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An update on the shooting rampage in Tuscon, Arizona on Saturday that claimed the lives of six people and injured at least 14 including Arizona Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, said to be the target of the attack.
- Jonathan Weisman White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal."
- Kate Zernike national correspondent, The New York Times.
- Rep. Raúl Grijalva D-Arizona, 7th District
- Rep. Chris Van Hollen Democrat of Maryland, Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
- Rep. Michael Burgess Republican,Texas, 26th District
- Ron Elving Washington editor for NPR.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The nation is reeling from the brutal attack on Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She was hosting a community event, Saturday, when a gunman, apparently acting alone, opened fire, killing six people, wounding 14 others, including the congresswoman who remains in critical condition. Joining me to talk about the attack, some of the many troubling questions it raises, Ron Elving, Washington editor for NPR, Jonathan Weisman, he's White House reporter for The Wall Street Journal, and from a studio at NPR in New York, Kate Zernike, national correspondent for The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMThroughout the hour, we'll open the phones. I'd like to hear your reactions, 800-433-8850. Join us on e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet. Join us on Facebook. Good morning to all you.
MR. JONATHAN WEISMANGood morning, Diane.
MR. RON ELVINGGood morning, Diane.
REHMRon Elving, it is such a sad time. Tell us what we know about this man who's been charged with five federal accounts.
ELVINGWe don't know a great deal. We do know that he had a troubled history in terms of his high school and his community college in Tucson, apparently had left high school, had apparently left the junior college and had applied or had tried to join the Army. The Army has told us that they rejected him as a recruit, but they haven't told us why -- won't comment on that, usual policy. He seems to have had an extraordinarily troubled adolescence, but he is 22 years old. He's a grown man. And we are trying to learn more about the circumstances of his disturbance.
REHMAnd joining us now is Congressman Michael Burgess. He's a Republican from the 26th District of Texas. Good morning to you, sir. Thanks for being with us. Are you there, Congressman? No? All right. We'll try to get back to him in just a moment, Congressman Michael Burgess, Republican from Texas. I wonder, from your point of view, Ron Elving, there were some early clues that this man had some problems.
ELVINGYes. He has had postings on the Internet that certainly betrayed a troubled mind, talking about reading various things, including Hitler's "Mein Kampf," "The Communist Manifesto," obviously reaching out, flailing and trying to find some sort of a philosophy with which to try to explain some of the things that he was angry about in his own world and his own life. We don't really know much about the personal circumstances, what kind of personal reversals he may have suffered in.
REHMAnd, now, let's see if we can hear Congressman Michael Burgess. Good morning to you, sir.
REP. MICHAEL BURGESSGood morning, Diane.
REHMI'm sure you share the reactions of many to this awful tragedy. Talk about the question of security and what your thoughts are in regard to whether there now needs to be discussion of how members of Congress and other federal officials perhaps have more security.
BURGESSNow, of course, there's no secret now, after we've talked about it all weekend, that members of -- do not have security detailed to them. I never do in my district, and, frequently, I show up at events even without staff. So that sometimes -- it upsets them. You do have to be able to travel freely around your district and then with your constituents. That's what being the closest contact with the federal government for constituents is all about, and I don't see that changing. I suspect you'll see some rules or recommendations in the next couple of days. But, honestly, I think people would be surprised about some of the level of uncomfortable telephone calls and letters that we get is just part of doing our job. Some people disagree politely, some not so politely.
BURGESSObviously, most of the vitriol in my district comes from the left and not from the right. But it is -- as someone who did not start up in public service, I was startled by that type of activity. But at the same time, it's does come with the territory, and it is something that -- clearly, no one forces me to take this job. I do it willingly. I go ask for it every two years. And as a consequence, I understand my responsibility is to be out -- amongst the people and taking their criticisms as well as their praise, but mostly hearing areas where perhaps I can help them with a problem they've had with the federal government.
REHMWell, let me...
BURGESSAnd that's what all of us do.
