This morning I wrote (in "Monster") that Sean Hannity et al. might bear some share of moral responsibility for the killings in Knoxville. Sadly for everyone concerned, that may be true.
This evening we learn from the Knoxville News that officers entering the home of murder Jim Adkisson "found Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder by radio talk show host Michael Savage, Let Freedom Ring by talk show host Sean Hannity, and The O'Reilly Factor, by television talk show host Bill O'Reilly."
The presence of somebody's books in a mentally disturbed person's home does not make them accessories to a killing. But right-wing rhetoric toward liberals and humanists like those who attended the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church has been exceptionally violent for years. Liberal groups are often called "Nazi" or "Nazi-like" by O'Reilly (he even said that about our own Arianna Huffington). Savage says he'd "hang every lawyer" who tried to establish constitutional rights for Guantanamo prisoners, describes Obama as an "Afro-Leninist," and said the folks at Media Matters were "brownshirts." He describes Rep. Wexler as a "Nazi" and calls Nancy Pelosi a "Mussolini."
As for Hannity, he said that "there are things in life worth fighting and dying for and one of 'em is making sure Nancy Pelosi doesn't become the speaker (of the House)." Think about it: "worth fighting and dying for."
And that's just a sampler.
Ann Coulter says liberals should be beaten with baseball bats and tried for treason (she's not clear about the order in which these events are to take place.) Dick Morris says they're "traitors" who should be decapitated.
I had a friend at Clear Channel (yes, I have a broad group of friends) who described some of these people as "entertainers." Don't you get it, guys? You use inflammatory images that equates your fellow Americans with violent enemies of the nation. Then you act surprised when a mentally ill person believes you and kills. You use the language of war and then say you're not to blame when somebody enlists in your imaginary struggle.
Their next step will be outrage -- outrage! -- at the idea that they may be morally accountable for this action, the possible fruit of their rhetoric.
We all need to be thoughtful about the impact of our words. But the Right has made it their business to promote a particularly virulent brand of hatred. Would Jim Adkisson have killed without all that prompting from the vituperative chorus of the right? We'll never know. But it's looking less likely with every passing hour that he would ever have entered a church filled with children and started shooting.
If they found something I wrote in a killer's home, I'd stop what I was doing and begin some serious self-reflection. I'd write about it, consider my errors, and try to make amends. Wouldn't you? Not that censorship isn't the answer. Not every reprehensible act can be legislated away. Sometimes the most effective way to change people is to hold them accountable. That includes not only Fox News, in this case, but also CNN -- who recently gave the anchor chair to hate-speaker Glenn Beck.
Guys, it's not "entertainment" any more -- if it ever was. We need to hold those in the boardroom accountable, too. They make their money and serve their political agenda by telling hundreds of millions of people that liberal Americans are treacherous and mentally ill enemies of the state. And they use the public airwaves to do it.
If these right-wing pundits are as devout as they say they are they'll stop, think, and ask forgiveness. That goes for their corporate paymasters, too. I hope they do for their own sakes, though I don't expect it.
As for the rest of us, it's time to look at new strategies for containing the spread of hate speech in our media. The old ways aren't working.
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