Commentary Magazine


Topic: Aurora shooting attack

The Key to the NRA’s Success

A week ago, a senseless and tragic shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, took the lives of 12 persons and wounded dozens. But instead of discussing what appears to be the gunman’s mental illness, the liberal mainstream media has spent most of its energy trying (to no avail) to use the incident to revive interest in gun control. This effort has utterly failed, with even President Obama refusing to obey the admonitions of some of his journalistic supporters to leverage the bloodshed for an attack on the National Rifle Association (NRA). This has only compounded their frustration, leading them to publish editorials like today’s New York Times jeremiad against the NRA, which rails about the reasons why “Candidates Cower on Gun Control.”

It is possible to make a reasonable argument in favor of some limits on ownership of particularly dangerous weapons though, as Rich Lowry pointed out in a smart opinion piece published on Politico, the gun control solutions favored by liberals would not have prevented alleged Colorado killer James Holmes from carrying out his crime. As Lowry points out, “Even scary looking guns formerly banned by Congress do not go on killing sprees on their own.” But the interesting point to be gleaned from the rehashing of the old debate about guns is not so much whether the NRA’s critics are right but the way they have come to demonize the organization. Leave aside for a moment the merits of their case about guns, and what comes across most clearly is an unwillingness to acknowledge that the NRA’s success is rooted in the nuts and bolts work of political organizing. Like the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis which cannot explain the enormous bipartisan popularity of the State of Israel by means other than a shadowy conspiracy of money and influence peddling, the NRA’s critics need to understand that it succeeds not by intimidation but because most Americans agree with it.

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A week ago, a senseless and tragic shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, took the lives of 12 persons and wounded dozens. But instead of discussing what appears to be the gunman’s mental illness, the liberal mainstream media has spent most of its energy trying (to no avail) to use the incident to revive interest in gun control. This effort has utterly failed, with even President Obama refusing to obey the admonitions of some of his journalistic supporters to leverage the bloodshed for an attack on the National Rifle Association (NRA). This has only compounded their frustration, leading them to publish editorials like today’s New York Times jeremiad against the NRA, which rails about the reasons why “Candidates Cower on Gun Control.”

It is possible to make a reasonable argument in favor of some limits on ownership of particularly dangerous weapons though, as Rich Lowry pointed out in a smart opinion piece published on Politico, the gun control solutions favored by liberals would not have prevented alleged Colorado killer James Holmes from carrying out his crime. As Lowry points out, “Even scary looking guns formerly banned by Congress do not go on killing sprees on their own.” But the interesting point to be gleaned from the rehashing of the old debate about guns is not so much whether the NRA’s critics are right but the way they have come to demonize the organization. Leave aside for a moment the merits of their case about guns, and what comes across most clearly is an unwillingness to acknowledge that the NRA’s success is rooted in the nuts and bolts work of political organizing. Like the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis which cannot explain the enormous bipartisan popularity of the State of Israel by means other than a shadowy conspiracy of money and influence peddling, the NRA’s critics need to understand that it succeeds not by intimidation but because most Americans agree with it.

You don’t have to agree with the NRA on its opposition to the assault weapons ban to understand that, contrary to the Times and the numerous other liberal editorial writers and columnists who have sounded the same theme, that its actions are a function of democracy, not an attempt to subvert it. If candidates — even a liberal Democratic incumbent — are loath to take it on, that is not because they are cowards, but because they know the NRA represents a critical mass of American public opinion.

The arguments in favor of gun control are at best questionable (such laws don’t reduce crime) and often a function of a cultural prejudice against firearms. But what’s really wrong with most of what we hear from anti-gun forces is their attempt to delegitimize the NRA. The group’s four million members represent not so much a special interest but a vanguard of a broad sentiment that sees gun ownership as a valid constitutional right. You don’t have to agree with them (though the Supreme Court does when it confirmed in 2008 that the Second Amendment meant what it says when it talks of “the right to bear arms”), but you must respect their right to organize. The NRA’s ability to persuade legislators is, like that of other successful advocates such as AIPAC on behalf of Israel, a reflection of the fact that their views are popular.

