January 9, 2011

Sunday School: 1/9/11 The Newspapers

Certainly, the talking heads will be all over the horrific shooting in Tucson yesterday, which left a federal judge, a nine-year-old child, and four others dead, and seriously injured Rep Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and several others.  Today, instead of listening to them, let's go to Sunday School with the newspapers, where we have more time to reflect on what’s being said and where we might expect rhetoric to be toned down some. No guarantees, but we’ll give it a try.  

To start, in an unsigned editorial on the Arizona Star's website, the paper offers condolences to the families of the innocent victims, and notes that "Giffords has never let vitriol deter her from public service. She works hard to be accessible. She's shown not just willingness but courage to engage with people who don't agree with her."  It would be unfair of us to ask our elected officials to do more than that.

In the New York Times, political columnist Matt Bai talks about how information was quickly removed from the Internet, including the ‘crosshairs’ map posted last year by Sarah Palin’s PAC. He notes, “The country still labors to recover from the memories of Dealey Plaza and the Ambassador Hotel, of Memphis and Birmingham and Watts. Tucson will either be the tragedy that brought us back from the brink, or the first in a series of gruesome memories to come.”   It will be interesting to see which direction we head.

Matthew Cooper, managing editor of White House coverage at the National Journal, offers that “our country is whole lot more like Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan than we thought when we got up this morning”, now that we’ve had our first elected female office holder shot.  He also notes that we have no idea what motivated the shooting, if it even had anything to do with politics, if the shooter was mentally ill… and what would it mean, anyway?  

From the Arizona Republic, Bill Goodykoonz points out that “Covering breaking news is a messy, competitive business” and that we’ve lost the old window for reflection that used to exist before we had 24/7/365 access, and could prevent us from prematurely reporting ‘facts’ (such as that Giffords had been killed) before they were determined to be facts. He notes that losing the window may not be a bad thing, but reminds us that “…traditional media and social media and all who consume it -- have more power to inform than ever before.  We also have great responsibility and ought to use it.”   Point taken.

“We can’t say we weren’t warned,” laments a Chicago Sun-Times editorial. When people show up with guns, or signs indicating ‘next time’ they’ll bring their guns, and routinely call people they disagree with traitors and un-American, and our political leaders don’t try and put a stop to it (or worse, inflame it themselves), we should have known something would happen sometime. Sometime, sadly, was yesterday.  The editorial takes a slight turn from some others stating it is “simply not true” that both left and right are equally guilty of promoting this kind of speech or action.  “Overwhelmingly today, the fear-mongering and demonizing flow from the right, aided and abetted by cable TV and talk-radio hosts. They may represent only the irresponsible fringe of conservatism in America, but they are drowning out the thoughtful voices of the vast majority of conservatives.”  I suspect this editorial itself will inspire more of the same.

The LA Times focuses on the tenor of commentary from both the left and the right, much of it for the purpose of  "fanning the maximum fear, and injecting it into the roiling narrative of anger, partisanship, and paranoia that passes for dialogue today" and they had plenty of examples to prove the point.  On the other hand, they include President Clinton's comments on the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, in which he stated "...we must all accept responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged."  The gunman in this case almost certainly embodies at least one of those four adjectives.  They close the editorial stating they are "both ashamed and embarrassed at the intemperate commentary we read on Saturday."  If you've seen what's being said out there, you'll agree with them, as I did.