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Tilting at Windmills

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January 16, 2011

WHERE WAS CHARLES BLOW GETTING HIS NEWS?.... One of the stranger pundit reactions to the tragedy in Tucson comes by way of the New York Times's Charles Blow, whose disappointing column this weekend was largely inexplicable.

Tragedy in Tucson. Six Dead. Democratic congresswoman shot in the head at rally.

Immediately after the news broke, the air became thick with conjecture, speculation and innuendo. There was a giddy, almost punch-drunk excitement on the left. The prophecy had been fulfilled: "words have consequences." And now, the right's rhetorical chickens had finally come home to roost.

Seriously? Blow perceives liberals as being "giddy" about a mad gunman trying to assassinate a Democratic congresswoman and massacring six people? Blow found "punch-drunk excitement" that came "immediately" after the violence?

I haven't the foggiest idea what Blow is referring to. I'd gladly consider the merit of his examples, but he doesn't offer any. Blow simply asserts his interpretation as fact: the "giddy" left launched "a full-fledged witch hunt to link the shooter to the right." It's true, apparently, because Charles Blow says so.

(Ironically, within hours of the violence, there was an aggressive effort among conservative activists to tie the shooter to the left, a push that included GOP members of Congress. Blow somehow missed this, en route to getting his argument backwards.)

Blow went on to argue that "Democrats" ended up "nurturing a false equivalence within the body politic." There were plenty of false equivalences this past week, but blaming Dems for them strikes me as pretty silly.

The great irony of Blow's column is his emphasis on supporting one's assumptions with "evidence." He argued, "[P]otential, possibility and even plausibility are not proof." Those who hope to "score political points," Blow added, did so "in the absence of proof."

The problem, of course, is that Blow is guilty of his own allegations. He sees a "giddy" left, where none existed. He sees "punch-drunk excitement" among liberals on a "witch hunt," but offers literally nothing by way of support.

Mr. Blow, there may have been a "potential, possibility and even plausibility" that some liberals would act irresponsibly in the wake of the tragedy, but "in the absence of proof," this column is a careless mess.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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Did he interview anyone to arrive at this conclusion? Or just put his own feelings onto others?

Personally, my first reaction was horror, then great sadness.

Posted by: Hannah on January 16, 2011 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

This moron is aptly named. The only thing better would be for him to marry someone with the maiden name of Hard and hyphenate . . . Blow-Hard. Yeppers, that pretty much sums it up.

Posted by: Bo on January 16, 2011 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Gotta admire the MSLP. They always bend over backwards to help the Dems - or is that, they NEVER bend over backwards to help the Dems?

Posted by: Mark-NC on January 16, 2011 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Bruce Majors, your blog is aptly named. It is tedious. Care to provide any facts to back up your assertion. You remember facts, don't you, Bruce. If you can't produce any you can pucker up and Blow.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 16, 2011 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Bruce Majors,
Get some help.
You seriously need to go and get some help.
You are a very sick person.
Get some help.
Please.

[Apologies to the board for that disgusting comment staying up for a half hour. --Mods]

Posted by: c u n d gulag on January 16, 2011 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

One can only surmise that mr. Blow, having struck out searching for quotes from elected politicians and fellow main stream columnists, found more fertile ground in the postings on 'lefty' blogs.

Why, I recall even a few of us here asked, "could this assassin have ties to Sister Sarah, or Glen Beck?"

But, if he wanted raving lunatic remarks, he should have persused the many GuanoNutz blogs that permeate the internet. . .

Posted by: DAY on January 16, 2011 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

I suppose the above is an example of the new conservative commitment to civility.

Posted by: john sherman on January 16, 2011 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Bruce Majors I see that you went to the George Will school of obfuscation.

Posted by: Gandalf on January 16, 2011 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

Oh yeah, go Steve-O! Love it when you get righteously indignant!

Posted by: strictadherent on January 16, 2011 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

I'm pretty sure Charles Blow is talking about the "left" that wingers are always talking about, the one that exists only in their rabid fantasies as a projection of their opposite, not the actual, you know, people who are politically to the left in this country.

They are essentially self-centered and eager to feel victimized, so they can't imagine a left that doesn't see its main motive as thwarting the right.

Posted by: biggerbox on January 16, 2011 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

Bravo - Mr. Blow has become a sanctimonious scold. Strange that his reaction is consistent with that of Rush Limbaugh.

Posted by: Bill on January 16, 2011 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

How did Blow ever get a gig at the Times? Even McCain's Op-Ed made his article look pathetic.

