When words will hurt you…

Commentators and politicians are calling for dramatic ramp down of the rhetoric that led to the horrible Arizona shootings. And they should.  New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman said:

“Listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you’ll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won’t hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at The Washington Post. Listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, and you will.”

USA Today‘s headline was: Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting fuels debate over rhetoric.  Similar headlines appear in a host of broadcasts, podcasts, and news reports.

Notably, that story isn’t appearing on Fox News, nor is it appearing on Sarah Palin’s Twitter. Instead, Palin tweets to a Facebook post, which extends appropriate condolences to Gillfords’ family. Palin makes no reference to the campaign posters that placed bull’s-eye targets in key Congressional districts, including Gillfords’. Her supporters defend the targets in response to Palin’s Facebook post:

  •  The bullseye has been used in marketing for years…and a sane person knows it isn’t meant in a malicious manner.
  •  I can’t believe people blaming ‘your agenda’ for this tragedy! I went to YouTube to see this man’s recent writings and he is clearly disturbed.

Interestingly, it was Fox News that broke the story about national security memo saying accused assailant Jared Loughner’s web posts indicate he was influenced by the white supremacist magazine American Renaissance. But the magazine editor says Loughner never subscribed or attended any of their events.

So there seems to be a lot of buck passing. Who is really responsible for shooting? Certainly the shooter. In American culture, we want a fall guy, preferably a lone gunman. Yet the culture itself seems to be breathing with anger. On Friday, six Nevada middle school girls were arrested for creating an “Attack a Teacher” Facebook page. They said it was a joke. No one followed through with any of the threats even though 100 or students joined, but if they had, who would be to blame?

Giffords appeared on MSNBC last spring after her office door was blown out. She mentioned Palin’s cross-hair ads by name. But she also called on all leaders to denounce violence, regardless of what party they represent. She said, “There’s fine line here…” Ultimately and sadly, each individual cannot control the madness of others. Each must engage in individual restraint, even if fire is shouted in the proverbial crowded theater. Yet at the same time, political and financial profits created by the hysteria also must be challenged. Whipping up a frenzy equating bullets with ballots means that somebody, somewhere is going to be crazy enough to confuse the two. No one should be surprised. Just because guilt can be spread thinly across wide numbers of politicians and pundits does not mean that guilt does not exist. Words killed people this weekend, just as surely as bullets.

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