Video: Has political rhetoric become too toxic?

  1. Closed captioning of: Has political rhetoric become too toxic?

    >>> alleged arizona gunman. the motivation behind the attack still a mystery. in the wake of the assassination attempt , both democrats and republican are reviewing the heated rhetoric that characterized last year's health care debate and the midterm elections. martin frost himself faced death threats when he was in congress and voted for the first gulf war in '91. i'm also joined by nbc political analyst charles cook . he is also the editor of "the cook political report ". this is a time, perhaps, for a circuit breaker . marty, you went through this yourself and went through the discomfort with the support of having capitol hill police go with you as they do with membersst leadership. but there is no way that we could afford or you is sustain having members of the capitol police or others protecting all members of congress .

    >> i think that's right. this was in 1991 . i think there were a lot fewer death threats then. but we were told to take it very seriously. if we had a death threat in our office, we were told immediately call the fbi and to immediately call the capitol police . the capitol police then sent two officers to texas with me on two different trips over two-week paerd, went everywhere with me, ultimately we decided it wasn't -- they decided it wasn't a real threat and stopped protecting me. but it really inhibits a member of congress when shadowed a a police officer .

    >> that's the point we were talking about the stapt representatistate represent frif arizona about that and also to jackie spear. there is no way that congress members can really interact with their constituents under these conditions. if this were to be the norm.

    >> absolutely. i think it would be financially impossible to afford to do something like that. i think probably what we'll do is make members of congress a softer target. you know, when they're having highly publicized, widely attended events back in their district, have local police officers there. i think you'll probably see a bunch of members hiring former police officers or former military personnel to be sort of drivers, escorts, and to have other functions in the office but to go with them to big public events, that sort of thing. that's where we're going to go. but certainly this didn't seem like it was political directly where this kid was clearly a very sick kid who should have been institutionalized. but the political courseness, the coarseness of the rhetoric that is out there, it certainly has to be a contributing factor or one that we would -- should consider.

    >> and if and when we know it's not in this case, it does raise the issue. now it put several people, very high profile people, sarah palin , glenn beck today on the defensive. this was glenn beck on his radio show this morning describing an exchange of e-mails he had with palin because he was coming to her defense. he feels she's been unfairly criticized for the cross hairs map that targeted gabby giffords ' district. listen to this.

    >> i said sarah, as you know, peace is always the answer. i know you're feeling the same heat if not much more on this. i want you to know you have my support. but please look into protection for your family. an attempt on you could bring the republic down. she wrote back, in part -- i hate the violence. i hate war. our children will not have peace if they capitalize on this to succeed in portraying anyone as insighting terror and violence. thanks for all do you to send the message of truth and love and god is the answer, sarah.

    >> of course, glenn beck himself has been criticized for some really what is widely believed to be outrageous speech in the past. the point is that sarah palin had this map, her pack. she didn't take it down until saturday. and, in fact, it is still in her -- on her facebook page from last march, the map targeting 20 districts including gabby giffords . she was in her district campaigning there last mo march as well. giffords, as we played earlier, was very critical of that, sharply critical of the cross hairs map and now rebecca mansore of her staff had actually said this weekend that these cross hairs were not meant to be gun sights. but how can you look at this map and think it's anything other than gun sights?

    >> what has to happen is that people in politics and people in the media have to just cool it on all these references to guns. i mean sharon engel got an enormous trouble because she talked about a second amendment solution. that's not a very subtle reference to actively taking up arms. so everybody who is running for office and people who make their living doing political commentary ought to find some other things to talk about, use other meta fors rather than using guns as a metaphor in politics.

    >> and it's not that i agree completely with martin, it's not just the gun. but it is also sort of the apocalyptic type tone. .

    >> the hyperbole.

    >> right. people need to dial it back.

    >>> coming up, vice president's biden's

By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 1/10/2011 7:41:31 PM ET 2011-01-11T00:41:31

Conservative commentators on Monday pushed back at Democrats' and liberals’ argument that the Tea Party movement and Republican politicians had contributed to a climate that might have encouraged Saturday's shootings of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., federal judge John Roll, and others.

