NBC's Lee Cowan Highlights Palin Map As Possible Rationale for Attack on Gabrielle Giffords

On Monday's Today show, NBC's Lee Cowan, inspired by Arizona Sheriff Clarence Dupnik's blaming political rhetoric for the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, highlighted Sarah Palin's Web site map featuring crosshairs on Giffords' district, as he scolded: "Not since Timothy McVeigh attacked the federal building in Oklahoma City has a crime sparked so much attention on anti-government rhetoric. That map Sarah Palin put up on Facebook last year, targeting Congresswoman Gifford's seat, made Gifford nervous, even then."

To underscore Dupnik's charge about political rhetoric, in addition to citing the Palin crosshairs map, Cowan aired clips from various health care and immigration protests, but paid close attention to those opposed to the Democratic agenda including Republican Congressman Joe Wilson, as seen in the following excerpt:

(video after the jump)

LEE COWAN: As the picture of the troubled suspect emerges, the 22-year-old seems barely old enough to be so angry at the government. But just listen to this country's political discourse of late.

(Clips of angry man at town hall meeting, protestors at health care and immigration rallies.)

COWAN: The sheriff in Arizona says that could've been fuel enough.

SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: To try to inflame the public on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week has impact on people, especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with.

COWAN: At a time when interrupting the President with an insult is now a reality-

REP. JOE WILSON: You lie!

COWAN: -and a once quiet House gallery has become a place of protest-

OFF-SCREEN VOICE: Except for Obama!

COWAN: -political civility, some say, is being torn apart from the edges.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No government health care!

The following is the full Cowan story as it was aired on the January 10 Today show:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: Whether this weekend's mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona was politically motivated or not, it does have a lot of people talking about the harsh political climate in this country and whether violence like this, was inevitable? Here's NBC's Lee Cowan.

LEE COWAN: As the picture of the troubled suspect emerges, the 22-year-old seems barely old enough to be so angry at the government. But just listen to this country's political discourse of late.

(Clips of angry man at town hall meeting, protestors at health care and immigration rallies)

COWAN: The sheriff in Arizona says that could've been fuel enough.

SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: To try to inflame the public on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week has impact on people, especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with.


COWAN: At a time when interrupting the President with an insult is now a reality-

REP. JOE WILSON: You lie!

COWAN: -and a once quiet House gallery has become a place of protest-

OFF-SCREEN VOICE: Except for Obama!

COWAN: -political civility, some say, is being torn apart from the edges.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No government health care!

REP. RAUL LABRADOR, IDAHO-R: But we have to be careful not to blame one side or the other, because both sides are guilty of this. You have extremes on both sides.

COWAN: Not since Timothy McVeigh attacked the federal building in Oklahoma City has a crime sparked so much attention on anti-government rhetoric. That map Sarah Palin put up on Facebook last year, targeting Congresswoman Gifford's seat, made Gifford nervous, even then.

REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: The crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. The more people do that they've gotta realize there's consequences to that action.

COWAN: Consequences that some charged have been lost as all the vitriol bounces around the echo chamber that's become cable TV news and the Internet. Discord, that most of us would pass off as simply silly, may be taken far differently by those already unhinged. And that's what worries the sheriff as much as anything.

DUPNIK: Pretty soon we're not gonna be able to find reasonable, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.

COWAN: We survived tumultuous political environments before. Some say this latest crime is democracy's latest test. For Today, Lee Cowan, NBC News, Los Angeles.

—Geoffrey Dickens is the Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.