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Family and Friends is my everyday journal. Captain's Log is where I pontificate on religion and politics.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


When word first hit the airwaves about the shootings in Arizona the almost universal reaction was shock. Then things shifted, rather quickly. The sheriff spoke of consequences to Free Speech. (Blame) Congress started taking immediate steps to tone down the rhetoric in their debates. Calls for reinstating the assault rifle ban. (Correction) and the rabble rousers all said it wasn't their fault because the gunman was a nut. (Denial)

Today I came across this article:

Davie Neiwert says: Right-Wing Fearmongers Have Blood on Their Hands.

  • An avid consumer of right-wing talk radio (notably Michael Savage) and Fox News punditry (including Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity) walks into a Knoxville church in 2008 and opens fire, killing two and wounding four, having written a manifesto declaring: "Liberals are a pest like termites. Millions of them. Each little bite contributes to the downfall of this great nation. The only way we can rid ourselves of this evil is to kill them in the streets. Kill them where they gather";
  • Another avid consumer of Bill O'Reilly's columns walks into a church in 2009 (following O'Reilly's 28 on-air references to "Tiller the Baby Killer") and shoots abortion provider George Tiller in the head;
  • Another Glenn Beck fan, having been convinced from watching Beck's Fox show that the Tides Foundation was playing a leading role in a plot to destroy America, sets out in 2010 armed to the teeth with a plan to shoot up the Foundation's Bay Area offices, only to be short-circuited when Oakland police pull him over and he engages them in a shootout instead;

When these things happen, common sense tells us that, even if the blood of these victims doesn't fully coat these hatemongers' hands, it is at least splattered on them.

If major-level pundits are spewing irresponsible speech to the masses on a large scale, their responsibility for what ensues is profound indeed.

The critical components that distinguish irresponsible speech from responsible speech are interworking and interdependent, but they involve standards that are universally recognized by journalists as fundamental to their profession: truthfulness, accuracy, and fairness. Thus irresponsible speech usually has five features:

  • It is factually false, or so grossly distorted and misleading as to constitute functional falsity.
  • It holds certain targeted individuals or groups of people up for vilification and demonization.
  • It smears them with false or misleading information that depicts them in a degraded light.
  • It depicts them as either emblematic, or the actual source, of a significant problem or a major threat.
  • It leads its audience to conclude that the solution to the problem manifested by these people is their elimination.

This rhetoric acts as a kind of wedge between the people who absorb it and the real world. A cognitive dissonance arises from believing things that are provably untrue, and people who fanatically cling to beliefs that do not comport with reality find themselves increasingly willing to buy into other similarly unhinged beliefs. For those who are already unhinged, the effects are particularly toxic.

All of these paranoid theories, you'll observe, serve the explicit purpose of creating scapegoats. A number of them have taken hold in the mainstream public discourse because they have been presented seriously for discussion by various right-wing talking heads, most notably Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs, with full-throated support from Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, and Sarah Palin.

But when we point out their ethical and moral culpability, they inevitably blame it on the "crazy" people. And who, after all, can take responsibility for "crazy" people?

I say: The people who fill their heads with crazy talk can.

David Neiwert is a freelance journalist based in Seattle and the author of five books, including most recently (with John Amato) Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane. He is also the managing editor of CrooksandLiars.com and writes for the Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch blog.

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