SPLC to get Sarah Palin treatment any day now

I want to talk about media coverage of the man who was convicted today of shooting up the Family Research Council. But let’s first go back to the horrible story about the murderous rampage that one disturbed individual went on in Arizona.

The mainstream media narrative, initially, was that a right wing Tea Party supporter acting under the orders of Sarah Palin had assassinated a sitting member of Congress. Precisely none of that was true or even close to true, but it didn’t keep the media from pushing a particular narrative about it for some time. (It wasn’t the biggest religion story, per se, but see our posts here, here and here) I also wrote a post about the role that alternate realities played in the shooting and media coverage of same. The shooter was said to engage in alternate realities. But, I argued, the same might be said of the media, feverishly trying to create a world where political opponents could be blamed for the most brutal crimes imaginable even if the facts didn’t support that.

For days the media focused on the need for civility, and how this shooting was the result of conservative political rhetoric. Some media outlets suggested that campaign and battle words be avoided when talking about politics. See, a PAC associated with Sarah Palin had put out a map with races to “target” and had identified those “targets” with crosshairs. The Atlantic Wire highlighted some of The Atlantic‘s writers on the matter in a piece headlined “Did Sarah Palin’s Target Map Play Role in Giffords Shooting?

In the wake of his shocking and senseless attack, a number of commentators are asking, as The Atlantic’s James Fallows put it, “whether there is a connection between” such “extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery” as that published by Palin and “actual outbursts of violence, whatever the motivations of this killer turn out to be.” In other words, did Palin’s map cross the line famously described by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes as “falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic?”

The Washington Post wrote a story headlined “Palin caught in crosshairs map controversy after Tucson shootings.” The story acknowledges that it’s written as the “result of a national tragedy in which there is no known connection between anything Palin said or did and the alleged actions of Jared Loughner, who is accused of fatally shooting six and severely wounding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 13 others.”

More from The Atlantic (which also included folks who didn’t blame Palin):

Palin at Fault

  • What Palin Did Wrong  The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan clarifies, “No one is saying Sarah Palin should be viewed as an accomplice to murder. Many are merely saying that her recklessly violent and inflammatory rhetoric has poisoned the discourse and has long run the risk of empowering the deranged. We are saying it’s about time someone took responsibility for this kind of rhetorical extremism, because it can and has led to violence and murder.” He points out that Giffords herself had expressed concern about Palin’s map.
  • ‘Imagery of Armed Revolution’  The New York Times’ Matt Bai writes, “it’s hard not to think [Loughner] was at least partly influenced by a debate that often seems to conflate philosophical disagreement with some kind of political Armageddon.” Bai explains, “The problem would seem to rest with the political leaders who pander to the margins of the margins, employing whatever words seem likely to win them contributions or TV time, with little regard for the consequences.” He says Palin and other used “imagery of armed revolution. Popular spokespeople like Ms. Palin routinely drop words like ‘tyranny’ and ‘socialism’ when describing the president and his allies, as if blind to the idea that Americans legitimately faced with either enemy would almost certainly take up arms. “
  • The Psychology of Incited Violence  At Psychology Today, neurologist David Weisman writes, “The question is not ‘did Sarah Palin’s violent rhetoric cause this shooting?’ The question is ‘does inciting violence factor in a multi-factorial process?’” Weisman explores the decision-making process and role of unconscious biases, concluding, “Although there is little clear evidence in this case, the data highlights the importance of butterfly events on human actions. Jared Loughner is clearly deranged. He drank deeply from internal insanity and external stimuli.  His actions did not take place in a vacuum.”

So yesterday, Floyd Lee Corkins II pleaded guilty to three criminal counts involving his August 2012 attack on the Washington D.C. headquarters of the Family Research Council. He told the FBI that he picked his target from a “hate map (!) on the web site of the Southern Poverty Law Center. That’s the liberal group that is frequently used as a legitimate source in news reports (I sort of thought they jumped the shark when they identified “pick-up artists” as hate groups but this Reason archive might be worth a read for developing a tad of skepticism of their treatment by the media).

OK, so we have a real criminal who cites a real “hate map” as a key factor in his violence. How do you suppose the media treated that story?

Well, when I first read the Washington Post story on his plea, it didn’t even mention the group. It also had some typos so I figured that it was a very early story and decided to hold for a day. The story has since been updated, mostly about … gun control, to include this curious phrase:

A detail sure to reignite the culture wars that erupted around the shooting is the fact that Corkins told FBI agents that he identified the Family Research Council as anti-gay on the Web site of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The day after the shooting, Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, suggested that the law center’s labeling of the organization as a hate group had given Corkins a “license to perpetrate this act of violence.” On Wednesday, Perkins said the revelation had validated his earlier comments.

Emphasis mine. Excuse me? What is that supposed to mean? I mean, you have an actual shooting in the culture war — an actual shooting — and you dismiss this aspect of the story as a “detail” that is “sure to reignite the culture wars”? The gall. The chutzpah. The …. hypocrisy of our media. The story doesn’t mention, by the way, that the shooter had a list with other groups whose names he got from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

This ABC story only mentions SPLC at the end of the story in order to mention that the group targeted by the shooter blamed them, in part, for the shooting. This NBC story didn’t get around to mentioning the SPLC. The Associated Press mentioned it, very mildly, at the end of the story.

Really, only CNN handled this story in a way that wasn’t completely weird:

Washington (CNN) — After years of thinking it over, Floyd Corkins finally had a plan.

He’d bought a gun and learned how to use it. He’d loaded three magazines. And he had stopped by Chick-fil-A to pick up 15 sandwiches, which he planned to smear in the dying faces of staffers he expected to kill at the Family Research Council in Washington.

It would be a statement, he said, “against the people who work in that building,” according to documents filed in U.S. District Court, where Corkins pleaded guilty on Wednesday to three charges related to the August shooting at the conservative policy group.

Corkins told Judge Richard Roberts that he hoped to intimidate gay rights opponents….

Corkins, 28, pleaded guilty to committing an act of terrorism while armed, interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition, and assault with intent to kill while armed.

Now, if you’re a reporter, you might try calling up the SPLC and asking them to review their hate map and their stories blaming their political opponents’ rhetoric for violence. As Mary Katherine Ham writes:

Funny thing, though: The SPLC itself was verrrrry quick to try to tie Jared Loughner to the “far right”, and kept at it long enough that they were posting speculative pieces about “political rhetoric” and its role in the Tucson shooting as late as 13 days after it occurred. Not only are they comfortable with a free-speech slippery slope when it’s right-wingers who are at risk, they’re willing and eager to add some grease.

