Amid the typhoon of finger-pointing and I-told-you-sos to come out of this weekend's shooting spree in Tucson, Ariz., one thing is clear: The next Jared Lee Loughner will come soon, and when he does, it won't be because of any single politician or political movement. It'll be because of the mainstream media.
In two short days, we've learned more about Loughner and his brand of angst-ridden, nonsensical insanity than could have ever been possible had he not attempted to murder a member of Congress. And while some of this infatuation is to be expected, the hyperpartisan echo chambers that pass for news outlets today are already milking the tragedy for every possible cent of political capital.
Rather than accept that Loughner is nothing more than a violent lunatic who picked a high-profile target, pundit after pundit is grasping at any detail they can find in order to link him to a political movement and thereby shame anyone else associated with it.
And if the people making these claims can be criticized for their lack of substance, the media outlets that air the claims deserve just as much blame for treating them seriously.
Chief among the villains so far has been Sarah Palin--in particular, Palin's "crosshair map," a graphic on her website (taken down since the shooting) that put gun-sight symbols over vulnerable Congressional districts during the 2010 campaign--that has been pointed to as a smoking gun.
The easy scapegoat
But without a media machine that gives top billing to nearly everything Palin says--from the batshit-crazy to the horribly mundane--that map would likely either have never been made, or been discussed far less then and now.
It happens time and time again. In the health-care-reform debate of 2009, "death panels" and angry town-hall meetings became the story, not the numbers of uninsured Americans and the overbearing cost of care. In the 2010 campaign, it was the anger of the Tea Party and whether the current administration was enacting a socialist agenda, not real issues like unemployment, immigration reform, and the war in Afghanistan, that dominated the airtime.
In both cases, and still, the most extreme views from the most partisan sources always make the news, while any attempt at moderation is either criticized or ignored by a conflict-hungry press.
Now, with a Congresswoman still recovering, a federal judge, a 9-year-old girl, and four others dead, and 13 others wounded, the main focus of the mainstream media seems to be whether Republicans or Democrats will come out looking better in the 2012 elections because of the shooting.
Worst of all, every bit of this far-flung, unsubstantiated finger-pointing is only further smothering the national dialogue by the hate-filled and the fact-free--a state that already produced one Jared Lee Loughner and, unless changed, will no doubt produce another.