REHMLet me follow up on that because questions about the nature of our discourse has certainly risen to the four-year questions about civility, not only on the part of American citizens but also on the part of members of Congress themselves. Do you believe that members of your own party, members of the opposing party, members of independents, will be changing the manner in which they speak to one another as a result of this tragedy?
BURGESSThere's no question that the discussion is going to be almost muted, but I think reverent would perhaps be a better word because of the sacrifice made by one of our fellow members. And it does bring it home, how precious life is and sometimes how precarious it is. I will tell you this, too. From a security standpoint, one of the things that we have done for some time, if I am doing a public event, large or small, I generally will let the local law enforcement agency that's responsible for that area know what I'm doing. They can't know -- they can't keep up with me on my webpage and Twitter. They can't know what I'm going to be doing at all times. But...
BURGESS...if I'm having a public event, I typically will call the local police department or the sheriff. And I've had very, very good response from them. They welcome that. They want to know -- the last thing they want is an injured congressman on their watch in their backyard.
REHMOf course. But let me just zero in. Are you planning to make any changes in the manner in which you speak about opposing ideas, opposing members of Congress and dealing in the Congress overall?
BURGESSWell, for me, personally, I don't think that -- you know, I just -- in being in perspective of my own discussions, I don't think that I have been unnecessarily critical. I certainly do talk about the differences that we have, but there's also plenty of places where we work together.
BURGESSCongresswoman Giffords and I were the co-chairs of the Motorcycle Caucus. It's kind of an unusual little thing, but we work together on motorcycle safety and did public events every year in that regard.
REHMI understand that. But what I'm asking you more generally is whether you think you will change your own tone of approaching issues on which you disagree with opponents.
BURGESSWell, with all due respect, Diane, I don't think I was ever a problem. I'm not the one who turned off a member's microphone in committee. I'm not the one who called me a liar on several TV shows. This came from the other side. Now, I'm more than willing to see what happens over the next several days. We do still have to talk about this health care law. There are some important aspects of public policy that it's simply our job to undertake. We'll see what the tone is during that discussion because as you know, this law was one of the things that not just aggravated members of my party in Congress, but it irritated people all over the country.
REHMDo you believe that as a result of this tragedy, members of Congress, yourself included -- and I understand you are exempting yourself from, sort of, charges of being overly aggressive, overly outspoken in terms of your opponents' positions -- but do you believe that this could change the tone in which members of Congress speak to one another?
BURGESSI think you will see a lot of discussion about that, and a lot of people will say things. Whether or not they follow through would clearly have a chance to see in -- as the debate gets back under way, and we'll see it upfront and then the national way in the next election in 2012.
REHMWell, I certainly appreciate your joining us. Congressman Michael Burgess, Republican, in the 26th District of Texas. Good luck to you, sir.
BURGESSThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd let me turn to you now, Kate Zernike. Do you believe that the tone with which members of Congress speak with one another is part of what has come into play here?
MS. KATE ZERNIKEWell, I'm not sure it's just members of Congress. I think it's the kind of words and the tone that we use around our entire political debate. I mean, let's be clear up front. There's no sign that this -- that the suspected killer had any particular political philosophy. I mean, yes, he named his -- one of his favorite books, "The Communist Manifesto." He also talked about "The Phantom Tollbooth" and "Fahrenheit 451." So we don't really know what his political philosophy was or whether he was motivated by that.
MS. KATE ZERNIKEThat said, I think everyone has said that, yes, on both sides -- and many people would say the right is worst. The right would say the left is worst. Now, the terms have been very militaristic, you know, talking about killing, about using guns, you know, as a metaphor. But then not everyone can always see the difference between metaphor and acting out on that.
REHMKate Zernike of The New York Times. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd we're joined now by Congressman Raul Grijalva. He's Democrat from Arizona's 7th District. Good morning to you, sir.
REP. RAUL GRIJALVAGood morning, Diane. Thank you.
REHMYou said that Arizona is the epicenter of a lot of division and a lot of hard politics. Talk about why.