Maybe a reporter could call up SPLC and ask them about those things. Or even just ask them about this line in their article “Who is Jared Lee Loughner?“:

Ideology may not explain why he allegedly killed, but it could help explain how he selected his target.

Or maybe a reporter could ask the Southern Poverty Law Center why they have a “Hate Incident” list that doesn’t include FRC shooting.

But something tells me that the media won’t press them on this and they won’t have to explain themselves to anyone.  So interesting how that works.

For what it’s worth, I checked on those media outlets mentioned above that “asked questions” about Palin’s culpability — I even forced myself to read conspiracy theorist Andrew Sullivan, to show you the depths to which I’ll descend on behalf of this blog — and couldn’t find anyone asking the same questions or making the same allegations. I wonder why that is.

  • Lucy

    False analogy. Sarah Palin’s rhetoric was rooted in violence and hate. The SPLC’s just isn’t. Hence, differences in coverage.

    Merely naming the FRC as a “hate group” isn’t an incitement to violence by any standard. Putting your opponents in crosshairs is.

    • mollie

      Good point. And while the FRC shooter specifically said he picked out his target because of SPLC “hate map,” the Arizona shooter never saw the Sarah Palin PAC map.

      Oh wait.

      Your critique seems to break down a bit. But good effort.

      • http://www.magdalenesegg.blogspot.com The Rev. Michael Church

        Actually, Mollie, it doesn’t. You’re working very hard in this post to argue that many media outlets have been too hard on Palin and too easy on the SPLC, which is fair enough. And the fact that the Arizona shooter never saw Palin’s map is an important piece of evidence against the overreaching of the journalistic pack.
        But you (and only you, so far as I know) are connecting the two stories because they both involve a map posted online, and that’s where the analogy gets dicey. One was a map of a candidate’s political opponents, and used an ill-advised crosshairs graphic to highlight them. It is the graphic, in particular, which seemed inflammatory, as if it were designed to incite violence. The other map, although it certainly reflects a political agenda, is more visually neutral. It attempts to map hatred, but not (in any obvious way) to inflame it.
        Moreover, and even admitting that the SPLC is prone to finding “hate” in some odd places, I’m troubled by making any easy analogy between a map that focuses on organizations like the Klan or Aryan Brotherhood, and one which showed sitting members of Congress. At a certain point, you wind up having to argue that any time a mass murderer looks at a map to choose his targets and the media doesn’t make big deal about the mapmaker, it is time to talk about Sarah Palin again.

        • mollie

          Actually, I didn’t have to work hard at all to point out the very serious problems with media coverage.

          Anyway, since we’re comparing maps, were the names of the two maps worth considering? One was called a “hate map.” (It wasn’t Palin’s map.)

          But yes, this post primarily demonstrates the rabid bias of the press corps. That’s the point of it.

          I could add, for instance, that many media outlets have used “crosshair” maps when talking about “targeted” races. In fact, everything about campaigns (such as the word ‘campaigns’) uses war rhetoric and media outlets talking about them do the same.

          As for whether the SPLC “hate map” inflamed hatred, I think the evidence might speak for itself on that point.

          I don’t personally give two hoots about maps, but it is worth pointing out how the media drives narratives in favor of people it supports and against those it abhors.

          • http://www.magdalenesegg.blogspot.com The Rev. Michael Church

            That’s the problem with the analogy, though. “Hate map,” as the SPLC uses it, is clearly intended to be a map of groups that espouse hatred as a philosophy. Your argument that the SPLC is itself one of those groups is highly controversial, and would need to be developed a lot more to be convincing, at least to me. The logical flaw — source of the false analogy in question — is that there is a categorical difference between a map meant to show groups that preach hatred and map meant to show which politicians one should hate.

            Mollie reply (since our commenting software won’t let me ‘reply’ to your comment):

            I didn’t argue that SPLC is a hate group since I don’t even believe in such terminology. However, the media blamed a *standard* political map (akin to ones used by Democrats and others) for a mass shooting despite the complete lack of any evidence whatsoever. Whether such maps “preach hatred” or simply “target political races” is, I guess, up to the eye of the beholder but it should at the *very least* remain consistent whether they’re used by Democrats or Republicans or the media itself (I’ve also seen broadcast outlets talk about targeted races and use what in other cases they call ‘violent’ imagery and rhetoric, etc.) and should at the *very least* be tied to actual evidence (such as whether Jared Loughner even knew who Sarah Palin was much less whether he interpreted her political aims as assassination requests). Journalists must ground their stories in facts and not hopes or fears, after all. Even when it comes to Sarah Palin.

            As for whether a group that identifies political opponents not as wrong but as “hateful” is contributing to violent rhetoric or imagery or what not, that is also in the eye of the beholder but I’d hope we’d relate it to actual evidence as to whether anyone interpreted it as such. Whether the media plays a role in this climate (framing support of traditional marriage as hateful, anti-gay or homophobic) might also be worth some reflection. I mean, if we could ask questions about Sarah Palin, certainly we can ask questions about ourselves, no?

          • Martha

            Mollie, it may be helpful in this discussion to link to a piece about the infamous “target map” which compared it with other usages of targets, bullseyes’, etc. in political campaigning.

            Yes, Democrat campaigns used “targets” to mark sitting Republicans and even talked about being “behind enemy lines”. Myself, I think that if it hadn’t been for the coincidence of Palin’s prominence at the time and the decision of this man to carry out a violent attack, then there would have been similar pop psychology punditry casting about to blame some other trigger, if I may use such a loaded word – oops! there’s more gun language! darn it, can’t be too careful what you say, can you? Who knows what crazed shooter may decide to go out and attack my political enemies due to my usage of such phrases?

    • Darren Blair

      Got proof that Palin’s words were “rooted in violence and hate”?

      As it is, last I heard the Arizona shooter had a personal beef with the person he was after.

      • Wooga

        I think the answer is: “Sarah Palin is bad, and her enemies are virtuous. Therefore, her attacks on opponents are irrational, and thus stupid and evil. SPLC is good, and its enemies are only evil people. Therefore, SPLC’s “hate map” is an unmitigated wonderful thing, and how dare you insulate that it motivated murder, and even if it did, that murder is probably justified anyway because the people on SPLC’s map are nazis or nazi-equivalent.”

    • deiseach

      Lucy, the Southern Poverty Law Center seems to be doing its best to get those it labels as “hate groups” arrested; from their website:

      “Training Law Enforcement
      SPLC representatives communicate regularly with law enforcement agencies about extremist activity and conduct in-person training for officers at the local, state and federal level. Thousands of officers have received training that helps them recognize and deal with hate crimes as well as threats posed by extremists. This training is available free to law enforcement agencies.”

