NYT Blames 'Vitriol in Politics,' Palin's Campaign Map for Schizophrenic's Rampage
Sunday's New York Times led with the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle
Giffords, a three-term Democrat representing Tucson, in an assassination
attempt in which six others were killed, including a federal judge and a
The suspect in custody is 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, whose Myspace and Youtube web pages are filled with crazed syllogisms, dominated by thoughts of mind control. Loughner also recommending a video of an American flag being burned, and is evidently an atheist.
Not exactly the profile of a Sarah Palin fan, right? But that didn't stop the Times from imposing a "violent rhetoric" template on its front-page Sunday story by Congressional reporter Carl Hulse and Tea Party beat reporter Kate Zernike, "Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics." The unasked for and unprofessional speculation of Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, whose district includes Tucson, also featured high in the Times' recounting, while Times reporters linked to Palin's now-infamous campaign "target map" from March 2010 via their Twitter feeds.
The shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and others at a neighborhood meeting in Arizona on Saturday set off what is likely to be a wrenching debate over anger and violence in American politics.
While the exact motivations of the suspect in the shootings remained unclear, an Internet site tied to the man, Jared Lee Loughner, contained antigovernment ramblings. And regardless of what led to the episode, it quickly focused attention on the degree to which inflammatory language, threats and implicit instigations to violence have become a steady undercurrent in the nation's political culture.
Clarence W. Dupnik, the Pima County sheriff, seemed to capture the mood of the day at an evening news conference when he said it was time for the country to "do a little soul-searching."
"It's not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included," Sheriff Dupnik said. "That's the sad thing about what's going on in America: pretty soon we're not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people willing to subject themselves to serve in public office."
During last spring's health care votes, the language used against some lawmakers was ratcheted up again, with protesters outside the House hurling insults and slurs. The offices of some Democrats, including Ms. Giffords's in Tucson, were vandalized.
Ms. Giffords was also among a group of Democratic House candidates featured on the Web site of Sarah Palin's political action committee with cross hairs over their districts, a fact that disturbed Ms. Giffords at the time.
"We're on Sarah Palin's targeted list," Ms. Giffords said last March. "But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they've got to realize there's consequences to that."
The image is no longer on the Web site, and Ms. Palin posted a statement saying "my sincere condolences are offered to the family of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today's tragic shooting in Arizona. On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice." (Late Saturday, the map was still on Ms. Palin's Facebook page.)
Loughner had no known political affiliations - there's no evidence he even knew of Palin's campaign map - and the available evidence suggests all the sad and disturbing signs of paranoid schizophrenia. It's unclear how the Times thinks garden-variety political rhetoric like talk of "targeting" members of Congress (done by both sides, as the above graphic issued by the Democratic Leadership Council in 2004 shows) inspires garden-variety crazy people like Loughner.
On Saturday, the day of the shooting, Times media reporter Brian Stelter and Times investigative reporter Dan Van Natta Jr. egged the media to go after Palin's campaign map on their Twitter accounts.
Van Natta linked to an old Huffington Post article on the Palin "gun sights" on Gifford's district and fell for a mock tweet from a Sarah Palin parody account that made Palin look heartless about the shooting, forwarding it to his followers (he apologized for the retweet when the hoax was called to his attention).
And media reporter Brian Stelter threw out this bit of red meat: "For the record, there has been no mention of Sarah Palin's target map on any cable news channel." He didn't have to wait long.
- Clay Waters is director of Times Watch. You can follow him on Twitter.