Posted by: max on January 16, 2011 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, the Blow column was ridiculous on its face. I cannot think of a single instance of the left wing being giddy about the horrible event: to the contrary, everyone I spoke with was terribly depressed by it, having been worried something like this could happen. It was a FEAR that was realized, not a WISH!

I am shocked that this column ever saw the light of day.

Posted by: jjm on January 16, 2011 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

1: make up sh*t about how violent the left is.
2: get them so pissed off about your lies about them, the left starts fielding comments from members of their base that want to pound the lies out of your lying skin.
3: use these comments as proof that the left is so violent. Essentially "I can prove the left is violent, look how angry they got when I said they were violent?
Lather.
Rinse.
Repeat.
Your "liberal mainstream media" at "work."

Posted by: slappy magoo on January 16, 2011 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

I do not think anyone on the left was "giddy" or conducting a "witch hunt." But I do think a lot of commentators had a "I told you so" attitude regarding the right's violent language leading to a tragedy. Most commentators were claiming that if the shooter was not directly influenced by the right, he was at least indirectly influenced.

About a year ago there was an incident in Kentucky or Tennessee where a census worker was found "lynched" and there were numerous stories that anti-census comments led to the lynching. It later was determined that he committed suicide and staged the killing. The flip side is the story of Byron Williams who was clearly influenced by Glenn Beck but that connection was never fully explained in the mainstream media.

The take away point in my mind is not to get sucked into the media's 24/7 instant story/instant analysis. I say this from a lefty viewpoint and have seen numerous cases where a right wing myth is put out and becomes mainstreamed because too few people remain skeptical until all the facts are in.

Posted by: Objective Dem on January 16, 2011 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

I am one liberal who does not wholly accept the fact that political rhetoric is in no way to blame
for this tragedy. The shooter had asked a question of the congress lady awhile back and had not been pleased with her answer, also was known to hold grudges. One thing that stands out for me was the fact that he evidently loved the internet, facebook etc. I also read a lot on the internet and that is the only place that Palin's target map and crosshairs has been posted - all over the internet. And of course the congress lady had crosshairs with her name - don't you think that could give an unbalanced person an idea?

Posted by: js on January 16, 2011 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

JS,

It is possible that political rhetoric did influence the shooter, but there is no evidence at this time. Yes he was on the Internet a lot, but it seems like he was interested in video games. I have yet to hear a single comment about him reading political blogs.

The question he asked the congresswoman was something along the lines of "What is government if words have no meaning?" This is evidence to me that he wasn't simply repeating right wing soundbites. At best it indicates a clumsy question by a smart person, but it really comes off as a delusional question by someone who is mentally ill.

Posted by: Objective Dem on January 16, 2011 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Charles Blow has been mainlining too much Rush Limbaugh and, sadly, regurgitating it on the pages of the NYT.

I have been disgusted by the violent rheotoric on the teabagger right for a long time now but that doesn't mean I wasn't horrified at the ugly massacre in Tucson and thought President Obama's speech of healing was very much needed for our country. Mr Blow sounds giddy with irresponsibly abusing his bully pulpit.

Posted by: Cha on January 16, 2011 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, I spelled "rhetoric" wrong in above post.

Posted by: Cha on January 16, 2011 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

One observation is that the bulk of the comments related to the tragedy focused on the influence of right wing violent rhetoric and calls to tone it down.

In Obama's Tucson speech he said "Already we've seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health system. And much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government."

We need to see this debate occur. I haven't seen one comment/article about the impact of Health Care reform on mental health services. I have only seen some quick comments on the poor state of our mental health system due to cut backs in government funding. I haven't seen one article talking about the impact of the Republican's viewpoints of cutting back government services on the mentally ill and the disable.


Posted by: Objective Dem on January 16, 2011 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

My guess is that Blow, like so many in the allegedly liberal MSM, has so internalized elements the crazy right-wing world view, that this just seems the natural reaction.

Cf. Progressives horrified at idea of unprovoked war in violation of solemn international covenants and contrary to all good sense predict dire consequences (Iraq in case your wondering)

Disaster ensue

Reaction--it's just what those liberals wanted and, in a way, brought on by wanting it, don't you know?

Further back

Left/Liberal/Progressive's horrified at support for murderous regimes (El Salvador, et al.) or right insurgents (Nicaragua) decry death squads and US complicity with same.

Reaction from Am. right (though not I think the counterparts of Blow) after massacres--just what the Liberals wanted--probably staged, don't you know?

Posted by: J on January 16, 2011 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Blow is a good name for yet another opinionista

Posted by: Kill Bill on January 16, 2011 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

"I am one liberal who does not wholly accept the fact that political rhetoric is in no way to blame for this tragedy."

