Policing your own side
I've argued over last few days that there are separate issues that shouldn't be confused. On one hand, we have the sorry state of political rhetoric, which is actually well illustrated by the unhinged voices blaming conservatives for a mass murder. On the other hand, we have a deranged assassin whose mental instability is apparent now, and maybe in hindsight should have been to family, teachers and administrators.
I'll deal here with the first. It is a discussion that many have been anxious to have. The question remains: what to do about it? The solution is not, as one Democratic congressman suggested, to start carving up the Bill of Rights. (Note to liberals: this is one example that highlights why the Constitution should be read, understood, and, yes, revered.) Also ineffective, I think is one side calling out the other. Conservatives hollered when Obama called Republicans "enemies" or when MoveOn.org types called President Bush "Hitler." The left returns fire when Sarah Palin goes beyond the pale or when Glenn Beck says something outlandish. But the only result is for each side to claim the other is worse.
So here's my idea: each side police their own. What was reassuring in the last few days was to see liberal pundits (e.g., Howard Fineman, Jonathan Chait, Steve Kornacki) try to counter the exteme left's blame-conservatives rhetoric. It is effective because the criticism can't be construed as political opportunism.
For example, it would be best if No Labels apologized for linking to the uncivil departure speech of former Sen. Arlen Specter (D.-R.-D.-Pa.). It would be best if those clear-headed liberals called out the mother ship of liberal media, the New York Times for in essence promoting the hateful speech its editors decry. ("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.") Really, why is the Times permitting Paul Krugman to throw invectives? And it is important for conservatives to call out Michael Steele and others on the right when they call the Afghanistan War "Obama's war." Years ago I criticized Ann Coulter, but her prominence is not diminished in large part because conservatives still worship her and liberal enjoy showcasing her hot rhetoric.
And most of all, media outlets should question whether vitriol -- be it Keith Olbermann or Glenn Beck or Paul Krugman -- is really what they want to contribute to the national dialogue. Josh Kraushaar of National Journal put it well:
For all the blame placed on politicians for their aggressive political rhetoric, the media have been just as guilty in promoting crude political discourse and conflict. I'm not just talking about the Glenn Becks and Keith Olbermanns of the world, but news coverage that elevates conflict over substance and encourages contentious arguments over thoughtful discussion.
And in the aftermath of the Tucson shooting, the media's worst tendencies were on display, from the onset of the crisis when several outlets inaccurately reported that Giffords had died, to the immediate, unwarranted assumption that the killer was associated with the tea party.
As bad as some hyper-partisans have been Josh makes a convincing case that the media has been just as bad:
Based on the available evidence, Loughner sounds like someone with untreated mental illness, whose grasp of reality grew ever more tenuous with time. He fits the profile of someone whose horrific shooting spree didn't have to be triggered by any provocative political rhetoric in the news.
But even with those facts out there, it didn't stop numerous media outlets from connecting his beliefs to politics -- and isn't stopping the continued rush to politicize this tragic event. The fervor to fit such craziness into a political matrix is regrettable, and, sadly, contributes to the overheated political environment that many in the media are condemning in the first place.
It is just this sort of tough criticism that would benefit the media.
This doesn't mean criticism, even harsh criticism, of political opponents is off limits. And, really, personal issues (e.g. adultery) are often very relevant for the public to size up elected officials. Also, it doesn't assume that partisans are going to voluntarily savage their own side. But once in awhile, absent a horrific event like the Tucson murders, it would be nice for each side to try. Just a little. Any takers on the left?
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