Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Tucson Blame Game: Time To Dial Back The Rhetoric

As people fall over themselves to assign blame for the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and murder of six others by Jared Lee Loughner, the only thing we can say for sure is that we do not yet know why he did what he did. It is time for people to comfort the grieving, aid the survivors and allow the authorities to do their jobs and investigate the motives behind this abhorrent act. While it is only right and dignified for people to call for greater civility in the public square, we must stop short, for now, of assigning blame to anyone but Loughner himself.

As soon as the news of the shootings in Tucson, Arizona had hit the airwaves we saw political pundits and self described safety, security and behavioral experts engaging in blame or making a clinical diagnosis, ostensibly, no doubt, so that their faces would be the first in the media. The simple truth, however, is that no-one yet knows the genesis of the rampage.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing to occur was the immediate rush to blame politicians and pundits of different political leanings for the shooting. It became a political game of football and the losers were the victims of the violence whose interests and well being were lost in the fog of point scoring. We have even seen people make political hay by accusing others of making political hay out of the tragedy. This must stop.

Right-wingers pointed to reports that Loughner owned a copy of the Communist Manifesto as evidence of the fact that he was “clearly” a liberal leaning monster. Left-wingers pointed to reports that Loughner owned a copy of Mein Kampf as evidence that he was "clearly" a right-wing assassin. Trent Humphries, a founder of the “Tea Party” in Tucson, said that the killings were evolving into a conspiracy to destroy his organization and silence criticism of government. How dare any of these people engage in this cheap point scoring at a time when beautiful nine year old Christina Green’s parents had not yet buried her.

There were those who pointed to Sarah Palin and her “cross hairs” map as having incited the violence. Others pointed to the words of Sharron Angle and her “second amendment remedies”, others to the lunatic ramblings and gun toting pictures of the conspiratorial mountebank, Glenn Beck. While there is, I agree, phenomenal irony in hearing some who have at times blamed rap music for causing violence to now state that firebrand words could not have caused an attack. The simple truth is that we do not know whether any or all of these had any impact on Loughner.

I personally believe that divisive, hate filled comments made by people seeking to profit from stirring up the masses are wrong and have no place in a society that calls itself civilized. I am also not saying that rhetoric from right or left did not cause anything, I am saying we just don't know and "whereof one cannot speak, one must pass over in silence".

I should also briefly make it very clear, for risk of appearing solely to chastise and discriminate against political pundits, that I apply my injunction to wait for all the facts to those appearing in the media who are making a clinical diagnosis of Loughner.

We have fallen victim to the insatiable need of the 24 hour news cycle to fill air time with theories and thoughts that have, as yet, no evidence to support them. This in turn fuels more distrust and hateful speech at a time when we should be providing love and support to victims.

Those who work in the field of threat management and protective intelligence will wait and look at the evidence, when it has been gathered, before concluding what motivations lay behind the attack.

The only thing anyone can tell you is that, based on prior acts of targeted violence, there were likely some signs and indicators that Loughner was on the path towards violence. The problem is that, while several people likely saw these indicators, it is unlikely that they were reported or collected in any one place. This is the perennial problem in the protective intelligence field, that we must have a way to collect information on a person of concern. We know, unlike the political pundits in the media, that a framework is needed to receive and analyze information. As my friend Jeff Pollard says “before we can connect the dots first we must collect the dots”. Jeff is Director of the Counseling Center at George Mason University and an expert in threat management.

I will add, however, one comment on the vitriol in political and social rhetoric, not to cast blame but as words of caution. As we engage in “collecting the dots” it is much harder to do so when there are so many vituperations filling the airwaves. It makes it difficult to discern what is behavior of concern and what is political or commercial self-promotional hyperbole and, further, it may make some people less likely to report behavior that would otherwise concern them because the person is “only saying things”, or “only acting like”….and then fill in the name of the public figure of your choice.

