Times Omsbudsman: Possibly "Palin, Rush, Beck Responsible For Shooting!" Was Teeniest Bit Premature

From Times Ombudsman Arthur Brisbane’s critique of his paper’s coverage of the Tuscon shootings:

Why? Because:

But there were reasons. Good reasons.

Genetic reasons.

I imagine that’s as close as we’re going to get to any sort of apology or retraction.

Even more interesting is how this attitude is mirrored here, on the supposedly independent, skeptical, evidence-based Straight Dope.

There were many threads in the immediate aftermath of the shooting with the same kind of narrative. And just as the major opinion makers on the Left stopped pushing that meme, so, too, it seems to have died down here, with little but embarrassed throat-clearing to show for it.

There were a few sane voices in the pack. I remember especially Happy Lenderver, who in one of the very first posts he made saying cogently and calmly that the real issues were not inflamed rhetoric, but access to mental health care and firearms. Shayna took that ball and ran with it, crafting an excellent GD thread of her own. I obviously disagreed (then and now) with the conclusions laying blame at the feet of the GOP for these issues, but no matter: that was the right kind of analysis and debate to have. I disagreed, but couldn’t argue that the point wasn’t a valid one to explore and discuss.

But they were not the majority.

I guess what I’d like out of this thread is a more sober reflection, in the same tone as Mr. Brisbane’s introspection, from some of the participants in those threads, and an admission that just maybe your reactions were the teensiest, tiniest bit off the mark.

Why? It was a reasonable enough assumption, especially given that she’d previously come under attack. This attack is exactly what the Right is trying to encourage. Right wing violence has happened before and it’ll happen again.

You also presume that mental illness and having a political agenda are mutually exclusive, which they aren’t; I expect that the Republican base is full of such people.

And considering that the Right immediately started trying to blame it on things like illegal aliens criticizing the Left as being especially willing to politicize this is silly. The difference being that the assumptions of the Left were reasonable.

No apology from me.

The proper question regarding journalistic (and by your extension, liberal) speculation in the wake of the shootings isn’t whether the rhetoric of the right indisputably impelled Jared Loughner to violence against a political figure. The question is whether it is and was a valid avenue of speculation that such rhetoric could have influenced the decisions of the shooter.

The common allegation, on the SDMB, in the liberal blogosphere and in opinion columns and broadcast commentaries from the left, has been that the widespread identification by the right of “government” and “Democrats” as threats to common freedom and security have created a climate such that violent actions by extremists or unstable individuals is more likely. That allegation has not, in fact, been refuted by evidence, handwringing by the NY Times notwithstanding.

HappyLendervender and Shayna examined other salient questions brought to the fore by the atrocity; appropriate questions about pretty general problems our society faces dealing with people capable of insane violence and their access to means of committing such violence. These are not “more appropriate” questions, nor do they cast doubt on discussions about the poisonous political climate created by the right.

It’s as if you’re using flooding in Australia related to La Nina to refute the importance of discussions about anthropogenic global warming.

The hypothesis could never be tested in the affirmative, so it is a waste of time. People like Bricker, Shayna, and Happy Lenderver are attempting to focus on the issues that explain the vast majority of the blame in the shooting: access to firearms by potentially dangerous people. It involves defining how to limit firearm access and identifying those who are at greatest risk for using them massacre-style.

An analogy that popped into my mind was the violent media (today video games), and adolescent violence debate. The scientific evidence points toward an extremely weak correlation between the two, yet politicians do not shut up about it while the biggest factors, socioeconomic status and parenting, have no politicians grandstanding to fix these problems.

You are discussing the most useless of the factors in the shooting and its because you want to focus the debate on ring wing politicians. People that are interested in solving the problem are focusing on the best predictors of this happening again.

As I pointed out in a previous thread: you use violent rhetoric, when actual violence happens, you are going to be implicated. It’s just like how saying “I wanna kill you” to someone makes you a suspect if that person winds up dead.

If you don’t like it, don’t make those types of comments.

Especially when the person in question has already been attacked.

Burden of proof. It’s for the proponent of an assertion to offer evidence in support of his point, not for the audience to hear a naked assertion and be obligated to refute it.

Except that the rhetoric of the Right already has lead to violence and the threats of violence, repeatedly. Including against this very woman.

This is what’s known as a metaphor.

