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Olbermann, Beck and O'Reilly go on offense over Giffords shooting, leaving an important point unexplored



megyn-kelly-dupnik.jpgAs the reaction from political pundits to the Arizona shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others played out predictably across party lines Monday night, an important idea was lost in the sauce.

Even as the nation grieves over such a senseless tragedy, it seems possible to note that the shooting wasn't necessarily sparked by specific political excess, while inspiring us all to tone down violent political rhetoric, anyway .

Instead, much of the discussion among the media's leading opinionators seemed divided between liberals criticizing conservative excess and conservatives seeing the criticism as an attempt to vilify their entire perspective.

On Fox News, the order of the day was pushing back against criticism of violent, gun-focused conservative rhetoric and the aggressive argument culture embodied in their top shows. The day before, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly had confronted Arizona sheriff Clarence Dupnik for his comments that “atmosphere of hatred and bigotry” had contributed to the events; the channel spent much of Monday running a story by James Rosen challenging the notion that such rhetoric could be connected to the shooting.

sarah-palin-giffords-map.jpgLater, Fox News stars Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly pushed back hard. O'Reilly decried "the exploitation of the murders by political zealots. Only moments after Congresswoman Giffords was shot, some far left loons began to spew their hatred," he opined in his show's opening Talking Points Memo segment. Criticizing a New York Times editorial that blamed conservative rhetoric for the rise in death threats against elected officials, O'Reilly decried it as an attempt to lay blame for the shooting at conservatives feet.

In an interview with rap impresario Russell Simmons (?!), Fox News president Roger Ailes said such criticism was "just a bullshit way to use the death of a little girl to get Fox News in an argument....I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.  You don’t have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that."

What other side he means, given the Fox News is supposed to be "fair and balanced," I'm not sure.

Beck opened his Monday show saying he was going on "offense," defending fellow conservative Sarah Palin from those who criticized her habit of describing political conflict using terms from hunting and shooting -- right down a series of rifle sight cross hairs placed on a map of politicians' districts, including Giffords. The host listed past attacks by people who seemed to have liberal sympathies, while overlooking people who had committed similar crimes citing conservative political points.

On his radio show earlier that day, Beck talked of writing Palin over the issue, urging her to increase her personal security ("an attempt on you could bring down the Republic," he said) before reading an excerpt from her response email: "I hate violence.  I hate war.  Our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this to succeed in portraying anyone as inciting terror and violence."

olbermann.jpgOn MSNBC, in a TV space located politically on the other side of the world, host Keith Olbermann announced he was going to retitle his segment "Worst Persons in the World," because some people "think I literally mean the worst persons in the world. There is potential danger in that, so the name has got to go." Promising he'll have a new version of the segment later this week or next week, Olbermann later echoed his call for all pundits to tone down their rhetoric before dissecting how conservatives have pushed back against such notions.

It took comic Jon Stewart to strike the most conciliatory tone of the night, stressing two ideas which seem lost in the heat of politically opposed media outlets struggling to score points on each other: connecting the Giffords shooting to extreme rhetoric is unwise, but the current political climate is still toxic and needs to change.

Comparing blaming rhetoric for the shooting to blaming heavy metal music for suicides, Stewart proposed more civil discourse as a way to separate the crackpots from the conventional ideologues. He also noted: "It would be really nice if the ramblings of crazy people didn't in any way resemble how we actually talk to each other on teevee."

Nice try Stewart. But we all know the media/opinion complex can't hold two different thoughts at the same time.

Click below for longer clips of some of the stuff.

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Arizona Shootings Reaction
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[Last modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 4:15pm]


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