The task now before the experts is to, post facto, collect and analyze the information. It is then that we can look for constructive steps to take to help prevent future attacks. I say help prevent because unfortunately it will never be possible to prevent all such attacks, much as though we wish we could. You will not hear true experts assigning random blame.

We owe it to the victims of this outrage to dial down the rhetoric and instead provide solace to those who grieve and support to those who are healing!

30 comments:

  1. This is the most reasoned and well thought through piece I have read about this whole terrible situation. Mr.Romary you are to be commended, sir, for saying what so many others should have said! Thank you!

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  2. Thank you for this. Your analysis makes the point so well.

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  3. There is blood on the hands of hatemongering politicians and pundits. You can sugarcoat it all you want, but in the end people know who is to blame!!!!!!

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  4. This is really basic. Gather the facts and then inform the public and lets all learn from it.

    Unfortunately the media need to feed the sharks something more than "we just don't know yet"

    A straight forward post which makes sense. Well done Peter.

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  5. Someone should force the haters to read this. Amazing piece, absolutely amazing!

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  6. Peter, this is AMAZING! Well said!

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  7. We have had targeted attacks in Australia too and again people are quick to jump. I am a senior campus administrator and I think we need to start looking more closely at this. I would love for you to come and speak here, Mr. Romary. Thank you, for a truly moving piece!

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  8. Well written, masterful piece!

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  9. I agree with everything you say but I wish you had gone into more depth with regards to discourse on the airwaves. While brash rhetoric has existed in America since before the founding of our Republic, there is more of a sinsiter tone now. Please comment more on this.

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  10. Great piece, just tweeted it. You should be writing for a major publication not some two cent blog!

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  11. Strict ConstructionistJanuary 14, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    Charles Krauthammer diagnosed Loughner as schizophrenic. Do you disagree with that diagnosis? Where is your medical degree? People can assign blame if they wish it is their first amendment right, although liberals like you would probably like to see those rights taken away too.

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  12. I wonder if Palin, who argued that an Islamic Center should not be built near ground zero sees the irony of stating that we should not blame others for the actions of individuals?

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  13. Loughner committed the crime and should pay the penalty, I agree, but even the blind can see that the tea party people share blame here!

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  14. @ strict constructionist: I think the whole point the man is making is not that Krauthammer is wrong but that he does not have the full information yet, and almost definitely has not met with Loughner to make a diagnosis. And where do you get that Romary is a liberal? He seems like a conservative to me.

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  15. Amazing work, and beautiful english. Thank you, Mr. Romary.

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  16. The simplest and easiest way to prevent this would be strict gun control laws. So, someone else is to blame here, THE GUN INDUSTRY, who control our government. Why not write about that?

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  17. I hope that if it turns out that Palin or Beck's words pushed Loughner on that they will be charged. I can wait but I fear a cover up!

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  18. Thank you so much for your perspective on this terrible event.

    Rachel Reidy

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  19. Mr. Romary, a link to your blog was forwarded to me and I accessed it through a threat assessment blog. Congratulations on a wonderful article that expresses so well the need for civility and calm where often people rush to assign blame. That rush can often, I think, shade the outcome of an investigation because of strong public sentiment. The world needs more calm, rational professionals like you. Thank you.

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  20. Romary: "Perhaps the most disturbing thing to occur was the immediate rush to blame politicians and pundits of different political leanings for the shooting". How can you say this was a straight face? The Left was quick to blame the Right for a general "tone" and in particular Palin's poster. NOBODY on the Right blamed the Left for THEIR tone; the Right very naturally defended itself from the charges of the Left by pointing out two things: (1) there is no demonstrated tie between the shootings and Right-wing rhetoric; and (2) the Left is just as guilty of inflammatory rhetoric. But missing is ANY charge by the Right that the shootings were the fault of Leftist rhetoric. So to say BOTH sides are equally guilty is misleading at best and a downright lie at worst.

    Romary: "The simple truth is that we do not know whether any or all of these had any impact on Loughner." And yet in the very same paragraph you cite three examples to blame the Right? Thanks for being so "fair and balanced".

