Palin Death Threats are the Predictable Result of Poor Editorial Judgments

From ABC:

An aide close to Sarah Palin says death threats and security threats have increased to an unprecedented level since the shooting in Arizona, and the former Alaska governor’s team has been talking to security professionals.

Since the shooting in Tucson, Palin has taken much heat for her “crosshairs” map that targeted 20 congressional Democrats in the 2010 mid-term election, including that of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was the main target of Saturday’s attack.

Yes, she has taken much heat from the media and the professional left for that map, including from ABC itself. Over and over again the networks have shown Palin’s map without placing it in any context. I asked Jake Tapper about his report (which showed the map) via Twitter. Specifically I asked if it was fair to show Palin’s map without at least noting that Democrats have done much the same thing in recent years. He responded that TV has time limits and that the report was fair without it.

Jake is one of the best reporters out there in my opinion. He is scrupulously fair and has the track record to prove it. I don’t believe any bias can be attributed to him in this instance. Indeed, I think his report went farther than most to point out the utter lack of any connection to Palin. He didn’t entertain the idea so much as debunk it.

Still, I think ABC’s editorial decision, like that of nearly every MSM reporter, was wrong in this case. To show Palin’s map in the wake of this tragedy is clearly “prejudicial” meaning it inevitably leads the jury of viewers to being biased against Palin (who was instantly framed as the defendant, often without benefit of counsel). I don’t even blame viewers for assuming Palin has done something wrong and well outside the norm of political discourse. What else can they conclude based on what they’ve been shown?

But much of that heat could have been evaporated by simply showing this comparable DCCC map from 2009-2010 which targeted Republicans opposed to the President’s stimulus bill (the page has been removed but the official announcement mentioning the map is here and the internet archive of the page is here). Once you see this, you realize that what Palin did is not that unusual. If she is wrong then so is the DCCC. If there’s a tone problem, it’s no longer her tone or even her party’s tone that is the problem. And so, by generalizing the problem, you also diffuse the anger it generates:

The surge of anger being directed at Palin, which has now resulted in death threats, is the direct result of this flawed coverage. We know because the threats didn’t tick up last week, they did so since the media began connecting her to this shooting. And what is the connection between her and it? It’s the map. That’s it. The target on Rep. Giffords district is her one and only connection to this case.

Notice that I am not alleging some vague “tone” or “climate of hate” is responsible here. That’s the kind of unfair, fact-free attack that has been waged on the right all week. I do not assume reporters are all partisan monsters who enjoy seeing Sarah Palin terrorized (though there are some on the left, like Kos, who clearly do). President Obama is right; we can do better than that kind of thinking.

I believe this was a mistake, one that can still be at least partly rectified. The MSM should start by accepting responsibility for the error and for the very bad, but entirely predictable, consequences for Palin and her family. The MSM owes her a very big apology, not for a climate of hate, but for its poor judgment in this instance. Next, they should make sure that any future reports using Palin’s map also contain the one directly above. That’s what they should have been doing all along, frankly.

If the MSM can’t spare five seconds for a line like “Democrats have used similar maps in the recent past,” then it shouldn’t have mentioned Palin’s map in the first place. Given that there was never any real connection between her and the murders in Arizona, perhaps that would have been the best editorial decision of all.

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