The Loughner Panic: Breaking Down the Media/political Breakdown over the Tucson Massacre

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Two HOURS after a deranged college dropout named Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on a congresswoman's meet-and-greet outside a Tucson supermarket, killing six and wounding 13 others, the influential progressive blogger Markos "Daily Kos" Moulitsas fouled Twitter with this grotesque message: "Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin." Several hours later The New York Times reported in its front-page coverage that the massacre "set off what is likely to be a wrenching debate over anger and violence in American politics." We soon got a rather different "wrenching debate," over the media's rush to blame the violence on political rhetoric, especially the right-of-center variety.

This wasn't the first time during Barack Obama's presidency that Republicans, Tea Partiers, and libertarians were blamed for the murderous rampage of a gunman who was none of the above. Nor is it likely to be the last. But the post-massacre recriminations illuminated the sickness of our political discourse, including the instinct to grasp at "solutions" requiring that we surrender still more of our freedoms to a sporadically competent state.

The bewildering and disheartening days following the attack were dominated by connect-the-dots "paranoia of the center" (in Managing Editor Jesse Walker's memorable coinage). …