      And, according to the SPLC, hate groups are not just ” neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes” but those whom they label as Radical Traditionalist Catholics. I had some back-and-forth with another commenter on this site about a previous story involving the SPLC on this very matter; one of the “hate groups” on their “hate map” is an organisation in Constable, New York called the Fatima Crusader/International Fatima Rosary Crusade.

      Now, I have no idea if these people really are at the anti-Semitic fringe that unfortunately does pop up in some of these splinter movements (Bishop Williamson of the SSPX being the most prominent recent example). Maybe they are as bad as the SPLC make them out to be. I have no idea.

      I do, however, have an idea about the kinds of people who spread devotion to Fatima and Garabandal and Medjugorge, and if being devoted to Fatima and the rosary makes you guilty of hate crime, then my late father was a hate criminal indulging in hate speech because of his sharing of this devotion. And you know, I never heard my father saying anything about Jews being responsible for everything going wrong in the world or the like, but what do I know?

      • Burke

        I once looked into the Catholic groups on the SPLC hate list. There was at least one that was truly anti-Semitic, blaming Jews for everything, and hoping for their extinction, but most of them were groups that prayed for the conversion of the Jews, which is a different matter altogether. Certainly, these groups offend Jewish sensibilities, but they can hardly be accused of hating Jews, if they are praying for Jews to become members of their church. This is a typical SPLC tactic–find one or two true “hate” groups, and mix them in with decent people whose position is only tangentially similar. They also claim groups like the American Legion are racist because they oppose illegal immigration–even though many of those groups are actively welcoming to legal immigrants of every background.

  • Lucy

    The Arizona shooter never saw a widely disseminated graf that dominated the news for weeks before the incident? Really? Did you interview him?

    That’s quite an assumption to make, and I thought that we didn’t deal in assumptions. Also, the FRC shooter may have identified the FRC as a hate group based on SPLC’s map, but the map itself contained no violent imagery. Palin’s did. Full stop.

    • mollie

      Well, it wasn’t widely disseminated in the weeks prior to the incident — it was somewhat old.
      It was, however, widely disseminated in the weeks *after* the incident. By the media. They may not have believed their own rhetoric that it caused a mass shooting.

      But, yes, maybe even though there is not one iota of evidence to substantiate the charge that Palin’s map was the cause of this shooting, maybe it’s a safe journalistic assumption to make. The lack of even one shred of evidence is probably proof that he used it to target people.

      As compared to an FBI affidavit that has the shooter specifically saying he used a “hate map” to target a Christian group. In this case, the “hate map” probably had nothing to do with the shooting, despite all claims to the contrary …. *from the shooter*.

      Full stop indeed.

      But, again, great effort.

    • Jeannine

      Loughner was not particularly political, but what politics he had were left/liberal. He had no ties with conservative groups. He did not mention the map in question, and it seems unlikely that he would ever have seen it. But there could not possibly ever have been any media bias in making up the idea that he must have been a tea partier! None at all!

  • sari

    Like Lucy, I see this as an apples and oranges case. Palin contributed to a climate of hate and helped further polarize an already polarized country in the process. Whether one agrees or disagrees with her political philosophy, she legitimated violent imagery in mainstream public discourse. Words matter, or at least so say the rabbis.

    The FRC shooter used the SPLC list to find a target consistent with his personal agenda and used the SPLC list in the same way we might use the Yellow Pages to find a carpet cleaner The SPLC website promotes neither hate nor hateful behavior; the “hate list” is clearly not meant as a tool for violence. I see it more as the kind of list parents consult when concerned about child molesters. Those of us who are constantly in hate groups’ crosshairs, who are the targets of *their* violent behavior and ugly ideologies, view them very differently than those who are not. How many here worship under armed guard, because their churches have been threatened or attacked?

    • mollie

      Help me out here. Really. It was OK for the media to blame Palin — despite the complete and utter lack of even a tiny shred of evidence (evidence, not wishful thinking by political opponents) at all that Jared Loughner even knew who she was, much less had ever seen anything ever associated with her — because why?

      And it’s OK for the media to downplay SPLC’s role in this shooting even though the court documents prove that the shooter *used their ‘hate map’ to identify and target his victims* …. because why?

      • sari

        SPLC’s role was passive, whereas Palin’s was active.

        Yes, the media should have pointed out how Corkins decided which group to attack. But to hold the SPLC responsible for a hate map that is clearly a map of *hate groups* makes no sense. There is a huge difference between promoting a particular ideology, as Palin did, one which promotes and validates violent responses, and using a tool to implement that behavior. Blaming the SPLC would be tantamount to blaming the gun shop that sold Corkins the gun or the phone company for running an ad. So to see the SPLC and Palin as equivalents, when one is anti-violence and the other agitates for violent solutions–easy solutions, I might add, to complex problems or even to eliminate people with whom she disagrees, makes no sense.

        I will agree that the media jumped the gun after Gifford’s shooting and that the real issue was access to mental health and the laws which privilege the mentally ills’ individual rights over those of the larger community. That is a necessary conversation that we and the media work hard to avoid. It’s also one which religious institutions, irrespective of creed, have refused to address (a nice story for some aspiring journalist). But that doesn’t mean we should conflate Palin’s importance on the national stage to the SPLC.

        • mollie

          “SPLC’s role was passive, whereas Palin’s was active.”
          Um, if you say so. Because she was engaged in politics? Whereas SPLC was engaged in … politics?

          Or are you saying that only Sarah Palin intended her map to accomplish anything political whereas the political activist group didn’t intend to accomplish anything political?
          Sure. Sure. I’m convinced.
          I’m sure *this* explains away the media hypocrisy on this matter.

          And that the media treat SPLC as an objective, non-partisan source in many culture war stories while maligning Palin and anyone who even shares her views means that they are not important on the national stage? OK. Got it. I’m beginning to see the “logic” in this biased treatment.

          Or to some up, “we hate Palin, love SPLC so therefore Palin evil and SPLC shouldn’t be bothered to comment. (Never mind the lack of evidence for Palin and rather unquestionable evidence regarding SPLC.” I tell you, I’m getting there!

        • Wooga

          SPLC’s role is passive? I think most people agree that nazis and KKK members are the scum of the earth. A large portion of the population is even comfortable visiting violence upon such scum.

          When a “revered” organization, widely identified in the media as non-partisan and objectively accurate, identifies you as as equivalent to a nazi…. You have every right to be concerned that they just painted a big fat target on your back.

          Seriously, I don’t get this notion that Palin is an advocate of violence and intolerance, and the SLPC is an advocate of peace. Only one is calling for the arrest of American citizens.

    • Patrick

      “Palin contributed to a climate of hate and helped further polarize an already polarized country in the process.”

