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Tucson Shooting: The Continued Fallout

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's a Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Eric Alterman, columnist for The Nation and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress; Matt Bai, writer of the Political Times column for The New York Times; and Bill Pascrell, U.S. Congressman (D-NJ8) discussed whether anyone in politics or the media should share responsibility for the Arizona shooting.

In the United States, no tragedy goes un-politicized.

At least, that's how it feels. In the wake of this weekend's mass shooting and attempted assassination of a U.S. Congresswoman, a lot of the discussion has centered around the likes of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and the Tea Party. Their words, often replete with violent imagery, have gotten as much, if not more, attention than Jared Lee Loughner's actions: Sharron Angle's "Second Amendment remedies;" Beck's nightly lecture on the Revolutionary War; Palin's "Don't retreat—reload!" and the now-infamous cross-hairs map.

When someone like Loughner shoots en elected official at point-blank range, do these people bear any responsibility?

Eric Alterman thinks so. He said that while you can't blame a media figure's rhetoric for the actions of an unstable individual, it's equally unreasonable to believe that Loughner existed in a vacuum.

We don't live in a society of only sane people. We live in a society with lots of disturbed people who have access to an amazing amount of firearms. The weapon he used was originally banned under the Clinton crime bill, a ban that only lasted 10 years. Then you have all these kinds of hints from Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and others that would lead people to think they are talking about violence, even if they only mean it metaphorically.

To concede that one's bread and butter may have fertilized murder is anathema for media personalities. It doesn't help anyone's case that one could never say conclusively, "It was when so-and-so said X that Loughner decided to pick up a gun." However, that hasn't stopped loads of politicians, commentators, and random internet voices from attempting to lay blame at the feet of someone behind a microphone. Alterman held that it's time for the media—specifically, Fox News—to recognize their contribution to the unstable social and political climate.

These guys don't take any responsibility for the implications of what they say. If you look at their exact words, sure, they're not inciting anyone to violence on purpose. But it's very easy to understand how someone who's not entirely rational would read them that way...I think people should be held responsible, both for what they say and what they empower.

Matt Bai voiced similar concerns, but was careful to point out that it's not purely a right-wing problem. Whether it's violent imagery from conservatives, mockery from liberals, or any other artifice people use to get their point across, the order of the day is exaggeration and anxiety.

All of this bleeds into the mood, and the atmosphere in the country, the sense of urgency. It's the difference between having a debate and political philosophy, and constantly communicating to people, who are unstable and who are on the fringe or who feel deeply threatened and frustrated, that this is the Armageddon, and the fate of the Republic and the fate of our children rests on it. That kind of overheated rhetoric is on cable TV every night, the blogs of both ideologies every night. That kind of rhetoric inevitably leads people to see themselves as actors in a grand human historic drama, in a way that I think becomes closely linked to a tendency toward violence.

That's a problem both sides of the political spectrum need to address. It's not a conservative issue or a liberal issue, Bai said, but a societal one. Less time should be spent arguing about who's to blame, and more attention should be given to how we can permanently improve our dialogue.

We have as a society gotten away from the value of our words. It's a lot easier to get words around than it used to be, there's a lot more of them out there, we tend to think they don't matter, and we tend to think you have to exaggerate to be heard. It's not healthy...It is a time to reevaluate all of our rhetoric, and the difference between portraying your enemies as philosophical opponents or actual enemies, as actually human adversaries. For the left to say, that's not their problem—I think it's a cop-out and I don't think it's helpful.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ8) was equally certain that violent rhetoric from media figures and politicians contributed to the Loughner incident. Like Bai, he also made it clear that calling it a liberal or conservative problem misses the point. He said that we need a fundamental change in the way we debate, and that it has to happen at home, not just on television or Capitol Hill.

I'm very encouraged that I see people coming together from all sides. I think we need to lower our voices and raise our commitment to what real democracy is all about. The government can't solve this problem. It can't pass gun legislation or any other kind of legislation that's going to automatically make things better. People in the community have to make things better. We have to have a real solidarity.

Gun control will undoubtedly become a renewed issue once the shock of the shooting wears off. Already bubbling up is the revelation that Loughner used a firearm with an extended magazine that would have once been illegal. A crime bill enacted by President Clinton, which the government chose not to extend when it expired in 2004, prohibited clips as large as the one Loughner had. Given that the shooter was subdued while reloading, critics have pointed out that Loughner may have caused less damage had he run out of ammunition sooner. When asked about what effect the shooting would have on gun control legislation, Rep. Pascrell cautioned that it wasn't yet appropriate to discuss the issue, but stricter measures would almost certainly be on the table in the future.

