Monday, January 10, 2011


The primary rule of what passes for journalism these days appears to be: first, you lie.

This past weekend, the media showered shame upon itself by adhering rigidly to this rule, and to almost no rubric that could conceivably be considered “responsible reporting.” Even the “conservative” FoxNewsChannel--in the person of Geraldo Rivera unendingly blaming Sarah Palin for the actions of what we now know to be, in the opinion of the FBI director himself, a lone lunatic with a grudge against a specific member of Congress—toed the “Tea Party terror” line.

Within moments of the initial reports, “journalists” everywhere were speculating on the motivations of a suspect they yet knew nothing about. True to form, rather than simply go to Google and find out who the shooter was, what he thought about, what he himself considered the most important thing he could teach, they merely reached for the nearest and most recent template and slapped it over the event, neatly cutting away everything that didn’t fit—particularly the uncomfortable truth.

Once I had the name of the suspect, it was easy to find his deranged Youtube postings, stark texts addressing his reality-free musings, some visuals that immediately led away from—not toward—Tea Party culpability, and helpful sidebars telling us his favorite books included Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto. Moreover, the clearest thing about his rantings is that his obsession is with something he calls “conscience dreaming.” There is nothing political or ideological in his writings, but there is some discussion of “government,” “currency,” and the Constitution, which he says cannot be trusted because of “ratification.”

Though some have jumped on his talk of not accepting currency not backed by gold or silver and assigned him to some form of Ron Paulism, there is no “there” there. First, he states that “I will not trust in God,” indicating (along with his apparent outrage at having received a mini-Bible when he went to a military recruiting station) that he has no religious commitment or confidence in what we would consider to be “currency.” Second, his talk of “currency” is tied up in bizarre babblings about grammar and literacy, stating that the majority of people in the 8th district (that of both he and Congresswoman Giffords) are “illiterate,” indicating that he may have read some of the literature on information as currency and not understood it at all, fitting it instead into his paranoid mental illness and deeming the government an agent of “brainwashing” and deception.

Having seen the mind of the suspect myself, I looked back at the media, waiting in vain for someone to tell us about “conscience dreaming” and information as currency, to address the obvious fact that this was a 22-year old man with a textbook psychosis. Waiting with increasing impatience for someone to say what was evidently true: that he had practically stalked this Congress member since at least 2007, when he appeared at another “Congress on your corner” event to ask her a question. He did not like her response (perhaps because his question was rambling, incoherent and essentially meaningless to anyone who did not live in the shooter’s own head) and told his friend that he thought her “unintelligent.” Long before there was a Sarah Palin, a map with targets, a Tea Party—long before all of this, Jared Loughner had decided that Gabby Giffords was unworthy of her position in Congress.

Yet, all across the spectrum, politicians, pundits, reporters, and analysts one after another whined about “toning down the rhetoric,” implying that somehow political discourse could have caused this young man to buy a legal gun (passing the FBI background check with no problem, since he had never actually done anything violent before) and take it to the Safeway and shoot a member of Congress in the head to satisfy the voices in his own head, the “conscious dreams” he had deliberately cultivated.

Having studied both political violence and mass murder, I found the false connection more than curious. These were not fools making this unfounded link. These were people who should know better, people who should know what political violence is. Moreover, half the country should by now be able to recognize the signs of mental illness, the patterns of mass killing, given the ubiquity of books, television shows, and internet literature that explains it to us, both as real events and in fictional form. The two are not the same, and it doesn’t take a “political analyst” to know it.

Remind me, please, of how many mass murders have been (you’ll excuse the expression) “triggered” by “heated political rhetoric.” I don’t recall them. The mass murders with which I am familiar seem to be triggered by some event that has meaning only to the mind of the murderer. Their precipitating events are personal, not political. What prompted Charlie Whitman to climb the University of Texas tower and kill fourteen people after first murdering his mother and his wife? After years of emotional and mental disturbance, and after a series of personal failures, his self-control simply snapped. Whitman was troubled, certainly mentally ill, and he had actually described his fantasy of climbing the tower and shooting from it to a number of people, none of whom took him seriously (including a University psychiatrist.) He was not revved up by the political “climate” in Texas in 1966, whatever it may have been.

