How a once great paper overdosed on the Tucson massacre.
After the horrific shooting spree, the editorial board of the New York Times offered a voice of reasoned circumspection: “In the aftermath of this unforgivable attack, it will be important to avoid drawing prejudicial conclusions…,” the paper counseled.
Here’s how the sentence continued: “…from the fact that Major Hasan is an American Muslim whose parents came from the Middle East.”
That was in November 2009. The Times responded in precisely the opposite fashion to the Tucson Safeway massacre 14 months later. What was once known as the paper of record egged on its readers to draw invidious conclusions that were not only prejudicial but contrary to known fact. In doing so, the Times crossed a moral line and revealed itself to be a fundamentally corrupt institution.
On Saturday, January 8, a gunman shot Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the head at close range, gravely wounding the Arizona Democrat. He then opened fire on the crowd that had gathered for a “Congress on Your Corner” meet-and-greet, killing six, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.
By Monday, when the Times weighed in with an editorial, it was clear that suspect Jared Loughner was mentally ill and had no comprehensible political motive. The paper nonetheless seized on the crime as an occasion for partisan attack:
It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman’s act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge. Many on the right have exploited the arguments of division, reaping political power by demonizing immigrants, or welfare recipients, or bureaucrats. They seem to have persuaded many Americans that the government is not just misguided, but the enemy of the people….
Now, having seen first hand the horror of political violence, Arizona should lead the nation in quieting the voices of intolerance, demanding an end to the temptations of bloodshed, and imposing sensible controls on its instruments.
To describe the massacre as an act of “political violence” was, quite simply, a lie. It was as if, two days after the Columbine massacre, a conservative newspaper of the Times’s stature had termed that atrocity an act of “educational violence” and used it as an occasion to denounce teachers unions. Such an editorial would be dishonest and indecent even if the arguments it made were meritorious.
The New York Times used a madman’s act of wanton violence as an excuse to instigate a witch hunt against those it regarded as its domestic foes. “Instigate” is not too strong a word. One of the first to point an accusatory finger across the partisan aisle was the Times’s star columnist, Paul Krugman. Less than two hours after the news of the shooting broke on Saturday, he opined on the paper’s website: “We don’t have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was.” He went on to explain why, in his mind, a centrist Democrat like Giffords would be a suitable target for a Tea Party assassin.
This was speculative fantasy, grossly irresponsible but perhaps forgivable had Krugman walked it back when the facts proved contrary to his prejudices. He did not. His Monday column evinced the same facts-be-damned attitude as the editorial did.
In that column, Krugman blamed the massacre on “eliminationist rhetoric,” which he defined as “suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary.” He rightly asserted that “there isn’t any place” for such rhetoric. But he falsely claimed that it is “coming, overwhelmingly, from the right.”
He provided exactly one example: Representative Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican, “urging constituents to be ‘armed and dangerous.’ ” Those words, although ill chosen, turned out in context to be far from eliminationist: Bachmann was urging her constituents to be “armed” with information about an energy bill that she opposed.
The evidence Krugman offered was insufficient to establish even the existence of “eliminationist rhetoric” on the right. To be sure, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Such rhetoric does exist, and Krugman was right to deplore it. But his assertion that it comes “overwhelmingly from the right” was at best willfully ignorant.
To take one example: Just this past October, then-Representative Paul Kanjorski, a Pennsylvania Democrat, told the Times-Tribune of Scranton: “That [Rick] Scott down there that’s running for governor of Florida. Instead of running for governor of Florida, they ought to have him and shoot him. Put him against the wall and shoot him.”
Kanjorski was defeated for reelection in November, but he turned up on January 11, the day after Krugman’s “eliminationist rhetoric” column, on the op-ed page of-you guessed it-the New York Times, where he delivered a homily on civility:
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?