I think the Second Amendment is sacred, but I don't think everybody should be toting. I don't think the states that don't allow us to carry are states living in the 18th century. I think the Justice Department has to do its job, and the NRA has to do its job. I think if you bring up the tangible firearms legislation at this particular moment, when we're grieving and trying to pull together—it's almost like bringing health care up this week, and we put that off. I'd ask us to have cool heads. But that doesn't mean we won't support some kind of control. Don't forget, this gun would not have been on the street if that 2004 extension had occurred.

Listen to the conversation with Eric Alterman.

Listen to the conversation with Matt Bai.

Listen to the conversation with Rep. Bill Pascrell.


 

 

Guests:

Eric Alterman, Matt Bai and Bill Pascrell

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Comments [41]

HussyRuss

WAY TO GO WNYC.ORG FOR STANDING UP TO FIRST AMENDMENT PRINCIPLES BY REMOVING POSTS FROM THIS FORUM.

NONE OF YOU HAVE ANY BACKBONE.

Jan. 12 2011 08:26 AM
Paul I. Adujie from New York City

The usual standard is in these sorts of matters is to refer to mass murderers such as Jared Lee Loughner as a thug and describe him as a monster, animal, blood-lust terrorist hoodlum... but in this case, everyone is a psychiatrist with a diagnosis for this killer of a Federal Judge, and an innocent 9 year old girl and several others

The fascination with guns should stop and the violence to language when some describe political opponents must stop as well... why should we ask Alec Baldwin to mind his language and we are unwilling to say the same thing to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh?

It leaves me again, wondering aloud about these permanent double standards and hypocrisies in America. First of all, this terrorist, were he an Arab, or an African or an African American, he will be castigated as a monster, animal, bloodlust terrorist hoodlum. But for some inexplicable excuse, the public and press have been strenuously building this terrorist’s legal defense by continually insisting that he is deranged, insane and his terrorism is therefore understandably expected?

An American Terrorist in Tucson Arizona

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&client=gmail&rls=gm&q=An+American+Terrorist+in+Tucson+Arizona+Adujie&btnG=Search&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=

Jan. 11 2011 08:37 PM

Martinchuzzle: it's amazing that you think you're even listening to the same show as the rest of us. Your comments are always fueled by anger, and you're always telling Brian he ought to be ashamed of himself, and then you cite some reason that isn't anything to do with the segment being aired.

There's no exploitation of happening. It's a conversation about today's political climate.

Why don't you understand? I think this show is a little too sophisticated for you, honey. Maybe you ought to turn the dial.

Jan. 11 2011 07:39 PM

We spend too much time and energy talking about our political differences, that there isn't enough time to talk about actual solutions.

Jan. 11 2011 07:26 PM
Joe Gould from NYC

The media, particularly the shock jocks on radio, which have been pinpointed for their incendiary and harsh language, deny any responsibility for the tragedy in Tucson. They claim that they had no role in it. They claim that Mr. Loughner is mentally ill and did not act with a political purpose.

If the right-wing jingoists are correct, just whom do they think they are persuading with their rant? If not those with singularly less than admirable analytical skills, to what audience do they think their caustic demagoguery appeals?

Jan. 11 2011 02:12 PM
Bob from Pelham, NY

Leaving aside the obvious problem with Rep. King's proposal of how do you define a political event (e.g., do you include NRA rallies?), this is just grandstanding to distract from his having to address the assault weapon/extended clip issue. Moreover, it is typically self-centered -- the sacred 2nd amendment doesn't apply if it puts congress members at risk, but it's OK to expose the rest of us. (Sort of like health care -- government insurance is fine for Congress, but wicked socialism for the common people.) What a useless showboat he turns out to be.

Jan. 11 2011 12:10 PM
j from bklyn

for some reason, to me at least, the story of abraham and isaac on the mountaintop comes to mind - when an angel was sent to hold back abraham's hand from slaying isaac for a sacrifice, and a ram was sent instead. maybe some of the fundamentalists who remain politically fearful in such extreme ways, can be brought into a more civilized conversation about political reality in this country through this story. [that's right, we need to talk about 'the ram'.]

this guy was obviously trying to get attention for a long time in his own, mentally ill, driven way, and when he fell through the cracks by way of this violent action, that's why he's 'smiling' in his head shaven mug shot. he finally got the attention he wanted, but not necessarily the attention he needs.

