Yesterday, Floyd Lee Corkins II pleaded guilty to three criminal counts involving his August 2012 shooting attack on the Washington D.C. headquarters of the Family Research Council. He told the FBI that he picked his target from a "hate map" (!) on the web site of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
You'll recall, I'm sure, that when a disturbed individual went on a murderous shooting rampage in Arizona injuring Rep. Gabbie Giffords and killing or injuring more than 20 people, basically all mainstream media outlets, from the Associated Press to the New York Times, tied the shooting to Sarah Palin. See, she had "targeted" that congressional district in a map identifying races that her PAC could win. We had national conversations on how conservative rhetoric was the cause and needed to be changed.
Now, there was not even the teensy-tiniest shred of evidence that Jared Loughner's world even included Sarah Palin, much less her map. Not even one shred of evidence. Yesterday, we learned that a politically motivated individual had used a progressive "hate map" to identify four conservative groups as targets for his murderous intent. Yes, he said he intended to kill as many people as possible. He was tackled by his first victim, as it turned out, so his master plan failed.
Back in 2011, we were treated to headlines such as The Atlantic's "Did Sarah Palin's Target Map Play Role in Giffords Shooting?"
In the wake of his shocking and senseless attack, a number of commentators are asking, as The Atlantic's James Fallows put it, "whether there is a connection between" such "extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery" as that published by Palin and "actual outbursts of violence, whatever the motivations of this killer turn out to be." In other words, did Palin's map cross the line famously described by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes as "falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic?"
The Washington Post wrote a story headlined "Palin caught in crosshairs map controversy after Tucson shootings." The story acknowledges that it's written as the "result of a national tragedy in which there is no known connection between anything Palin said or did and the alleged actions of Jared Loughner, who is accused of fatally shooting six and severely wounding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 13 others."
Andrew Sullivan wrote, "No one is saying Sarah Palin should be viewed as an accomplice to murder. Many are merely saying that her recklessly violent and inflammatory rhetoric has poisoned the discourse and has long run the risk of empowering the deranged. We are saying it's about time someone took responsibility for this kind of rhetorical extremism, because it can and has led to violence and murder."
I actually went over to Sullivan's site (navigating through his uterine spelunking conspiracy theories) to discover he had nothing to say about the Family Research Center shooter using an SPLC "hate map" to target his victims.
During the Blame-Palin-for-Everything-that-Ails-the-World Era, the New York Times' Matt Bai wrote, "it's hard not to think [Loughner] was at least partly influenced by a debate that often seems to conflate philosophical disagreement with some kind of political Armageddon." Bai explains, "The problem would seem to rest with the political leaders who pander to the margins of the margins, employing whatever words seem likely to win them contributions or TV time, with little regard for the consequences." He says Palin and other used "imagery of armed revolution. Popular spokespeople like Ms. Palin routinely drop words like 'tyranny' and 'socialism' when describing the president and his allies, as if blind to the idea that Americans legitimately faced with either enemy would almost certainly take up arms."
No such laments at the New York Times this week. I guess the SPLC dropping words like "hate group" and "hate incident" to describe their political opponents isn't quite as bad as identifying someone as "socialist."
Instead of jeremiads about the overheated discourse used against people who support traditional marriage, here's how the Washington Post treated its story on the shooter (which, you will not be surprised to find out, had an emphasis not on hateful rhetoric but ... gun control):
A detail sure to reignite the culture wars that erupted around the shooting is the fact that Corkins told FBI agents that he identified the Family Research Council as anti-gay on the Web site of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The day after the shooting, Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, suggested that the law center’s labeling of the organization as a hate group had given Corkins a “license to perpetrate this act of violence.” On Wednesday, Perkins said the revelation had validated his earlier comments.
Emphasis mine. Excuse me? What is that supposed to mean? I mean, you have an actual shooting in the culture war -- an actual shooting -- and you dismiss this aspect of the story as a "detail" that is "sure to reignite the culture wars"? The gall. The chutzpah. The .... hypocrisy of our media. The story doesn't mention, by the way, that the shooter had a list with other groups whose names he got from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Now, if you were a more balanced reporter, you might try calling up the SPLC and asking them to review their hate map and their stories blaming their political opponents' rhetoric for violence. As Mary Katherine Ham writes:
Funny thing, though: The SPLC itself was verrrrry quick to try to tie Jared Loughner to the “far right”, and kept at it long enough that they were posting speculative pieces about “political rhetoric” and its role in the Tucson shooting as late as 13 days after it occurred. Not only are they comfortable with a free-speech slippery slope when it’s right-wingers who are at risk, they’re willing and eager to add some grease.
Maybe a reporter could call up SPLC and ask them about those things. Or even just ask them about this line in their article "Who is Jared Lee Loughner?":
Ideology may not explain why he allegedly killed, but it could help explain how he selected his target.
Or maybe a reporter could ask the Southern Poverty Law Center why they have a "Hate Incident" list that doesn’t include FRC shooting.
But something tells me that the media won't press them on this and they won't have to explain themselves to anyone. So interesting how that works.