Connecting Arizona’s dots

As the media continues to feed us play-by-play updates from Arizona’s shootings, we’re reading about the endless calls to civility, the confusing ties to Sarah Palin and the (predictable?) reaction from Westboro, we’re seeing some further religion coverage within profiles of some of the victims.

The New York Times offers some nice details about Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ religious background, though it seems to downplay the impact of faith in her politics.

Ms. Giffords is the first Jewish congresswoman from Arizona, a point of pride for many at Congregation Chaverim. She did not attend services every week and rediscovered her Jewish faith only about a decade ago. But she is described as a dedicated member of the temple whose work and compassion embody the best of Jewish practice.

“My Jewish heritage has really instilled in me the importance of education and caring for the community,” she said in a 2006 interview with The Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

She called a 2001 visit to Israel a turning point in her life that set off a fresh interest in Judaism. Her faith has never become a major issue in her political campaigns, which, most recently, focused on her opposition to Arizona’s hard-line immigration law and her support of President Obama’s health care overhaul.

I’m not sure how the writers quantifies when faith is a major issue in a campaign, unless he was expecting something like a Jeremiah Wright moment. The Times switches course and plays up religion again towards the end.

Ms. Giffords, a member of Hadassah, the Jewish women’s organization, has said that her religion helped her become a leader.

“If you want something done, your best bet is to ask a Jewish woman to do it,” she said in a 2006 interview. Jewish women, she continued, “have an ability to cut through all the reasons why something should, shouldn’t or can’t be done, and pull people together to be successful.”

In comparison, the brief profile of U.S. District Judge John M. Roll doesn’t even mention his Catholic faith. You would think that it would merit at least a brief inclusion, since he died after just attending daily Mass. On the other hand, a few media outlets like the Wall Street Journal captured more details on the 9-year-old girl who was born on 9/11.

More than two hundred parishioners gathered Sunday at the St. Odilia Catholic Church in [Tucson] for a mass remembering Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year old victim of the Safeway shooting, whose patriotism and passion is being commemorated across the nation.

Miss Green attended the church, a modern building in an affluent part of Tucson, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Santa Catalina Mountains, for four years; she was part of the “Joyful Noise Choir” and last year she took her First Communion here, less than a mile away from the parking lot where she was felled.

Bobby Ross continues to follow the story of Dorwan Stoddard, the Church of Christ member who tried to protect his wife during the rampage. Another victim, Phyllis Schneck, spent much of her time as an active member of Tucson’s Northminster Presbyterian Church.

I like this little snapshot feature from the Associated Press/Los Angeles Times, which seems to mention religion when it seemed especially relevant in the victims lives.

There are still few details surrounding the motive of the alleged gunman, Jared Loughner. As Mollie mentioned earlier, he posted a video suggesting that he was able to control all religion “by being the mind controller.” The Associated Press includes a comment from one of his friends briefly mentions religion, or lack thereof.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Wiens also said Loughner used to speak critically about religion. He also talked about how he liked to smoke pot.

“He wasn’t really too keen on religion it seemed like,” Grant Wiens, 22, told The Associated Press. “I don’t know if floating through life is the right term or whatever, but he was really just into doing his own thing.”

Crying “exclusive,” The New York Daily News reports on a “shrine” that appears in Loughner’s yard.

A sinister shrine reveals a chilling occult dimension in the mind of the deranged gunman accused of shooting a member of Congress and 19 others.

Hidden within a camouflage tent behind Jared Lee Loughner’s home sits an alarming altar with a skull sitting atop a pot filled with shriveled oranges.

A row of ceremonial candles and a bag of potting soil lay nearby, photos reveal.

Experts on Sunday said the elements are featured in the ceremonies of a number of occult groups.

Who, exactly, are these “experts” who are commenting that this structure? Sure, you don’t see that on everyone’s back patio, but since when do reporters jump to such conclusions, using words like “sinister,” “chilling” and “alarming”?

