Americans breathed a sigh of relief on Sunday when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ staff released the first photographs of the congresswoman since she was shot during an event in Tucson this January. In the photos, the congresswoman appears smiling and alert, with a scar along her left temple. Giffords was lucky—though she sustained a gunshot wound to the head and the bullet passed through her brain, it did not sever arteries or veins. Additionally, the injury was “through and through,” and the bullet did not hit the midline of the brain.
Earlier this afternoon, NASA postponed the launch of the space shuttle Endeavor, citing problems with heaters in the auxiliary power unit. The shuttle launch has been closely followed in the news, both because recovering congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is seeing off her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, and because this mission is the second-to-last in the shuttle program's history, and for the foreseeable future of the American space program.
In the brief national soul-searching that followed the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, many observers, including President Obama, reflected on the troubling excess of anger and moral indignation in our political discourse—the kind of indignation that turns opponents into enemies, and campaigns into crusades. Yet, even as responsible figures on the right and the left in America are urging their fellow-citizens (in Roger Ailes’s surprising words) to “tone it down,” the best-selling book in France is a pamphlet titled Indignez-vous!—roughly, Get Angry!
Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, likes to say that “no organization anywhere in the world is a more devoted advocate of free speech.” His response to the tragic shooting in Tucson came, therefore, as something of a surprise. In early January, Assange issued a press release arguing, despite the lack of any evidence, that right-wing vitriol had provoked the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, to go on a murderous rampage.
Washington—President Obama’s call for “a more civil and honest public discourse” will get its first test much sooner than we expected. Having properly postponed all legislative action last week out of respect for Rep.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about the massacre in Arizona, but by now it’s quite clear that the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was mentally disturbed. In college, he was prone to surreal rants that unnerved classmates and teachers. While working at an animal shelter, he didn’t see why sick dogs needed to be kept away from healthy ones. Loughner’s friends were even aware of his weird obsession with Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
When disaster strikes, journalists have to write something about it—and write it fast. That means they have to take mental shortcuts, calling up established narratives and laying them out like old wrapping paper for new and more ambiguous facts. (Wife poisons husband. Revenge killing? Money killing? Self-defense killing? We stand at the ready with a lot of templates.) While the resulting gift isn’t always pretty, it’s generally good enough for deadline work. But sometimes the shortcuts produce a journalistic stampede at the worst possible time.
When Jared Loughner walked into the Sportsman’s Warehouse in Tucson, Arizona, to purchase a Glock 19 on November 30, 2010, he had every right to walk out the legal owner of the semi-automatic handgun. In hindsight, after he used that weapon to kill six innocent people and wound more than a dozen during an attempted assassination of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, it is easy to question that sale. Given current U.S. gun laws, however, there was no reason to prohibit the transaction.
Nothing is harder to achieve in a time of turbulence than clarity. In an inflamed moment, there may be no greater public service than the drawing of a distinction. In 1953, for example, Sidney Hook published a book called Heresy, Yes—Conspiracy, No. His subject was the threat posed by communism, and his argument was that an open society needed to distinguish between heresy, which was to be celebrated, and conspiracy, which was to be condemned and fought. In the aftermath of the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, we could use a similar distinction. The one we propose is: Incivility, yes.
After the horrible tragedy in Tucson, many are rightly criticizing Sarah Palin’s use of crosshairs on a campaign map showing the districts represented by members of Congress she wanted to oust in 2010, including that of Gabrielle Giffords. It isn’t the only example of Palin’s penchant for inflammatory imagery or language.