If the debate on gun control is to continue — and given the consensus that exists among the public and Congress though not among liberal editorialists against such measures there seems no reason why it should — it should do so without the imprecations of the NRA. If liberals wish to defeat it, they must do so by the force of reason, not by demonizing a legitimate and broad-based activist group.

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Jon Stewart Destroys ABC’s Brian Ross

Anyone who watches Jon Stewart knows that he’s a person of liberal political views – but he also shows impressive flashes of independence. Last night was such an instance. In the course of his show, Stewart skillfully rips apart ABC News and its chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, for falsely suggesting that the Aurora, Colorado, killer was a member of the Tea Party.

Ross, based on the flimsiest evidence, took an innocent man and, in the words of Stewart, “casually, baselessly, and publicly accused [him] of – I don’t know – maybe being a mass murderer.”

Stewart then explains why this occurred. The mindset of Ross, according to Stewart, is that linking the Tea Party to the atrocity fits into “a pre-existing narrative. I should get that on the TV.” As Stewart puts it, “Tea Party, low taxes, madman. You do the math.”

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Anyone who watches Jon Stewart knows that he’s a person of liberal political views – but he also shows impressive flashes of independence. Last night was such an instance. In the course of his show, Stewart skillfully rips apart ABC News and its chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, for falsely suggesting that the Aurora, Colorado, killer was a member of the Tea Party.

Ross, based on the flimsiest evidence, took an innocent man and, in the words of Stewart, “casually, baselessly, and publicly accused [him] of – I don’t know – maybe being a mass murderer.”

Stewart then explains why this occurred. The mindset of Ross, according to Stewart, is that linking the Tea Party to the atrocity fits into “a pre-existing narrative. I should get that on the TV.” As Stewart puts it, “Tea Party, low taxes, madman. You do the math.”

Stewart then asks, in the form of a joke, quite a serious question: What story does a guy have to blow to get in trouble at ABC? What exactly does a chief investigative correspondent have to get wrong in order to be grounded by the news division?

When it comes to ABC News, apparently, tendentious, reckless and false allegations aren’t terribly problematic – at least when the object of the smear is the Tea Party.

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Liberal Media Bias

I wanted to follow up on my previous post that alluded to the effort by ABC’s Brian Ross to slander the Tea Party movement in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado, massacre.

In all of this, I’m reminded of the effort by liberals to place the blame for President Kennedy’s assassination on the atmosphere of “right-wing hate” that supposedly characterized the city of Dallas. We later learned, of course, that Lee Harvey Oswald was sympathetic not to conservatism but to communism and Castro. That didn’t fit very well into the liberal template, but the left did what it could.

Beyond that historical parallel, the attempted smear by Ross underscores the extraordinary double standard between the media’s coverage of the Tea Party versus that of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The main residual effect of Tea Party rallies is that the grounds on which the rallies were held were usually cleaner after the Tea Party held their event than before they assembled.

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I wanted to follow up on my previous post that alluded to the effort by ABC’s Brian Ross to slander the Tea Party movement in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado, massacre.

In all of this, I’m reminded of the effort by liberals to place the blame for President Kennedy’s assassination on the atmosphere of “right-wing hate” that supposedly characterized the city of Dallas. We later learned, of course, that Lee Harvey Oswald was sympathetic not to conservatism but to communism and Castro. That didn’t fit very well into the liberal template, but the left did what it could.

Beyond that historical parallel, the attempted smear by Ross underscores the extraordinary double standard between the media’s coverage of the Tea Party versus that of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The main residual effect of Tea Party rallies is that the grounds on which the rallies were held were usually cleaner after the Tea Party held their event than before they assembled.

For Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, we saw acts of violence and sexual assault; looting, vandalism, and the burning of property; rampant anti-Semitism; defecating on police cars; and all sorts of just plain trashy behavior. Yet the media seemed completely uninterested in the damage inflicted by the Occupy Wall Street movement even as it made up false things about the Tea Party. In fact, much of the coverage of OWS was downright sympathetic.

