Any time someone commits an act of violence that grabs headlines, journalists scramble desperately for a scapegoat, some person or social force to crusade against and extend the story’s expiration date (and thus ratings). While it appears that Jared Lee Loughner’s motivation for shooting Gabrielle Giffords was nonpartisan (aka mental illness), there have already been reports from CBS, CNN, and the Associated Press attempting to pin Loughner’s motivations to Sarah Palin’s gun-target map, Giffords’ opponent Jesse Kelly using an M16 at a campaign event, and a general atmosphere of fear and animosity created solely by Republicans in Arizona.
As long as they’re bringing this subject up, I believe it’s a good time to discuss what the media could do if they really wanted to prevent future violence. The answer is not to force conservative speakers to be “more careful” with their rhetoric. In fact, I believe that the greater responsibility to prevent violence lies on the shoulders of journalists themselves; the media must stop suppressing conservative voices and increasing the ire of the nation.
Only a literalistic idiot could find Palin’s “target” map something that would inspire violence, and only a partisan idiot could think that Loughner, a fan of flag-burning, would be a big enough Palin fan to have ever seen that map. I find it extremely unlikely that someone can be inspired to violence through the words of a political leader unless it’s a direct order, which neither Palin nor Beck nor Rush have come anywhere close to saying. The people who claim that these three use “coded language” to incite violence are as paranoid as Loughner; only crazy people see calls to violence in innocuous speech, such as John Lennon’s shooter claiming The Catcher in the Rye as his inspiration.
Indeed, when these conservative media personalities talk about removing politicians through the power of one’s vote, that is actually a deterrent to violence. For Palin fans, her political speech gives them joy and hope, a cathartic reminder that someone out there is speaking for them. Her defining political contribution has been giving hope to all the flyover country-dwellers deemed subhuman and unworthy by the elites in the media — hope that their votes mattered and that they could change things through their speech and political involvement.
In fact, the only thing that I see inspiring violence without a direct command is if someone feels that there is no effective alternative to violence, that they cannot resolve their dissatisfaction without violence. People use violence to get money when they feel they cannot get it (or the amount they want) through working; people use violence to get sex when they feel they cannot get it (or the amount they want) through a normal, committed relationship. In the same way, those who want a political change would turn to violence only if they felt that other means of change their political landscape are ineffectual. Looking through the quotes of violent revolutionaries through history, one can see that same sentiment — that what they needed to accomplish could not be done through democratic means:
“Not a single problem of the class struggle has ever been solved in history except by violence.” -Vladimir Lenin
“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” -Mao Tse-Tung
“The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.”-Che Guevara
“It is humiliating to remain with our hands folded while others write history. It matters little who wins. To make a people great it is necessary to send them to battle even if you have to kick them in the pants. That is what I shall do.” -Benito Mussolini
The way to fuel such feelings is disfranchisement, which is Priority #1 when it comes to the media’s treatment of the tea party. Leftists talk incessantly of maintaining “civil discourse,” but in practice that becomes a euphemism for shutting down discourse altogether. The last 50 years has been spent redefining “acceptable,” “normal,” and “moderate” political speech to exclude anyone who applies the argument for gay marriage to economic transactions, that the federal government should have little or no say in the business of two consenting adults. For reasons that are still inscrutable to me, the favored line of attack/derision against conservatives remains painting them as racists who only believe what they believe because of their simmering, hidden bigotry. Because they are racists, they are ontologically corrupted and cannot be given even a proverbial kiosk in the marketplace of ideas.
When you remove the tea partiers’ option to speak their minds by putting words in their mouths, ignoring them, and proliferating slanderous rumors about them, their only remaining options are to shut up and bear it or vocally protest, as we saw in the summer of ’09 (as their frustration was exacerbated by a congress who ignored them and the media’s active suppression). Consider the quiet, civil conversation David Letterman had with a local Tea Party organizer Pam Stout; when a media figure allowed a conservative to speak her mind and respectfully listened instead of asking barbed questions to paint her as a puppy blood drinker, the conversation was civil. When Katie Couric insultingly asked Sarah Palin a question equivalent to saying, “Prove to me you’re not a trailer-trash rube who doesn’t know how to read,” it spurred anger and vitriol for months afterwards. When the media enters into the conversation with hostility, attempting to delegitimize legitimate voices, it only provokes greater hostility.
As I watched tweets and articles that poured in yesterday during the aftermath of the Giffords shooting, I was so frustrated I wanted to scream, to act out. Anyone who knows me knows I have no temper, and such feelings are extremely abnormal for me. I didn’t feel this because of some secret racial code word from Sarah Palin; my anger was caused by the lying, smearing, smug, condescending crap spouted by slimy partisans who blamed us for the actions of a mentally unstable man and couldn’t put aside politics for one tragic day. It was the same anger I felt when Charlie Gibson lied through his teeth, claiming ignorance about Big Government’s ACORN videos when the federal census had dropped ties with the organization the night before. It was the same anger I felt when the LA Times said that uploading their video of Obama toasting the virulent anti-Semite Rashid Khalidi was irrelevant to the ’08 campaign when they had already hosted a video of Sarah Palin strutting in a swimsuit for a 1984 beauty pageant.
At the risk of becoming the latest Media Matters example of tea party violence (although I will admit, I have sneezed a couple times today), I firmly declare that any frustration I experience is directly caused by journalists’ obstinate refusal to do their jobs and give a fair shake to mainstream political viewpoints. Progressive journalists, in their search for ways to prevent more political violence, should look in the mirror and ask themselves whether their dismissal and sliming of the tea party are contributing to people’s anger more than a stupid map. By denying a place on the nightly news for the actual positions of conservatives, are they eliminating the possibility of peaceful expression by the American right? In the words of liberal hero John Kennedy, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”