GRIJALVAWell, I think it's a combination of things, Diane. Primarily, it's -- we have the issue of immigration, which is divisive and polarizing with the legislation that was passed, with legislation that is coming. You also have the issue of health care and very energized activities of the Tea Party in this previous election. And you put all that together, and you have a very hard politics. And, yeah -- and that's what's reflected in the last two elections. Not only in politics, but in almost any community setting that we go to that has to deal with topics of consequence, you're going to find the anger. And you're going to find the divisiveness that's going on.
REHMI gather you, yourself, have faced threats.
GRIJALVAYeah, the -- one person was convicted for making a threat against me and the staff. We've had -- one of our office's windows were -- was shot at. That was in Yuma, Ariz. We had a package that contained some toxic substance that was also sent to our office. So, you know -- and those same things have been happening to Gabby's office. It's, you know, an -- I guess, if I think about it, I was a little cavalier in thinking, well, this is all short-term. We just go about our business and things will change. But, I think, we have to take a lot more precaution into mind now because it's not just about us. It's about everybody around us, and that adds a whole new dimension to it.
REHMWhat kinds of precautions are you talking of?
GRIJALVAWell, I think planning ahead, assuring that, you know, you work with local authorities about security issues and making sure that the venues that you're at guarantees the public maximum safety. That's all -- that is my short-term thinking at this point. But -- and I think here in Washington that the Capitol Police and our leadership has to look at the security procedures that are going on and examine what changes need to happen. But changes do need to occur.
REHMI guess I'm wondering whether you, as a member of Congress, believe that the rhetoric that has so inflamed parts of this country is part of the cause for this kind of occurrence.
GRIJALVAIn response to your question, you know, you don't want to make a definitive linkage 'cause I think that's unfair. But I -- having said that, I think it is important to realize that the scale, the tone, the tenor, the toxicity of the debate, where it is not just about being political opponents. It's about demonizing your opponent. It is about implied threats that are made constantly. Yeah, I think that that rhetoric is a contributing factor to the discord and to the division that we find in this nation.
GRIJALVAAnd we're not saying that people should be gagged. This is -- I'm a great protector of the First Amendment. But there is a responsibility that begins with the elected leadership, beginning with our governor in the State of Arizona and extending to every one of us here in Congress, that we need to understand, as Gabby said so well in an interview, words have consequences.
GRIJALVAThey have meaning and consequences, and, I think, we need to lead by example, Diane.
REHMSo the question becomes, do you believe you and your colleagues will begin to evolve in a new way, a new dialogue, a new way of challenging ideas, presenting ideas without demonizing the opposition?
GRIJALVAI -- certainly for myself, if I have -- and I hope I haven't been. But if I have been guilty of a previous practice, that ends. And, certainly for myself, I would appreciate a civil, intelligent debate, where, at the end of the day, you are -- you have been opponents, but you're not deadly enemies. And I -- yes, I think -- I really do think that everybody has to reflect on this. I'm glad that Boehner called a week off without any action. When we come back, I think the debate on health care will be a great indicator as to a different, more mature, more intelligent tone to our debate. The debate will still occur. The vote will still occur. The majority will rule in this democracy. I'm fine with it. But I think the test for us, as members of Congress, will be that tone and that tenor of that debate and the civility around it.
REHMRaul Grijalva, he's Democrat from Arizona's 7th District. Thank you, sir, for joining us.
GRIJALVAThank you, Diane.
REHMJonathan Weisman, do you believe that the tone could change?
WEISMANWell, we've heard some optimism. Yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, held a conference call. It was really quite extraordinary. It attracted 800 people. Those are members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, their spouses, their staff. The tone, we understand, was extremely conciliatory, and the camaraderie really burst out of the telephone lines. They came out of there, Republicans and Democrats, speaking very highly of the new tone and of each other. We'll see how far that goes.
