The Morning After

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The Sunday morning quarterbacking began on the shootings in Arizona and its implications for political dialog, the security of legislators and the the speed with which some major news outlets, including NPR, CNN and Fox News initially and incorrectly reported that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) had been killed, according to video that aired on CNN’s Reliable Sources.

Fox’s coverage and commentary tended toward emphasizing that the shooter was mentally unstable and its legal analyst, Peter Johnson Jr., said it was unfortunate that rather than delivering a dispassionate update of the event Saturday night, Pima, Ariz., Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, politicized it.

An emotional Dupnik, who had said he was friends with both Giffords and slain Federal Judge John Roll, said Saturday night that there needed to be a rethinking of the heated rhetoric on radio and TV, suggesting that could have contributed to the killer’s violent outburst. Arizona has been the site of heated criticism of healthcare and immigration policy, though Giffords was a moderate–a self-described Blue Dog Democrat–who has complained about the deficit and voted against Nancy Pelosi for minority leader.

“I think, in this country, questions about, has the political debate gotten too hot?” said Good Morning America host George Stephanopoulos. “Has all this anger boiling over in the country in some way reached out and touched people in a way that might in some way motivate violence?”

One main storyline has been Sarah Palin’s targeting of healthcare supporters, including putting gun sights on their districts–including Giffords’, who had complained about the targeting last spring as having “consequences.”

ABC News correspondent David Wright said: “[D]uring the midterm elections, Sarah Palin’s PAC put Rep. Giffords’ district literally in the crosshairs. Rep. Giffords had previously objected to that imagery, stating, “I mean, they really need to realize that the rhetoric and firing people up and, you know, even things — for example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. And when people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that action.”

Reliable Sources focused on the media coverage, including the reports of Giffords’ death. Host Howard Kurtz also posed the question of whether the Palin connection, made soon after the shooting by Giffords’ supporters, was fair.

The answer, not just on that show but also on other morning public affairs shows, generally depended on whether the answer came from a Republican or Democratic pundit.

Republicans tended to look to the shooter’s history of erratic behavior and psychological problems. Democrats suggested that even if the shooter was unstable, that did not mean the angry, even violent, rhetoric could not have played a role in triggering action. They suggested the shooting could be a moment to reflect and dial back that rhetoric.

Conservative columnist George Will suggested that instant-on media technology had created an environment where airing extreme views had become a way of helping fill the cable news void.

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