In the last 24 hours the push back exonerating the connection between incendiary, vitriolic speech and the tragedy in Arizona has escalated.
And on the other hand, the focus primarily on Sarah Palin‘s target graphic has reached a point of obsession that I’m starting to feel she has almost become a scapegoat for the shooting. So let me make this clear: Sarah Palin is not responsible for the murders. She is, however, a principle in heightening angry discourse creating an atmosphere where violence is more easily ignited. And that does make her irresponsible. If her rifle scope graphic stood alone, independent of other reckless expressions of shrill antagonism it would have garnered almost no notice. But it does not.
Some things are facts. Others are opinions.
We do know as fact that Congressman Giffords was the focus of other threats and that she herself saw a connection between the apparent shooting-trashing of her campaign office after the healthcare vote and such displays:
“We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the way she has it depicted she has the cross hairs of a gun site over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there are consequences to that action.” …..Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords
Is anyone going to tell her today that she was wrong? Was Giffords jumping to conclusions when she linked reckless imagery with the attack on her office?
In 2009 U.S. District Judge John Roll who was murdered on Saturday presided over a $32 million civil-rights lawsuit filed by illegal immigrants against an Arizona rancher, the Marshals Service was anticipating the fallout. When Roll ruled the case could go forward, U.S. Marshal David Gonzales said talk-radio shows cranked up the controversy and spurred audiences into making threats. In one afternoon, Roll logged more than 200 phone calls. Callers threatened the judge and his family. They posted personal information about Roll online. “They said, ‘We should kill him. He should be dead,’ ” Gonzales said. Roll, who is the chief federal judge in Arizona, said both he and his wife were given a protection detail for about a month.
Those are direct quotes from a local newspaper account. Is anyone going to deny that “right-wing talk radio cranks up controversy and spurs its audience into making threats?”
This wasn’t the first time Representative Giffords faced an angry constituent with a gun. At a previous meeting with constituents one angry protester dropped his concealed and loaded gun. The staff thought it an incident serious enough to call the police.
Radio Host Joyce Kaufman tells her audience that “If ballots don’t work, bullets will, ” and proclaims that if her candidate loses “you need to be prepared to fight tyranny….I’ll put my microphone down on November 2nd and I mean it! Because at that point I’m going to go up in the hills of Kentucky, I’m going to go out into the mid-West, I’m going to go up in the New Hampshire outreaches and I’m gonna gather together men and women who understand some things are worth fighting for and some things are worth dying for.” She was then appointed Chief of Staff for her candidate, Alan West. She later declined the appointment after local threats of violence. Are those words incendiary or not? Is she just a hyperbolic entertainer on the radio or a real political force?
Kyle as you may know is an excitable boy. I discovered early on that if I lost control of my temper and shout at a driver who cut me off or argued with someone who pushed there way into line that it would set him off. He became agitated, shouting and losing control of himself. So I have a responsibility as his parent. I defuse antagonistic confrontations but also explain to him why such incidents are frustrating. Listeners and voters are not children…but not a tiny minority behave like children. Political figures and corporate media figures also have a special responsibility. They shouldn’t be censored. They should face remonstration when they don’t honor that responsibility. (G-d knows, I faced enough of that when I hosted my old TV show…but more of that another day).
I’m not calling for censorship of anybody or any group. What I am proposing is that words do have consequences, sometimes serious and tragic consequences. When I began working in talk radio I vowed to myself (and later to listeners) that I never wanted to be a conduit for hatred of either an individual American or a group of Americans. I hope I was true to my pledge and yet still a strong proponent of my ideas and opinions. My point is that manipulative politicians and mendacious media figures have found anger and hatred is an effective currency for their ends.
When millions listen to right wing talk radio stations every day shows linking one to the other in a continuous chain of virulence, hatred and extremism does anyone believe it has no effect on, not only listeners, but our society in general?
Unfortunately, today we can’t ask Judge Roll to answer that question. Hopefully, G-d willing, Gabrielle Giffords may one day have such an opportunity.