Jan. 11 2011 12:07 PM
ThatsWhyMyHeadIsDown from Park Slope

@DarkSymbolist:

"To add to your point, my impression during the campaign was that the Hillary supporters were rabid, hateful, irrational and shockingly hypocritical (and in some extreme cases, racist)"

Um, yes, thank you for making my point. These kind of accusations are hyperbolic and alienating to people who should be your allies. Chances for finding building consensus among people who disagree on larger issues: nil.

Jan. 11 2011 11:58 AM
Mike from Manhattan

The Second Amendment absolutists believe in channeling the Founding Fathers original intent and support only the FF's original intent. Under that standard, the only fire arms that the authors of the Constitution could have intended for citizens to have a right to bear would be single shot fire arms. There were no repeating fire arms in the 18th Century. I would add that, according to their original intent standard, the right to bear arms should be restricted to muzzle loading fire arms. Of course, we know that like Humpty-Dumpty, the right wing believes that the words of the Constitution mean "Exactly what [they] want them to mean, no more and no less!"

Jan. 11 2011 11:41 AM
JZ from Brooklyn

I'm sorry, there's no way that marijuana caused him to go on a murderous rampage. Sounds like Reefer Madness hysteria to me.

Jan. 11 2011 11:41 AM
amalgam from Manhattan by day, NJ by night

@ RLewis from the Bowery -

You're right about left and "by any means necessary," during the 1960s-70s. But since the "Reagan Revolution," most radicalism and "by any means necessary" sentiment and action have come from the right (think: pro-lifers, anti-tax movement, anti-federalist movement, secessionist movement, militias, etc.)

Jan. 11 2011 11:40 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

@ Keeping My Head Down

To add to your point, my impression during the campaign was that the Hillary supporters were rabid, hateful, irrational and shockingly hypocritical (and in some extreme cases, racist)

So yes, we must not be myopic, I agree

However, I think we HAVE to be realistic and not distort reality by getting too PC. yes there is incendiary language on both sides but I think there is no question that the majority of violent hateful rhetoric is in fact from the right; I'm not going to pretend that isn't true just to be PC; they need to be shamed in regards to their irresponsible behavior as the earlier guest said or else they will just continue it unchallenged.

Jan. 11 2011 11:40 AM
Mike from Manhattan

The Second Amendment absolutists believe in channeling the Founding Fathers original intent and support only the FF's original intent. Under that standard, the only fire arms that the authors of the Constitution could have intended for citizens to have a right to bear would be single shot fire arms. There were no repeating fire arms in the 18th Century. I would add, that according to that standard, the right to bear arms should be restricted to muzzle loading fire arms. Of course, we know that like Humpty-Dumpty, the right wing believes that the words of the Constitution mean "Exactly what [they] want them to mean, no more and no less!"

Jan. 11 2011 11:39 AM
Kate Perry from Brooklyn

I think the law making it a crime to carry a gun within 100ft of a political event is a very good and essential idea.
Sheriff Dupnik struck a chord with his comments about the vitreol in the political discourse these days. Talk Radio has been
out of control for years.

Jan. 11 2011 11:39 AM
Mike from Manhattan

The Second Amendment absolutists believe in channeling the Founding Fathers original intent and support only the FF's original intent. Under that standard, the only fire arms that the authors of the Constitution could have intended for citizens to have a right to bear would be single shot fire arms. There were no repeating fire arms in the 18th Century. I would add, that according to that standard, the right to bear arms should be restricted to muzzle loading fire arms. Of course, we know that like Humpty-Dumpty, the right wing believes that the words of the Constitution mean "Exactly what [they] want them to mean, no more and no less!"

Jan. 11 2011 11:38 AM

Leave it to Rep. Peter King to propose useless legislation that won't solve any problems or stop any assassinations from happening. (In response to BL's request: what do you think of King's proposal to outlaw guns within 1000 feet of a political event.)

Also, very likely unconstitutional. Maybe he should try reading it out loud again....

Jan. 11 2011 11:37 AM
Estelle from Austin

What? What does Pascrell expect "the community" to do to prevent mass shootings? If that isn't passing the buck, I don't know what it is.

Jan. 11 2011 11:30 AM
Keeping My Head Down from Park Slope

I didn't believe the left was as vitriolic as the right until I supported Hillary Clinton in the last nomination race. The anti Clinton people were vicious and passionate. Much of this overheated debate was featured on this station and show. I lost a number of long time friends by wearing a Clinton button on my messenger bag. It still really bothers me. Even if I don't agree with their politics, it really helped me understand how those on the right perceive the left.

Point being: there is overheated, violent language on all sides. Don't be myopic about it.