      Wait, what?

      Why do crosshairs make you think ‘sniper’ rather than ‘hunter’?

      • Kristen inDallas

        personally crosshairs make me think “where am I going?” in a submarine. :)

  • Bob Smietana

    The Palin map had cross-hairs, used by shootings to aim at a target. Six people were killed, 16 total shot, and one of the targets was a US Representative. Palin had run for vice president and became a national celebrity at the center of the culture wars. Put all those things together and that story is going to attract a lot of attention. Plus Gabby Gifford’s story made a emotional connection with a mass audience, so that people are still talking about her.

    The SPLC map doesn’t have a cross hairs and it wasn’t put out by a vice presidential candidate. And no one died, thank God. And the target was not a national politician, so the story doesn’t have the same elements and isn’t going to connect with a mass audience in the same way. Most Americans have forgotten about the shooting already.

    One of the realities of journalism is there’s no way of knowing what stories will have legs. The FRC shooting is an important story but it is not a story that found an audience.

    • mollie

      So, again, it’s OK to tie Sarah Palin and her “map” to a shooting despite even the tiniest shred of evidence (and again, strenuously disliking Sarah Palin does not constitute “evidence”) because …. um ….

      and it’s OK to downplay the fact that someone targeted his shooting victim because of another group (that we like)’s “hate map” because …. um ….

      because the shooter in the first case was more effective than the shooter in the second case? I’m not quite sure that holds water. Journalistic water, at least.

    • Kristen inDallas

      To be fair, *this* American has already forgotton about Gabby Gifford, too. And sure the SPLC doesn’t include crosshair graphics. But it does include giant fists (which might lead someone to punch someone) and stars (which might trigger a crazy person’s latent interest in exploding things.) I mean really, if we’re going to go there… I’d use the phrase “splitting hairs” but it might incite some random internet person to go scalp all his enemies.
      Whether or not we should expect journalists to throw SPLC under a bus right now… meh. I’m okay with a pretty high bar before we go accusing someone of “incitement to violence” That said, can we seriously not agree that the media’s coverage re. Palin was spun out thinner than cotton candy? I find Mollie’s comparison here interesttng food for thought.

  • Matt

    Is it really so hard to see the difference between the Southern Poverty Law Center and someone who almost became Vice President of the United States? Is it really so difficult to see that Palin’s critics were not “blaming her for the shooting”–that’s a straw person if ever I heard one–but rather raising questions about the lack of civility in our discourse?

    Once again, Mollie engages in conservative advocacy blogging on what is, allegedly, a blog devoted to examining journalism.

    • mollie

      Um, excuse me? What’s the difference? That the shooter in the second incident SAW the SPLC’s “hate map” and used it to find his shooting victims? Whereas the shooter in the first incident NEVER SAW the PAC’s “target map” and didn’t use it to identify his shooting victims? At least according to any evidence that exists in the world?

      I get — believe me I get — that people really hate Sarah Palin. But as journalists, we have to set aside our pathological loathing of her and exist in the realm of reality and tie actual evidence to actual crimes.

      So, let’s ask, why is it OK for every reporter in America to “raise questions” about Sarah Palin’s role in a crime she had no role in but not OK to talk about SPLC’s role in a crime they did (according to the perpetrator) have a role in?

      Why are we not “raising questions about the lack of civility in our discourse” when it comes to a *real* incident about how the lack of civility in our discourse (“hate map” anyone?) led to someone getting shot.

    • Patrick

      I thought mollie was a Democrat.

      • mollie

        I’m not registered with any party but I’m a libertarian. This means I tend to agree with Reason (the magazine) (which someone linked to here in the comments — I agree with them that people are to blame for their own actions). But the hypocrisy of the media treatment of one map that had no relation to a shooting and another that … well … did … is too much for me to ignore.

        • Matt

          Mollie, tyou haven’t responded to the two points that I raised, so let me reiterate:

          First, I read the pieces you link to in your piece, and it simply isn’t fair–or charitable–to say these writers were “blaming Palin” for the shooting. Indeed, two of the three that you quote go out of their way to indicate that they are NOT blaming Governor Palin. (Andrew Sullivan “No one is saying Sarah Palin should be viewed as an accomplice to murder.” David Weisman: “The question is not ‘did Sarah Palin’s violent rhetoric cause this shooting?”). What they are doing is raising questions about the coarsening of our discourse, a coarsening that Palin could be seen as contributing to. To say that they are “blaming Palin” is to make a straw man of their argument -and I don’t think that is charitable.

          Second, the Southern Poverty Law Center is a relatively obscure not-for-profit organization; Palin was almost a heartbeat away from leading the free world. Moreover, at the time of the Arizona shooting, had a Fox News megaphone to disseminate her views and legions of supporters throughout the country. There is an enormous difference. To assert the equivalence of Governor Palin and SPLC just seems obtuse to me.

          • mollie

            On point 1, I guess we’ll just have to disagree. I tried quoting from her accusers as much as possible so we could see their own words but I think the general tenor could not have been more blaming. The sheer amount of coverage focused on her — when she had literally nothing to do with the murders or shooting — was unconscionable. It was weird and it was wrong and it was indefensible. And it is part of a pattern engaged in by the media that is deeply harmful to civil discourse, I might add. Do the people quoted say stuff like, “I’m not saying we convict her, just ask questions about the role she played?” Sure. And I guess that’s better than literally calling for her indictment. But I don’t think it’s unfair and in fact I think it’s generous to read the general coverage and say that Palin was accused of having a role in these shootings.

            Further, on point 1, if we’re going to “raise questions” about whether her rhetoric or map contributed to what happened (when, you know, we have no evidence it did), can’t we “raise questions” about whether the SPLC’s ‘hate’ rhetoric and ‘hate’ map contributed to what happened (when, you know, the shooter says it did)? I did already make that response upthread fwiw, but I realize these things can be lost. That, in fact, is the point of my post. If we can “raise questions” about Palin without any evidence tying her to a crime, can’t we “raise questions” about SPLC when there is evidence tying their rhetoric/map to a crime? If not, why not?

            As for point 2, I’ll disagree again. Both groups – the Sarah PAC and the SPLC are important. The SPLC has more reach and a larger budget than SarahPAC — exponentially so. And the SPLC is quoted as if it’s a non-partisan and reliable group in tons of mainstream media reports (about which I’ve written here previously). Some links that might show a different perspective on the matter here (on SPLC’s staggering wealth: http://mpetrelis.blogspot.com/2010/11/southern-poverty-law-centers-cayman.html) and here (http://legalinsurrection.com/2012/08/splcs-hatewatch-gives-cover-to-hate/).

