A mentally unbalanced person took a gun and opened fire on a "town hall" gathering in Tucson, AZ one sunny January weekend at the beginning of 2011. His Congressperson, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot through the head but survived (as of this writing), federal judge John Roll (age 63) was not as lucky and was killed along with Gabe Zimmerman, Director of Community Outreach for Rep. Giffords (age 30), Dorothy "Dot" Morris (age 76) a homemaker and retired secretary, Dorwin Stoddard (age 76) who lived through 17 heart stents and multiple construction site mishaps, Phyllis Schneck (age 79) who was a snow bird from New Jersey retired in AZ to escape the snow and proving insanity has no bounds Christina-Taylor Green (age 9) a third grader and aspiring politician.
Each of these lives were taken in an instant of madness, in a cacophony of gunfire and bloodshed, in a choir of screams of terror and in the silent moment right before the light goes out of the eyes forever; their plans, hopes, dreams, their schedules, their problems, their arguments, their passions, and yes, their politics, all wiped out in the amount of time it took most to read this paragraph.
Why? How? Who? Was the chorus from the shocked world that emerged instantly, myself included. I wanted to get on radio right away, to get behind a computer and start typing, to evaluate, to pontificate, to elaborate... but it was the weekend. So, like the rest of the world, I watched and listened in disgust and horror.
News emerged that the shooter, whose name will not be mentioned here and who should fade away in to obscurity like every other despot's name (but that's another rant) was a young troubled boy, blah de blah. I truly, really, don't care the "who" of it. I don't want to hear about shocked parents or a bad home life. I don't want to hear about signs and symbols that were missed. His actions tell me all I need to know. He was a defective cog, a misaligned mind. But like any other human (it's hardwired) the "why" interested me. Was he angry at her for something in particular? Was he hired to do it? What motivates any person, no matter the "who" to do this? Of course, we'll never know because we're trying to apply logic to the most illogical of all situations: violence.
News soon broke that this Congressperson was a blue dot in a red area, meaning a moderate or liberal in a conservative district. It also came out that she was one of the 20 candidates "targeted" for removal by Sarah Palin, the term targeted being literal as Palin had a campaign map with bull's eyes over the targeted districts and then cross hairs over the actual candidates pictures; her campaign's later assertion on the Tammy Bruce show Monday, January 10, 2011 that these were "surveyor" symbols and that the graphic was "farmed out" and they didn't see them as "crosshairs" is so disingenuous coming from a campaign of a woman who shoots wolves from a plane using a what?... rifle, is simply beyond the pale. As soon as there was a Palin connection Fox News began playing the victim, acting as if it or one of it's crew had been shot. The noise began.
I even entered the talking points over the shooting; something as bizarre to me as it would be for you to wake up and find your name in blogs related to the shooting. What was my connection? Seems I'm a liberal hater. Seems my speech is as polarizing and able to incite as much violence as crosshairs on a candidate's face. Because in November of 2008, during an off-air moment, during a break, on my KGO AM 810 San Francisco radio show, when John McCain said he was going to take Joe the Plumber all the way to Washington I snapped and while making tea in my Limoges I uttered the infamous "F Joe the GD plumber, I wish MF joe the MF plumber would drop dead..." or something to that effect.
It was stupid, off the air and not meant literally, but it was out there for the world and I got fired and dragged through the appropriate mud for it. It cost me my job, and nearly my home as I sit waiting for the same modification many of you are trying for; I have paid dearly, KNX 1070 Los Angeles dumped me as their entertainment reporter the very day I was fired from KGO and two years later I'm still trying to recover and rebuild (and the jury is out). The liberal media responded and chastised me greatly. I was asked not to write anything for a few weeks until things died down, as I was being tied to them as well because of my columns. I was the liberal talk host who issued a death threat on Joe the Plumber. I was pinhead of the week by O'Reilly, I was debated and ridiculed by Michelle Maulkin, there was a panel on Fox and Friends as to whether I should be charged criminally for my "threat" against this poor harmless everyman seated right here, Joe, what do you think...
The public responded, too. Good conservative supporters of Joe wrote "Die of AIDES" (yes, they spelled it that way) on my garage door and I had a plumber's wrench with the word "Fag" scrawled on it thrown through my front window, shattering it in the middle of the night. At a restaurant someone walked up to me and told me I should watch my back outside because they don't take death threats kindly, and more than one email said I should die of AIDS. Right now on the web you can find good conservative blogs and videos on YouTube about me calling me every name in the book over this. Oh yes, there were repercussions, and still are.
