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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

“Tragedy exposes problems in media, politics”

While it’s now clear that political rhetoric had nothing to do with last week’s tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others, this incident and the coverage surrounding it generates an opportunity to reflect on national issues discussed in the media.  

Hours after the news broke last Saturday, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik ignited a firestorm by claiming Arizona is the “”Mecca for prejudice and bigotry”” and suggested the shooting was influenced by the country’s increasingly nasty political dialogue. His comments were unprofessional and not based on any evidence. However, the mainstream media jumped on the sheriff’s statement and began to discuss the impact of the bitter tone surrounding political debates. Pundits on the right immediately went on the defensive, rushing to point out examples of people on the left using inflammatory language and seizing every opportunity to bash the so-called “”liberal media.””

On Wednesday, Sarah Palin released a video stating that “”within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn.”” It’s easy to understand Palin’s anger. As over the top as her rhetoric can be, it’s safe to say she never wished physical harm on her political opponents. However, this statement represents all that is wrong with modern political debate. It wasn’t journalists who insisted that people like Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity had blood on the their hands, it was liberal commentators like Keith Olbermann, Paul Krugman and Ed Schultz.  

By mixing true partisans with professional journalists, Palin and other conservative commentators are able to spin the argument to make it seem like any discussion surrounding political rhetoric is an attack. Instead of simply denying the absurd insinuation that rhetoric from the right caused this terrible tragedy to occur, she took it a step further and decided to play politics.

According to a national television news reporter in town covering the shooting, the criticism coming from the right “”speaks to a problem that reporters are facing in recent coverage.”” The reporter, who asked to remain anonymous, said “”when you report something from someone who’s a partisan, you come across as endorsing that position.”” By moderating a discussion on the possible impact of political rhetoric, journalists are being accused of spreading the partisan views held by those they are interviewing. Ultimately, this makes reporting on any issue incredibly difficult and divides the country even further. The truth is that people must be able to think for themselves when watching or listening to partisan personalities. Americans must fight against attempts by charismatic, yet agenda-driven commentators to herd them (like mindless sheep) into a certain political corral. Perhaps the mainstream media should have resisted the temptation to discuss the possible impact of political rhetoric on Jared Loughner. After all, it’s obvious now that it had none. However, to claim that the media purposely sought to assign blame to the right side of the aisle is just as ludicrous as claiming that Glenn Beck inspired Loughner to do what he did.

One of the biggest problems currently facing our democracy is how people receive their news. Unfortunately, opinionated television shows and truth-distorting talk radio remain more popular than traditional, balanced news sources. As long as this is the case, and people continue to cling to every word spoken by people like Beck and Olbermann, it’s impossible for the politicians in this country to agree on anything.  

This tragedy initially brought people from all sides of the political spectrum together. However, after a week of bitterness coming from commentators on the right and naïve statements about the need for more gun control and regulation of political speech coming from the left, it’s safe to say that the country is just as divided as usual. Perhaps people will begin to wise up to the damage caused by agenda-driven commentators.  

It’s one thing to be passionate about an issue and to disagree, but hopefully Americans will realize that the constant back and forth coming from certain partisans and the inability to see the merits of other points of view do nothing to move the country forward. In fact, they only hold it back.

— Andrew Shepherd is a political science senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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