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See Also: Media spotlight turns to vitriol in politics

Matthew Davis | 14:11 UK time, Sunday, 9 January 2011

The shooting of US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 11 others - six of whom have died - has turned the spotlight on the volatile, febrile state of American politics.
Carl Hulse and Kate Zernike write in the New York Times:

Not since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 has an event generated as much attention as to whether extremism, anti-government sentiment and even simple political passion at both ends of the ideological spectrum have created a climate promoting violence. The fallout seemed to hold the potential to upend the effort by Republicans to keep their agenda front and centre in the new Congress and to alter the political narrative in other ways.

Politico, a journalistic organisation focused on US politics, spoke to lawmakers about their responses to the political environment. Jake Sherman and Jonathan Allen write:

The shooting of Rep Gabrielle Giffords at a congressional event on Saturday in Arizona has forced political leaders to confront a pair of chilling realities: The line between politics and violence has become less clear, and their need to be accessible to their constituents carries physical risks. "The struggle members have is maintaining that balance of openness and accessibility with that real concern that there's a freak out there that will do the unthinkable," Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), whose office sits next to Giffords,' told Politico. Indeed, while lawmakers have been increasingly concerned in recent years that virulent rhetoric would escalate into violence, many of them have struggled to calibrate a response that neither ignores the problem nor encourages it.

Amid the coverage of the shootings there has been some focus on how the former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a conservative Republican, placed Ms Giffords on a list of politicians she wanted to remove from office in November's mid-term polls; illustrating this with the crosshairs of a gun sight over her district. Toby Harnden, US editor of Britain's Daily Telegraph, is critical of what he describes as an "unseemly rush to blame" conservative Republicans.

Plenty more will emerge in the coming days about Loughner's motivations and those of any accomplice. It seems certain that the attempted assassination was politically motivated but in exactly what way is, at this stage, very murky. This is a time for sombre reflection and a calming (rather than an escalation) of rhetoric. Sadly, however, some see it as another opportunity to score political points and vilify those they hate.

Politico's Ben Smith also considers the killer's motivation:

The obsession with the gold standard and the hostility to the federal government resonate with the far right, the burned American flag with the left, but the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics.

Meanwhile, Arizona Republic columnist Linda Valdez, warns against a rush to assign blame:

To the world, what happened Saturday is referred to as a "killing spree in Arizona." For Tucson, it is a very personal pain. Gabby is the kind of hometown girl you can be proud of for all the good, old-fashioned reasons. She's poised, intelligent, well-spoken. And tough...

The debate over the consequences of ugly rhetoric began long before the victims fell Saturday. It requires winners and losers. As Tucson processes the very personal pain of what happened to Gabrielle Giffords and others on a beautiful sunny Saturday, the state and the nation have a model of behaviour that does not require blame. Republicans and Democrats - political friends and foes - came together to express compassion after Saturday's tragedy. If those involved could hold that level of civility, we'd all be better off.


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