WEISMANBut I'll tell you one thing that I found a little depressing yesterday, was that you didn't hear a lot of people saying, you know, in retrospect, putting gun sights over congressional districts was a mistake. We shouldn't have done it. We're not going to say that we were -- you know, Sarah Palin doesn't have to say she was implicit in the violence. But, you know, she might have wanted to say, I'm sorry. But all we heard was defensiveness. Those weren't gun sights. Those were surveyor's marks. We haven't heard a lot of people say -- we haven't heard a whole lot of personal contrition, let's just say.
ELVINGThat's right. I don't think we've heard a great number of people eager to take upon themselves the onus of what everyone disapproves of here, which is the deterioration of dialogue into not just anger, but violence. And, of course, we've had anger in our political dialogue forever, and, to some degree, it has been punctuated by violence throughout our history. And, always, after those moments of horror and shock, the Congress and other people in the political world talk about changing their tone and talk about being more conciliatory...
ELVINGWe saw that after 9/11 -- of course, an external attack on the United States. We saw it after Oklahoma City. In 1995, President Clinton gave a speech which really, in many respects, turned around the perception of his own presidency, and a lot of people at that time talked about changing the tone. Another incident in 1998 -- I believe his name was Rusty Weston, shot his way into the Capitol, killed two guards, trying to get at somebody. It wasn't clear whom. He was clearly a very disturbed individual and no clear political ideology. And Congress came together. They had a very moving ceremony for the two police officers in the rotunda of the Capitol. People hugged each other who had not been able...
REHMAnd we saw that yesterday as well.
ELVINGYes, yes. People hugged each other who had exchanged punches...
ELVING...on the floor of the House, and it was a wonderful moment. But later that year, they impeached President Clinton.
REHMKate Zernike, Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff of Pima County in Arizona, said it's time for the country to do a little soul searching.
ZERNIKEWell, I think that's true. I mean, I think what Jonathan said is exactly right. Yesterday, you know, the conservatives were saying and, I think, fairly they were saying, look, there's no -- you know, stop blaming the Tea Party. There's no evidence this guy was a Tea Party member, had anything to do with them. But rather than stop there and say, you know, we so regret this tragedy. They said, besides, the left is worse. You know what I mean? Erick Erickson on RedState concluded a post about this by saying -- and he said, well, Obama was the one who said if they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.
ZERNIKEAnd then he concluded this post by saying, you know, besides, the Tea Party won in November, and losers don't go -- winners don't go on shooting sprees. I mean, I think that's just sort of -- it's irrelevant, and it sort of says the kind of -- the accusatory tone of our politics, if nothing else. But, I think, also the other question is, in addition to soul searching, will that soul searching extend to our gun laws? This is an interesting situation because, of course, Rep. Giffords is a strong Second Amendment defender. But I think there are going -- you know, the question will be whether there are calls not only for less heated rhetoric, but also for some broader gun control.
REHMYou had the sheriff talking about the fact that even college students, college professors in Arizona can take guns into the classroom. What kind of society is this that needs that kind of gun protection?
WEISMANWell, so far, we've seen two responses from members of Congress in terms of gun laws. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was gunned down on a Long Island railroad, a staunch advocate of gun control, said she is going to prepare new gun control legislation. But we've also seen members of Congress now say that they're going to start going to town hall meetings and meetings with their constituents armed. So -- and I think, ultimately, that will be the overwriting sentiment.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones. First, to Charlotte, N.C. Good morning, Leo. Thanks for joining us.
LEOGood morning, Diane. How are you?
LEOGood. I just wanted to make a point. You know, there's -- it seems to be that, each time something like this happens, Republicans are able to diffuse the issue and sort of distract the public by hiding behind this wall of what I call unequal comparisons. Excuse me. They say -- well, you know, both sides do this. And it's just kind of normal, and now we're just kind of experiencing normal things. When, in fact, I think a clear line was crossed when it went from, you know, maybe comparing people to Hitler and things like that to when you have folks saying we should seek Second Amendment solutions.
LEOAnd you have the whole thing where, you know, talking about reloading and all the references to violence. And even back last year, when people were just saying look, you can disagree what Obama's policies or Democrats policies. Just don't -- just try to, you know, cut back on some of the violence and some of the violent language, and people said, no. And I think that a line was crossed then, and now we're seeing the consequences of those lines being crossed.
