Media Buzz

New York Times assails right wing over political violence before running correction

Howard Kurtz

So much for unity.

Just when a debate erupts over the role of media and mendacity in the shooting of a Republican congressman, the New York Times revives a discredited theory about the six-year-old shooting of a Democratic congresswoman.

This was so egregious and embarrassing that the Times editorial page was compelled yesterday to run a correction.

And worse than that, it was utterly tone-deaf in the wake of the shooting of Steve Scalise and four others, with the Republican whip still in critical condition. The editorial seemed to say, the hell with that, what about right-wing hatred?

The argument involving the near-fatal shooting of Gabby Giffords wasn’t true at the time, and appears even more ludicrous in retrospect. To resurrect it now undercuts any effort at breaking the cycle of guilt by association. The editorial suggests that it’s fine to blame conservative rhetoric, but not liberal rhetoric, for senseless violence.

Here’s what the Times said:

“Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.

“Conservatives and right-wing media were quick on Wednesday to demand forceful condemnation of hate speech and crimes by anti-Trump liberals. They’re right. Though there’s no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack, liberals should of course hold themselves to the same standard of decency that they ask of the right.”

Palin’s use of the crosshairs may have been unfortunate, but to link it to the mass shooting was, and is, nonsensical.

As I wrote on the day of the Giffords shooting, well before I worked at Fox: “This isn't about a nearly year-old Sarah Palin map; it's about a lone nutjob who doesn't value human life.”

The Times has now published this correction:

“An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that a link existed between political incitement and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established.”

In Tuesday’s shooting in Virginia, James Hodgkinson was an anti-Trump zealot who despised Republicans and volunteered for Bernie Sanders—not that that makes him a stand-in for every liberal who doesn’t like the president.

But Loughner was a delusional guy with incoherent political views. He had been obsessed with Giffords for years, and there’s no evidence he even saw the Palin committee’s map.

National Review’s David French noted that the Times’s own reporting from six years ago invalidates the editorial:

“As he alienated himself from his small clutch of friends, grew contemptuous of women in positions of power and became increasingly oblivious to basic social mores, Mr. Loughner seemed to develop a dreamy alternate world, where the sky was sometimes orange, the grass sometimes blue and the Internet’s informational chaos provided refuge.”

Palin tweeted yesterday that she is talking to lawyers and “exploring options.”

This erroneous attack was beneath the New York Times. Which top editor thought this was fit to print?

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.