            SarahPAC may have had a FoxNews megaphone (albeit not for the particular map in question) but SPLC gets everyone else in the media helping them out with their political efforts, particularly in their presentation of this group as trustworthy, unbiased and fair. That kind of media coverage is worth its weight in gold (which, if you see those links above, it seems the SPLC might have plenty of … in the Cayman Islands!).

          • Andrew

            “What they are doing is raising questions about the coarsening of our discourse”

            What basis was there for the media even asking those questions in the first place, _in connection with the Loughner shooting_? Given how often political assassins turn out to be lone nuts, it should have been a pretty good bet that “the toxic political discourse” (which is itself an overblown meme, our discourse does not remotely approach the level of toxic) would turn out to be irrelevant to the shooting, as indeed it did.

            I think the answer’s pretty obvious. The media saw the (D) next to the Congresswoman’s name and figured the shooting would be a good way to score points against the then-prevailing right-wing bogeyman that was the Tea Party.

            “I’m just asking questions” … reminds of South Park’s satire with Cartmen sitting in for the role of Glenn Beck.

  • Mark

    The only thing I gather from the comments attacking the reasoning of this post is that the notion that the only the some people are so wedded to the idea that only the American right is capable of rhetoric inciting violence that they deny any evidence to the contrary.

    It is just an accepted matter of fact that Sarah Palin “contributed to a climate of hate” that could reasonably be viewed as an incitement to violence. Why? Because she put out a map with targets on it? Please. By any rhetorical standard that kind of thing is utterly commonplace — “targeting” is often used in the context of political discussion. Lest you need reminding, “campaign” is technically a term of war. And I’ll be sure and contact the FBI next time I hear someone say, “I’d kill for a cheeseburger,” because that’s about as rational a motivation as the obviously insane Jared Lee Loughner seemed to articulate.

    As for the question is it “really so hard to see the difference between the Southern Poverty Law Center and someone who almost became Vice President of the United States” — no it’s not. Which is what makes what the SPLC is doing even worse. We expect heated partisan, rhetoric from a politician and are more likely to take it with a grain of salt. The SPLC is frequently cited as a legitimate, nonpartisan watchdog — so when they abuse their reputation as such to go after those well within the political mainstream and call them purveyors of “hate,” they are encouraging people not to argue with them rationally. Is that an incitement to violence?

    Well, I’m not sure I’d go that far. But objectively speaking, there’s a much straighter line between SPLC’s rhetoric and the FRC shooting than you could draw between Palin and Jared Lee Loughner. And for the media to all but ignore the former and pretend the latter was reason to have a national conversation on civility, you can see why this irritates people. Meanwhile the SPLC gets to call Catholics who go to Latin Mass dangerous and lumps the Family Research Council in with the Westboro Baptists Church in the same broad category of religious extremists. At the very least, the SPLC is being quite irresponsible in saying those who espouse views that firmly in the mainstream of American discourse constitute “hatred” based almost solely on their own narrow and very liberal political views. And yet, reporters still treat it as a non-ideological civil rights crusader. Yeah, not so much.

    • Kate

      Like Michael, what most strikes me about the replies to Mollies post are the assertions that one story was just ‘more newsworthy’ or ‘struck a chord’ or ‘better known’ than the other – as though the knowledge, interests, and emotional reactions of newsroom staffers are at all indicative of the public at large.

      After all, how do you KNOW what stories or angle will ‘strike a chord’ when you haven’t actually written them – and when, if you do write them, they are written in very different styles depending on your own personal curiousity and interests? I don’t subscribe to the conspiracy theory of media bias that has various media outlets choreographing their coverage in order to promote specific agendas. On the other hand, it seems somewhat ridiculous to pretend that journalists have a special channel of some kind that allows them to know what the reading public is going to find interesting. It’s pretty well-established that the political, religious and philosophical makeup of your average newsroom does not at all reflect the nation at large. This blog chronicles the effects of that mismatch on a regular basis when it points out the questions that don’t get asked or answered – questions that I might have, but which I suspect don’t even occur to many journalists.

      It also seems kind of naive to pretend that journalists don’t influence – by what they cover and how they cover it – the audience’s appetite for more of any particular story. Have you been to Yahoo news lately? They have an amazing talent for taking completely humdrum news stories and drawing traffic with sensationalistic headlines, photos and ledes. “How Palin’s “Target Map” Is Being Blamed for Gifford’s Shooting” draws a lot of eyes, definitely. But you could get similar traffic for a story entitled “Does ‘Anti-Hate’ Advocacy Incite Hatred?” which covered various responses to the SPLC connection.

      So, we have a two part phenomenon. Journalists catch wind of a story and craft their coverage around the aspects of the story that they are interested in or knowledgeable about, or ar0und the aspects that they assume the public will be interested in (their knowledge of the public being limited by their own experiences, interests, and environment). Then they follow-up based on the traffic and responses those initials stories attract – and the stories that attract the most traffic are the ones written in an engaging way. But what is rarely taken into account that it is unlikely you will be very successful in engaging an audience if you do not address their interests, questions, or concerns. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – “Oh, this isn’t a very interesting new story but I should throw off a few paragraphs of coverage. See, no one wants to read my lackluster and incurious review of various press releases on the topic, I told you this story isn’t interesting!”

  • Steve Bauer

    Don’t you see, Mollie? There are even more differences between the two incidents. In the first case the victims were most likely all Democrats and there was a U.S. Representative shot (lese majesty). In the second case the victims were ost likely all Republicans and just ordinary unelected citizens. There’s no comparison in newsworthiness.

    Be careful! If you don’t think straight they’ll revoke your poetic license.

    “… and together through the ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.” Galadriel

  • MountainTiger

    Reason said all that needed to be said about this back in August.

    • mollie

      Well, I agree, but that doesn’t relate to the journalism issues we’re discussing here. We try to keep focused on journalism. Oon that point, I’m deleting quite a few comments — mostly dealing with irrational hatred of one Sarah Palin but all sorts of other off-topic comments, too — for failing to adhere to our commenting policy. Please work to focus comments not on your personal feelings about Palin or SPLC or what not, but, rather, the journalism related to these discussions.

      • MountainTiger

        I would say that an appropriate response from journalists is relevant to the journalism issues. More importantly, I think that fixating on the map and asking for the SPLC to be subjected to the same irresponsible circus that Palin endured is bad criticism. A more enlightening comparison would be to coverage of George Tiller’s murder, an incident that has much more in common than the Giffords shooting in being genuinely politically motivated and on a more similar scale. You would even still get to be righteously outraged about liberal bias, I suspect. It doesn’t have the map angle, but that was a silly angle on the Giffords shooting and is secondary to the “hate group” issue in this case.