ELVINGThe consequence is -- that line -- I think that word is going to be heard a great deal. We've already heard reference made to Gabrielle Giffords on the use of that word. She said there are consequences to words, and, certainly, that is true. But if you start to take this to the point where you say, anything that I did not like that I heard my opponent saying that took on a certain cast, then connects by some kind of causal line to the action that was taken by this disturbed individual on Saturday. Then it's going to be more problematic. It certainly doesn't work in terms of a legal causality.
ELVINGAnd it doesn't really work if we hold responsible the actions of a particular individual, or hold responsible that individual, for something that is addressed to a politician we may like and maybe have somewhat different feelings about the whole situation if its directed towards a politician we don't like. We need to put the focus on the violence.
WEISMANYou know, ultimately, during the 2010 campaign, a lot of the rhetoric that we're now talking about became political issues. The comments that Sharon Angle in Nevada said about Second Amendment remedies, that was used against her by Harry Reid. And Harry Reid won reelection. In Florida, Alan West talked about making members -- the member of Congress that he was running against scared of leaving his house. That was also used against Alan West, but Alan West won election. So, ultimately, it's going to be up to the voters to decide how important this kind of incendiary language is.
REHMJonathan Weisman of The Wall Street Journal. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now, to Anne who's in Florida Keys. Good morning to you.
ANNEHi. This is Anne.
REHMYes. Go right ahead.
ANNEI think that the whole world of civility has disappeared from our society today. And while I think that the Congress needs to set -- be a better role model, I think that the media bears a very, very large part in this. People like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are constantly stirring the flames of anger. And while anger has always been there, they're intensifying it through their own rhetoric.
REHMKate Zernike, do you want to respond?
ZERNIKEWell, you know, it's hard to know how to respond because I think, as I said earlier, either side is going to say, no, no, the other side is worse. And as I -- I agree with Jonathan. I think it's sort of depressing that that is the response. And so, I guess, without going through and making a complete accounting, I don't want to say whether the left or the right is worse. I do think that, indeed, there is sort of a -- there's a conspiratorial tone to a lot of television and radio. And I think that there is -- you know, it's not just that you disagree with someone. It's that they're evil. It's that they're, you know -- they're extreme terms. You know, socialist, Marxist, Hitler, just all of these terms sort of add up.
ZERNIKEAnd, again, you know, often, people who are disturbed may not be acting on a political philosophy. But they also -- they don't know the difference between metaphor and between taking something literally. So, you know, again, going back to the health care bill, Republicans talk about killing -- you know, let's kill the bill. And it's, you know -- of course, it rhymes, and so it's a good slogan. But it's also, you know -- do we need to speak about things in this -- in these extreme terms?
REHMAnd doing battle, Ron Elving.
ELVINGYes. But we must remember that politics has been conducted with two kinds of metaphor as, back over the years, sports and warfare. And these are terms that everyone has used. People have talked about mobilizing. People have talked about marching. This is not a new phenomenon. What we need to get to is what is different about the last few years. We did see those town halls in August of 2009. No one had ever seen anything quite like that, at least not in our living memory. And that, I think, moved a lot of us to wonder what rough beast was loose in our system right now.
REHMWe've got the Internet. Go ahead, Kate.
ZERNIKEWell, I was just going to say that, to add to Ron's point, I mean, again, we can go back to those town halls. And you look at the -- there was a directive sent out by one of the Tea Party groups in -- I think it goes from Fairfield County, Conn. And it was sort of advising on how you should approach these town halls. And one of the things they said that sort of stuck with me as we heard about the shootings over the weekend was, it's a -- you know, you need to get in the Rep's face. You need to get in your representatives face. And, you know, there are going to be people who think that that means getting in -- getting up there with a gun.
REHMJonathan Weisman, there were some early clues that this man planned the attack. There were people who read his postings online. It makes me wonder what our responsibility is as citizens when we see such postings.
