Op-ed: The Arizona Tragedy and the Politics of Blood Libel

by Glenn Harlan Reynolds

Shortly after November's electoral defeat for the Democrats, pollster Mark Penn appeared on Chris Matthews's TV show and remarked that what President Obama needed to reconnect with the American people was another Oklahoma City bombing. To judge from the reaction to Saturday's tragic shootings in Arizona, many on the left (and in the press) agree, and for a while hoped that Jared Lee Loughner's killing spree might fill the bill.

With only the barest outline of events available, pundits and reporters seemed to agree that the massacre had to be the fault of the tea party movement in general, and of Sarah Palin in particular. Why? Because they had created, in New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's words, a "climate of hate."

The critics were a bit short on particulars as to what that meant. Mrs. Palin has used some martial metaphors—"lock and load"—and talked about "targeting" opponents. But as media writer Howard Kurtz noted in The Daily Beast, such metaphors are common in politics. Palin critic Markos Moulitsas, on his Daily Kos blog, had even included Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's district on a list of congressional districts "bullseyed" for primary challenges. When Democrats use language like this—or even harsher language like Mr. Obama's famous remark, in Philadelphia during the 2008 campaign, "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun"—it's just evidence of high spirits, apparently. But if Republicans do it, it somehow creates a climate of hate.

There's a climate of hate out there, all right, but it doesn't derive from the innocuous use of political clichés. And former Gov. Palin and the tea party movement are more the targets than the source.

American journalists know how to be exquisitely sensitive when they want to be. As the Washington Examiner's Byron York pointed out on Sunday, after Major Nidal Hasan shot up Fort Hood while shouting "Allahu Akhbar!" the press was full of cautions about not drawing premature conclusions about a connection to Islamist terrorism. "Where," asked Mr. York, "was that caution after the shootings in Arizona?"

Set aside as inconvenient, apparently. There was no waiting for the facts on Saturday. Likewise, last May New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and CBS anchor Katie Couric speculated, without any evidence, that the Times Square bomber might be a tea partier upset with the ObamaCare bill.

So as the usual talking heads begin their "have you no decency?" routine aimed at talk radio and Republican politicians, perhaps we should turn the question around. Where is the decency in blood libel?

Click here to read the entire op-ed from The Wall Street Journal.


Additional Information:
2 Lawmakers to Carry Guns in Home Districts

Media Pivots To Blame Gun Laws; Sloppy Reporting, Punditry Ensues

McCarthy readies gun control bill

Peter King's proposed bill would ban guns near lawmakers

Boehner opposes new gun-control bill

Speaking of blood libel, Pima Co. Sheriff Dupnik was one of the first to play the blame game:

What a difference 30 years makes:

FLASHBACK headline, April 3, 1981: "Sheriff [Dupnik] Tells Residents to Arm Themselves for Protection.":

On April 3, 1981, the Associated Press published a story headlined "Sheriff Tells Residents to Arm Themselves for Protection." The top paragraph of the story, datelined Tucson, said: "Sheriff Clarence Dupnik has advised Pima County residents to arm themselves because his decimated department lacks the manpower to protect them."

"Not only are things not good, they are going to get worse," Dupnik said at a meeting with residents of an area called Avra Valley, according to the Associated Press. "For those who are so inclined, it's time to start protecting yourselves."

The Associated Press added: "He said he was not suggesting people take the law into their own hands or form vigilante committees, but should keep guns in their homes and learn how to use them for protection."

Given what we are now learning Sheriff Dupnik and other authorities knew about the killer before this incident, this advice would be more much appropriate for him to be to repeating at this time, rather than his own political vitriol.

Arizona Republic Editorial: Pima County sheriff should remember duty

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