Thoughts About Tucson: Gabby Giffords, Media Speculation and Civility

Published on January 12th, 2011

In Tucson this past Saturday, an act of senseless violence took the lives of six human beings while 14 others were left wounded. Among the wounded was a sitting member of Congress, Representative Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords and among the dead was a federal judge, Justice John Roll, which drew the media into this horrible crime. The media initially focused on Giffords–in fact, they were so anxious to get the “scoop” that they initially reported she had died when, thankfully, she was still alive and in surgery.  The original coverage made it appear that the other victims were barely worth mentioning.  Imagine how the family members of the other victims must have felt.  It took several days before the names of the other victims were made public, and longer for other details. Next came the media speculation.  The shooting became something of a Rorschach Test.  There was speculation about the motivation behind Jared Lee Loughner’s mass shooting.  There were initial reports that Loughner was a member of the military and had served in Afghanistan.  Then the truth surfaced that he had actually been rejected by the military. Then came rank speculation from someone who absolutely should have known better, the Pima County Sheriff who blamed the attack on the bigotry of the citizens of his state.  Consider an unbelievable sentence that was part of an “analysis” offered by Jennifer Steinhauer in an article that appeared in the New York Times on January 9th:

The moment was crystallized by Clarence W. Dupnik, the Pima County sheriff, who, in a remarkable news conference on Saturday after the shooting, called his state “the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

True law enforcement professionals know that they must serve as role models for the communities they serve, because the residents of their community look to them to be the pillars of strength and fairness.  Law enforcement officers understand that jumping to conclusions can cause irreparable harm to an investigation and may do irreparable harm to a prosecution.  Anyone conducting an investigation into a crime must bring to the investigation an open mind and not pre-conceived notions that may cloud the issue and may cause the law enforcement officer to consciously or unconsciously attempt to find the evidence that substantiates his (her) initial theories. Public statements about the motivation a suspect may have had in carrying out a crime may poison the jury pool to the point that a fair trial becomes problematic.  Our legal system demands that anyone who is charged with a crime maintains a “presumption of innocence” until that person either pleads guilty to the crime or is found guilty at trial.  That is why Mr. Loughner is said to have allegedly fired those shots into those victims this past Saturday even though there were so many witnesses to the crime. The politicians and members of the news media have decided to make use of the tragedy by declaring that “hate speech” is behind what happened.  Never mind that from all accounts Mr. Loughner suffers from serious mental illness and it is likely that he was not motivated by “hate speech.”  That does not deter the political operatives, however because the shooting provided the perfect opportunity to go after political opponents. Today anyone who possesses a contrary viewpoint is likely to be vilified and accused of all sorts of things.  Let me provide you with an example of this that hits close to home for me and actually relates back to the horrific crime that played out this past Saturday in Tucson.  Today, when anyone calls for securing our nation’s borders, the label “anti-immigrant” is likely to be slapped on that person.  Some of the more vitriolic labels include bigot, racist, hate-monger, Nazi, fascist or some other equally vile or repugnant adjective will be used by those who seek to leave our borders open and provide amnesty to illegal aliens.  In fact, I have actually been told that the use of the term “illegal alien” is a form of “hate speech.” I have actually been told that the “A Word” is as despicable as the “N Word.” How can our nation engage in an important discussion about one of the most critically important challenges that confronts our nation today when the folks on the other side will either attempt to drown out your words with bull horns or with the intimidation of name calling? It is time for the news media to go back and take a good hard look at the First Amendment which is of particular importance to them.  It is time for the name calling to stop and for respect for opponents to become evident. I am disgusted that when a politician dies and the political colleagues deliver the eulogies that they stop referring to the deceased politician as being a “Great Democrat” or a “Great Republican.”  I would prefer that they all aspire to be “Good Americans.” The time has come for Americans to start talking, civilly, to one another especially the ones they disagree with.  Who knows, we may all learn something by actually listening to each other.

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