Me too, js.

The three Pennsylvania policemen, the doctor in Kansas, the pilot in Texas, the shootout in California, that group in Ohio who were stopped before they could kill...

Once is a coincidence. There is just too much political violence for it to be only coincidence.

Posted by: Seould on January 16, 2011 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

[please quit insult trolling the blog. thank you - mod.]

Posted by: Mike K on January 16, 2011 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

I think there's actually a clear answer to Steve's original question: Social media. I know I saw plenty of links, tweets and retweets about the SarahPAC map when the news was breaking, some less responsible about drawing conclusions than others. So the volume of those items may very well have taken on the characteristics of the most accusatory among them. And once you've accepted that context, it's tough to, you know, unaccept it.

Granted, this may be as uncompelling as pointing to random commenters on Daily Kos as evidence of "hey, the left does it, too," but to deny it was out there is, I think, just a bit unfair.

Posted by: notabbott on January 16, 2011 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

Mike K, we don't *know* yet just what influenced Loughner and maybe never will, but it's a logical fallacy to go to thinking it *must not have*. An unknown is just that, not proof of the negative position. Even the mentally ill are not in a vacuum, what they hear gets inside their heads - there is no validity to the fatuous idea (cynically framed for the immediate convenience of the Right - and they will turn on a dime as soon as it's convenient to do that instead) that crazy people are self-contained. They aren't.

And as many explain including our President, heated and violent-sounding rhetoric is bad anyway - don't you agree?

Posted by: neil b. on January 16, 2011 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

It was a very strange column for Blow to have written. He's a long way from being my favourite NYT columnist - but I do read him regularly. He mostly writes about statistics, especially as applied to social situations (comparing black and white education results, for example, or gender gap in wages, etc). Which means that, most of the time, his articles are full of *sourced charts* (ie facts), with not all that much text. Which is just as well, because I don't think he's a very good writer. Yesterday's article was totally upside down compared to his usual fare, and had my jaw dropping to the floor in amazement. It's as if he handed the writing of it to a Tea-Potted friend and let the NYT print it, without checking the content.

Posted by: exlibra on January 16, 2011 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

Somebody who says to my face that a killing spree is making me act giddy is going to get his proof that liberals are prone to violence.

Posted by: beejeez on January 16, 2011 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

Charles Blow is a graphic artist who started out producing "visual op-eds." His understanding of government, politics, and society is virtually nil. Much like Nate Silver, who compiled a bunch of poll results to make electoral predictions and now is another know-nothing expert for the Times. Feh.

Posted by: Yokel on January 16, 2011 at 11:03 PM | PERMALINK

Blows account strikes me as accurate. The giddiness is in reference to this being a fulfillment of the eliminationist rhetoric thoery. For a long time now, Democrats have been predicting that the atmosphere of intimidation created by the TeaParty would result in a RWinger actually acting out on the rhetorical excess. An unmistakable “I told you so” moment appeared, as the shooting of a Democrtic policitian was thought to collaborate the theory.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik immediately linked the crime to right-wing rhetoric. Democrats called for laws aimed at restricting speech and a civil rights hero pushed for the fairness docrine, linking the likes of Rush Limbaugh to the crime with aboslutey no evidence. Sarah Palin’s map was…er…targeted as an inspiration for the killer. Even before the killer was known, the world's most famous left-wing economist fingered Beck and Limbaugh and noted that “opposition to health reform was getting scary.”

Popular lefty blog Crooks and Liars labeled the incident “Republican Rhetoric, Right-Wing Terror.” They complained when CNN noted the lack of evidence linking the man to the right: “The Villagers on CNN Want to Make Sure No One Blames Palin for Arizona Assassination Attempt.” Even though there was no evidence that he was influenced by the Teaparty, they asked us to “Remember When Beck Ridiculed Pelosi For Speaking Out Against Violent Tea Party Rhetoric?” As evidence started to trickle out that he was mentally disturbed and had some left-leaning views, they then reversed the burden of proof, by pointing out that “Yes, Jared Loughner was 'crazy'. That doesn't exculpate the milieu that unhinged him.” In this association-fallacy paradigm, it is assumed that RW rhetoric (the milieu” unhinged him until proven otherwise.

It was in this atmosphere that “there was an aggressive effort among conservative activists to tie the shooter to the left.” Except the ties were real, unlike Krugman’s speculation. The shooter did list Marx as an favorate author. Those who know the man described him as either apolitical or as liberal. Not a single person said he was a RWinger. There’s no evidence that he even heard a single TeaParty slogan, let alone acted on one. President Obama, himslef the target of Paul Krugman's race-baiting at one point, has conceded the point.

