There’s no evidence political vitriol of any kind drove Jared Loughner’s murderous rampage, ABC, CBS and NBC all acknowledged, but that didn’t deter them on Monday night from taking up the left-wing line holding conservatives culpable as NBC, incredibly, managed to castigate Sarah Palin and go back more than five years to find an incendiary quote from Glenn Beck – but couldn’t find anything over the line from its own Keith Olbermann or Ed Schultz.
“It was, by all accounts, a lone and very disturbed man who shot that gun on Saturday,” ABC’s Diane Sawyer noted, “but nonetheless, as we all know, a lot of people began asking questions for different reasons. Is this a moment we can talk about what is civility and respect in America?” From Tucson, on CBS Katie Couric set up a story: “We may never know for sure what drove Jared Loughner to open fire here last Saturday, but some, on both ends of the political spectrum, say the vitriolic rhetoric we hear every day was a factor.”
NBC anchor Brian Williams intoned: “Has political speech in this country become too charged, too toxic, and did it play a role in this tragedy?” Reporter Andrea Mitchell contended any link to the shooting is irrelevant: “Whether or not there is any connection between Saturday's shooting and angry rhetoric, it has certainly reignited the debate over political speech between right and left.”
After running a soundbite of FNC’s Glenn Beck denouncing the media for blaming Palin, Mitchell proceeded to regurgitate that very charge: “This map from Palin’s Web site targeted Giffords' district and the others with the iconic cross hairs of a gun sight. Giffords' Tucson office was vandalized that week, and the Congresswoman criticized Palin's map with Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie.”
Skipping over everything aired on MSNBC, Mitchell went back to 2005 to discredit Beck: “Beck himself has been widely criticized for comments like this about liberal activist Michael Moore.” Viewers heard audio from Beck on his radio show from May 17, 2005: “I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore. I could just be choking the life out of him. Is this wrong?”
Only at the very end of her piece did Mitchell slip in: “In the wake of the shootings, a liberal blogger on the Daily Kos took down his recent post that Giffords was quote ‘dead to him’ for voting against Nancy Pelosi for Democratic leader.”
On ABC’s World News, Jake Tapper pointed out: “One acquaintance from 2007 said the shooter was liberal and his obsession with Giffords pre-dates Sarah Palin's much criticized map of congressional targets for defeat, including Giffords, by three years. So, from the right, come charges of political opportunism by the left.”
After a clip of Rush Limbaugh castigating Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, Tapper aired a bite of Dupnik trashing Limbaugh:
The kind of rhetoric that flows from people like Rush Limbaugh, in my judgment he’s irresponsible, uses partial information – sometimes wrong information – attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials and that kind of behavior, in my opinion is not without consequences and I think he’s irresponsible.
Jeff Greenfield, on the CBS Evening News, recalled how “a generation ago some intellectuals on the left were flirting with revolutionary violence espoused by the black panthers and the weathermen. One leading literary magazine put a diagram of a Molotov cocktail on its cover,” but, he insisted in leading into comments from Newt Gingrich and Dick Morris, “these days the harshest words about government usually come from the right.”
Couric ended her newscast by quoting from an e-mail sent days ago by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords:
She said, quote: “We need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down,” unquote. No matter what the shooter’s motive, this tragedy provides us all with an opportunity to step back, take stock and have a conversation.
From the Monday, January 10 NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: We're back now from Tucson with more on the shootings here and the political fallout. A question was raised almost as soon as the news broke. Has political speech in this country become too charged, too toxic, and did it play a role in this tragedy? NBC's Andrea Mitchell in Washington for us tonight with more on that story. Andrea, good evening.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Good evening, Brian. Whether or not there is any connection between Saturday's shooting and angry rhetoric, it has certainly reignited the debate over political speech between right and left, with conservative commentator Glenn Beck tonight challenging the media to show leadership and everyone to denounce violence. On Fox News tonight, conservative commentator Glenn Beck accused the media of trying to destroy Sarah Palin.
GLENN BECK, ON FNC: They're desperately using every opportunity to try to convince you that somehow or another, Sarah Palin is dangerous.
MITCHELL: His complaint, criticism that Palin crossed a line when she used gun imagery last year against twenty Democrats, including Gabrielle Giffords.
SARAH PALIN, MARCH 26, 2010: But this BS coming from the lame stream media lately about this, about us inciting violence.
MITCHELL: But this map from Palin’s Web site targeted Giffords' district and the others with the iconic cross hairs of a gun sight. Giffords' Tucson office was vandalized that week, and the Congresswoman criticized Palin's map with Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie.
GABRIELLE GIFFORDS, ON MSNBC ON MARCH 25, 2010: The way that she has it depicted has the croshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there are consequences to that action.
MITCHELL: After Saturday's shooting Palin's team defended the map on a conservative podcast.
AUDIO OF REBECCA MANSOUR: We never ever, ever intended it to be gun sights. It was simply cross hairs like you see on a map.
MITCHELL: Still, they removed the map from their Web site on Saturday, but today it was still up on Palin's Facebook page. Today, Palin e-mailed Beck to say-
BECK, READING E-MAIL: Our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this to succeed in portraying anyone as inciting terror and violence.
MITCHELL: Beck himself has been widely criticized for comments like this about liberal activist Michael Moore.
AUDIO OF GLENN BECK, MAY 17, 2005: I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore. I could just be choking the life out of him. Is this wrong?
MITCHELL: The issue blew up right after the shooting with the Tucson sheriff's first briefing. He lit up the Internet by blaming the media.
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: The vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.
MITCHELL: In the wake of the shootings, a liberal blogger on the Daily Kos took down his recent post that Giffords was quote “dead to him” for voting against Nancy Pelosi for Democratic leader.
And today, we learned that the day before she was shot, Giffords' e-mailed a Republican friend saying: “I would love to talk about what we can do to promote centrism and moderation. We need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down.” Brian?
— Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.