When news of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) arrived late yesterday morning, via a Facebook post from a friend, I alternated between The New York Times and other sites to find out what was happening. The other sites tended to update more quickly, the Times more accurately. The Times never declared, for example, as Huffington Post did in a banner headline, that Rep. Giffords was dead. I should've just stuck with the Times but there's always that urge to find out now, now, now. We refresh pages like Mark Zuckerberg at the end of “The Social Network.” With about the same results.
At the same time, for something that's a little more than 24 hours old, a lot of smart, thoughtful stuff has already been written.
Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic liveblogged the news. It includes some initially incorrect reporting as well as a particularly vile e-mail he received.
James Fallows, also of The Atlantic, warns us all how the politics of an assassin and the politics of the intended target are rarely at odds. He sums up:
1) anything that can be called an “assassination” is inherently political;
2) very often the “politics” are obscure, personal, or reflecting mental disorders rather than “normal” political disagreements. But now a further step,
3) the political tone of an era can have some bearing on violent events. The Jonestown/Ryan and Fromme/Ford shootings had no detectable source in deeper political disagreements of that era. But the anti-JFK hate-rhetoric in Dallas before his visit was so intense that for decades people debated whether the city was somehow “responsible” for the killing. (Even given that Lee Harvey Oswald was an outlier in all ways.)
There are clips from an MSNBC interview with Rep. Giffords last year in which she sounds off about that political tone.
But the best thing I've read thus far is George Packer's “It Doesn't Matter Why He Did It” on The New Yorker's site, which also delves into the larger point:
This relentlessly hostile rhetoric has become standard issue on the right. (On the left it appears in anonymous comment threads, not congressional speeches and national T.V. programs.) And it has gone almost entirely uncriticized by Republican leaders. Partisan media encourages it, while the mainstream media finds it titillating and airs it, often without comment, so that the gradual effect is to desensitize even people to whom the rhetoric is repellent. We’ve all grown so used to it over the past couple of years that it took the shock of an assassination attempt to show us the ugliness to which our politics has sunk.
The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point. Whatever drove Jared Lee Loughner, America's political frequencies are full of violent static.
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