One can only imagine if the incidents that happened at OWS protests had occurred at Tea Party gatherings. We would have seen wall-to-wall coverage condemning the Tea Party. Yet when it came to the ugly and violent face of OWS, the offenses just weren’t all that troubling.

There’s nothing terribly deep or profound going on here. It is what one imagines it to be. What is happening is captured in the three words that cause many mainstream journalists to recoil but which are nonetheless true. And just what are those three words? Liberal media bias.

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Why Nothing Can Be Done About Shootings

When Brian Ross and George Stephanopolous speculated about the possibility that the tragedy was the work of a Tea Party member on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday they were probably saying aloud what most of the mainstream liberal media was thinking at the time. ABC has apologized for this irresponsible comment but now that it’s become clear that a mentally disturbed person with no apparent political agenda committed the tragedy, many on the left have fallen back on the trope that more gun control measures might have prevented the crime and are venting their frustration about the fact that the American people have little interest in more gun laws.

It is an article of faith on the left that banning certain types of weapons and making it more difficult to obtain all firearms will deter or prevent crime. The best we can say of this belief is that it is an unproven assumption. True or not, it’s clear the majority of Americans believe that government interference with gun rights scares them more than random acts of violence by the insane. But it is interesting that few seem to be speaking about a far more obvious conclusion that could be drawn from Aurora: the need to focus more attention on treating and preventing mental illness. But the problem with promoting that far more germane and productive line of inquiry is that it serves no one’s political interest.

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When Brian Ross and George Stephanopolous speculated about the possibility that the tragedy was the work of a Tea Party member on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday they were probably saying aloud what most of the mainstream liberal media was thinking at the time. ABC has apologized for this irresponsible comment but now that it’s become clear that a mentally disturbed person with no apparent political agenda committed the tragedy, many on the left have fallen back on the trope that more gun control measures might have prevented the crime and are venting their frustration about the fact that the American people have little interest in more gun laws.

It is an article of faith on the left that banning certain types of weapons and making it more difficult to obtain all firearms will deter or prevent crime. The best we can say of this belief is that it is an unproven assumption. True or not, it’s clear the majority of Americans believe that government interference with gun rights scares them more than random acts of violence by the insane. But it is interesting that few seem to be speaking about a far more obvious conclusion that could be drawn from Aurora: the need to focus more attention on treating and preventing mental illness. But the problem with promoting that far more germane and productive line of inquiry is that it serves no one’s political interest.

The impulse to politicize the non-political is not limited to the left. Texas Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert said the tragedy was the product of “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs.” No doubt that is something that many who worry about the direction of the country think whenever anything bad happens. Indeed, Gohmert’s statement recalls Newt Gingrich’s belief that Susan Smith’s murder of her two children in 1994 was the result of a sick society that could be cured by more people voting Republican. Liberals rightly mock such claims but that doesn’t stop them from riding their own favorite hobbyhorses when tragedy strikes.

If, as Politico rightly pointed out on Friday, that “nothing can be done” about such events, it is not really because of the power of the National Rifle Association but because the assumption that there is a political answer to every question is a fallacy. Many liberals may believe that it is only the evil gun lobby that enables the insane to do insane things while some conservatives may think it is the breakdown of civilization caused by liberalism. Politics and government are not the solution to everything. Senseless violence is just that. But discussing mental illness does not advance the cause of neither the left nor the right. So we are left after anything terrible happens listening to the same tired clichés about guns and liberals. The best that can be said about all of this is that the American people are far too sensible to be influenced by the sort of vapid commentary that we have been subjected to in the aftermath of Aurora.

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Politicizing the Aurora Massacre

On the massacre that occurred in Aurora, Colorado, earlier this morning, the most obvious thing to say is that the lives of the families and friends of those who were killed and wounded have been altered in an awful, nightmarish direction.

