A recently-released analysis by the Pew Research Center reveals some interesting facts about the online conversation regarding the Tucson massacre. Most notably, it lends statistical weight to the claim that the left accused its ideological opponents of fostering a "climate of hate" to a far greater degree than did the right.
Though that may not be altogether surprising, the Pew study also revealed that the three news networks - the self-styled objective and responsible journalistic gatekeepers - were far more likely to blame conservatives alone for the tone of the national debate than even liberals in the blogosphere and twitterverse.
According to Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism, liberals blaming conservatives for the tone of the debate accounted for 59 percent of the discussion of political rhetoric on blogs and Twitter. Only 28 percent of online chatter was conservatives blaming liberals, or defending themselves against these dubious charges. That's greater than a 2-to-1 margin. But the three networks, in contrast, singled out conservatives over liberals by an 8-to-1 margin, according to a Media Research Center study.
In its "Special Report on the Media and the Tucson Shooting", Pew reported:
According to a Crimson Hexagon analysis that began two days earlier than the NCI data (on January 8), 29% of the conversation about the Giffords story measured on blogs and Twitter focused on public discourse. Crimson Hexagon technology analyzes online media by identifying statistical patterns in the words used to express opinions on different topics.
Using Crimson Hexagon, PEJ was also able to analyze the tone of this conversation. Here, considerably more of the discussion about political rhetoric featured the left blaming the right rather than the other way around. According to the analysis from January 8-16, a full 59% of the commentary in blogs, Twitter and social media involved liberals blaming conservatives for their tone. That was more than twice the amount of the discussion—28%—that involved conservatives criticizing the left or defending themselves.
As has been exhaustively documented at NewsBusters and elsewhere since the Tucson shooting, martial rhetoric is not unique to any political party or movement. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have invoked violent imagery, and certainly pundits on both sides of the ideological divide have been guilty of using overheated or excessively-hostile language.
But given that these are not partisan phenomena - indeed, they are virtually ubiquitous in our politics - it's striking to see the extent to which one political "side" was so disproportionately blamed for the tone of the national political conversation.
Also striking is that the news networks were apparently far more willing to ascribe blame only to conservative pundits and politicians. There is no factual basis for the claim that liberals or Democrats use incendiary rhetoric less than their conservative or Republican counterparts. And yet the three news networks were overwhelmingly focused on conservative rhetoric - more so, even, that the unchecked masses voicing their views online.