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Politics

TV Pundits Turn Giffords Shooting Into Political Theater

Debate heats up over free speech
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(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBS/AP) — Has Saturday’s rampage inspired a measure of consensus and a softening of rhetoric among cable TV’s more confrontational hosts?

Or will it only inflame the debate over free speech in America?

Some political pundits have called the attempted assassination of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords a reaction to the overheated and over-the-top vitriol from politicians, while others are concerned the debate may ultimately target Constitutionally-protected press and speech freedoms.

KFWB’s Michael Smerconish is the latest of many commentators to weigh in on the topic.

Jared Lee Loughner made his first court appearance in a packed federal courtroom in Phoenix on Monday, accused in the weekend attack outside a Tucson supermarket that killed six people and injured or wounded 14 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

“The media and politicians are trying to sell you the idea that this guy is a right-wing nut job moved to action by Fox News or me or Sarah Palin,” said Beck, adding that most coverage of the tragedy “would quite frankly embarrass the worst basement blogger in his underpants.”

Palin has been criticized by some for using crosshairs on a website graphic to indicate congressional districts, including Giffords’, where she wanted Republicans to win in last fall’s
election.

“Everybody’s playing politics with a national tragedy,” Beck said.

Even law enforcement officials have jumped into the conversation.

An Arizona sheriff behind the investigation into Giffords’ shooting has singled out conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh Tuesday for the “irresponsible” rhetoric he uses on his radio show.

“The kind of rhetoric that flows from people like Rush Limbaugh, in my judgment he is irresponsible, uses partial information, sometimes wrong information,” Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik told ABC News.

Dupnik has previously voiced his concerns in the media, most recently with Arizona’s immigration measure SB1070, a law he called “racist” and “disgusting”.

As it happened, “Countdown” host Olbermann had already made his own such challenge, mostly aimed at conservative politicians and commentators, on his MSNBC program Saturday night. He repeated that challenge Monday, along with his own apology for anything he
may have said in the past that “could be construed as advocating violence.”

But Olbermann added that, two days after the shootings in Tucson, the effect of the tragedy in “uniting this country in a commitment to abandon the rhetoric of violence” was “almost
negligible.”

Ed Schulz, the liberal host of MSNBC’s “The Ed Show,” seemed to agree.

“The ideological divide is so great in America, I don’t think anything is going to change in the conversation,” Schulz said on his show.

The geographical divide between MSNBC and Fox News Channel is only a few blocks along Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue, and Schulz expressed the need to be honest on his show, “because there’s a lot of stuff, especially across the street, that is not the truth, that is embellished to the point where it might make somebody think that doing something radical is the right thing to do.”

On Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” conservative host Bill O’Reilly decried “the far-left MSNBC line. The hatred spewed on that cable network is unprecedented in the media.”

But overall, the liberal media “are furious that their far-left vision is falling apart,” he said, “so they are using a terrible tragedy to attack their perceived political enemies.” These, he
said, include conservatives, Palin, Fox News and himself, the target of “far-left loons” for years.

“I have to have security around the clock,” he said.

No one on the networks seemed to question that the 22-year-old suspect is the responsible party in Saturday’s assault. But the MSNBC hosts broadened the discussion to address other factors.

Schulz cited “a crisis among the under-treated mentally ill who can’t get the help they need.”

Lax gun-control laws was a common theme among the MSNBC hosts.

Rachel Maddow began her show with an excruciating list of more than a dozen firearm massacres in the United States in the past 20 years. As more facts emerge about the Tucson shootings, she said, “What is consuming the national debate is whether the heated
political rhetoric in our country was a contributing factor to it.”

Then she posed a larger question whose answer remains elusive:

“Do we have any tools to stop the next American gun massacre?

Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, meanwhile, discarded his satiric approach to news Monday night and turned serious.

“As I watched the political pundit world,” he said, “many are reflecting and grieving and trying to figure things out. But it’s definitely true that others are working feverishly to find the
tidbit or two that will exonerate their side from blame or implicate the other.

“Watching that is as predictable, I think, as it is dispiriting,” Stewart said.

(TM and © Copyright 2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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