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Violent Rhetoric and Media False Balance

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Today in the New York Times Paul Krugman suggests that we not pretend that "both sides" are responsible for toxic political rhetoric:

Where's that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let's not make a false pretense of balance: It's coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It's hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be "armed and dangerous" without being ostracized; but Rep. Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the GOP.

...Listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you'll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won't hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at the Washington Post. Listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O'Reilly, and you will.

Unfortunately, that false balance is not just coming from the right, but appears all across the media. On Meet the Press, NBC's David Gregory rounded up examples of demonizing rhetoric:

Let's be honest, there is a demonization. It happens amongst all of you, it happens in the public, it happens in the polarized aspects of the press, a demonization of the other side. Whether it's a congressman saying, "You lie," from the House floor, whether it's a Democrat who literally shoots the cap-and-trade bill in a campaign advertisement. Or your former colleague, Alan Grayson from Florida, compared Republicans to the Taliban. I mean, this kind of vitriol on both sides does contribute to that, that demonization.

Dan Balz of the Washington Post writes:

Politicians in both parties have said this is not a time for one side to try to score political points against the other over who bears responsibility for these conditions, though there is plenty of finger-pointing in the blogosphere and on Twitter. The reality is everyone bears some responsibility, from politicians to political operatives to the media to ordinary Americans.

The New York Times writes:

Not since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 has an event generated as much attention as to whether extremism, antigovernment sentiment and even simple political passion at both ends of the ideological spectrum have created a climate promoting violence.

The New York Times' Matt Bai leads off with examples from "both sides," and in so doing equates one of the most prominent national figures in the Republican Party (and a regular contributor to the GOP house organ Fox News Channel) with some unnamed diarist from Arizona who didn't support a recent Gifford vote:

Within minutes of the first reports Saturday that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, and a score of people with her had been shot in Tucson, pages began disappearing from the Web. One was Sarah Palin's infamous "cross hairs" map from last year, which showed a series of contested Congressional districts, including Ms. Giffords', with gun targets trained on them. Another was from Daily Kos, the liberal blog, where one of the congresswoman's apparently liberal constituents declared her "dead to me" after Ms. Giffords voted against Nancy Pelosi in House leadership elections last week.

To his credit, Bai spends significant time recounting violent rhetoric from Republican and conservative leaders -- likely because there is just a lot more of that to write about. But he offers an excuse for their behavior:

It's not that such leaders are necessarily trying to incite violence or hysteria; in fact, they're not. It's more that they are so caught up in a culture of hyperbole, so amused with their own verbal flourishes and the ensuing applause, that--like the bloggers and TV hosts to which they cater--they seem to lose their hold on the power of words.

Bai adds:

None of this began last year, or even with Mr. Obama or with the Tea Party; there were constant intimations during George W. Bush's presidency that he was a modern Hitler or the devious designer of an attack on the World Trade Center, a man whose very existence threatened the most cherished American ideals.

Yes, there are people who called Bush a "modern Hitler," or believed he had some role in the 9/11 attacks. Those people are generally not given talkshows, and cannot be found in positions of power in the Democratic Party.