        • mollie

          Understood. I think you’re right that it was appropriate to link to that and sorry for interjecting otherwise.

          But yes, the Tiller murder would also be a good comparison.

          Both the Tiller and Giffords murderous shootings are interesting comparisons. I actually agree with Bob Smietana, above, that the (hate this word choice but …) “success” of those shootings can account for some of the disparate media coverage.

          Some, but certainly not all. Not even close to all of the imbalance.

          I’m holding feet to the fire and watching some folks squirm. But it’s important to do this.
          The media simply need to stop blaming political opponents when it suits them and excusing political allies when it suits them. It’s appalling and it’s unfair.

          And they may want to pretend that their “Sarah Palin 24/7 obsession” didn’t happen after Tucson, but it did. Many of us remember and were appalled and embarrassed for our colleagues. They need to stop doing it. If they want to try to pretend that it’s wrong to tie this shooter to SPLC when his own words tied him to them — all the while going after someone who no one ever tied to the Tucson shooting for that rampage — they can, but I will call them on it.

  • Bob Smietana

    Mollie is right.
    There’s a direct connection between the SPLC map and the FRC shooter. He said that he picked the target from the SPLC map.
    So why did that story not take off while the Gabby Gifford/Sarah Palin map story did.
    Is it because, as Mollie implies, that the media are hypocrites who dislike conservatives.
    Or is it that the context of the two stories are different.
    The facts point to the latter. The Gifford shooting was a mass murder, involving a national politician, which made a emotional connection with the America public which continues til today. Gifford herself, in an interview before the shooting, said the Palin map would have consequences. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/08/gabrielle-giffords-shot-c_n_806211.html
    Palin herself is a polarizing figure. All together that’s why the Palin map story took off.
    The FRC shooting had none of those factors. So it didn’t.

    • mollie

      And it’s not like the media even cover gay issues that much or seem terribly interested in anything at all related to same-sex marriage.

      It only makes sense, really, that they’d downplay this story. How many months go by with nary a single story on anything gay at all? Why should we expect they cover a tiny little armed shooting in the gay marriage culture war? Does anyone in the country — much less America’s newsrooms — even care that much about same-sex marriage? I don’t think so.

      And SPLC doesn’t call groups it opposes “hateful” or in any way contribute to a polarized discussion on these matters.

      I’m surprised the shooting or plea got any coverage at all, really. I’m sure that if someone shot up a same-sex marriage advocacy group, it would have resulted in not one single story.

      Am I reading this correctly?

    • michael

      Bob’s assessment would be true if the media were simply descriptive and merely responsive to an “emotional connection” that just happens to be out there. But in fact the media, in its role as mediator of what we talk about in public, is also prescriptive and helps to create and prolong that connection.

      I don’t deny that there are differences between the two stories that makes the Tuscon story more compelling, but there is very little to nothing in the way of a natural or obvious connection between this story and Palin that can justify that being the phenomenon it was for as long as it was. The most inane things qualify as ‘news’ in today’s media echo chamber for the simple reason that they pop up in one part of the chamber and are then repeated ad infinitum, often with the addition of some grave chin stroking, in other parts. That’s the way contemporary media work; it happens all the time on all sorts of stories, and it is almost completely self-referential. To pretend or to justify this unsightly phenomenon in the Tuscon-Palin case on grounds that the media are merely responding to what is happening empirically is naive at best and irresponsible at worst, because it prevents us from understanding how contemporary media actually work, how easy it is to manipulate, and how easily we are manipulated by it.

      What I can’t decide is whether to attribute this to conspiratorial bias, as Mollie seems to do, or the sheer mindlessness of it all. But perhaps these are not mutually exclusive.

  • FW Ken

    Its worth highlighting that the media calmed down about Palin when the crosshairs theme was found on Democrat maps, and some videos made the rounds showing the “civility” of Democrats in Congress. This its a good example of why we need the internet: what else will restrain nuts like Andrew Sullivan?

  • CarlH

    Keep up the good work, Mollie! The reaction to your pithy post suggests that you’ve hit a nerve. (If that means that this is an example of your “snarkiness”–referred to as a GR weakness in some comments on the 9th anniversary post, I say “keep bringing it!”)

    Some of the repeated responses to this post provide a pretty good bit of evidence about the “alternate reality” that passes for credible thought among apologists for a press that has demonstrated time and time again that they will apply a stark double standard depending on whether they are reporting about something or someone whose positions are aligned or not with either the personal positions of the “journalists” and/or the editorial positions of the media outlet in particular. Yes there’s are real distinctions between the two situations, but they do not substantively undercut the validity of your satirical criticism of the way the Arizona shootings speculation contrasts with the way in which the media largely refused to go anywhere with the SPLC connection.

    Please, posters! Try reading your own words without the polarizing lenses of your personal bias sunglasses. It was OK for the media to go after Sarah Palin (and “evil” conservatives generally) because she had an “actual” target on a campaign map, which turned out to be totally unrelated to the facts on the ground in the case they tried tarring her (and them) with? But the same media’s failure to even rationally report on a shooter’s actual confession to having used a map provided by the SPLC that identifies the locations of groups or organizations that the SPLC has designated as “hate groups” doesn’t provide the basis for some commentary–snarky or not–about the state of American journalism? Please . . .

  • Tim H

    This argument is completely missing the point. People are arguing with Mollie that it is unjust to blame the Southern Poverty Law Center for Floyd Lee Corkins II’s actions. But that is not what she is saying. Of course it is unjust to blame the SPLC for one man unknown to the misconstruing the point of their map (leaving aside the question of whether or not they are correct in identifying the Family Research Council as a “hate group”). The point being made in this article is not that the SPLC is responsible, but for the same reasons Sarah was also not responsible for Jared Loughtner’s action, in fact even more so because Mr. Loughner was not aware of the Palin PAC’s map and Mr. Corkins was aware of the SPLC’s map. The point being made in the media criticism blog is that the media understands that it is unjust to place blame for the shootings in the SPLC’s case, but the did not preciously have that understanding in Sarah Palin’s. It is a mistake that they made across the board because of their ideological prejudices. Furthermore, the point is that the mainstream media, who are almost entirely left-wing in their political leanings, were quick and persistent to blame someone on the right for inciting violence for using clearly metaphorical language which has been used in politics by both side for centuries, and which any sane person would realize is referring to targeting seats in elections rather that people with guns, because of their preconceived and false notions about the character and motivations of people on the right. But at the same time, they are not willing to place the exact same blame in the case of people on the left who use make actual threats of violence (like Jimmy Hoffa Jr.) or who’s publications have actually been found in a court of law to have been a factor in selecting innocent people as targets of violence (like the SPLC). Again, this is due to their preconceived ideas about the character and motivations of their fellows on the left. This is the point being made here and it is the point many commenters are missing by venting their person dislike of Gov. Palin, which is itself based on preconceived notions derived from what other people have assert about Gov. Palin, not from personal knowledge. It is true that Mrs. Hemingway may not have interviewed Mr. Loughner and cannot truly know his motivations, but it is equally true that no one in the comments section has interview Gov. Palin or read her thoughts and so it is equally illegitimate to assert that her “rhetoric was rooted in violence and hate.

