilant about terrorism and report any suspicious behavior. This guys neighbor says he thought he was a serial killer. Why not report him to someone, the police say or a mental health department.

    Things won't change unless we come up with better ways of keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and there is a way to lock up someone who is a threat, as there are many mentally ill people out there with violent tendancies.

    This nation responds to tragedies by making changes after the fact. Could this thing have been prevented? Possible it could have. We need to make it harder for the next potential mass murderer out there.

  19. The fact that Sarah Palin took down her crosshairs indicates that she is now serious about toning down the rhetoric. Unfortunately, that is small consolation to the families of the six victims.