“Just the facts, ma’am,” _Dragnet_’s Joe Friday famously informed witnesses he interviewed. Oft-interviewed Pima County Sherriff Clarence Dupnik might adopt the catchphrase: “Save the facts, ma’am. Just the narrative.”
The narrative of right-wing rhetoric fueling accused mass-murderer Jared Lee Loughner proved so seductive to partisans that they didn’t wait for the compilation of facts, or burial of the dead, to advance their politically opportunistic story. If it helped the Democrats rebound in the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing, why can’t this meme work for them after the attempted assassination of Democrat Gabrielle Giffords?
Not-camera shy sheriff Dupnik partly blamed “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business” for the shooting. The alleged shooter, who has remained mum, said nothing to indicate as much to the elected lawman. Dupnik subsequently acknowledged on Fox News that not facts, just his opinion, informed the statement.
If a sheriff can’t keep from editorializing, one can perhaps forgive actual editorialists for editorializing.
“We won’t know for a while exactly why the gunman identified as Jared Lee Loughner, 22, shot 18 people, including Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords,” Joan Walsh wrote on the day of the shooting at Salon.com. She then proceeded to insinuate that Sarah Palin, Giffords’ 2010 Republican opponent Jesse Kelly, Bill O’Reilly, Sharron Angle, and Glenn Beck somehow bear responsibility for the madman’s attack.
Apparently reading from the same sheet of music, Keith Olbermann dedicated his Saturday night broadcast—MSNBC preempting a weekend prison documentary?—to self-servingly blaming his political enemies for the Tucson slaughter. Mentions of the alleged slaughterer were few. Olbermann’s Two-Minutes’ Hate culminated in a nine-minute “Special Comment.” The former Sports Center mainstay emotionally invoked the names of conservatives Sarah Palin, Jesse Kelly, Allen West, Sharon Angle, and Glenn Beck before bothering a passing mention to the actual killer around the four-minute mark. “He was not just a madman incited by a thousand daily temptations by slightly less madmen to do things they would not rationally condone,” the face of MSNBC lectured.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman divined “a connection between the rhetoric of Beck, Limbaugh, etc. and the violence I fear we’re going to see in the months and years ahead. But violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate.”
But the facts from people who actually know Jared Lee Loughner complicates the script for those casting him sight-unseen to score political points.
“As I knew him he was left wing, quite liberal. & oddly obsessed with the 2012 prophecy,” a former classmate, Caitie Parker, tweeted. “I haven’t seen him since ’07 though. He became very reclusive.” Parker later explained on Twitter, “He was a political radical & met Giffords once before in ’07, asked her a question & he told me she was ‘stupid & unintelligent.’” Loughner listed online The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf as favorite books. In addition to next year’s Armageddon, Loughner’s bugbears included a currency backed in precious metals, government brainwashing, and the illiteracy of everyone but himself.
Whatever Loughner’s jumbled political outlook, other incitements—namely, prolonged drug use and mental illness—seem far more plausible than radio shows he may or may not have listened to, television programs he may or may not have watched, and Tea Party rallies he may or may not have attended. A Loughner classmate termed him a “pothead” and a failed drug test apparently played a role in his rejection from the Army. A fellow student at community college confided that there is “a mentally unstable person [Loughner] in the class that scares the living crap out of me.” That school suspended Loughner, with readmission contingent on a mental health exam. Like the alleged shooter, pundits ignoring all this to politicize a horrible tragedy live in a fantasy world. Faulting the political criticism that harmed their political interests last November for multiple deaths in Tucson last Saturday is an exercise in narcissism. It’s not all about you.
Given the limited facts available, it might be reasonable for pundits to wonder aloud about the effect of drugs on young brains or why it’s so difficult to separate the manifestly deranged from society. It certainly can’t be healthy to be so obsessed with politics to so quickly see political adversaries behind a crackpot’s shooting spree.
There’s something indecent about politicizing a multiple victim public shooting, particularly on the very day that it occurred. There’s also something pathological about reflexively assigning the political outlook of one’s opponents to those who commit evil. This speaks more directly to the motives of these slanderers than it does to the killer.
Like Joe Friday, the public is eager for just the facts. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, and his media imitators, keep force-feeding a stale narrative.