Since my gaffe times have obviously changed. Teabaggers and others show up with guns to Obama rallies. People openly call the president horrifying names and more than one have insinuated he needs to "watch his back" more than others. There was even speculation at the beginning of his presidency about his increased risk. My flippantly wishing a fictional character to drop dead during a break (there is no real Joe the Plumber) paled by the Republicans taking out ads with them shooting weapons in them, encouraging people to buy M16s in others, on and on. And then there's the bull's-eyes and crosshairs.
And the rhetoric from the hosts has certainly changed in two years, since my horrific and renounceable act, one for which I should lose it all; now, the hosts are rewarded for the more obtuse and obscene things they say. And the more obtuse and obscene hosts became, many politicians followed suit. They didn't flippantly joke, they crafted campaigns of division and anger, using catch phrases and terrifying tag lines to batter America into submission. They used psychological warfare tactics during the campaign, and they appear to have some of its first casualties.
Think about it. Obama is going to kill your grandmother? They plainly and openly said such things. Obama wants to kill your grandmother. Obama is not like us, he isn't even a citizen. He's different. During the "historic" reading of the Constitution by the new 112th Congress someone on the Republican side of the House viewer's gallery yelled "Except Obama!" when they read how one must be born in the United States to be President. Just a casual outburst in the People's House? I think not, just the vocalization of the bill of crap they sold America.
But I am strong on radio, and I do go over the line sometimes. Not with the Joe thing, although I'd undo it if I could, it was a stupid thing to say but not one meant to do anything but be stupid. Yet, I know words have power. And there is a time for anger and passion when a nation is at stake. And I'm passionate on radio; but that's not all I am. The problem is anger and panic have become the ONLY nuances of any debate, not a part of but the substance of, not just a point in the debate or the campaign, but the entire point of the debate or campaign. And that kind of histrionics is not only unsustainable, but dangerous. Republicans and conservatives learned a long time ago that panic, anger, fear are powerful tools that can be used to their advantage; and somewhere along the lines those went from being tools to the entire arsenal.
So, finally, at 1,500 hours, January 10, 2011, with many hours between the shooting and that time, I got to join the liberal talk radio banter with my own show and I had to form an opinion on the weekend's events. But what was it to be? Were conservatives to blame, as the debate over the cause of the massacre had moved, was even I to blame for some of the things I've said on radio or in print, was Sarah Palin, were lax gun laws?
During the three hours (available here listen: thekarelshow.com or at iTunes) it became clear what the listeners thought: Sarah Palin, the right, conservatives, tea baggers, the entire lot were to blame for the ingredients of the disaster, the shooter was responsible for what he made out of them.
Let's face it, the national dialogue isn't. It's broken. They'll throw you off radio for saying the F word or making a bad joke about a sports team, but the courts have upheld that candidates can lie in campaign ads on radio and TV as part of their freedom of speech or some such rot. Twitter phrases like death panels can occupy days of "national debate" while insurance companies (and now states) let Americans die from lack of health care, acting as their death panels, by what care they will and will not dole out every day. Communist, socialist, fascist, corporatist, they're all thrown about like curse words and then Gays, God and Guns get thrown in and suddenly there's a fever pitched yelling match and no one is to blame.
Bill O'Reilly repeats "Tiller the baby killer" over and over and the man ends up dead and no one is to blame and O'Reilly is so sorry. Palin paints crosshairs on a woman's forehead and the woman gets shot point blank range and Palin is so very sorry. But it's not either of their fault, right? Neither lose their jobs, their incomes, or are dragged through the mud. Geez, that some plumber I must have insulted.
A listener/caller challenged anyone to find a liberal mass murder of the recent past. When's the last time PETA took out, I mean, literally took out a meat processing plant killing all inside? When's the last time a liberal nut job mowed down a health insurance company because they didn't get universal health care? When's the last time a gay person shot up a church because they wouldn't marry him or recognize his existence? And as passionate as myself, or any liberal host has gotten on air, what have we been calling for and who have we been calling names?
I was told yesterday that my saying George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, as well as Rumsfeld and others are war criminals and should be tried at the Hague, is as bad as what Fox does. My response? Waterboarding is against the Geneva Conventions and the United States has tried, and executed, Japanese for the same offenses in WWII. Bush and Cheney both have admitted in their memoirs that they condoned it, ordered it, and would do it again. That's a war crime. So I'm not just making something up, unlike Obama wants to kill your grandmother. Yes, Liberals are fiery and passionate and say strong things; but usually it's a: rooted in some kind of fact and b: usually because something egregious is happening; strong forces require strong opposition. To say the Left should not counter the Right's noise with fire and passion of their own is ridiculous. You can't put out a raging fire with a trickle of water, you need high pressure hoses. But there has to be some boundaries. Using images of weapons, using words that trigger violent or angry emotions and basing those things in nothing but fear and anger instead of fact and reason can never lead to a good ending; and it hasn't.
