< Political Rhetoric in the Wake of the Tucson Shooting


Friday, January 14, 2011

BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. And here’s Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik on CNN, holding fast to his belief in what set the stage for tragedy in Tucson last Saturday.

SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: It’s my belief that the hard right is deliberately fueling the fire against public officials, elected officials, government and the administration.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: He repeated it, even after FBI director Robert Mueller described such a portrayal as “premature.” And, after the media storm that followed, led by such notables as Bill O’Reilly.

BILL O’REILLY: Sheriff Dupnik has turned a horrific murder case into a political circus. Who does that serve, Sheriff?


SARAH PALIN: Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And Rush Limbaugh.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: Hey, Sheriff, I'll bet you hope he’s acquitted, right? What do you know about it, Limbaugh? I don't know anything. I just know how liberals are, Sheriff, 'cause it’s always somebody else’s fault, right, Sheriff? It’s never the guilty’s fault. They didn't do it. Somebody made 'em do it, right, Sheriff?

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jared Loughner was known for making death threats in Pima County. Some even suggest that the sheriff’s remarks were motivated by guilt in failing to avert his rampage. But others find larger reasons for discounting his view. Slate’s Jack Shafer observed that such words as “targeting,” “attacking,” “destroying,” “blasting,” “crushing” and “burying” have long guided political thought in action and that, quote, “Only the tiniest handful of people, most of whom are already behind bars, in psychiatric institutions or on psycho meds, can be driven to kill by political whispers or shouts.” Shafer wrote that, quote, “Asking us to forever hold our tongues lest we awake their deeper demons infantilizes and neuters us and makes politicians no safer.” After all, the republic survives, even though incivility has become the tenor of our times. Keith Olbermann.

KEITH OLBERMANN: This advice, Mr. Bush: Shut the hell up!

SARAH PALIN: In an ideal world, all discourse would be civil and all disagreements cordial. But our founding fathers knew they weren't designing a system for perfect men and women.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Sarah Palin’s placing of Gabrielle Giffords’ district in crosshairs on a map during the last campaign did not result in Giffords being shot in the head. Should we then avoid the incivility of confronting the potential impact of our modern media echo chamber, where the most alarming accusations resound unchallenged, and the possibility that the apocalyptic rhetoric paints a portrait of a terrifying reality, even for those of sound mind?

MALE CORRESPONDENT: Radicals are creating the conditions to stage a revolution. I know it sounds crazy. I know how it sounds. You think I want to be the guy on TV telling you this every night? I don't.

SARAH PALIN: Or my favorite, don't retreat, reload. And that is not a call for violence.


MICHELE BACHMANN: I want people in Minneapolis armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back.

SEAN HANNITY: On this Friday night, day number 74 of a country I am proud of, Obama attacks America.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: We need to defeat these bastards. We need to wipe them out.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: These are not fringe figures. These charges, these calls to arms, issue forth hour after hour from the leading cable news channel, from a radio host so influential he was dubbed in The New York Times Magazine the brains and spirit behind the Republican Party, and from our elected officials. Rhetoric did not kill 6 people last Saturday and wound 14 others, but every once in a while there is a need to assess where we are and where we are going. And perhaps now is one of those times.

CHET HUNTLEY: There is in this country and there has been for too long an ominous and sickening popularity of hatred.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Back in 1963, NBC news anchor Chet Huntley was likely wrong when he suggested it was violent rhetoric that motivated the assassination of President Kennedy. But he wasn't wrong about the tenor of his times.

CHET HUNTLEY: You and I have heard in recent months someone say, “Those Kennedys ought to be shot.” A well known national magazine recently carried an article saying Chief Justice Warren should be hanged. In its own defense, it said it was only joking. But the left has been equally bad. Tonight it might be the hope and the resolve of all of us that we've heard the last of this kind of talk, jocular or serious, or the result is tragically the same.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: If politicians and pundits have the right to speak how and when they choose, surely those who listen have an equal right to choose the time to ponder what it means.