ABC News’ Brian Ross speculated this morning that the alleged shooter who attacked a Batman premier in Colorado might be a member of the Tea Party. His suggestion — since retracted by ABC — continues a trend of media figures wrongly tying such tragedies to the Tea Party since 2010.
In February 2010, Joseph Stack became a Tea Partier for purposes of the media after he committed suicide by flying his small airplane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas. New York Magazine, after reading his online suicide note/manifesto that day, immediately declared that “a lot of his rhetoric could have been taken directly from a handwritten sign at a tea party rally.” The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart added that “his alienation is similar to that we’re hearing from the extreme elements of the Tea Party movement.”
Neither Capehart or NYMAG mentioned that Stack quoted the Communist Manifesto approvingly and denounced capitalism as a system that teaches, “From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.” That would seem to put him at odds with the Tea Partiers, who often attacked Obamacare as a socialist government program.A few months later, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speculated that the failed attempt to bomb Times Square was carried out by someone “with a political agenda who doesn’t like the health care bill or something.” The would-be bomber, a Pakistani immigrant, said in court “If I’m given 1,000 lives I will sacrifice them all for the life of Allah.”Most famously, politicians and media figures attacked Sarah Palin and the Tea Party after the Tucson shooting that wounded Rep. Gabby Giffords, R-Ariz., and killed six others. Palin was faulted for having put “crosshairs” over Giffords’ district when she was targeting Democratic seats that might be vulnerable to Republican takeover. Even a year after the shooting, Democratic National Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., was willing to cite the shooting as proof that politicians need to “tone things down, particularly in light of” the Tucson shooting. “I hesitate to place blame, but I have noticed it take a very precipitous turn towards edginess and lack of civility with the growth of the Tea Party movement,” she said. In reality, shooter Jared Loughner was reportedly a mentally ill alcoholic with no coherent political ideology (like Stack, though, he wasn’t above invoking the Communist Manifesto). These cases and others have all been marked by politicians and journalists rushing to connect their political opponents to murder. ABC News, to its credit, quickly retracted Ross’ suggestion today, but the damage to their credibility was already done because bias is revealed in the kinds of questions that a person asks. More fundamentally, the search for political alignments is a dishonest attempt to create a negative impression in the minds of the American populace. Correlation does not equal causation. Even assuming that these reports of Tea Party allegiances were correct (which they weren’t), they don’t tell observers much about the Tea Party. “Now, even as we learn how this happened and who’s responsible, we may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize their fellow human beings like this,” President Obama said today. “It’s beyond reason.” H/T Gabriel Malor