Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Blue Dog Democrat, embarking on her third term in Congress, was among the 19 people shot and 6 killed yesterday at a congressional meet and greet for Gifford's 8th district. The lone shooter was Jared Lee Loughner, a 22 year old college drop-out with political "issues" and political actions on his fevered mind.
You all know the basic details of what happened by this time, but the picture of what happened and of victim details looks a little different, depending on the news channel you likely offered your rapt attention, yesterday, today and probably tomorrow.
I habitually switch from one of the three cable news channels to make just that assessment. Fortunately for that purpose, I only had to switch between two channels, Fox News and CNN because MSNBC news doesn't come into work on the weekend. Sheesh! What a cushy job those people have over there, And the owner of MSNBC, GE or Comcast, I'm not sure which at this juncture, saves or even makes a bundle by putting on real life crime shows; and thus they missed the really big real life crime show! Life--go figure.
At the press conference, at the mass murder crime scene, hours after the shooting, Pima County, Az., Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, took questions, after revealing what he could, and withholding what he felt he must. Then, in response to several questions about shooter motives and targets, he launched into an impassioned tirade about divisiveness of politics in this country and the "consequences that follow the endless stream of provocative demonization of others, especially in the media, especially on talk shows, and the hatred and bigotry in their continuous, incendiary streams of commentary.
Dupnik tied it up and surely made others fit to be tied, when he said that unfortunately his state, "Arizona, had become the capitol, the Mecca" (yes, he used that hot, iconic term) of this hatred." He went on to note that people have lost sight that we are one country and need to live together.
More significantly, he noted, the emotionally unstable, the walking wounded among us, are the most likely to be stirred to violent, murderous action by the programmatic spate of political, anti-government rhetoric in the media and on the internet, some of it echoed in the My Space words and YouTube videos of the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner
Sheriff Dupnik went back to this theme and I think he may have also said that good sane people may be reluctant to run for elective office when the political climate is so extreme and, increasingly, dangerous.
This was a lament I did not expect, and which violated my stereotypes and expectations about southwest Sheriffs. It was one I felt so impressed and privileged to witness on television. Will he be rewarded with re-election next time? Really hard to say, but I doubt it.
I was watching most of this on Fox because, frankly, when Fox's Shepard Smith is on duty, I blindly tilt toward him on my media axis. In a crisis, he is inevitably non-partisan and empathetic to human plight like no other current news anchors and does it with naturalness that you believe and feel is real. Someone once said that if you can fake sincerity, you've got it made. I think if you're sincere you've got it made too.
As the sheriff talked, moved away from the mike, moved back and talked again, Smith repeated aloud, to himself, the Sheriff's words about media air talk and violent obscenities about politicians and political candidates and issues and that Gifford had been the target of several threats and damage to her local office for her political stands, and that other politicians had been as well.
As Dupnik spoke, you just knew that Smith and the millions tuned in, were swimming in the irony of the Sheriff and Smith mulling these words on the network which is indeed the Mecca of this rancid, rank, inflammatory daily rhetoric.
Later, not unexpectedly, several conservative Republican congressman, like Sen. Jon Kyle, jumped all over the Sheriffs comments. Other Fox conservative standard bearing reporters, went to great lengths to focus on the more conservative dimensions of Rep. Giffords political record and her standing up to "her president" on issues dear to conservative hearts, like immigration reform, as if to dilute the sting of Smith's toleration of Sheriff Dupnik's assertions. It felt as if they were trying to say, "Look, yes, she was Democrat, but she was really one of us, a conservative and, see, they shoot conservatives, don't they?"
One salutatory thing all the news cablers did was to emphasize and re-emphasize the fluid nature of information at the crime scene and the tentativeness of what they are reporting. Gifford's death was reported several times and the number of dead and wounded flew up and down like a thermometer in a Texas Spring. Clearly, the press has been chastened by past missteps in reporting unfolding stories, from war theaters, to election results, to crises like mass shootings.
Finally, CNN was the first to report the kind of thing that Sheriff Dupnik was alluding to when he crucified people who use violent allusions and rhetoric: Sara Palin's crosshair map of election targets,
of whom Giffords was explicitly one. To my knowledge, Fox has not connected the dots with the political action of Jared Lee Loughner. And later that day, a co-anchor tried to do further damage control by talking about the hot violent political rhetoric on the left as well as the right--but offered no examples either in terms of quality or quantity or what part of the political spectrum bestrides the talk media like a colossus. Naturally. Now where was that pesky opposition voice, MSNBC, when the poop hit the fan?