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Tragedy Makes Bad Politics

When Representative Gabrielle Giffords was gravely wounded and six other bystanders were slaughtered by a gunman in 2011, pundits leapt to the conclusion that the shooting was politically motivated.

To be more specific, it was all Sarah Palin’s fault.

Before I go any further, please, please understand that this is not written in defense of either Sarah Palin or the Tea Party in general. I don’t really like either one. I maintain, however, that you can believe Palin and the Tea Party are both obnoxious and wacky and still think they are not murderers. Indeed, I think a reasonable person needs to believe that.

Governor Palin, you may remember, had produced a campaign flier showing key congressional districts highlighted by rifle crosshairs to show where Republicans were “targeting” incumbent House Democrats for defeat. Rep. Giffords represented one of the targeted districts, so when she was attacked, it was clear to many partisans that the shooter was simply following Palin’s orders.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ blood is on Sarah Palin’s hands,” screamed the headline in the New York Daily News. Media outlets everywhere referred to the Tea Party’s “climate of violence” that had supposedly inspired the attempted assassination. When it turned out that the shooter was actually a leftist who despised the Tea Party, media interest in the killer’s politics dissipated quickly. Palin received a scant few apologies for all of the inflammatory, politically motivated accusations that she was an accessory to murder.

You’d think the media would have learned their lesson. If so, you’d be wrong.

After the horrific shootings at a Colorado movie theater, it didn’t take long for ABC News to report that there was a Jim Holmes who had recently signed up on a Tea Party website. “Now, we don’t know if this the same Jim Holmes” who is now in custody for the shootings, reported ABC’s Brian Ross.

That’s correct. And the reason he didn’t know is that he didn’t bother to check.

We’ve seen this too much of this kind of vicious sloppiness recently. Remember, for instance, when Spike Lee decided to tweet George Zimmerman’s address to encourage vigilante justice, only to discover that the Zimmerman who lived at that address was an elderly man with no connection to the Trayvon Martin shooting? At least Lee wasn’t being paid to get his facts right. Ross should be fired. Why wasn’t he?

When tragedies degenerate into politics, the facts don’t seem to matter as much as the political narrative. None of the information that has been gathered since the shooting suggests that the suspect had any political agenda for his mass murder. He identified himself as “the Joker” to police, and the reports now paint a picture of a seriously disturbed individual with no obvious political persuasion or motive.

In addition, even a cursory review of the facts would have revealed that the Tea Party Jim Holmes is a man in his mid-fifties, while the alleged shooter, James Holmes, is 24 years old. ABC later apologized, but not until after the Tea Party Holmes was inundated by media requests and forcibly dragged into a story that had nothing to do with him. In an interview with the Daily Caller, the fiftysomething Holmes asked, “Really, seriously, how do we take a journalist seriously when it’s pretty clear they really haven’t done any sort of check on their facts?”

Good question. The next time tragedy strikes, it would be nice not to have to ask it again.

Thoughts about the Aurora Shooting
Rethinking Heather and Lily

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