    Romary: "I am also not saying that rhetoric from right or left did not cause anything." True because you don't cite ANY examples of Left-wing inflammatory speech, not a single one! The DLC and DCCC targeting maps, the statement that FL Gov. Scott should be shot, the Democratic campaign ad of 2006 that literally pictured his Rep. opponent in the cross-hairs of a rifle-sight, among others -- yet not a word of condemnation from you?

    Romary: "I am saying we just don't know and whereof one cannot speak, one must pass over in silence". Silence? True, you pass over the Leftist charges against the Right in silence, yet condemn the very Right wing speech that you admit "you don't know" had ANY direct effect. Silence my *ss!

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  21. @ Fred Goodwin: I think you missed the man's point entirely. Your first paragraph of complaint actually sums up this post, in my view: it was about dialing down rehetoric from people blaming POLITICAL SPEECH FOR CAUSING VIOLENCE without knowing the facts.

    The majority of name calling came from the left towards the right and Romary called 'em on it. He gave examples of incivility on both sides and used illustrations from the 3 major bug bears of the left. If anything this post, in my view, takes a swing at the left for jumping to conclusions. FFS read it again.

    "No-one on the right blamed the left for their tone", REALLY. You just did and you obviously got your talking points somewhere- Also, have you read the statements of Rep. Foxx or does your newspaper not carry them or TV not show them?

    Goodwin: "You don't cite ANY examples of left wing speech"- read it again, this time with your spectacles on and see where he said that left wingers were pointing at Loughner's ownership of "Mein Kampf" as proof he was a right wing assassin.....hmmm, read it now? That was an example of the left blaming the right, or do you consider Adolf Hitler to be left-wing?

    Finally, I think there is a HUGE difference between telling people rhetoric should be toned down and blaming it for violence THAT WAS THE POINT OF THE BLOG, but then some people don't read do they!

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  22. Fred Goodwin: "one must pass over in silence" he was, I submit, talking about people blaming the shooting on the rhetoric rather than waiting for the investigation. Your rabid partisan attack shines through, sir!

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  23. Mr. Goodwin, You seem to be accusing the author here of being a left-winger. Perhaps you should read the piece he wrote on Assange being extradited (which I vehemently disagree with) before you label. It seems to me there is a great disconnect between calling on people to be more respectful in their speech and blaming the speech for an act. This piece seems to draw that distinction well. if anything this piece appears to be critical of the left for blaming the right.
    Arthur Rogers, California

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  24. Is Fred Goodwin really Sarah Palin? Sarah, I mean Fred, seems to miss the point irony that the author probably did not cite any left wing rhetoric because no-one was quick to blame the left wing. This is a critique of those who blamed the right and uses examples of things people were saying that the author felt were rushes to assign blame. I may be wrong but this piece seems more like a Fox News hatchet attack than a left-wing apology.

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  25. Hey, Freddie G-"So to say BOTH sides are equally guilty is misleading at best and a downright lie at worst." Could you please point to where he said that both sides were EQUALLY guilty of anything. I think either I am missing something or you are a dumb**s!

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  26. Great article that makes some very good points about threat management and the need to collect information and properly analyze it to either prevent a tragedy or, unfortunately, to assess the cause of a tragedy. I am interested to find out what the cause of this horrific event was. Thanks for sharing!

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  27. It is interesting to see you accused of both right and left wing bias by readers. It seems to be a reflection of the polarization of society. Sad.

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  28. I would be interested to see whether there are any examples of left wing / democratic politicians using hate rhetoric towards other democrat politicians in the weeks and months before this shooting. if there were then those would be good comparitors for the Palin, Agnle and Beck illustrations (palin with her cross hairs over Rep. Giffords district and Beck on his show day in day out telling people about FEMA concentration camps).

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  29. You are just an apologist for the right-wing hatemongers. They share blame and people like you should be ashamed for defending them!

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