NPR's Scott Simon: Shootings Just 'Didn't Happen When 63 Million Watched Walter Cronkite Every Night'

Long past the time when it was debunked that Tucson shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner might have been motivated by talk radio or TV, NPR was still entertaining the "vitriol" attack line, as anchor Scott Simon interviewed liberal St. Petersburg Times TV critic Eric Deggans on Saturday morning's Weekend Edition. Simon even bizarrely claimed that this kind of violence didn't happen when "63 million people watched Walter Cronkite every night."

First, that exaggerates Cronkite's nightly audience (it's more likely the networks might have attracted 63 million between the three of them). But does Simon really believe that in the Sixties and Seventies, there was never a mass shooting with six deaths in America? Or say, a Jonestown mass suicide of Americans (preceded by a congressman being shot there)? Or the shootings of JFK, RFK, MLK, Malcolm X, George Wallace, or two attempts at Gerald Ford? Facts were being mangled:

SIMON: People have observed over the past few years, for example, that, you know, this just didn't happen when 63 million people watched Walter Cronkite every night. But I don't know, hasn't colorful and even intemperate speech been a part of politics and journalism?

DEGGANS: Sure. I think, though, we have these media platforms that are increasingly bringing this debate into our lives in more intimate ways. We have blogs, we have websites, we have Internet radio, we have satellite radio. You know, we have all these different platforms, and I think people have increasingly surrounded themselves, particularly people who are interested in this stuff, in a silo of media that reflects their opinions back to them.

And we've reached a point where we can't agree on object facts. We can't agree on things that typically we used to be able to agree on, even when we were at our most contentious. You know, you can't necessarily say that this shooting was inspired by political rhetoric, but certainly it's a wake-up call that can make you take another look at what's happening, and take some sort of corrective action.

The first "corrective action" that needs to be taken is Simon's Cronkite mess, and then second, Deggans shouldn't just recklessly assume that everyone who watches Fox News only watches media "that reflects their opinions back to them." Just before that, Simon asked if some of the commentary on vitriol was vitriolic. That's a decent question -- and the hopelessly liberal Deggans answered by saying, yes, that Bill O'Reilly:

SIMON: In the wake of the shootings in Tucson, were there some comments about the vitriol that were in a sense vitriolic in themselves?

DEGGANS: Yeah. I'm thinking in particular of Bill O'Reilly, who took on the New York Times saying that they were demonizing conservatives when - and cited a line from a New York Times editorial that actually said that the contentious debate about the healthcare law, the new healthcare legislation, increased death threats against Democratic lawmakers, which was, you know, true.

As Clay Waters reported for TimesWatch, most of the Monday Times editorial was quite vitriolic in attacking conservatives:

It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman’s act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge. Many on the right have exploited the arguments of division, reaping political power by demonizing immigrants, or welfare recipients, or bureaucrats. They seem to have persuaded many Americans that the government is not just misguided, but the enemy of the people. That whirlwind has touched down most forcefully in Arizona...

This is exactly the part of the editorial that O'Reilly condemned, and rightly so: "That is flat out reprehensible and every American should condemn that New York Times editorial. Republicans had nothing to do with these murders in Arizona. If you oppose a porous border, you are not demonizing immigrants. If you oppose the nanny state, you are not demonizing welfare recipients. The New York Times does this all day long. If you would disagree with their far left view you are hateful."

Deggans doubled down on the liberal viewpoint by praising Keith Olbermann's renunciation of hot rhetoric -- but he suggested that Olbermann was only being reasonable, which is the natural reaction of his liberal base [!]:

SIMON: You mentioned Bill O'Reilly. Keith Olbermann over on MSNBC, who kind of baits Bill O'Reilly often on his broadcast, he seemed to own up to maybe using some intemperate speech.

DEGGANS: What's interesting to me about that is that this fits in with an argument that liberal commentators have been making for a while. So it is easier for Keith Olbermann to say, well, you know, maybe I crossed the line, because that doesn't turn off his audience. [Unlike Fox viewers, which never want nuance?] And in fact, that will appeal to his audience because he knows that there's a huge segment of his audience who believes that.

So while I agree with him, and I'm glad that he's willing to put that out there on the table publically, it's easier for him to do that because it fits his brand as a commentator.

Keith Olbermann has a "brand" that oozes concern that he's overdoing his own rhetoric? Where is the laugh track?

Then Simon turned the topic back to how deep down, liberals know that hot rhetoric still caused the Tucson shooting:

SIMON: I was interested in something you wrote this week in answer to people that say, look, this is just talk, it's just rhetoric, there's no proof that rhetoric leads to action.

DEGGANS: Right. Well, what I noticed is that we have an entire free broadcasting media system built on the idea that media images promote specific action. That's the point of commercials on television, the idea that you present a product in an attractive way and it makes people want to buy it. And so if that is good enough to fuel an $8 billion TV commercial industry and pay, by the way, the salaries of Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow and everybody else who works on free television, then certainly that notion might be something that we might want to think about when it comes to the kind of really extreme rhetoric that we've seen out there.

Hot talk causes murder in the same scientific method that...smoking causes cancer?

In the same way the American public was eventually convinced that smoking causes cancer -- an accepted truth that was passionately criticized for a long while -- we'll have to spread word about the caustic effects of particularly violent political rhetoric.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis