To its credit, the Columbia Journalism Review has posted a piece by Joel Meares that’s critical of the media for its rush to blame conservative political rhetoric for the Tucson shooting in the absence of any evidence to support that narrative. After noting that sometimes it’s just the nature of breaking news that early reports (such as a few that claimed Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was dead) are often wrong, Meares continued:
We do not object to the condemnation of violence and violent rhetoric; such a sentiment feels absolutely appropriate. But the association between Saturday’s shooting and recent “violent political rhetoric”—which has in the last two years come to specifically mean the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, birthers, etc.—is so far unproven. At this time, there is no evidence that Loughner targeted Giffords for any clear or clearly understandable political reasons or that he was inspired by “vitriol” in political rhetoric.
With the story quickly unfolding, and information and misinformation dashing rapidly across Twitter and the blogs, and with everything about Loughner’s motivations still unclear, it might be time to call for a “slow-analysis approach.” There will be time as more facts come to light and more is revealed about the assassin’s motivations for the pundits to stake out their positions. There will be ample room and time to debate the important issue of political rhetoric and its effects—regardless of its role in Saturday’s incident—as well as the security of our elected officials, and significantly, gun control laws in Arizona and throughout the country. But all arguments will better served in the light of day, buoyed by information that is confirmed, static, and undisputed.