Violent Rhetoric Can Lead to Tragedies Like Arizona Shooting

The type of violent rhetoric now common on Fox News and talk radio creates a climate of fear.

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David Brock is CEO of Media Matters, which tracks and corrects conservative misinformation in the media

As we learn more about Jared Loughner, the young man allegedly responsible for the tragedy in Tucson last weekend, it seems clear that he is a mentally unstable individual whose motivations for committing such a horrific crime remain unknown. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't have a conversation about current political discourse and how it has gone too far.

It is a conversation Media Matters has been trying to have since 2009, when we first warned about the very real dangers of mainstreaming extremism. For the past two years, we have argued that the type of violent rhetoric that is now common on Fox News and talk radio creates a climate of fear, suspicion, and paranoia that could lead to another Oklahoma City.

Last fall, I was especially concerned with three assassination attempts directly linked to Fox News contributor Glenn Beck. Soon after Beck joked about poisoning then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in effigy on his set, a man threatened to firebomb her San Francisco residence. The man's mother said her son got all his ideas from Fox News. [Take the poll: Is Political Rhetoric To Blame for Arizona Shooting?]

In March, Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray received a death threat saying that she had a target on her back, and it would only take one bullet to accomplish his objective. The potential assassin, Charles Wilson, was eventually arrested and convicted for repeatedly threatening to kill Murray. During the sentencing phase of his trial, in a memo Wilson's cousin submitted to the court arguing for leniency, his actions were blamed, in part, on being "under the spell that Glenn Beck cast."

Finally, in a jailhouse interview last summer, California gunman Byron Williams said he was inspired by Beck—whom he called a "schoolteacher on TV"—to attempt to assassinate the staff of a liberal philanthropic foundation in San Francisco.

After the third incident, I pleaded for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to set an example by condemning her Fox colleague's violent and revolutionary rhetoric. I asked that Fox do something to address the situation. But my warnings were cast aside.

On Beck's radio show, he and Palin jovially mocked my concern. For seven minutes on air, the pair joked about my plea to tone down the rhetoric. Beck said it was "laughable," "sad," and compared me to the "smelly kid in third grade." Palin giggled and said I was "silly," "pathetic," and "desperate" before ultimately concluding "I stand with you, Glenn."

Even now, in the days since the Arizona shooting, the right wing has insisted that there is not a problem with current political discourse and attacked anyone—like Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik—who suggests otherwise. [Photo Gallery: Gabrielle Giffords Shooting in Arizona.]

Palin, whose removal of the now-infamous map showing gun sights over 20 congressional districts would seem to suggest she knew it was wrong, warned those "journalists and pundits" that the mere act of discussing extreme rhetoric would "incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn."

That's why I have reached out to Fox owner Rupert Murdoch, telling him that he must take a stand. He has the power to order Beck and Palin to stop using violent rhetoric on the airwaves. If they fail to do so, he must fire them or be held responsible for the climate they create and any consequences thereof.

My previous warnings were laughed off and ignored. For the country's sake, I can only hope they are taken more seriously now.