Finally, the political angles are quickly getting old. While I’m still trying to figure out how Politico justifies six links on its home page linking Palin to the shooting (While the NYT has one, the WSJ has one and CNN has zero), I hope further coverage will find some responsible connections to add.

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  • David Layman

    A small comment on a fine summary:

    You say, “…confusing ties to Sarah Palin.”

    Uhhhhhh. There are none. No link, no connection, no evidence that the killer received any encouragement, suggestion, instigation,… from Sarah Palin.

    For “confusing,” it would have been more accurate to use one of the following words (depending on how much you wanted to emphasize the imaginary nature of the the ties):

    supposed/alleged/ostensible/pretend/putative .

    BTW, as pointed out by Tim Blair: , those marks are not bulls-eyes, but crop marks (see his contrasting links).

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    David, I was trying to be a bit subtle. I was confused by how the shooting coverage turned into an examination of Sarah Palin’s postings, but I really don’t want the post to turn into a discussion into a defense of Palin or whether she’s at fault.

  • Jerry

    I was confused by how the shooting coverage turned into an examination of Sarah Palin’s postings

    There was a very illuminating discussion on PBS Newshour about what happened and how the political climate does or does not influence such acts. I note that a democratic commentator, Mark Shields, had this to say:

    MARK SHIELDS: …And I think the Sarah Palin thing is a reach far beyond a bridge too far. I really do. I mean, the sights on the thing, just really targeting a district, and that this led to it, no.

    The discussion included a mention how both Republicans and Democrats are targeting Palin albeit for different reasons. But I know that when Democrats start saying the attacks on Palin have gone too far, then you can bet the farm that they really have gone too far, at least on this issue.

  • Ben

    I don’t want to get into the political debate over this as I’m hoping to see temperatures go down, not up, as a result of this assassination. But honestly I don’t think you are doing a very good job listening to the other side if you’re confused about the arguments regarding Palin’s role. Thoughtful things have been said on either side of that question. Sometimes it feels like the rhetoric has gotten so extreme because it’s an effort to be heard in a time when people aren’t listening to and empathizing with opponents. I’m not entirely sure how to rebuild trust, but I’m pretty sure it begins with listening and allowing yourself to see some merits in the case of opponents.

  • JM Ormond

    Did Rep. Giffords have a yard man named Jesus? Did any of the bystanders say “Oh my God!” ? Does anyone’s name add up to 666?

    I don’t mean to be tedious about it, but are there really any religious “ghosts” here? Working from the story’s lede, what picture do we actually get when “the dots” are connected? It looks more like Jesus (or Moses, maybe) on a tortilla than a ghost.

    I understand that religion beat reporters need to write religious news, and I usually enjoy GetReligion’s coverage, but is there really anything religious here? Even the few comments so far have spun off into (what seems to me to be) straight-ahead political commentary.

  • Chris

    Mr. Loughner is very likely to have had a serious mental illness–probably paranoid schizophrenia, with associated delusions. These are specific medical terms. Delusions (fixed, false, idiosyncratic beliefs) often have religious overtones–but have no logical association with religious practice. If, indeed, Mr. Loughner has this disease, his “political” or “religious” statements have no association with reality. Please see the link:,0,2679941.story

  • Dan Crawford

    Apparently, we are told we must believe that those who have used inflammatory and violent rhetoric are not to be held responsible for the lies and dirty campaign tactics and their speeches. Forget the effect they may have on “deranged” individuals. This attitude is nonsense – people should be held responsible for whatever they do.

    As a psychologist, I have seen over and over again the effect of an angry, intemperate, violent social and family environment on mentally ill persons. To pretend there is no interaction and that the quality of social discourse was not an element in Saturday’s tragedy. We need to hear more about it – and it is not simply a “political” concern that is “getting old”. It is a social concern that will continue to have and sadly already has had a profoundly corrupting impact on our democracy.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    I thought it was reported that the shooter was an atheist.

