The Nation's Pulse

Tucson and the Left’s Online Orgy of Accusation

And when inconvenient facts intrude, a new fevered narrative emerges.

By 1.11.11

Send to Kindle

The Left's effort to link Jared Loughner's actions to conservative talk radio, hate speech, Sarah Palin's targets, etc. had nothing to do with urging us all to consider the consequences of political statements and symbols. Rather, it's part of a constant campaign to use the Web organize and energize its base around sensational narratives consistent with an ideological or cultural view as substitute for facts or events as they really unfold. The deliberate use of the Web to create instant mobs or spread fear has long-term consequences for our ability to function as a society.

While the Left or liberal outlets are not alone in this using the Internet for such purposes, they are more likely to adopt and spread as "truth" whatever fits their narrative, ignoring facts that conflict with the story line when they emerge. In recent years MoveOn.org willingly posted hateful and untrue comments about Israel and its supporters during the 2006 Lebanon War. Back then, comments (which the majority of MoveOn respondents supported) included: "Media owning Jewish pigs," "sneaky Jewish sympathizers!" and "As we've already agreed, most of these GREEDY PIGS are Jewish."

The Daily Kos was not far behind, allowing one blogger to suggest "gassing Joe Lieberman like a dog" and another comparing Israel's foreign minister to Adolf Hitler. The Huffington Post recently ran a sketch depicting the assassination of President George W. Bush.

I am not blaming these sites for the increase in anti-Jewish hate crimes across the United States. Rather, they demonstrate the extremes to which such blogs go to reinforce a worldview and deviate from the facts. Blogs and websites can promote conversations. But more often they create crowds -- or mobs -- that make it more difficult and dangerous to address real problems in a factual way: A "Google" search of "Sarah Palin and crosshairs" yields 705,000 hits. Search for "Jared Loughner and mental illness" and you get 57,000 citations.

Yet as soon as it became clear that Loughner's rants, online postings, and behavior had nothing to do with conservative politics or Sarah Palin, a new liberal narrative emerged: Loughner's mental illness went undiagnosed and untreated because of cuts in mental health funding. So conservative rhetoric didn't pull the trigger, conservative healthcare policies did. Hence, the New Republic's Jon Cohn writes: "We may never know whether a better mental health care system would have averted this massacre. But we can be sure that it would avert some future ones."

In fact, Arizona spends more per capita on mental illness than 36 other states. Neal Cash, president of the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona, the organization that provides mental health services to Tucson and Pima County for the state, told the Washington Post that while "$50 million has been cut in the last two fiscal years -- he said that no one diagnosed seriously mentally ill has been turned down for services."

Nor are there high legal hurdles for court ordered treatment: Arizona's standard is need for treatment, not the threat of harm to others or oneself.

Finally, several people brought Loughner's behavior to the attention of college and law enforcement officials, though it is unknown if his parents were unable or unwilling to report his behavior, even after being contacted by Pima Community College.

It is difficult for people with severe mental illness to avoid harm or violence even under the best of circumstances. Nearly half of those with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder with psychoses go untreated. They often don't believe they are ill and their families are often unable to get them to seek treatment or in denial.

So solutions are limited. Increasing the use of court-ordered outpatient treatment and medication is associated with a reduction in violent behavior. But many people, particularly on the Left, object to any form of imposed medical care or increased use of medication. (A topic I'll discuss in another column.)

The Left's online accusation orgy initially drained time and attention from the courage, character, and grace of those affected by or involved in the tragedy. But the genuine response to crisis exposed the shallowness of the Left's reaction and more. In particular, the words of John Green, the father of Christina Taylor Green, the nine-year-old girl gunned down by Loughner last Saturday, brought tears of comfort to our nation:

She came into the world on 9/11 and then at nine years old she leaves it all on this terrible day. But we wouldn't take it back -- any of the nine years we had with her.

It was all worth it. But we still believe in this country.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Robert M. Goldberg is vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and founder of Hands Off My H ealth, a grass roots health care empowerment network. His is new book, Tabloid Medicine: How the Internet is Being Used To Hijack Medical Science For Fear and Profit, was published last month by Kaplan.