Tuesday, January 25, 2011


As long-time readers are no doubt aware, I have little to no interest in timeliness. The real reason is that I'm usually doing a dozen things at once and I'm not an especially fast writer to begin with, but I don't fight it, because, in terms of offering thoughtful, measured analysis, there are clear benefits to sitting back and waiting to see how things unfold.

This is my way of saying hey, remember that shooting in Tucson that everyone with a media platform (i.e. everyone) has already weighed in on? The one that sparked a somehow-still-ongoing national debate on the dangers of excessive political rhetoric, leading to a tangential debate on whether the first debate was unfairly one-sided—both of which are exactly the sort of topic I like to discuss on this site? Well, I have a few thoughts.

Thing is, while the shooting itself was shocking, none of what followed was even remotely surprising, because of course one side went too far in trying to assign blame, and of course the other side became defensive in response to what they saw as unfounded and hypocritical allegations. That's what always happens.

Here's an example, courtesy of Red State, of the general tone and substance of the conservative reaction:
Unfortunately, the left is using this tragedy to score political points. Rep. Giffords was on Gov. Palin's target list for defeat this past November. The left claims Gov. Palin has blood on her hands. So does the tea party movement.

Less than a year ago a gunman stormed into the Discovery Channel's headquarters, taking hostages and threatening to kill them all. The left immediately accused the man of being a tea party activist.

Unfortunately for the left, the man turned out to be an envirowacko leftist raised on Algore's global warming garbage.

Immediately, the left changed their tune and proclaimed that no longer could we as partisans accuse each other of causing things like this. There are just crazy people in the world and tragedies happen.

My, my how quickly they forget.
To enumerate the key elements, there's (a) the requisite condemnation of those who would politicize a tragedy, (b) the accusation of hypocrisy, supported by vague or anecdotal evidence taken from a prior tragedy, and (c) the clumsy attempt to politicize that tragedy by implying the other side was somehow more responsible. And thus the circle of hypocrisy loops back around and begins anew.

That article showed up less than three hours after the shooting, and was only the beginning. I scrolled through the RSS feeds of five popular conservative commentary sites—National Review, Hot Air, Red State, Michelle Malkin, and Big Government—looking at every article posted between the afternoon of Saturday, January 8, immediately after the initial reports came in, and midnight on Friday, January 14. During that six-and-a-half-day period, a total of 351 articles appeared on those five sites, and, by my count, 172 were about liberals unfairly blaming conservatives for Jared Lee Loughner's actions.[1] That's almost half their entire output for the week—a mountain of commentary roughly equaling the total combined coverage of the non-blame-related aspects of the Tucson shooting and all other news—devoted to reinforcing the idea that members of the media and liberal politicians will take advantage of any opportunity to negatively portray conservatives, regardless of whether the portrayal is accurate.

My point? My point is that…um… Alright, I'm not entirely sure, except that it's neither of the following:
  • Conservatives reacted calmly and appropriately to specious, unjustifiable criticism.
  • Conservatives reacted hysterically and disproportionately to reasonable, well-founded criticism.
Those are the extremes. Reality, as it tends to do, fell somewhere in between. I'm not going to try to identify precisely where—I just think it's interesting that the Tucson shooting went from zero to ideological spat in a matter of hours. Sure, a credible argument can be made that liberals started it, but conservatives weren't exactly caught off guard. It's almost as if they've come to expect this kind of treatment, and have learned to anticipate it, turn it around, and use it to their advantage.[2]

1. Give or take. I mostly just looked at the headlines, so I'm sure I included a few I shouldn't have, and vice versa, but about half seems about right. Also, I left out NewsBusters because reporting on the media is what they do, so you'd expect a high percentage, but I counted anyway: Over the first week, an incredible 83% of their articles (67 of 81) were about conservatives being unfairly linked to the shooting.
2. Dare I post this article disclaimer-free, trusting that I've said all I need to say to ensure a fair interpretation? And that whatever inferences are drawn will be consistent with my history of not making potentially-insulting generalizations without at least doing so carefully and with a clearly-articulated basis? Eh, maybe next time. Here's the disclaimer:
    I don't mean to imply that conservatives were in any way happy about what happened—I'm just saying, once it became a political issue, there were political points to be scored. (In that sense, it's the same—in principle, if not magnitude—as when unemployment goes up, or a Senator is caught in a sex scandal, or whatever. Nobody's happy about it (we hope), but still, there are inevitably political consequences, often favoring one side and disfavoring another, and it'd be absurd not to talk about that.) I'm also not saying liberals wouldn't've done the some thing, had the roles been reversed. Opinions may differ on who's more inclined to shamelessly exploit a tragedy, but I don't think anyone could convincingly argue that their side always takes the high road.
    That said, I do think one effect of the media's generally-liberal slant is that liberals are a little more reckless with their discourse (since they believe, probably subconsciously, they're more likely to get away with it), and conservatives are a little more defensive when they feel like they're under attack (since they believe, probably justifiably, they're more likely to be called out for saying something reckless).

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