Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Loughner Brought the Bloodshed, the New York Times Brings the Invective

I don't expect much from the New York Times, but I do expect better than their editorial board's entry into the "Stop the Climate of Hate!" grandstanding so many television pundits, politicians, enlightened bloggers, and even other New York Times columnists have been spouting since this weekend. So imagine my relatively minor surprise with our Newspaper of Record's editorial on the subject, "Bloodshed and Invective in Arizona":

She read the First Amendment on the House floor — including the guarantee of “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” — and then flew home to Arizona to put those words into practice. But when Gabrielle Giffords tried to meet with her constituents in a Tucson parking lot on Saturday, she came face to face with an environment wholly at odds with that constitutional ideal, and she nearly paid for it with her life.
That's right. Congresswoman Giffords and the many other victims didn't encounter, to quote the Times' own words later in this same editorial, "one particular madman" in that parking lot. They encountered an "environment." And the debate about this "environment" is apparently over as well for the Times. So pay no attention to that "madman" and his history of death threats and "paranoid Internet ravings" when it comes to assigning blame for the wounded and dead in Tucson.
Jared Loughner, the man accused of shooting Ms. Giffords, killing a federal judge and five other people, and wounding 13 others, appears to be mentally ill. His paranoid Internet ravings about government mind control place him well beyond usual ideological categories.
Note their careful phrasing: Loughner "appears to be mentally ill." After all, we wouldn't want to rush to judgment here, at least not about a man who just killed six people, "was a nihilist and love[d] causing chaos," and thought the government was practicing mind control through grammar -- even though this same editorial does in fact call him a "madman" later on. After all, a rush to judgment might create "a widespread squall of fear, anger, and intolerance" as well as hatred against the mentally ill. No, the Times saves that for people who protest the health reform law and the largest budget deficits in history, hold a different view on how to deal with illegal immigration, and use martial imagery and metaphors in political discourse (like the word "campaign".)

You know, the really dangerous people...
But he is very much a part of a widespread squall of fear, anger and intolerance that has produced violent threats against scores of politicians and infected the political mainstream with violent imagery. With easy and legal access to semiautomatic weapons like the one used in the parking lot, those already teetering on the edge of sanity can turn a threat into a nightmare.
Yes, Loughner bought the gun he used to kill those people legally. But does the Times really think that new laws restricting "easy and legal access to semiautomatic weapons" would have stopped Loughner from carrying out whatever paranoid fantasies he had? Because if someone who is "already teetering on the edge of sanity" and "part of a widespread squall of fear, anger, and intolerance" that has "infected the political mainstream with violent imagery" wants to kill a group of people, that person is going to find a way. And if he can't get hold of a gun legally, or illegally, he can always just drive an SUV into a crowd at 45 mph instead.

There's a real debate to be had about gun laws and how we handle mental illness. But the idea that new laws will prevent us from ever again having to deal with the aftermath of a madman who is hellbent on killing people isn't part of it. And if a few new laws really are the answer, then that "widespread squall" must actually be a light breeze for all the power it really has, even over someone like Loughner.
Last spring, Capitol security officials said threats against members of Congress had tripled over the previous year, almost all from opponents of health care reform. An effigy of Representative Frank Kratovil Jr., a Maryland Democrat, was hung from a gallows outside his district office. Ms. Giffords’s district office door was smashed after the health vote, possibly by a bullet.
To quote again the Times' own words from later in this same editorial, it would be "facile and mistaken to attribute" that hyperlink above to a deliberate effort by the Times to mischaracterize the facts in order to score cheap political points and, in the process, scare the crap out of people when it comes to those who disagree with the Times politically. But, quoting again, "it is legitimate" to click on that link and realize that the article doesn't actually use the word "tripled," though it does say threats have risen -- and focuses solely on threats from "opponents of health care reform" to Democrats in Congress. And why should the Newspaper of Record feel any need to note similar threats to, and even outright violence against, opponents of health reform?

Maybe the Times editors meant to copy and paste this link, which does in fact cite a "nearly threefold increase in recent months in the number of serious threats against members of Congress," and it does say that nearly all of them come from opponents of health reform. But that article also gave the actual numbers:

The lawmakers reported 42 threats in the first three months of this year, compared with 15 in the last three months of 2009, said Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer, who had information about threats involving both chambers.
So, in a nation of more than 300 million people, during what the Times considers a unparalleled "squall" of hatred and invective, we're talking 42 threats in three months. Versus 15.

That's right. A jump of 27 threats during the period in question. In a nation of more than 300 million people. During an unparalleled "squall" of hatred and invective.

Truly, America has never been more unhinged.
The federal judge who was killed, John Roll, had received hundreds of menacing phone calls and death threats, especially after he allowed a case to proceed against a rancher accused of assaulting 16 Mexicans as they tried to cross his land. This rage, stirred by talk-radio hosts, required marshals to give the judge and his family 24-hour protection for a month. Around the nation, threats to federal judges have soared for a decade.
Of course, we don't have any information that Loughner listened to conservative talk radio. Or that he was intentionally targeting John Roll in that parking lot. And we know that none of those other people who made those phone calls and death threats actually killed John Roll. But what does any of that matter? It's a climate of hate.