And the Right is right, they are not the only ones to blame. The media plays right along. Rev. Graham Jr. was on CNN and stated "Barack Obama is a Muslim because the seed of Islam flows through the father, and his father was a Muslim, so by birth he is Muslim.." and continued happily in conversation. John King did not stop him, question him, tell him how ridiculous he sounded. His statement was fact, on the record, move on. Even with the shooting in Tucson, my iPad had five alerts within :30 seconds from various news agencies from NPR to CNN, MSNBC to AP, each push notification telling me the Arizona Congresswoman had been shot and KILLED in her district; while, in fact, she was alive. That's such a breakdown in the news business it's beyond belief. Cronkite, Murrow and others rolled in their graves that day.
So as networks trip over themselves to broadcast the killer's political association, I say, who cares? The mood of the country right now is division and anger, stratification, the haves, the have-nots, people are frightened and easily manipulated out of fear and anger of all parties. And I know from experience, if you hit the tree hard enough, a nut's gonna fall out. And in America, that nut has a good chance of being armed. The Right strikes the tree everyday, constantly with a bat of anger, of division, of hatred, of corporate ideals and big-monied interests, of us versus them, god versus demon, white versus black or brown in many cases. Look at Arizona, a state torn apart with a needless immigration "debate;" needless insomuch as it exists now. There's been no "real" debate on the issue, just anger, division, and bigoted laws; a governor that seems racist (so say over 10 callers to my show yesterday) and a population caught in the middle.
Olberman, Schultz, Matthews, Maddow, keep your passion; Miller, Rhodes, Malloy, Hartman, keep your fire and your shouting at times; Maher keep poking satire and humor and Stewart keep focusing the youth on so much that they'd miss. I challenge anyone to find viewers or listeners of those shows that have done such atrocities as this. Listen to those people, watch those people and the only anger that rises is the anger to get something done, to vote people out of office, to change the system so it works better for everyone, the Right included.
Then listen to Beck, to Limbaugh, to O'Reilly, read speeches by Tea Party candidates and watch campaign ads run by Republicans. You'll notice the difference immediately.
Who's to blame? The shooter. The people around him that didn't pay attention. Ronald Reagan for starting the defunding of programs for the mentally ill, leaving the prisons in most states to be the #1 provider of mental health care and cities, like Tucson without the proper resources to care for the mentally ill even if the kid had been noticed. Yes, the Right wing media and candidates for their angry, violent rhetoric and refusal to soften on any issue, to give way at all on anything, and be seen as nothing but the party of opposition to all things Obama and all things progressive. The Left, for not countering that movement even more forcefully with a stronger voice of sanity, leaving it to be restored by Jon Steward or Stephen Colbert, even if that voice of sanity is an angry, passionate one. The middle, for being, well, so in the middle and on the fence and having no real opinion. Get the point? We all are.
And as an aside, as a gay man, for years I've seen the byproduct of allowing homophobic speech to flourish and go unchallenged. When a President goes on TV and says we must protect the Constitution and marriage by outlawing gay unions all together Constitutionally, gay people die or get injured. I could list hundreds of gay men and women that have been slaughtered, hung to fence posts like scarecrows, beaten, dragged behind cars, set fire to...or even politicians, like Harvey Milk, who paid the ultimate price of homophobia, all because hate speech against the GLBT community is protected under the first amendment. The nation is outraged as Fred Phelp's clan at Westboro Baptist are going to picket the funeral of the nine year old victim in Tucson. I'm not. I've had to watch parent after parent bury a child dead from AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s navigate his protesters ugly words and signs at their worst time of grief and no one cared, no one sued, they were allowed. So, get used to it America. Hatred and bigotry are ugly and cause death. I've known it as a gay person for years. I'm sorry it's taking Tucson for you to see that this kind of hate speech, and that's what the right's stock and trade is now, kills. Literally kills. After all. God Hates Fags is still an allowable web site, and you want me to be shocked about man's inhumanity to man?
And there's the learning moment here, which is all this provides. The ONLY thing these mass murders can provide is a learning moment, nothing else good comes from them at all.
Hate and anger breed violence and death. Division and stratification, them versus us, breeds civil unrest and even war. Extreme politics, extreme talk radio, extreme media breeds extreme actions. Get used to it, or change the dialogue. It's never really been up to us. The media responds to what the public likes. And one look at TV and radio, news and otherwise, and it appears the public likes rich girls getting cut off from their wealthy parents, poorly acting youth in New Jersey beach houses, and cosmetic surgery queens married in various cities around the world. As for news it appears to like angry opinionated old white men who make things up. So, that's what their fed.
It's time for all of us, myself included, to think about our media and political diets. This combination is literally killing us.
Follow Charles Karel Bouley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/therealkarel