Yesterday, Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head outside a Tucson grocery store while meeting with local members of her constituency. She's alive at the moment. However, 13 other people were injured and six were killed, including a 9-year-old girl. Unless you've been in the wilderness for the past 24 hours, you know this. Even my often shockingly ill-informed wife knew about it, so I won't spend a great deal of time on the details.
I'm the first to admit that I had never heard of the woman before yesterday. But when I heard that she was a Democrat in Arizona, my knee-jerk reaction was that this was a politically-motivated attack. It is beginning to look as though I was right. Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old gunman, left a series of nonsensical, rambling diatribes on his YouTube channel, which are curiously lacking in the gross misspelling one might expect (though there are a few). Spelling ability aside, the posts still make absolutely no sense.
The YouTube posts do not specifically target Giffords or link Loughner to any clearly-defined political ideology. However, they seem to be fearful of a growing government and many refer to "mind control and brainwash methods" and the erosion of civil rights. Giffords's offices had been the target of vandalism and she herself had received threats after the Health Care Reform Bill passed. Many view this legislation as another attack on civil rights. Or maybe I'm just trying to make connections where they don't exist.
In the next few days and weeks, I expect there will be "experts" appearing on news channels with all manner of psychoanalytic profiles of Mr. Loughner. We'll probably hear about how "deeply disturbed" he was and I expect that someone will blame his reading list, which included dystopian classics like Animal Farm and Brave New World. But what I'm hoping to hear is that reactionary political pundits like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin share in some of the blame for this. And just to be clear, I do not consider Palin to be a politician. She may have been once, but now she is just another conservative pundit.
This is the problem that I have with the political discourse in the country today. No longer do "journalists" appeal to the public's reason - it's all about stirring up primal emotional states for the sake of higher ratings. And higher ratings mean higher advertising revenue. But when all the red-faced vitriol espoused by the doughy Beck or the plastic Palin falls on the ears of someone that may not be able to reason through the bullshit, what happens? When a person with a head full of bad chemicals constantly hears calls for armed revolution or sees political attack maps dotted with crosshairs, what is the expected outcome? And is this the desired result?
Maybe some good will come of this awful event. Maybe this will encourage news channels to reign in their attack dogs and return to the sort of responsible journalism that has been resigned to the less exciting days of Walter Cronkite. Now, don't think I'm advocating for censorship - that's the last thing I would ever do. But I am hoping for some common sense and responsibility from those with the loudest voices. The job of journalists is to inform and let the public draw their own conclusions, not stir up a hornet's nest.
By the way, I also intended to post about the emasculation of Huckleberry Finn, but I was busy and never got around to it. The short version is that I think editing the book to make it more PC is the worst idea in the history of bad ideas.