NBC's Matt Lauer, at the top of Monday's Today show, alerted viewers that Sarah Palin was being drawn into the Gabrielle Giffords shooting as he teased an upcoming Andrea Mitchell story this way: "Sarah Palin has been coming under some criticism. While there is no evidence her Web site featuring a target on Giffords' district had anything to do with this attack, some are asking if today's political rhetoric is inspiring the lunatic fringe?" For her part, Mitchell made sure to point out "while there is no indication that this suspect was inspired...by political speech" she then proceeded to devote most of her story linking Palin to the attack.
In a story entitled, "Crosshairs Controversy, Palin Criticized For 'Targeting Giffords'" Mitchell noted: "The attack has reopened criticism of the way Palin targeted Gabby Giffords and 19 other Democrats in last year's campaign." Mitchell then went on to report that after Giffords' congressional district, along with 20 others, was targeted with crosshairs on a map on Sarah Palin's Web site, "Giffords' Tuscon office was vandalized" and then aired a clip of Giffords slamming Palin.
Mitchell, at the very end of her piece, did eventually get around to highlighting a lefty's attack on Giffords as she reported: "After Giffords was shot a liberal blogger on The Daily Kos took down his recent criticism of Giffords. He had written that she was quote, 'dead to him' for voting against Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader last week."
The following is the entire Mitchell piece as it was aired on the January 10 Today show:
MEREDITH VIEIRA: This shooting came with the state of our politics seemingly nastier than ever. And rightly or wrongly fingers are being pointed today and one of those coming under criticism is Sarah Palin. NBC's Andrea Mitchell has more on that. Andrea, good morning to you.
[On screen headline: "Crosshairs Controversy, Palin Criticized For 'Targeting' Giffords"]
ANDREA MITCHELL: Good morning, Meredith. Sarah Palin responded to the tragedy in Tucson by offering condolences and prayers on her Facebook page. And while there is no indication that this suspect was inspired, in any way, by political speech the attack has reopened criticism of the way Palin targeted Gabby Giffords and 19 other Democrats in last year's campaign. Sarah Palin went to Gabby Giffords' Tucson district last year and answered critics of her tough, campaign rhetoric.
SARAH PALIN: We know violence isn't the answer. When we take up our arms we're talking about our vote.
MITCHELL: At issue this map, from Palin's Web site, targeting Democrats in 20 congressional districts, including Giffords, illustrated with the iconic crosshairs of a gun sight.
PALIN: But this BS coming from the lamestream media lately, about this, about us inciting violence. Don't let, don't let the conversation be diverted.
MITCHELL: That same week Giffords' Tucson office was vandalized. The Congresswoman then raised the issue of Palin's map with Savannah Guthrie and Chuck Todd on MSNBC.
REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: 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.
MITCHELL: Palin also used gun rhetoric on Twitter last spring, writing "Don't retreat, reload."
PALIN: Don't retreat, reload! And that is not a call for violence.
MITCHELL: But only hours after Saturday's attack Palin's gun sight map suddenly disappeared. Palin's team blamed a contractor for not taking it down sooner, when the election was over. An aide told conservative radio host Tammy Bruce-
REBECCA MANSOUR: Where I come from the person that's actually shooting is the one that's culpable. You know, and we have nothing whatsoever to do with this.
JONATHAN ALTER, NEWSWEEK: I don't think it's fair to connect Sarah Palin to this event, but I do think it's fair to connect Sarah Palin and others on the left and the right to the climate of violence.
MITCHELL: Some Republicans say both sides should dial it back.
KEN DUBERSTEIN, REAGAN WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Words have consequences and those consequences can lead to tragedy if you're not careful. You gotta keep everything within bounds.
MITCHELL: In fact, after Giffords was shot a liberal blogger on The Daily Kos took down his recent criticism of Giffords. He had written that she was quote, "dead to him" for voting against Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader last week. Meredith?
VIEIRA: Alright Andrea Mitchell, thank you very much.
—Geoffrey Dickens is the Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here