He’s right that journalists are trained to come to conclusions quickly and put things in a larger context for readers. There are reasons for that and he’s not wrong to bring them up, but the bottom line is that putting the shooting in a broader political context was always a big assumption. Yes, there were reasons to believe it could be political and raise that as possibility, but not to the exclusion of any other angle. One look at the shooter’s YouTube videos was all you needed to realize this guy is probably schizophrenic. That doesn’t exclude political motives, but it’s a reason not to overdo the coverage of political discourse and gunsights and such. They were only possibilities and should have been treated as such at all times.

The impulse to place everything in a bigger context - especially placing every political story in a huge national context and overlooking more local or specific factors - often means journalists are jumping to conclusions and speculating about what an event means before anybody is sure what the event is. That kills time and maybe it gets ratings, but it doesn’t inform people. That’s what happened here.

I’m not sure there is anything to retract. “We hereby retract any story we published that the shootings in the context of political discourse?” The failure here was much more general.

Cite please. Or read the MPSIMS thread and tell me the majority of posters blamed conservatives.

Right or wrong, I don’t think your tone is going to get you what you’re looking for.

I hope I’m just misinterpreting your point here. Do you honestly believe that republicans are trying to incite physical violence?

Well, thanks for identifying my motives for me. You are incorrect, of course. The “best predictors of this happening again” aren’t the focus of Bricker’s OP; he’s looking for an apology from people who gored his ox. [analogy]The fact that the ox may not have knocked over a particular stall on its rampage through the marketplace doesn’t mean it’s improper to stop the rampage.[/analogy]

There was no naked assertion made by “the majority”.

Yes, and they’ve been doing so for a long time. It’s something of a standard practice for them; they whip up the thugs that comprise much of their base until someone gets killed, then they cry crocodile tears about how terrible it all is but they could never have expected their rhetoric to have that effect. Then they go right back to whipping up the thugs.

Those poor, persecuted Conservatives.

I find it amusing that the same party which has painted our President as ineligible for his position due to his supposed birth in another country, the party which objects to a mosque being built within sight of Ground Zero because some other Muslims crashed planes there, the party which says that providing healthcare to every citizen is tantamount to socialism, has now had its feelings hurt because someone dared to draw a connection between violent rhetoric and violent action.

I don’t know if it was the majority of the lefties here who jumped the gun, no pun intended, but there was a very vocal set of posters who may have seemed like a majority. Also, besides the posters Bricker mentioned, I definitely recall **elucidator **taking a measured, non-partisan position right away.

There were also a few righties trying to “prove” that the shooter was a lefty, btw.

So do you consider the Arizona incident to be another such case? I initially thought the violence was politically-connected, but I’m willing to admit it sounds like a pure mental-health issue at this point.

I’m also honestly curious to know who you’d include in this category of republicans. I presume you don’t mean ~40% of the American public, and I also presume you wouldn’t include folks like Olivia Snowe or Scott Brown.

What does that mean? Certainly the majority of participants in those threads took that position. And you yourself said:

In response, I observed the onus isn’t on anyone to refute that allegation, but for those making it to substantiate it.

Don’t you agree?

As one of the loudest people here in the immediate aftermath, I haven’t really seen anything to change my initial assessment: Loughner was obsessed with common right-wing issues such as a new currency backed by gold or silver and a hatred for politicians and government in general. Sure, he’s nuts. But he’s a nut who happens to say the sort of right-wing stuff which Beck and Palin say on a regular basis. I continue to hold Beck, Palin, and other rightwingers responsible for creating an atmosphere in which unstable people find positive, prime-time, reinforcement for their delusions.
Also, what these guys said:

Cite please?

Quite, so even if not guilty in this particular instance, they are only the more guilty for having fostered an atmosphere in which a crazy person decides to shoot people, and therefore are* still *guilty in this instance. Plus they did thought-crimes.

“The more innocent they are, the more they deserve to die.”

Or, as my favourite book has it:
“You should have remembered, sir, that a devil whose patriotism is impugned is a devil to be punished; and that there is no time to be prying into irrevelant questions of his guilt or innocence. Otherwise, I take it, you will never have any real democracy in Hell.”

I’m not sure how to respond to this, except to quote a bit from Tom Sawyer:

Like Aunt Polly, you seem perfectly content to let folks get blamed for what they didn’t do under the theory that they did other bad stuff, and thus “didn’t get a lick amiss.”