Even though his listing of Marx and Orwell was known, Jack and Jill Politics singled out Ayn Rand and declared: “The AZ Shooter Has All The Ingredients Of A Tea Party Member.” Crooks and Liars, after learning about his lefty views, then simply asserted “But if we examine the trail of videos and assorted writings he left behind in recent years, it's clear that his politics took quite a different swerve to the other side of the road in recent years.” If you go to Pandagon you will see that they are still clinging to the idea of him as a Righty.

Imagine if after Tim McVeigh was caught, RWIngers continued to rail against Islamic terrorism. Thats where much of the left is right now.

Posted by: Manju on January 17, 2011 at 2:15 AM | PERMALINK
Manju (on January 17, 2011 at 2:15 AM): "It was in this atmosphere that 'there was an aggressive effort among conservative activists to tie the shooter to the left.' Except the ties were real, unlike Krugman’s speculation."

Those "ties" are real only in your own fevered imagination, and all your insistence to the contrary does not make it so. And while you are entitled to your own opinion, that opinion should not justify you to manufacture evidence out of whole cloth to support your contention.

Nobody with a lick of common sense or an ounce of common decency is holding Sarah Palin and right-wing media personally accountable for the mindless actions of an obviously amoral and perhaps deranged individual. Speaking for myself, I take it for granted that 99% of conservatives are probably just as shocked as everyone else regarding the recent tragic events in Tucson.

But that acknowledgement aside, we need to demand that henceforth, Ms. Palin and all others with a readily available personal access to our media - left, right and center, you and me on this blog included - start behaving more responsibly with that particular privilege. People have to learn to make their points in a cogent and rational manner, without regularly resorting to excessive hyperbole, demonization of others, shrill invective and pseudo-violent metaphors.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik - who, unlike you and me, has over 40 years' experience in law enforcement - simply observed that there are those out there listening to Palin, et al., on talk radio and cable TV who are simply incapable of processing complex speech in the same logical and intellectual manner that most others do. There is nothing political in Dupnik's contention.

Further, such people are clearly much more likely than most of us to be swayed by emotion than by reason. Thus, they are susceptible to hyperbolic appeals to one's baser instincts, and can be prone to taking such alllusions to political violence literally. A further subset of them have proven themselves quite capable of acting upon those inadvertant suggestions found in the Right's eliminationist and exclusionary rhetoric that this person or those people should be intimidated, targeted and / or taken out.

What happened in Tucson may well have been inevitable for a variety reasons that had practically nothing to do with politics except perhaps tangentially. One could just as well argue that the economic recession and the subsequent shredding of Arizona's social safety net precluded someone like Jared Lee Loughlin from getting the mental health care he obviously needed, and that the further addition of readily available access to firearms in that state proved a toxic and deadly combination of disparate circumstances. However, that's another discussion for another day.

But for our immediate sake, we truly need to avail ourselves of the opportunity presented to us by Sheriff Dupnik's candor, and find our way back out of the political cul-de-sac in which we've driven ourselves.

This constant scapegoating of others by the Political Right has never offered us one single poential solution to our problems. Rather, it's now exacerbating those problems to an appalling degree that's undermining our collective ability to even have a civil discussion with one another and seek common ground.

You need to think about that next time you write such comments, Manju, seeking to dehumanize and marginalize those who might disagree politically with you, rather than finding those areas of agreement upon which we can move forard together. "We have met the enemy," Walt Kelly's comic strip character Pogo once reminded us once upon a time, "and he is us."

Your rhetoric is that of someone who uses our country's unique heritge of diversity as a means to divide us as a paople, rather than define us as a nation. We continue to listen to your nonsense at our own national peril. If it doesn't stop, your deliberate fostering of envy and resentment will eventually destroy us.

Our nation is neither infallible nor our people omnipotent, and the present danger to our national security does not come from without, but rather lies within. And only we as a collective can bring about the necessary course correction.

It's up to you and others on the Right to decide whether you wish to become part of that solution, or prefer to continue adhering to a polarizing and apocalyptic vision of America that will forever preclude us from even begiining to address our core problems.

Aloha.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 17, 2011 at 3:35 AM | PERMALINK

“Those "ties" are real only in your own fevered imagination, and all your insistence to the contrary does not make it so. And while you are entitled to your own opinion, that opinion should not justify you to manufacture evidence out of whole cloth to support your contention.”