  • Bob Smietana

    Hi Michael:
    Your quote is really instructive: “Bob’s assessment would be true if the media were simply descriptive and merely responsive to an “emotional connection” that just happens to be out there. But in fact the media, in its role as mediator of what we talk about in public, is also prescriptive and helps to create and prolong that connection.”
    The media will cover a story as long as people want to read or hear or watch shows about that story. That’s how they make money.
    No one sits around in a newsroom and debates the relative merits of the Palin map versus SPLC map and which one deserves prolonged coverage.

    • michael

      Thanks for responding Bob. But again, you seem to be suggesting that the media are simply responsive to what is plainly happening or to people’s interests. It’s sort of like the purveyors of trash tv who simply shrug their shoulders and say, “we’re just giving people what they want,” as if anyone knew they wanted reality television before someone offered it to them.

      It is a strawman to suggest that the alternative is a newsroom conspiracy or, in this case, a self-conscious weighing of the two maps. I don’t think Mollie is suggesting that and neither am I, at least not in that form.

      I was pointing instead to what seems to be a particular dynamic about how today’s media work. Something pops up in one corner of the media web–whether justifiably, mindlessly or because it is planted there maliciously, as in the case of the pr firm that succeeds in shaping the March for Life coverage, it doesn’t really matter–and the very fact that it shows up qualifies it as news to be commented on by other parts, each trying ridiculously to ‘out-serious’ the other. And so round and round it goes. It’s all a giant echo chamber, or better perhaps, a house of mirrors, and it runs–I’m inclinded to think rather mindlessly–not until public demand is sated, but until it runs out of steam or media attention is distracted by the next shiny object.

  • Matt Kaufman

    Seeing a lot of disingenuous comments here. Two themes, mainly:

    1) SPLC wasn’t spreading hate, it was merely identifying it.

    “Hate,” in the contemporary context, isn’t a description; it’s an accusation. It evokes Nazis and Klansmen and violent bullies. Its purpose is to suggest that the “haters” are on the same spectrum as those groups — the sort who “create the climate which leads to atrocities.” That’s the whole point of affixing the label — to discredit the targets. They’re supposed to be budding Hitlers, or (just as bad) Hitler-enablers. That’s The Narrative.

    And, of course, opponents of homosexual groups (e.g., Christians — hence, the religion angle) — are “hateful.” That’s The Narrative too.

    It’s dishonest to pretend not to know these things. Whether they make SPLC in some measure responsible is another matter, but there’s certainly far more reason for the media to explore the question than there is to connect Palin to Gifford. That’s Mollie’s point.

    2) Palin was famous; SPLC wasn’t. Giffords was famous; FRC wasn’t.

    Nationwide, more people knew FRC than Giffords prior to the shooting. But leave that aside and consider another scenario.

    Say that FRC had ID’d a gay-rights group — say, the Human Rights Campaign, which is influential but no better known than FRC — on a map and there was a shooting there. The story would have led every news broadcast and received saturation live coverage. The blame would have been immediate and overwhelming. And if it then emerged that the shooter actually DID pick his target off the FRC map, there’s no way we’d hear anyone say “That’s old news, the media had to move on.” We all know what we’d hear.

  • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    Wow when I started this comment, there were only like 10. Then I got distracted (work!). Now look at the number!

    I genuinely appreciate the difficulties Mollie’s comparison faces. However, I also appreciate the point she is trying to make, which is not that two situations are the same, but that the two situations, given their similarities (and there are some), were treated conspicuously differently by the media.

    Personally, I find accusations of “hate” to be themselves often (not always) actions of “hate” and indeed intended to rouse public disdain (which is a lot like hate) toward their objects. Don’t we just “hate” the Klan? And Aryan Nation? Wouldn’t society be better off without them? Shouldn’t we have laws restricting them? And when those laws fail us, what do we do?

    But it’s not only about groups who actually express hatred for others, but virtually ALL groups that oppose the “love” espoused by the liberal side of things are HATE groups. If “you” oppose “us” then “you” “hate” “us.” There are people who use bullying to deal with bullies. And hatred to deal with hate. SPLC and organizations like them appear to me to be as much a hate-mongering group as the groups they – yes – TARGET.

    Doggone it, the media are biased, and they will flip out on someone they – yes – hate, someone like Sarah Palin and draw the flimsiest connections. My gosh, was the Arizona shooting really just an occasion to talk about political rhetoric? Wasn’t that politicizing the tragedy, to the advantage of a particular political group? Why was Palin singled out? Were no liberals guilty of something similar? Was that the most important dimension about it, that such violence is a symptom of the political rhetoric of only one side of the political spectrum, the side on the opposite of the left-leaning media, the side the other side wishes would just shut up and fall into line with their agenda? Do we really have endure the accusation-in-denial “Oh, we’re not saying Palin is guilty of anything but she DID do this and that, and that CERTAINLY contributed to the problem” schtick?

    And when the liberal rhetoric directly influences an act of violence and hate – why the imbalance in the media’s rhetoric?

  • Bob Smietana

    Hi Michael
    Thanks for the reply. I think we agree that there’s a self perpetuating echo chamber in today’s media, especially when a story jumps from news reporting to op-ed pages, talk shows, and blogs.

  • Will

    Pee-pul, saying “I will not say such-and-such” is a standard rhetorical trick.

    • Leo Ladenson

      Yes, it’s an ancient rhetorical device, called in Latin praeteritio and in Greek paralipsis or, as Ward Farnsworth recently called it, “saying things by not saying them.”

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  • Jay

    Wow! There are so many comments on this one it’s enough to make your head spin! I’ll add to the cacophony :)

    I agree with Mollie that there’s a good bit of bias from a journalistic standpoint. Yes, there are significant differences between what happened with Giffords and what happened with the FRC as noted by many other comments , but some of the differences are what make media reaction most striking. There’s no evidence that the Gifford’s shooter ever looked at Palin’s map, but numerous reputable news organizations jumped on the idea that Palin’s rhetoric had something to do with the shooting. The shooter at the FRC stated that he had looked at the map from the SPLC, but most news organizations didn’t really want to say that the SPLC’s choice to add the FRC onto their hate group list had ANYTHING to do with the shooting. Yeah, that’s a bias despite the many other differences between what happened with Giffords and at the FRC.