We all know evil exists, that life is fragile, and that people die. But the suddenness and scale of an event like this, in a country like this, is what shocks our system. And for all the efforts by the greatest theological minds in history to explain theodicy, nothing I have ever read or heard addresses it in a satisfactory manner. The “problem of pain” is something that some people might be able to wrestle to the ground when the issue is abstract. But when pain pierces our lives in ways we could never imagine, the neat, tidy explanations – that tragedy is the consequence of the fall of man, that God allows human beings to choose evil, and all the rest – often wash away like sandcastles on the edge of the ocean.

It isn’t that these explanations are necessarily wrong. It’s that they offer very little comfort to those besieged by sorrow. Because what we learn in time is that (to paraphrase the writer Chad Walsh) grief is the price of knowledge – not the knowledge of the mind but of the heart. It is the knowledge of friendship, of affection, of love. Those who live in the shadow of people’s love eventually live in the shadow of grief. Understanding this basic fact of life doesn’t make it any easier to endure. Bereavement can fracture even the sturdiest foundations of our lives.

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On the massacre that occurred in Aurora, Colorado, earlier this morning, the most obvious thing to say is that the lives of the families and friends of those who were killed and wounded have been altered in an awful, nightmarish direction.

We all know evil exists, that life is fragile, and that people die. But the suddenness and scale of an event like this, in a country like this, is what shocks our system. And for all the efforts by the greatest theological minds in history to explain theodicy, nothing I have ever read or heard addresses it in a satisfactory manner. The “problem of pain” is something that some people might be able to wrestle to the ground when the issue is abstract. But when pain pierces our lives in ways we could never imagine, the neat, tidy explanations – that tragedy is the consequence of the fall of man, that God allows human beings to choose evil, and all the rest – often wash away like sandcastles on the edge of the ocean.

It isn’t that these explanations are necessarily wrong. It’s that they offer very little comfort to those besieged by sorrow. Because what we learn in time is that (to paraphrase the writer Chad Walsh) grief is the price of knowledge – not the knowledge of the mind but of the heart. It is the knowledge of friendship, of affection, of love. Those who live in the shadow of people’s love eventually live in the shadow of grief. Understanding this basic fact of life doesn’t make it any easier to endure. Bereavement can fracture even the sturdiest foundations of our lives.

But I want to say a word, too, about something Jonathan touched on in his post, which is the effort by some – in this case, by ABC’s Brian Ross — to attempt to politicize this tragedy almost as soon as the bullets from the killer’s gun had found their targets. (Ross mistakenly speculated, based on the flimsiest evidence, that the killer was a member of the Tea Party. ABC has since issued a retraction and an apology.)

This kind of politicization occurs in part because reporters on the air feel they have to comment on an event when they in fact have very little to say. It is also the result, I think, of an effort to draw some larger meaning from acts that often turn out to have no larger meaning. Sometimes they are what they are: the malevolent actions of poisoned minds. But part of it, too, is a reflex by some to fit a massacre like this into a preexisting political narrative. We saw it happen in the aftermath of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City; the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School; the 2011 shooting spree near Tucson; and we will undoubtedly see it after today’s slaughter.

To be clear: there is such a thing as political violence. But what is troubling is the immediate assumption by some people, usually those who are part of the political class, that every massacre can be ascribed to political motivations. Acting on this assumption, they contort things in order to make them fit a convenient political template.

This effort to interpret everything through a political and partisan lens – to reduce everything to a political and partisan interpretation – is itself a disfigurement of reality. Life is a complicated and endlessly variegated thing. Politics has a role in all our lives; but for it to play such a dominant role in people’s imagination is surely not a healthy thing. And for people to immediately and instinctively take every human event – no matter how tragic and how painful — and place it in the maw of our politics is wrong and even repulsive. It exploits people’s sorrow and grief in order to score cheap political points and frame stupid political argument.

