The media’s big problem right now is that everyone in the country knows how they’d be covering yesterday’s shooting if the parties were reversed.
Progressive Democratic activist James Hodgkinson spent years on social media and in local and national politics focusing on his hatred of Republican politicians. On Wednesday, he went after a group of Republican politicians as they practiced baseball in the early morning, shooting a member of the Republican leadership, two capitol police, a legislative aide, and a lobbyist. Rep. Steve Scalise remains in critical condition.
Hodgkinson’s social media trail and the accounts of neighbors leave no question that the man was politically engaged, aligned with progressives, and upset with Republicans.
Some media coverage of the incident has been fine, if restrained. The media have not chosen to make this shooting a referendum on leftist political violence, on the use of extreme rhetoric and conspiracy theorizing by major mainstream media, on the dangers of the resistance movement. There has been no rush to introspection.
Some media treatment has been disgusting. The New York Times ran an editorial that is dangerously dishonest.
First, Let’s Flash Back to 2011
Before we discuss it, we should reflect on the 2011 Tucson shooting in which a deranged man shot up a Gabby Giffords political rally, killing six and injuring another 18. Despite the fact that the man was extremely mentally ill, obsessed with Giffords, and not conventionally political, the media immediately leaped to the conclusion that conservative rhetoric had led him to shoot Giffords. There was no evidence to support the idea initially, and the false claims were disproven with time.
The day after the shooting, the Times editorial board wrote that Jared Lee Loughner “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.” It said that opponents of Obamacare were threatening members of Congress, and mentioned an effigy of a Democratic representative hung outside a district office.
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.
That was what the New York Times wrote when a man who believed that the government practices mind control through grammar shot up Giffords’ rally.
Sarah Palin came in for particular condemnation by the media. Why? Well, although there is literally zero evidence that Jared Loughner ever saw it, Palin’s political action committee had drawn a map that targeted certain congressional seats for campaigns. The map showed gun sights on the congressional districts that donors were supposed to focus on. While military campaign technology is common for political campaigns, the media pretended that this was somehow in part responsible for Loughner’s shooting.
Andrew Sullivan, then at the The Atlantic, wrote “No one is saying Sarah Palin should be viewed as an accomplice to murder. Many are merely saying that her recklessly violent and inflammatory rhetoric has poisoned the discourse and has long run the risk of empowering the deranged. We are saying it’s about time someone took responsibility for this kind of rhetorical extremism, because it can and has led to violence and murder.”
Writing in The New York Times, Matt Bai said Palin and others used “imagery of armed revolution. Popular spokespeople like Ms. Palin routinely drop words like ‘tyranny’ and ‘socialism’ when describing the president and his allies, as if blind to the idea that Americans legitimately faced with either enemy would almost certainly take up arms.”
MSNBC used a graphic that said “Power of Words” with an image of Loughner, suggesting that conservative rhetoric was responsible for the shooting.
And The New York Times’ Paul Krugman wrote “Climate of Hate,” a column blaming Republicans and conservatives for creating a climate of violence in which Giffords was shot. He said Republicans needed to take a stand against “eliminationist” rhetoric. James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal showed the significant problems with this general media talking point at the time, and it’s worth a review.
Back to 2017 and Alexandria
Now it’s 2017. We’ve seen months of street protests, many of them violent. Antifa protests have involved torched cars and buildings, and physical confrontations. We’ve seen parades shut down rather than let Republicans march in them. There have been acts of serious violence against Trump supporters. Media messages about Republican policies are continued variations on the theme that Republican policies will literally destroy the planet, enslave women, or kill sick people. Media messages on Donald Trump include conspiracy theories that he is a Russian stooge committing treason, or simply suggest that he needs to be removed from his duly elected office by whatever means.
Okay. Now let’s go to The New York Times editorial in response to Wednesday’s shooting:
Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.
Conservatives and right-wing media were quick on Wednesday to demand forceful condemnation of hate speech and crimes by anti-Trump liberals. They’re right. Though there’s no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack, liberals should of course hold themselves to the same standard of decency that they ask of the right.
Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? Are you mother-bleeping kidding me, New York Times? This is an insane couple of paragraphs.
For starters, it is a completely indefensible falsehood to state that “the link to political incitement was clear” in the Giffords shooting. It wasn’t clear when media personalities falsely claimed that in 2011, but after a thorough review of the evidence showing Loughner’s mental illness and general lack of traditional political engagement, it’s an error that boggles the mind now.
To still blame Palin for something completely unrelated shows a level of derangement that is honestly quite worrisome. Since the Times knows it’s not true that the map played a role in the shooting, it is discrediting to state otherwise. This is the very picture of fake news, at a time when media outlets are claiming they are paragons of virtue and truth-telling. The New York Times ran an ad during the Oscars saying “the truth is hard,” but it’s not that hard to avoid saying false things that you know to be false.
The last line includes two doozies. It’s simply false to say that “there’s no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack.” Hodgkinson is responsible for his own behavior, even if he was in a political environment that has pushed the idea that Republicans are illegitimate holders of power. Unlike Loughner, Hodgkinson’s local media reports and social media record paint a picture of a man who was highly political.
His social media showed that he liked or was a member of groups such as “Dump Trump,” “Liar, Liar Republican Campaign on Fire,” “Stop the Obstructionist Tea Party,” “Just Say No to Republicans,” “Republicans ARE the Problem,” “Stop the Speaker,” “No More Republicans,” “Hey Republicans….Shut up!,” “Hate All Republican Douches (H.A.R.D.),” “Fire the Republican Government,” “Republicans are stupid,” “Republicans Suck,” “Americans Against The Republican Party,” “Fight the Right,” “The Republican Party Makes Me Sick,” “Expose Republican Fraud,” “Terminate the Republican Party,” and “The Road to Hell Is Paved With Republicans.” He followed politicians and celebrities such as John Oliver, Bill Maher, and Seth MacFarlane, who use extreme rhetoric against Republicans.
Bai said spokespeople who use words like “tyranny” when describing politicians shouldn’t be “blind to the idea that Americans legitimately faced with either enemy would almost certainly take up arms.” Well if that’s true, what in the world should Americans do in response to the non-stop mainstream media and Democratic narrative that Republicans are enabling an existential threat to the country by not resisting the duly elected president and legislating destruction of people and the planet when they enact their policy goals?
Blame the Victims, Hard
The second doozie is the claim that “liberals should of course hold themselves to the same standard of decency that they ask of the right.” Varad Mehta described the editorial as the Platonic form of a Times editorial: “hypocrisy, double-standards, duplicity, and moral obtuseness.” He wrote of the line about decency, “No one who actually believes this would’ve published such an abominable editorial. So clearly the NYT doesn’t.”
The New York Times in this very editorial shows that its standard is to blame Republicans for violence against Democrats when there is no relationship of any Republican to that violence, and to blame Republicans for violence against Republicans when the perpetrator is a progressive Democratic activist.
As Guy Benson put it:
How is this newspaper held in any regard when it willfully and gratuitously publishes malicious lies about Republican politicians six years after they knew they were wrong?
And what can be done when the most revered of the liberal papers is engaged in Stalinesque rewriting of history to suit the purposes of its propaganda?