WEISMANWell, you know, FBI Director Robert Mueller addressed this yesterday in Arizona. He's leading the investigation, and he said that it is just -- it is very challenging for the FBI in this era to go after everybody who has posted some ravings on the Internet. I mean, they would have no time to do anything else. And, yes, you're right. You know, perhaps, some of the friends of Jared Loughner might have brought this to the attention of folks. Jared Loughner, apparently, had in his safe at home all sorts of evidence to suggest that he was personally focused, obsessed with Gabrielle Giffords. So if we had known those things, yes, the law enforcement should have been on notice. But it's pretty tough to keep up with all the lunatic ravings on -- in the Internet.
REHMJonathan Weisman of The Wall Street Journal. We'll take a short break, then more of your calls, your comments.
REHMAnd we're back, joined now by Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Good morning to you, sir.
REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLENGood morning, Diane.
REHMTell us about the reaction among your colleagues at this point.
HOLLENWell, I think, as you've been hearing, everybody is united in the horror of this event, determined to do what we can do, working with others in the country to provide -- to try and prevent this kind of senseless killing in the future. There are -- also have been discussions with the Capitol police about possible steps to increase security. But, for the most part, everybody is thinking about our colleague, Gabby, her staff and her constituents who were either killed or injured. And that is why, on Wednesday, there will be a resolution in the House where we remember those who were fallen and send our prayers to those who were injured.
REHMOf course, no matter what the motivations, it's pretty clear that the alleged gunman was a clearly, mentally troubled individual, an especially difficult problem for our mental health system and for law enforcement. How do you think that's going to play into the debate over health care?
HOLLENWell, there are a number of issues here, Diane. One is how can somebody, who is that unstable, go out and purchase this kind of gun? We had that debate in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting. The State of Virginia changed some of its laws. But, clearly, that is a big issue and, of course, raises the other issue, which you were just discussing, is -- which is, how do you recognize that somebody like this is, number one, in trouble? And whose responsibility is it to report that, in this case, to whoever would be responsible for keeping the list of people who were on the, you know, don't sell list. With respect to the mental health system, the same question is raised. I mean, at what point does somebody like that get referred to the mental health system and whose responsibility is it?
HOLLENObviously, he had several encounters with law enforcement. One appeared to be drug related, the other, something else. He obviously was expelled from his community college. The Army denied him admission in the Army. How is it -- is it possible to sort of weave these things together and intervene early in these kind of circumstances? You know, I don't think any of us know the answer to that question. As Jonathan was saying, the FBI director, Mueller, has indicated that, you know, just monitoring the Internet for this kind of -- you know, these kind of statements could be an, you know, all-consuming process. So I do think that there will be an effort to figure out if there's a better way to identify these kind of situations (unintelligible) situations earlier.
REHMAnd in what ways do you believe that this incident, like many, many before it, could truly have a permanent change on the way the Congress does business instead of the hurling of epithets at one another? I realize that that doesn't happen just in the Congress. It happens all throughout society. If you are on the other side, you're not only wrong, you're the enemy. And it looks as though up there in the Congress people have become so ugly to one another that they are each other's enemies.
HOLLENWell, Diane, you're right. I think in the Congress, as in the media and elsewhere, everybody needs to recognize that we can have strong differences in opinion. We can have spirited debate. In fact, when there are strong differences as how to approach major challenges, we should have those debates. But we should always have them in a way that's respectful of the other individual's point of view and take responsibility for the tone of that debate. That's our (unintelligible)...
REHMWe should, but we don't.
HOLLENWell, in that regard, Gabby Giffords was a good role model. I -- there is a clear distinction between having a spirited and vigorous debate on the one hand and outright hate speech on the other. And, especially hate speech, where people either directly or strongly suggest that people should, you know, either violently overthrow the U.S. government or take violent acts against individuals, clearly, that is crossing the line. And hate speech that encourages that kind of activity is clearly crossing the line.