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  • MJBubba

    Go get ‘em, Mollie. You are exactly right. You are doing a great job. Viva GetReligion!

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  • Mr. Saturn

    Very nice article that makes it even funnier to see the logic pretzels people will tie themselves up into just to make the argument.

    The shootings in Arizona and Georgia are different only in one was horribly more successful at murdering innocent people. But if people who want to blame Loughner on Sarah Palin and the Tea Party even though there is only a faintest indirect correlation between them, if any, then you have to accept that Corkins used resources provided by him that subjectively deemed one organization a “hate” group and thus he felt it was acceptable for him to do and thus are indirectly responsible for it. Certainly the SPLC did not mean for their map to be used in such a manner much as Palin’s map was not meant to be used in that manner, no matter how many crosshairs were on it.

    The only reason why I (and most conservatives and others who never bought that crap) poke at it is to watch those who originally made that connection squirm under their own blatant hypocrisy and idiocy.

  • David

    Wait….

    I thought that violent imagery, war rhetoric, and sexually disgraceful language just meant you were expressing your inner city angst? That stuff gets you in trouble with the public? Can someone explain the popularity of rap music to me in a way that makes it okay to publish albums with the recipe for crack-cocaine and shooting your enemies, all the while “pimpin’ hoes”, and reconcile that to the concept that publishing a map on the internet will get people killed? In what bizarre, backwards thinking, insane world do we live when the words and images of our culture we are subjected to almost constantly become excuses for the deranged to kill? What sort of disingenuous people would purport to believe that you can pump people full of violence in TV, movies, video games, and music, but once you put crosshairs or the word “hate” on a map, that is a bridge too far?! I say purport because no honest person can reconcile these two concepts. You can try, though, if you feel game. I’d love to see it.

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  • James in Perth

    Mollie, it’s a shame you had to waste so much time in pointless argumentation with apologists for left-wing groups like the SLPC which promote their own version of intolerance. Your analogy is on point. Keep up the good work.

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  • Vato

    What the American Left (the international Left too, but that’s a different subject) needs to understand is that it is utterly unacceptable and actually quite dangerous to label every political position outside Leftism as “hate.” With or without your permission, we have a right to believe differently, and to advocate that those beliefs have a place in politics, culture, media, and religion. This incessant, Orwellian impulse to not just disagree, but to dehumanize and thereby silence is historically a precursor to actual violence.

    Per the Left, conservatives and libertarians don’t just disagree with socialized medicine, they want people to die on gurneys in the hallways of hospitals. Conservatives and libertarians don’t just disagree with gun control, they cheer with gusto when 6 year olds are gunned down. Conservatives and libertarians don’t just disagree with affirmative action, they hate minorities and want to drag them behind their trucks until dead. It’s disgusting. It’s immoral. But it’s de riguer from the Left, and their allies in the media are only slightly less ham-handed about it. Conservatives Hate Black People is only slightly more dehumanizing than Does Conservatism Have Racist Roots? Brian Ross isn’t saying definitively that the shooter is a member of the Tea Party, but isn’t that where we should look first? Isn’t THAT the only logical place to find wackjobs who turn their guns on their neighbors? Wink wink, nudge nudge.

    Whether or not they are conscious of it, the American Left are preparing themselves for violence. Like all Naive Idealists, they genuinely believe that the only way to achieve their Utopia is to destroy all opposition, by whatever means necessary. They are working themselves into the gibbering, blind, unreasoning frenzy that is always necessary for the bloody work of genocide, and unless that process is short-circuited it will eventually happen.

  • Thinkling

    Tim H above (7 Feb 12:59PM) summarizes quite nicely that while some taking issue with this analysis may (or may not) have their own valid points, they are entirely orthogonal to Mollie’s points. A few comments:

    There is a very similar piece over at Ricochet. The comments there are slightly more one-dimensional knee-jerk (basically “How Awful OMG!’) than here, probably to be expected. But there was the following classic. When someone pointed out that the SPLC called out some religious book club as a hate group, the retort was (paraphrased) “The Humanity! They must know Latin!” I could not stop laughing.

    Somewhere I saw comments on the “mental gymnastics” required to avoid seeing how problematic the journalistic (in)consistency is. I agree, and while I admit this sounds disparaging, I also note that it takes even more gymnastics by the journalists in the first place, especially since (I assume) the point was made in J-school to, um, NOT do this. So the culpability is spread around, subconsciously “that is how the stories are presented, it must be right”

    Last, In a hundred years from now, when everyone can laugh at how backwards (some) journalism was in the turn of the 20th and early 21st century, J-schools will have an upper level course (hopefully core) about systematic bias and advocacy creep. Now perhaps some schools already have one, but my point is that I predict this course will be known among students by the nickname “Palintology”. Seriously, one can argue that Bill Clinton was the beginning of the age of implicit advocacy (didn’t see any coverage of “Intern Advocates on the Bus” did we?), and Palin was the beginning of the age of explicit advocacy. Feel free to discuss.

  • David M Paggi

    I’m not sure which is more remarkable – Mollie’s well-presented piece or the lengths some will go to explain away the palpable differences in emphasis and assumed causality reflected in the coverage of the two stories. There appears to be a fundamental difference of perspective that colors all attempts at dialogue. Those who object to the disparity in the media coverage (mostly on the right) tend to reason from facts to conclusions, while those (mostly on the left) who see no problem; e.g., “apples & oranges”, start with their conclusions and then see the facts in that light. So Palin’s actual content is dismissed without discussion as it is attributed to “violence and hatred”. Is it really true that Ms. Palin is advocating violence, by using apparently standard political imagery? Meanwhile, the SPLC very explicitly names the FRC as a “hate group” – what is “mere” about that? It is clear that they see no meaningful distinction between the FRC and Neo-Nazis. In their hubris they may actually believe that their point of view is axiomatically correct, so from this perspective (which they further believe is mainstream), ad hominum attacks are totally justified and the points their opponents make are so obviously wrong that they need not be addressed on their merits.

    This is why it is as rare for those on the right as it is common to those on the left to regard their opponent’s discourse as “hate speech”, villifying those who disagree with them as “intolerant”. In the main, conservatives tend to have more respect for the dignity of the individual person (consider abortion, for instance), while those on the left see people as members of groups for whom they must advocate, as they obviously haven’t any sense of their own. Consequently, any tactic, no matter how dishonest, misleading, or calumniating, cannot possibly be wrong since their cause is so obviously worthwhile. So who is intolerant?

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