Events such as the killings in Tucson "are seen first as political opportunities" by those pointing fingers, Rush Limbaugh said on his radio program Monday, likening the discussion to the one held in the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing nearly 16 years ago. "The Republicans had nothing to do with the bombing at Oklahoma City, but it was seen as a political opportunity for Bill Clinton."

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He added, "In continuing this template and narrative that the Tea Party and Sarah Palin, that talk radio and Fox News, are inspiring violence, they forget that, in the process of so doing, they are attacking what is now a majority of America."

Krugman: 'toxic rhetoric' and 'national climate'
In his column Sunday, liberal New York Times pundit Paul Krugman wrote that "You could see, just by watching the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies" in 2008 that an outbreak of violence like the Oklahoma City bombing "was ready to happen again."

Krugman added the accused Tucson gunman, Jared Loughner, "appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate."

He said "something about the current state of America" has been causing disturbed people to threaten or commit acts of political violence.

Krugman concluded, "there’s not much question what has changed. As Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff responsible for dealing with the Arizona shootings, put it, it’s ‘the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.’ The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line.”

On Fox News Monday evening, columnist Charles Krauthammer said, "The way that some have manipulated and exploited this — particularly those on the left — is truly scurrilous."

He pointed to comments by Dupnik and Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C. that implied that Loughner might have been influenced by rhetoric to begin shooting at Giffords and others on Saturday.

“There is not a shred of evidence that the shooter, the gunman was influenced in any way by Sarah Palin, by the Tea Party, by opposition to health care,” Krauthammer said.

Beck: Hold those who commit violence responsible
In an open letter posted on his web site, Fox News host Glenn Beck wrote, "Turning these horrific events into an opportunity for a political attack is a very childish response to a very grown-up problem. This is not about winning a political blame game."

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He said, "All evidence points to the fact that the assailant from this weekend was severely mentally disturbed. His belief system was not rational by any modern political standard."

Beck urged Americans to join him in a pledge to condemn the use of violence "regardless of ideological motivation."

As part of that pledge he declared, "I hold those responsible for the violence, responsible for the violence. I denounce those who attempt to blame political opponents for the acts of madmen."

In Tucson on Monday, in comments reported by the New York Times, radio talk show host Jon Justice said that blaming radio hosts for inciting the shootings of Giffords and others was "like blaming Jodie Foster for the individual who shot Ronald Reagan.”

John Hinckley, who shot Reagan in 1981, was obsessed with Foster, a popular actress at that time, and thought that killing Reagan would gain him esteem in her eyes. At his trial Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

'Cheap habit'
Conservative historian and pundit Victor Davis Hanson wrote on National Review's web site that, "In the times of national uncertainty and fear that immediately follow hideous mass shootings, this cheap habit of channeling insanity into politics always surfaces but never convinces — as we learned from the deplorable tactic of blaming the Oklahoma City bombing on conservative talk radio."

Hanson denounced "political vultures who scavenge political capital as they pick through the horrific violence."

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He reminded readers that in the wake of the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, "commentators pontificated about a right-wing 'climate of hate' in Dallas, Texas, that supposedly explained why a crazed avowed Communist — pro-Soviet, Castroite 24-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald — shot President Kennedy."

Story: Politicians split on meaning of Giffords shooting

Referring to the complaint of Sarah Palin’s political organization putting a symbol of a target on Democratic candidates, including Giffords, conservative pundit Brian Faughnan complained on his Twitter account that, “Libs weren't so angry the last time an Arizona Rep was targeted w/ crosshairs in election ad.”

A Republican in the target
Faughnan pointed to a television ad run by Democratic congressional candidate Harry Mitchell in 2006 against Republican opponent Rep. J.D. Hayworth.

Mitchell’s ad featured a target symbol superimposed over grainy black-and-white video imagery of Hayworth’s face, as the narrator said Hayworth was “the focus of the Justice Department’s investigation” in the Jack Abramoff case.

Mitchell defeated Hayworth in 2006, but lost last November to Republican David Schweikert.

Expressing his disgust with the torrent of instant analysis of the Tucson shooting, Michael Moynihan of the libertarian Reason magazine said on his Twitter account Saturday, “Man, what was that, 10 mins before bloggers, pundits, DC hacks said shooting reaffirmed their ideology? God, I hate everyone in this town.”

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