REHMWell, I wish you success, Congressman Van Hollen, in whatever your efforts may be to try to change the tone that's used on Capitol Hill. Thanks for joining us.
HOLLENThank you, Diane.
REHMCongressman Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And going now to Haverhill, Mass. Good morning, Richard. You're on the air.
RICHARDGood morning. Well, thank you, Diane. Good morning. You know, the mainstream media keeps on saying the rhetoric on both sides. Well, I'm sorry. It's the rhetoric mostly on one side, 99 percent at the time. I'm speaking of a certain network, the Fox Network as an example. About a week ago, Tucker Carlson said on the -- on their network that Michael Vick, who used the dogs, you know, torturing dogs and stuff, should be shot. And then, about a month before that, the fellow that was on that network -- his name slips my mind -- said that Julian Assange, even though this (word?) said, he's against capital punishment, Julian Assange should be shot.
RICHARDSo -- and Rush Limbaugh, he has said demonizing things about different people over the years such that -- so it's the hard -- the right wing media, in particular. And the problem is that the Tea Party and the Christian right, people on the right have taken over the Republican Party. And the Republican Party is a moderate -- which is very few today -- will not speak out against that type of rhetoric because they're so afraid that they're going to have an opponent during their primary. So it's always -- the media is saying the left wing. What left wing? There's no left wing in this country anymore.
WEISMANWell, it's interesting. I actually covered the Gabrielle Giffords 2006 campaign, and her district is really -- somewhat represents what you're talking about. There was -- there are deep divisions. The district, overall, is actually quite moderate. It was represented for years by an openly gay, very moderate Republican, Jim Kolbe. When Kolbe retired, he had handpicked a very moderate Republican to succeed him, but the GOP is so deeply divided in that district, he got a challenger in a man named Randy Graf who ran as a very conservative, anti-immigrant candidate.
WEISMANHe won easily, beat the Republican -- won the Republican primary easily because he really captured the -- kind of the angry right in that corner of Arizona, and then Gabrielle Giffords just crushed him because, overall, the place was very moderate. But you do have a very powerful, conservative wing of the GOP right now that has -- you know, that's a force to be reckoned with.
ELVINGThe media conversation has also changed over the years. I think this is quite dramatic. If you go back 10, 20, 30 years, what you saw on television, what you heard on the radio, observe certain bounds of civility that were quite expected. And if anyone overstepped those bounds and used the kind of language that's so routine today, they were not invited back on anyone's air. They were considered to be outside the bounds. That has changed now so that the economic comparative, rather than protecting one's FCC license and worrying about offending some other people in one's audience, now it seems that the economics are on the side of encouraging the most outrageous kind of behavior, the most outrageous kinds of language...
ELVINGBecause people are appealing more to a niche audience and not trying to get a broad audience of the middle. They're trying to find a reliable and habituated audience that will come back to their particular brand...
REHMAnd to what...
ELVING...and they want conflict.
REHMAnd to what extent do you believe that that is inflaming the rhetoric overall, Kate Zernike?
ZERNIKEI think it's had -- I mean, it -- I think it's had a remarkable degree. I think it's made what's acceptable much broader. So it's not just what's acceptable on television. It's what's acceptable, you know, in polite society, in -- on the House of the -- the Congress. I mean, remember, there was this tremendous outburst when a Republican congressman from South Carolina screamed, you lie, at the president. I mean, but that kind of thing, you know -- there was an outburst, and then people said, well, he has a right to say that. So, again, I think it's increased our tolerance for what's acceptable.
REHMAll right. To Bernie in Frisco, Texas. Good morning to you.
BERNIEGood morning. I have to comment that I disagree with the concept that the media is not greatly responsible for this. I live in Texas. There is no middle. There is no middle ground. You're either for them -- them being the extreme right wing, right wingers, extreme conservatives -- or you're odd man out. And the rage that we encounter from the right, from conservatives, from the majority of the people here against liberals, against liberals, against President Obama, has got to be experienced. You will not believe me. I don't think you will. I wish you would. But the rage and anger from the right against the left is savage.