Jan. 11 2011 11:26 AM
Elysia from Connecticut

When I'm following little old ladies and men driving cars emblazoned with 'IMPEACH OBAMA' stickers, I can't help but agree with your guest. On what grounds should he be impeached? And where does a senior citizen get these ideas? Undoubtedly from talk radio harpies a la Limbaugh/Miller, etc. and Fow "news". We are surrounded by ignorance and yes---racism. And why isn't this acknowledged?

Jan. 11 2011 11:22 AM
RLewis from the Bowery

Wasn't it the Left who originally came up with the phrase, "by any means necessary"?

Jan. 11 2011 11:19 AM
Hugh Sansom

Matt Bai shows his standard, stunning indifference to fact, truth or history.

Tell us who called for the assassination of Julian Assange. Who called him a terrorist? Would it be Vice President Joe Biden?

Who is now trying to use a century-old law -- previously used for political oppression of the likes of Eugene Debs and others -- to prosecute Wikileaks? Would it be the Obama administration?

Matt Bai's vicious campaign to slander the left borders on actionable. There is simply NO example on the left comparable to the right-wingers or MODERATES at the Times or NPR advocating war in Iran or North Korea or Iraq on the basis of fictions created by Matt Bai and his ilk.

Matt Bai engaged in EXACTLY the false dichotomy he now decries. He spoke of "the two ideologies."

It is utterly absurd to suggest that the left is morally equivalent to the right because the left notes that Bush LIED. Bush lied! Fact.

That the New York Times and Matt Bai still pretend otherwise is evidence of their complicity with the right wing.

Jan. 11 2011 11:19 AM
Edward from NJ

@Luanda from Manhattan - the President said that once 2 years ago versus a daily stream of rhetoric from talk radio. And it's a reference to a movie. Go rent "The Untouchables".

Jan. 11 2011 11:16 AM
Luanda from Manhattan

Again, I know it doesn't fit Brian's narrative, but when a president who sets the tone, uses terms like "If They Bring a Knife to the Fight, We Bring a Gun" amongst others, I think it should be discussed as well. Just focusing on Palin, etc is a little disingenuous.

Jan. 11 2011 11:12 AM

How can a democratically elected government be tyrannical?

Jan. 11 2011 11:11 AM
Jim B

Some contrast of the current far right rhetoric with the even more extreme radical revolutionary language of the late 1960s, which many, including myself, considered legitimate within the context of the Viet Nam war, would be interesting and useful. Many of the same objections raised by the left today were voiced by the right then.

Jan. 11 2011 11:06 AM
Dude from Dudesburg

Tell this guy to pull whatever he has in his mouth out. That guy was the worst.

Jan. 11 2011 10:49 AM
Ken from Little Neck

Bravo for your guest calling out the ignorance of the American people. This is a problem that has been getting steadily worse for many years, and is responsible for much of the political mess that we find ourselves in now.

Who was it that said "the best argument against democracy is ten minutes with the average voter"?

Jan. 11 2011 10:48 AM
Billy from Bensonhurst from Bensonhurst Brooklyn

Brian, please tell your guests not to eat while they're on the phone with you, as Alterman obviously was doing. It TOTALLY diminishes their credibility.

Jan. 11 2011 10:48 AM
Elysia from Connecticut

When I'm following little old ladies and men driving cars emblazoned with 'IMPEACH OBAMA' stickers, I can't help but agree with your guest. On what grounds should he be impeached? And where does a senior citizen get these ideas? Undoubtedly from talk radio harpies a la Limbaugh/Miller, etc. and Fow "news". We are surrounded by ignorance and yes---racism. And why isn't this acknowledged?

Jan. 11 2011 10:48 AM
amalgam from Manhattan by day, NJ by night

@ Jack from Chinatown -

Sorry; don't think so.

"Jared Loughner, the 22-year-old psycho accused of the Arizona rampage, may have been influenced by Milwaukee grammar conspiracy theorist David Wynn Miller.

On his YouTube channel, Loughner expounds his barely coherent philosophies on grammar, word logic, and government brainwash...

Miller, an anti-taxer and quasi-celebrity of the fringe right, has never met Loughner, he says. "I don't know who he is outside of what I just saw on the news."

http://www.google.com/search?hl=&q=david+wynne+miller&sourceid=navclient-ff&rlz=1B3GGGL_enUS337US338&ie=UTF-8&aq=0&oq=david+wynne+mill

Jan. 11 2011 10:46 AM
Merrill Clark from New York

Isn't Eric Alterman's argument that we should constrain free speech. We know that yelling "fire" in a theater is not free speech, but where is the line drawn? I think when people try to draw the line on where freedom of speech is not, it is generally against speech that is against the politics or personally against the proponents.