A modest and civilized society would give room to the families and friends of the dead to begin to process their shattering losses. It would give room to the police to do their work and gather evidence. It would leave room for citizens of this nation to reflect with soberness and seriousness on what has happened; to participate, if only for a brief time, in a national mourning of sorts. And it might even resist the impulse to leverage a massacre into a political culture war. It would be helpful if members of the press and politicians understood this, and acted in a way that showed some measure of decency and compassion.

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Rushing to Judgment on Aurora

The nation is united this morning in shock and horror after a gunman’s attack on a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, that left 12 persons dead and wounded at least 38 others. This is a moment to put politics aside to allow the families of the slain to mourn and for the police to do their job. But that hasn’t stopped some in the mainstream media from rushing to judgment about this tragic event even before we know a thing about the shooter. So it was especially distressing to see, as Joel Pollak of Breitbart.com noted, that this morning on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” reporter Brian Ross threw out the suggestion that the alleged killer was a member of the Tea Party.

What was the basis for this accusation? The Colorado Tea Party website mentioned having a member named Jim Holmes, which happens to be the same name as the man who has been arrested in connection with the crime. But there are lots of people who go by that name in the state and, as Pollack notes, the Tea Party member appears to be someone in their 50s while the gunman has been said to be 24. One would think that elementary ethics, let alone the ethics of journalism, would have required Ross to verify the identity of the Tea Party Holmes before telling millions on national TV that this might be the Aurora terrorist. But because it fit in with the mainstream liberal media narrative that has labeled the Tea Party as a violent extremist group, rather than a group of citizen activists who pursue change through democratic means, he felt no compunction about slyly insinuating this choice piece of slander into our national discourse while saying he wasn’t sure if the Tea Partier was guilty. Nor did host George Stephanopolous feel compelled to caution Ross against this statement.

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The nation is united this morning in shock and horror after a gunman’s attack on a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, that left 12 persons dead and wounded at least 38 others. This is a moment to put politics aside to allow the families of the slain to mourn and for the police to do their job. But that hasn’t stopped some in the mainstream media from rushing to judgment about this tragic event even before we know a thing about the shooter. So it was especially distressing to see, as Joel Pollak of Breitbart.com noted, that this morning on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” reporter Brian Ross threw out the suggestion that the alleged killer was a member of the Tea Party.

What was the basis for this accusation? The Colorado Tea Party website mentioned having a member named Jim Holmes, which happens to be the same name as the man who has been arrested in connection with the crime. But there are lots of people who go by that name in the state and, as Pollack notes, the Tea Party member appears to be someone in their 50s while the gunman has been said to be 24. One would think that elementary ethics, let alone the ethics of journalism, would have required Ross to verify the identity of the Tea Party Holmes before telling millions on national TV that this might be the Aurora terrorist. But because it fit in with the mainstream liberal media narrative that has labeled the Tea Party as a violent extremist group, rather than a group of citizen activists who pursue change through democratic means, he felt no compunction about slyly insinuating this choice piece of slander into our national discourse while saying he wasn’t sure if the Tea Partier was guilty. Nor did host George Stephanopolous feel compelled to caution Ross against this statement.

Let’s be clear that at the time of the broadcast as well as at the moment this piece is being written, the motivation for this crime has yet to be discovered. That was also true in January 2011 when a deranged gunman attempted to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. But that didn’t stop much of the media from broadcasting incorrect assumptions about the perpetrator being part of the Tea Party or acting out what he thought was its ideology. Indeed, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has continued to feed that libel even though it was almost immediately debunked.

We may expect that no matter what the story about the shooter turns out to be, gun control advocates will exploit this tragedy. We don’t know if restrictions on gun ownership would have made this event less likely, but it is also true that the majority of Americans are not likely to change their minds about maintaining their Second Amendment rights. If the atrocity in Aurora turns out to be motivated by something other than the madness of the killer, it will compound the tragedy. But the effort to push the narrative in that direction on the basis of a name without any research or legwork to back it up is outrageous and, ABC has belatedly apologized for the gaffe on its website. That otherwise respected members of the journalistic establishment have no shame about doing so tells us a lot more about them and liberal media bias than it does about the Aurora killings or violence in general.

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