And while we're at, let's note how the Times characterizes that particular lawsuit as a "rancher accused of assaulting 16 Mexicans as they tried to cross his land." Let's note how the Times ignores the fact that these were 16 Mexicans crossing into this country illegally and that for the last 10 years, the rancher had dealt with illegal immigrants that have "tor[n] up water pumps, killed calves, destroyed fences and gates, stole trucks and broke into his home," even after he "installed a faucet on an 8,000-gallon water tank so the immigrants would stop damaging the tank to get water." Let's just make this a black-and-white issue about some rancher "assaulting" 16 people innocently "trying to cross his land" so we can then accuse talk radio of stirring up rage and death threats against the judge who allowed to go forward a lawsuit by those same 16 illegal immigrants seeking "$32 million in actual and punitive damages for civil rights violations, the infliction of emotional distress and other crimes" and then tie it all into the root cause of the Giffords shooting, which was an "environment" and not "one particular madman" looking to kill people.

Here's a thought: If the Times is really worried about people stirring up anger and even rage through mischaracterizations and misinformation, maybe it should start with itself.
It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman’s act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge. Many on the right have exploited the arguments of division, reaping political power by demonizing immigrants, or welfare recipients, or bureaucrats. They seem to have persuaded many Americans that the government is not just misguided, but the enemy of the people.
Clearly, the Times missed all the protests and rhetoric during the entire Bush Administration, has never watched a single moment of television with the "stars" of MSNBC, and also thinks that "teabagger" is not really a derogatory sexual slur, that those who oppose President Obama's economic and health reform policies have never been demonized as racists, that those who who fully support the right of the Park51 developers to place their mosque so close to Ground Zero but feel someplace father away would be more appropriate have never been slurred as islamophobes, that anyone who draws a distinction between legal and illegal immigration has never been tarred as a xenophobe, and on and on and on.

Or maybe the Times doesn't see all of that as "exploiting the arguments of division" or "reaping political power by demonizing" those who disagree with them. They just see it as getting the facts straight.

And then they complain how the political discourse in this country isn't civil enough.
That whirlwind has touched down most forcefully in Arizona, which Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik described after the shooting as the capital of “the anger, the hatred and the bigotry that goes on in this country.” Anti-immigrant sentiment in the state, firmly opposed by Ms. Giffords, has reached the point where Latino studies programs that advocate ethnic solidarity have actually been made illegal.
Because if there's one person who has truly distinguished himself since the shooting, it's Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.

And if there's any evidence that Jared Lee Loughner tried to kill Congresswoman Giffords because of her views about the curriculum at Arizona community colleges, I haven't seen it. I doubt the Times editorial board has, either. But why waste another chance to call for civility while linking those who might disagree with Times on, say, the Arizona ethnic studies as part of the root cause of the Giffords shooting, which again was an "environment" and not "one particular madman" looking to kill people.
Its gun laws are among the most lenient, allowing even a disturbed man like Mr. Loughner to buy a pistol and carry it concealed without a special permit. That was before the Tucson rampage. Now, having seen first hand the horror of political violence, Arizona should lead the nation in quieting the voices of intolerance, demanding an end to the temptations of bloodshed, and imposing sensible controls on its instruments.
And the Times should lead the nation by acknowledging that this shooting was the act of, in their own words, "one particular madman," and not an act of "political violence" motivated by conservative or Tea Party rhetoric -- however much the Times (and others) apparently want the latter to be true.

UPDATE: Why write such a long piece not even 48 hours after explaining why I've avoided blogging about the Giffords shooting, Jared Lee Loughner, and calls to eliminate clip art and mean words from political discourse? Because I can only take being implicated in one particular madman's killing spree because of my political views so many times in less than a week.

UPDATE II: According to Zach Osler, a friend of Loughner:
He did not watch TV. He disliked the news. He didn’t listen to political radio. He didn’t take sides. He wasn’t on the left. He wasn’t on the right.
Case closed, New York Times.

UPDATE III: RightKlik compares and contrasts the typical Tea Party Conservative and Jared Lee Loughner and discovers the "Arizona Killer Fits Tea Party Profile Perfectly."

UPDATE IV: In response to President Obama's rebuke last night to those who have tried to blame this tragedy on the rhetoric and imagery of their political opponents, the New York Times' editorial board now has this to say:
It was important that Mr. Obama transcend the debate about whose partisanship has been excessive and whose words have sown the most division and dread. This page and many others have identified those voices and called on them to stop demonizing their political opponents. The president’s role in Tucson was to comfort and honor, and instill hope.
Even worse:
The president’s words were an important contrast to the ugliness that continues to swirl in some parts of the country. The accusation by Sarah Palin that “journalists and pundits” had committed a “blood libel” when they raised questions about overheated rhetoric was especially disturbing, given the grave meaning of that phrase in the history of the Jewish people.
Yes, how dare she defend herself against our baseless charges of blame for the Tucson shooting by using a phrase in it's modern, commonly understood meaning. I know, let's accuse her of being disturbingly insensitive to the Jewish people, too.

The New York Times is utterly incapable of shame.

UPDATE V: Ace of Spades and Verum Serum note some selective -- and self-serving -- editing of President Obama's words by the Times in their editorial response to his remarks.

UPDATE VI: Allahpundit notes the Times has quietly corrected their incorrect quotation of President Obama's remarks -- and how the fact that their unremarked correction actually changes the meaning of his remarks goes, well, unremarked...