Jan. 11 2011 10:45 AM
Brian from Hoboken

Yesterday one of brians guests talked about threats to congress members. I would be curious to see how many serious threats were against Democrats and how many against Repulicans. That would point to an irrationality on the right being whipped up by hateful falsehoods (all tempered by qualifiers like Becks "I'm just asking").

Jan. 11 2011 10:44 AM
steven mark from NY

One can never underestimate the myopia of commentators like your guest. It's always the Ameircan people who are stupid or greedy or Bible thumping, Keep it up. You'll sell a 100 books.

Jan. 11 2011 10:44 AM
Hugh Sansom

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney -- with the willing complicity of NPR, the New York Times, CNN, etc. -- incited an entire nation to war. Tens of thousands of innocents are dead as a result. Critics of Bush and Cheney were denounced as "un-American". Many prominent critics received death threats as a result of the ravings of the Cheneys, Coulter, Malkin, Palin, O'Reilly, Beck.

The atrocity in Arizona is part of the continuum which includes Bush and -- now -- Barack Obama, who has incited people against Wikileaks (on the basis of _zero_ evidence), has continued torture at Bagram, has denied due process rights.

The problem exemplified in Arizona is _not_ isolated to the right wing. Many among the self-exalted 'moderates' are part of the problem.

The hysteria over the Park 51 community center and the dead silence of many 'moderates' (or worse from same) is an example of the disease infecting the US.

Jan. 11 2011 10:44 AM
amalgam from Manhattan by day, NJ by night

@ Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan -

The act committed by Nidal Hassan showed that he was BOTH mentally ill and that it was politico-religiously motivated.

The act committed by Loughner showed that he was BOTH mentally ill and that it was politically motivated. How do I know the latter? Because by definition the attempted killing of a politician is called an "assassination," making it clearer than even the Hassan shooting that it was inspired, in part, by political sentiment.

Jan. 11 2011 10:44 AM
amalgam from Manhattan by day, NJ by night

@ Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan -

The act committed by Nidal Hassan showed that he was BOTH mentally ill and that it was politico-religiously motivated.

The act committed by Loughner showed that he was BOTH mentally ill and that it was politically motivated. How do I know the latter? Because by definition the attempted killing of a politician is called an "assassination," making it clearer than even the Hassan shooting that it was inspired, in part, by political sentiment.

Jan. 11 2011 10:43 AM
Jay F.

And what about the movie during the Bush years that depicted his assassination? I heard a lot of chuckling... Where was the outrage?

Jan. 11 2011 10:43 AM
Jack from Chinatown

The Arizona shooter is a leftie!

Jan. 11 2011 10:41 AM
Luanda from Manhattan

What about Obama's own "If They Bring a Knife to the Fight, We Bring a Gun" amongst others. I think the media, including you Brian, is pushing this angle a little too far. Metal Illness impacts all types of people. I mean Look at both Kennedy assassinations and Reagan, they were leftists so come on now, enough.

Jan. 11 2011 10:38 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

The shameful exploitation of this shooting by the Brian Lehrer Show and the rabid Left is despicable.

When Nidal Hassan shrieked "Alahu Akbar" and murdered 13 of our young soldiers......an event that Eric Alterman, Cong. Pascarell and WNYC conveniently ignored after only brief and muted coverage......THAT was a political killing and the leftist media was, excuse my language, missing in action.

To manipulate this poor young man's story, an obvious paranoid schizophrenic, in an attempt to suppress expression of opposition to Obama's policies is deplorable. Shame on you, Brian.

Jan. 11 2011 10:34 AM
Jeff Pappas from Ct.

Sarah Palin and a lot of other far right people and or Neocons believe in Jingoism , Biblical fire and brimstone and the Rapture. They thrive on violence and innocents get shot and killed but those are "The Bad People ".
Most Liberals are against Violence and War and killing, so why do you call them all the worst things you can think of.
Well this time your arrogance may of lead to this attack and American Patriots were Killed !!
You are all about tough words and never will admit an error.
How about just preaching two of the ten commandments, ( Christians , Jews and Muslims all believe in Moses )
Thou shalt not kill
Thou shalt not bear false witness
and then how about
Love thy neighbor

Shame on you Sarah Palin
Perhaps the Madmans defense attorney will use your abomination of negative add attacks
and may call you to the witness stand.

Remember not to Bear ( Grizzly ) False Witness

Jan. 11 2011 10:28 AM

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