ELVINGYes. I don't think I would need a great deal of convincing of that. I have experienced -- and I think anyone who has been a reporter or a journalist being out in the political world in the last several years have experienced something, which, while it has antecedents and, certainly, we have seen some kinds of anger in the past that are similar -- the degree is important. Matters of degree, differences of degree, can be critically important. And what we're seeing now, as the caller suggests, seems to have taken on another order, another magnitude.
REHMAnd to Chesapeake, Va. Good morning, Nicole. Thanks for joining us. She's not there. And to Paul in Miami Beach. Good morning.
PAULThis is Paul.
REHMYes. Go right ahead, sir.
PAULYes. Good morning, Diane.
BERNIEI'm a long admirer of your show.
PAULI think it's a very sad day for all of us. I'm an architect and a one-man show, and I have the radio on probably 10 hours a day. And I'd slip from station to station usually out of boredom, but you get a flavor of the vast, vast differences in opinions about the political situation in our country. And it's terrifying in a way because the different opinions are so vastly opposite and so antagonistic that I honestly don't see how there can ever be, say, a middle of the road compromise with either side.
WEISMANI think, actually, Paul makes a good point because, you know, it's hard to get some kind of reconciliation when people can't even agree on what they are supposed to be reconciling. You know, we are still -- the left and the right are still arguing whether or not racial epithets where thrown at black members of Congress before the -- with the health care vote, you know? The members who were there say that they were abused, that they were -- that the N-word was hurled out.
WEISMANThe right, led by Andrew Breitbart, has been saying, we see no proof of this. Nobody is actually saying, you know, whether that happened or not, it was wrong. They are just -- people are arguing whether things actually should be. It's just the same way as the gun sights in Sarah Palin's pack. People are arguing whether those were gun sights, not whether it was appropriate to have gun sights.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an e-mail from Bruce in Indianapolis, who says, "Speaking as a professional psychotherapist, I take exception to those who say the political vitriol in this country would not contribute to this event. Severe mental illness renders some sufferers to be susceptible to the development and delusions that can lead them to very dangerous and violent acts. The perpetrator often will believe him, or herself, to be right, even noble, in their actions." Ron.
ELVINGThis is, I think, what is most disturbing in the aftermath of what happened in Tucson, is that, so far, mostly what we're hearing is absolutely absent of any contrition. No one seems to be saying, I want to change whatever I have done. I feel that I've been a contributor. We hear many people saying, it's all on the other side. It's all the other side. It's their rhetoric. That's the problem. We have to get past that.
REHMAnd to Sarah in Oklahoma City. Good morning to you.
SARAHOh, good morning.
REHMGo right ahead, Sarah.
SARAHOh, I just wanted to call. Thank you for having me. I lost my dad in 1995. He was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. And, at the time, our entire nation just rallied around Oklahoma City, and we felt the love of everyone. And some time within about two weeks afterwards, Rush Limbaugh wrote an article, an op-ed piece, I believe, within Newsweek, and it was titled "Why I'm Not to Blame." And I found it cowardly at best and offensive. And he seemed to be the only person in this country who didn't want to, you know, reach out to the people here.
SARAHAnd my heart goes out to everyone who was affected by this tragedy in Arizona. And I just wonder if we're still having this discussion after almost 16 years and if this will ever change. And I just really want to reach out to all of the listeners and just to let them know that -- to not accept this sort of violent and vitriolic speech, to continue the discussion and the debate in a mannerly way, and, hopefully, that this won't ever happen again. So I'll take my comments off the air. Thank you so much.
REHMSarah, I'm so sorry about your father. I know how deeply you must feel what's happened here in the United States again -- in Arizona. Thank you for your call. And I think her question remains alive and well. Is anything going to change? And, for that, we will wait to hear. Thank you all so much for joining us, Jonathan Weisman of The Wall Street Journal, Kate Zernike of The New York Times, Ron Elving of NPR. And our deep condolences to all who were hurt, injured, killed in Arizona. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Toby Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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