The largest mass murder in American history until 2007 was the massacre at Luby’s restaurant in Killeen, Texas, where George Jo Hennard, Jr., drove his truck through the glass window of the restaurant and began firing, eventually killing 23 people and wounding 20 more. He shouted “This is what Bell County has done to me!” though no one ever explained what he could have meant by that. While there may have been a political threat to him in his head from the county in which he lived, he was not motivated by some climate of “heated political rhetoric.”

The one instance liberals have to point to is the Oklahoma City bombing, which appears to have been the first time we find the suggestion that violence is the fault of talk radio. After Terry Nichols and Tim McVeigh blew up the Murrah Federal Building, President Clinton (never one to miss a chance to score a political point) essentially laid the blame at the feet of Rush Limbaugh and all of talk radio. Yet, inconveniently, there was never any evidence that McVeigh had listened to talk radio. His claimed reason for the systematic destruction of the federal building (which he embarked on only after discarding a plan to individually murder specific government officials) was outrage at the massacre of the Branch Davidian religious cult and the killing of Vicky Weaver at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992.

So now, once again, the media has run with the most attractive narrative—it’s all the fault of the Tea Party.

We can see why. After all, to those who have invested all their energy in a theory, everything must fit into it. The media’s most recent total enemy has been the hydra-headed monster of Sarah Palin and all those in the Tea Party movement. Any terrible thing that happens must be their fault. In this instance, we have an evil thing, a shooting. The victim is a Democrat (albeit a Democrat who has been a member of the Blue Dog coalition and who recently voted against the continuing leadership of Nancy Pelosi). All bad things come from the Tea Party, and the opponent of the Democratic Party is the Tea Party; therefore, this must have come from the Tea Party.

So the media immediately set about finding—not evidence for the template—but simply anyone who would say the words out loud, so that they could “report” them.

And the world of politics did not disappoint.

It was breathlessly noted that Sarah Palin had a map on her website that “targeted” this very Congresswoman’s district with a cross-hairs symbol as a district that Tea Partiers should try to win in the election. (Never mind that the Daily Kos did the same thing, to the same member of Congress (though for different reasons), only with a bullseye instead of cross-hairs. Makes all the difference.) The state of Arizona was painted as a place of high anxiety over immigration, and there was a period in the afternoon when media outlets mused aloud whether the shooter might have had something against immigrants. The notations in his Youtube video about people being “illiterate” were used to buttress this bogus notion.

The truths that the media have refused to tell are as follows:

From everything we can see, Jared Lee Loughner was seriously mentally ill. He had a long-standing grudge against Congresswoman Giffords. One of his favorite books was Mein Kampf, and Giffords was Jewish; we do not at this time know whether this matters. He smoked pot. He did not pass the drug test when he tried to join the military. He was thrown out of college because the administration felt he was dangerous and barred him from returning until he would be mentally evaluated, which he never was. He was 22 years old, the precise age when serious schizophrenia most often manifests itself. His thoughts are incoherent. His politics are, if anything, left of center, but nevertheless devoid of a serious ideology recognizable to a sane partisan of any stripe.

To those who want to know why such violence would erupt in Arizona, who are wondering whether it is the anti-immigrant sentiment that drives such violence, the answer to “why Arizona?” is in fact not complex. It was Arizona because that happens to be where this lunatic lived, just down the street from the Safeway. It was the place Gabby Giffords represents, and the lunatic didn’t like her. It was, quite simply, where the intersection of the perpetrator and the victim took place.

It could have been anywhere.

It could have been, for example, Pennsylvania. In Amish country. In the community of Nickle Mines, in 2006. Where Charles Carl Roberts IV took the lives of five Amish girls in the schoolhouse, after taking the entire school hostage (save those who frustrated him at the outset by successfully running away.) But Roberts acted without the propulsion of talk radio, without a “climate of hate,” without “heated political rhetoric.” Against the kindest, least inflammatory people in America, a crazy man who had never before hurt anyone chose to destroy his own life and those of children and families in a community he lived within (though he was not a member of the Order.) Because of his own internal monologue. Because of his own darkness.

Because of his own evil.

But the media does not recognize evil. And they only recognize mental illness when it fits their template, when someone kills American soldiers while shrieking “Allahu Akbar,” when they can use it to excuse deviance and destruction.