What in the world are you talking about? I named the ties, ie Marx and Orwell being listed by the killer himself as well as the testimony of the high-school friend, who labled the killer a liberal. Having said that, these ties do not make him a lefty, but they certainly don’t make him a RWinger. In this particular case, the Right waited until actual facts emerged and used those facts to debunk Krugman and Co..

“Nobody with a lick of common sense or an ounce of common decency is holding Sarah Palin and right-wing media personally accountable for the mindless actions of an obviously amoral and perhaps deranged individual.”

I didn’t allege that they were. In fact I specifically referenced the phrase “eliminationist rhetoric”, a term coined daniel goldhagen to explain how German culture gave rise to Fascism. And is now being used by David Neiwert and others to describe the current political context.

“But that acknowledgement aside, we need to demand that henceforth, Ms. Palin and all others with a readily available personal access to our media - left, right and center, you and me on this blog included - start behaving more responsibly with that particular privilege. People have to learn to make their points in a cogent and rational manner, without regularly resorting to excessive hyperbole, demonization of others, shrill invective and pseudo-violent metaphors.”

Right theory. Wrong time. I may want to discuss fighting Islamic terrorism, but to use this incident as a platform to do so would be disconnected from reality at best, islamophobic at worst.

“Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik - who, unlike you and me, has over 40 years' experience in law enforcement - simply observed that there are those out there listening to Palin, et al., on talk radio and cable TV who are simply incapable of processing complex speech in the same logical and intellectual manner that most others do. There is nothing political in Dupnik's contention.”

His contention was wrong or at least unsubstantiated and unprovable . He jumped the gun. In contrast, President Obama reserved judgment. Dupnik may have then ironically set off a wave of hysteria. Dems started calling for laws aimed at political speech. One person has been arrested for threatening the life of a teaparty leader. Dupnik’s response was an ill-conceived knee jerk response. He should’ve waited until he had the facts.

Posted by: Manju on January 17, 2011 at 4:32 AM | PERMALINK

Manju is just another troll posting the latest right-wing talking points without even reading the liberal articles that supposedly support his claims.

For instance, he mentioned a Crooks and Liars blog entry titled Republican Rhetoric, Right-Wing Terror. If he had read the article, he might have known that far from trying to put the claim that this particular attack was motivated by Republican speach, that it was devoted to outlining the many, many previous politically motivated attacks on Democrats and liberals. It's first mention of Loughlen is in the following sentence in the second paragraph:

"While the motivation (and mental health) of the alleged Tucson mass killer Jared Lee Loughner remains unclear, his bloodbath served to once again highlight the most dangerous development in American politics"

Among the attacks emanating from the right-wing, the most obvious was McVeigh's attack on the Murrow Building, the second deadliest act of terrorism in U.S. history. Others include the Anthrax attacks and their copycat white-powder letters, which overwhelmingly targeted judges and elected Democrats. Then there was the Unitarian church shooting and the de-railed attack on the Tides foundation whose perpetrators specifically cited right-wing media personalities (Jonah Goldber and Glenn Beck respectively) as possibly prompting the attacks and certainly determining the targets.

In other words, liberals don't need Loughner to have been motivated by Republican rhetoric to make the case that this rhetoric is reckless and dangerous. Some liberal commentators may have jumped the gun in implying such a motivation in order to raise, again, the issues of violent and threatening language from Republicans and right-wing media but few if any of them made the direct accusation that Manju and his fellow right-wingers claim they did.

Posted by: tanstaafl on January 17, 2011 at 4:44 AM | PERMALINK

btw Manju, do you really think it is ok for Glenn Beck, on national TV and radio, to describe at some length how he would choke the life out of Michael Moore or for him to use a staffer wearing a Nancy Pelosi mask to act out slipping poison into her glass of wine?

Posted by: tanstaafl on January 17, 2011 at 5:10 AM | PERMALINK

“If he had read the article, he might have known that far from trying to put the claim that this particular attack was motivated by Republican speach, that it was devoted to outlining the many, many previous politically motivated attacks on Democrats and liberals.”

The very quote you provide; “his bloodbath served to once again highlight the most dangerous development in American politics" debunks your theory. After all, why would the bloodbath highlight this narrative if it didn’t have anything to do with it? At the time this was published, reports were emerging of the killer’s leftwing ties and general non-rigthwingness. Crooks and Liars was attempting to have their cake and eat it too. Even if it turns out that he isn’t arighty, they wanted to still frame the crime within their anti-right narrative. That’s the Witch Hunt Blow is speaking off.

Posted by: Manju on January 17, 2011 at 5:19 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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