Thursday, January 13, 2011

"Only The Shooter Is To Blame" v "He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands."

"Only The Shooter Is To Blame" is the title to a letter to the editor in today's Anchorage Daily News. Editors write the titles, but the letter writer does say:
The shootings in Tucson, Ariz., were the actions of one man and one man alone. Not because of Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck or any other conservative voice or anybody who wants stricter gun laws, or, better yet, no guns at all. And anyone who uses the murder of a 9-year- old girl* to make their point needs to re-evaluate their life.
There's been a clear defensiveness by some to deny any possible link between the level of confrontational rhetoric they've been using and violent acts such as the Arizona shooting.

Within hours of the shooting, every news report I heard included a right wing spokesperson strongly proclaiming there was no link between their confrontational  rhetoric and the violence. (I'd note that some left-wing rhetoric has gotten pretty testy too.)

The defensiveness of the right wing on this issue is understandable, because they lay blame on people they attack all the time.   And they knew immediately that they were vulnerable and had to immediately change the focus from themselves to others.  In this case, anyone who might link the violence to them. 

After all, here's what Sarah Palin said on her Facebook page on November 29, 2010:
Assange is not a “journalist,” any more than the “editor” of al Qaeda’s new English-language magazine Inspire is a “journalist.” He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands. (emphasis mine.)
Aside from the off-the-wall link between Assange and al Qaeda and the insinuation-laden 'operative',  I would just say that Assange didn't tell anyone to do anything.  He merely passed on verbatim what US and other government officials said.  And we have no stories about anyone doing any violence because of the official documents published by Wikileaks.

So, if Palin thinks that Assange has blood on his hands - that publishing official government documents makes him responsible for potential violence by others - she has to believe that her cross hairs map and other provocative rhetoric means she too has blood on her hands - the real (not potential) blood of six dead and 13 wounded. 

But Palin never admits mistakes.  Instead, she deflects attention to her words by attacking her critics and claiming her own victimhood.   "Don't retreat, reload" could be translated as don't admit mistakes, but renew the attack.
"Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn," she said in the video released on her Facebook page. "That is reprehensible."  [BBC report]
Here she is, using inflammatory (dare I say reprehensible?) language to change the subject and to blame someone else, the media, for inciting hatred.  Classic Palin.  (Don't even try to suggest to her that what the media say doesn't matter, because people are responsible for their own hate. )

Now, let's be clear.  I'm NOT blaming Palin for the shooting.

The census says 308 million people live in the US.  I don't know how many of them listened to what could be called inflammatory right wing rhetoric, but there are  3,146,418 registered voters in Arizona, and we know that 3,146,417 of them did NOT go out and shoot a politician because of talk radio or Palin ads. Maybe all of them, since I don't even know whether Loughner is a registered voter.

There are different types of relationships.  Here are a couple of points on the continuum:
  • Direct cause and effect - Politician A says "We need to get rid of this politician" and listener B hearing this, gets his gun and shoots the politician.

  • Influence -  No specific factor is the cause by itself, all factors collectively play a role.  Television and video game violence, family relationships, mental health problems, availability of guns, difficulties at school all seem to have been factors.  If you took one away, would it still have happened?  If that one existed without any of the others would it have happened? 

  • No link at all - The politicians may be talking rough, but the shooter has never heard them and didn't even know Giffords was a politician when he shot her.  
Then there's the related, but different concept of 'blame.'

Even if someone's words cause another to do something bad, that doesn't necessarily make the speaker even partially responsible.  But it might - depending on what was said under what conditions.  Telling a woman to steal $10,000 for you or you'll kill her daughter is different from telling someone how to shoot a gun and then the person goes out and kills someone. 

So, I'm not blaming Palin or Beck or anyone but the shooter for the shootings.  But a lot of things did influence what he did, but we don't know enough at this point to know which ones were more important.  If the shooter tells us that he was inspired by a particular website or speech to do the shooting, would that change anyone's minds?

Let's look at this a different way:

Kids in China grow up to speak Chinese. Italian kids learn to speak Italian.

Indonesian kids tend to grow up to be Muslims. Mexican kids tend to grow up to be Christians of some sort.

What's my point?  People do lots of things they don't individually choose to do, but because of the influences of their families, their communities, their cultures. 

Individuals do things because they see and hear things and develop skills and use tools available in their environments.  308 million Americans were NOT influenced to go out and shoot a politician after listening to the rhetoric of people like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.   Palin and Beck's rhetoric did not cause Jared Loughner to be mentally ill or violent. Though their anti-government, anti-tax rhetoric may have played a role in Arizona's cutting back mental health funding.  But even at the old spending levels, Loughner may not have gotten care that would have prevented this. 

But the anti-government rhetoric with metaphors involving guns and targets MAY have steered Loughner to take out his personal frustrations on a Democratic politician instead of a community college class or his family. Or nobody at all.

If the national conversations were more focused on issues than on people;  if people with  different views were treated as well-intended but mistaken instead of as evil, un-American enemies, then maybe the shooter would not have shot anyone.  And maybe he would have.

But for someone like Palin who is quick to blame others - such as saying Assange has blood on his hands - to deflect attention to her actions by blaming journalists for a blood libel (has anyone counted how many times she uses the word 'blood'?) against her seems totally disingenuous and calculated.  But I can't know what's inside her head.  Part of me believes that she doesn't see the inconsistency, that logic is not one of her faults.  But the rest of us can compare what she says about her friends and her perceived enemies, even when they do the same thing, and we can see those inconsistencies. As we can and should do with all politicians.

*As an aside, I'd point out that people used the abduction and murder of nine year old  Amber Hagerman to make their point that there needed to be a better way to get police to react to missing children reports.  Because they did, we now have AMBER Alerts.   Again, consistency matters, not whether we agree or not on a particular point.


  1. Very good post on this subject. Thank you!

  2. Palin just doesn't get it. What most of us have been saying isn't that Palin pulled the trigger that caused the massacre in AZ, but that she had used inflammatory language along with other conservatives that demonized their democratic opponents and liberals/progressives and helped to create a toxic political environment. Some people are more susceptible to violent/inflammatory rhetoric than others. Words can be used to hurt or to heal. Palin chose the former as her path to the WH in 2012.

  3. Do you remember Scorsese's "Taxi Driver"?
    Here, in Spain, the left press relacioned inmediately the killings with the Tea Party's stances...


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