The Ft. Hood shooting, we were told (another event not motivated by the heated rhetoric of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, by the way, but inconveniently perpetrated by a member of a faith the media seeks to protect) was an occasion to be careful, to reassess, not to jump to conclusions or blame any larger group. This, despite the fact that the shooter, Major Hassan (and as soon as the name was known to the media, the media held it back a while to be extra super sure not to inflame the passions of the public) was connected to terrorist networks, knew and corresponded with terrorists, evangelized a particularly anti-American form of Islam, and had evidently planned the event for a while. But he, the template told us, was not evil. And he was not a terrorist. He was a disturbed lone wolf and should be understood.

Now we know that the Arizona shooter had an occult shrine in his backyard, complete with a replica human skull. But he cannot be evil. He cannot be a member of a diverse religious community. He must be an angry white male, a Republican, a Tea Partier. Anything else is unacceptable. Because it is not usable for the purposes to which the media and the Administration are about to put it.

Which brings us to part two. After the lie, we come to the use of the lie.

Democratic strategist Mark Penn recently reminisced wistfully about the public support that came to President Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing, opining that President Obama “needs” something similar to get the country back on his side.

Well, aren’t they lucky. Here it is. As Rahm Emanuel famously said, one shouldn’t let a good crisis go to waste.

After being beaten in the election, the power-grabbing party has been looking for a way to continue in their encroachment on the rights of the people. In the days to come, I have no doubt that they will bring back their drive to implement a “Fairness Doctrine” in an effort to control public political speech they don’t like. But this time, having a media that continues to link “bad” speech with conservatism and murder with “bad” speech, the Democrats in the Senate will be able to link the enforced balance they have been pushing with a censorship that they will deny is censorship.

To the contrary, they will argue, there are types of speech that we already regulate—libel and slander, advertising claims, and (though increasingly less enthusiastically) obscenity and pornography. One does not have, they will piously remind us, the right to shout “fire” in a crowded theater. (And, yes, they will no doubt forget that the original court ruling is that you may not falsely shout fire; if the theater is on fire, you may shout all you like.) On their high horses, they will tell us that neither has one the right to shout “you lie,” or “socialist” or “fascism” in a crowded political arena. Such language, they will insist, is inciting to riot, it pollutes the discourse, it endangers the republic—and it leads to murder.

Just as disapproval of personal behavior has become a form of “hate,” so, I believe, we will find that the words one uses to disapprove—or even merely to accurately describe the disreputable--will soon be deemed “hate speech.”

The other opportunity this affords the administration is to jump in quickly with a gun control bill of some kind, perhaps the very bill sponsored by Congressman Bobby Rush that has been languishing in the House during the last session, HR 45. (Trust me; it’s bad. Look it up.)

Once again, a tragedy will prompt government officials (especially those of a progressive and/or Democratic leaning) to attempt to regulate the world in ways that would never have had any effect on the tragedy that gets their attention.

More gun control would not have stopped this. Loughner broke few laws before he broke so many at once, and there are none possible that could revoke the Second Amendment rights of someone whose interactions with law enforcement had all been lawfully dismissed. None of his obviously lunatic ramblings were in a venue reachable by lawful investigations. It is unfortunate but unavoidable that we cannot pre-empt the non-violent mentally ill loner on his way to becoming a spree killer. It is not illegal to hold odd viewpoints, nor can it be in a free society. It is not illegal to subscribe to conspiracy theories, or to make others uncomfortable, or to have a strange personality. Were it so, there would not be enough jails or mental institutions to hold all the Americans that would deserve places in them.

Yet the proponents of the nanny state will no doubt try. And the media will obediently perpetuate the myth that tighter controls on everyone are needed to stop a few from violently obeying voices only they can hear, following paths of twisted logic only they can understand.

And, saddest of all, nothing they do will help anyone with mental illness stop himself from snapping. Nothing they do will make it possible to prevent an event that seems inevitable, because it will come at a time and a place no one but the spree killer can guess. And when it happens again, the media will once more reach for the most recent enemy, the most convenient scapegoat, the easiest lie to tell.

And the madmen will continue to appear from time to time, no matter what our “rhetoric” becomes, no matter how famous or ordinary the victims, no matter how many, how few, how old, or how young.

The media will find a story to tell, as truthful and trustworthy as the voices in Jared Lee Loughner’s head.

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