Editorial: Speaking the truth
The nation tuned in together Saturday as news broke of the mass shooting in Arizona. The gunman targeted and severely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and kept on shooting until heroically tackled by people attending the congresswoman’s meet and greet session. In the meantime he left six dead, more than a dozen also wounded.
Subsequent investigation has found him to be a loner who scared people and who seemed to have a grudge against Giffords. The usual pattern, it seems:someone who needed help, who did not get it, and who went on to create his own little world of terror.
As the news developed on Saturday, the usual platitudes, surely heartfelt but still without much substance, went out on the airwaves. Every public official from both sides of the aisle offered condolences—the first and decent thing to do. Everyone then said it’s important to work together in civility toward the nation’s common goals; but who really expects a change in the noxious Congressional stalemate?
One voice, on that tragic Saturday, rang out with a different note. The sheriff of Tucson, deploring the violence that has stained his city, said, "I think it’s time as a country we need to do a little soul searching because I think that the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from the people in the radio business and some people in the TV business … It may be free speech but it does not come without consequences."
Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik’s words have ignited more partisan and divisive debate, especially as the gunman’s motives appeared to arise not from external causes but from some deep cauldron within himself. But don’t shoot the messenger—the sheriff spoke the truth. Heated and inciteful rhetoric spews on both sides of the political spectrum and may easily trigger unstable people to take matters into their own hands.
Former presidential advisor David Gergen, in an excellent column written for CNN, warned against associating the shooter with any particular philosophy until the investigation is completed. But while advising against a rush to judgment, Gergen added, "None of this is to excuse the climate of hatred that has built up in the United States over our politics and our politicians."
A sage of olden days said, "The pen is mightier than the sword." Strong words, taken up and broadcast and repeated and twisted and taken out of context, can incite unbalanced people into becoming killing machines.
Words do have consequences. Sometimes they are deadly.