  • Dave

    We’re having some risible fun over on the Pagan site The Wild Hunt about that “shrine.” Has anyone seen any non-tabloid coverage of this “occult” angle? I haven’t.

  • Jettboy
  • Julia


    I looked through that compilation and was rather shocked.

  • Joel

    Getting back to journalism:

    More than two hundred parishioners gathered Sunday at the St. Odilia Catholic Church in Tuscon for a mass remembering Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year old victim of the Safeway shooting, whose patriotism and passion is being commemorated across the nation.

    AP style capitalizes “Mass.” Is there another standard style that doesn’t?

  • Ray Ingles

    Truth Unites – It’s been reported that the shooter disapproved of religion, not that he was an atheist…

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Why the Olde Media is dieing and FOX the internet is, in some cases, supplanting them
    They jumped all over Sarah Palin about a map that had targets to defeat in the election. Of the 3 major cable news networks that I flip around to only Fox ALSO showed a Dem Party recent similar map. Because of this possible typical liberal media censorhip (could they have not known of the Dem map?) is it any wonder Fox is more trusted by the people and hated by those elites who have lost their news monopoly??? It is sort of how MSNBC isn’t reminding people of their Olbermann’s near psychotic rants and raves that make anything anyone else has said look tame.
    And, as you point out, Judge Roll’s faith is being almost totally ignored–EXCEPT, as I have noticed,– on many Catholic internet sites. Apparently he was quite an honorable and decent person and a devout Catholic very deeply involved in the Knights of Columbus. If he were a top federal judge member of some preferred minority group you can be certain his murder would have trumped–or at least matched–
    coverage of the serious wounding of a Congressperson.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Addenda: How long will it take the pro-pot legalization media to drop the fact the shooter was apparently a pothead (of the type teachers–as I once was–can quickly recognize)?
    Also, how fast will the shooter’s, clearly at least, dabbling in the occult be scrubbed from media coverage??

  • Passing By

    ABC News says 6 of the dead were Catholics. That’s a pretty big religion ghost, unless two thirds of the local populace is also Catholic.

  • John M.

    Tucson has always been a Catholic town. Or at least since the Spanish arrived in the 1500s or so. Padre Kino and the various missions all up and down the Santa Cruz river valley testify to that. I don’t have stats, but it’s not hard to find six Catholics in any given crowd in Tucson.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Passing By, do you have a link? That is just false information, since (as I mentioned above), at least two were not.

  • Passing By

    It was actually said on the Houston ABC affiliate and is clearly bogus: at least one victim was not Catholic. I meant to express my skepticism, but am typing on a flip phone and limited.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Roll was either a current or former member of the Knights of Columbus and mentioned such in enough available places that in the past he had one Ave Maria Law School grad as a clerk who applied to clerk with him because of this.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Some have tried to turn this into an anti-semite trying to kill a Jew. I had always assumed that Gabrielle Giffords was a Hispanic Catholic who used her married name, or maybe only half hispanic. My back-up guess would have been Italian Catholic. I just assume those two backgrounds for anyone named Gabrielle.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Passing By,
    My guess is 2/3rds of Tucson’s population is Catholic. However, what really shocks me is appearently no Latinos were among the dead. Tucson is one of the most Latino cities in the country. I am surprised.

  • Passing By

    As of 2004, Tucson’s population was 235 Catholic. The bishop’s letter on the website mentions on Judge Roll and Christina Green, so the statement on the Houston statement was bogus. Even if 6 of the 18 shot had been Catholic, that would not have been a gross over-representation. My apologies for the quick and uncritical posting of a news report without fact-checking. As I said, being on a flip-phone is limiting, though that’s hardly an adequate excuse.

  • Passing By

    23% Catholic, of course.

  • Will

    Not involving religion, but I was flabbergasted by the NYT story of January 9th. This cited unidentified “law enforcement officials” as saying that Loughner “might also have been influenced by things like American Renaissance”, but offered nothing — no-thing — to back up this unsourced speculation…. and gave the editor’s denial that Loughner was a subscriber.