I have long considered it ridiculous to report the political/social ravings of deranged murderers like Jared Loughner, the Tucson shooter. The salient point about these people is their derangement, not its ideological manifestation (ideology actually being too serious a word in these cases). And publicizing the ideological manifestation gives the lunatic a forum he doesn’t deserve.
I’ve also believed that the publication by journalists of the political ravings of murderers is opportunistic. That is, biased journalists seek political advantage by trying (often in the most attenuated way) to connect the ravings with right-wing thinking.
Confirmation of my latter thesis can be found in the handling of Christopher Dorner’s rambling manifesto in which he purports to explain himself. Dorner, it turns out, is a fan of President Obama, Dianne Feinstein, Colin Powell, Piers Morgan, Chris Matthews, Brian Williams, Soledad O’Brien, Wolf Blitzer, Meredith Vieira, Tavis Smiley, Anderson Cooper, and Ellen DeGeneres. Meanwhile, he reviles the NRA and Wayne LaPierre, believing that the latter’s advocacy warrants the death of his family before his eyes.
But, as Charles Cooke points out, “in the combined 3,240 words of the lead stories from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press, there is no mention whatsoever of the political contents of Dorner’s screed.” To be sure, they all mention the manifesto, but not what’s in it, even in the New York Times’ specific post about the document.
Consistent with my first thesis, I agree with these editorial decisions, as does Cooke. But Cooke asks:
Had the killer instead praised Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, President George W. Bush, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA, and Proposition 8, and slammed the collection of journalists that he praised, perhaps singling out Piers Morgan for particular attention on the basis of his gun-control advocacy, what do you think the media’s reaction would have been?
The answer is obvious based on what we’ve seen in the past. Cooke reminds us:
Bill Clinton didn’t just blame Timothy McVeigh’s actions on Rush Limbaugh and others at the time, but came back 15 years later for a another shot at the apple, libeling the Tea Party in the process. In 2010, both Dana Milbank and the Daily Kos went so far as to write pieces about a shooting that never happened, blaming the attempt on Glenn Beck. Piers Morgan happily asked Gabby Giffords’s husband whether he had received an apology from Sarah Palin, and was astonished when the answer was “no.”
This sort of opportunism is, among other things, an effort to undermine robust speech by one’s political opponent. Everyone — Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Piers Morgan, whoever — should feel free strongly to advocate their positions without worrying about being blamed if a madman distorts them into some sort of justification for their deranged framework. Only if the speaker advocates violence is the speaker to blame if his speech inspires violence.
Unfortunately, the MSM plays by these rules only when doing so suits its ideological purposes.