On Wednesday (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), in commenting on USA Today's poor decision to quote a paragraph from a New York Times op-ed by former Congressman Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) -- a bad decision because Kanjorski's call for "civility" directly contrasts with his call for someone to shoot Florida gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott just a few months ago -- I wrote that USAT Founder Al Neuharth's "'civility' credentials are also suspect."
Two days later, Neuharth, who claims to be "independent," more than justified those suspicions. In a "Plain Talk" item in Friday's paper ("Who shares blame in Tucson tragedy?"), Neuharth blamed a wide range of people for Jared Loughner's actions. "Somehow," he forgot to blame Jared Laughner. It's not a stretch to assert that many readers would be justified in believing that Neuharth may not even want to see Loughner convicted of a crime.
Neuharth took shots at talkers on the right and left. USAT published an absolutely laughable counter-response from MSNBC President Phil Griffin. The other response (from the right? Are you kidding?) was from a psychiatry prof.
Here is Neuharth's piece and its responses (published in their entirety because of their relative brevity; bolds are mine):
The killings in Tucson were committed by someone who has had trouble adapting to the rules or laws of life ever since he was a kid. But we need to examine what caused him to go completely crazy as a young adult.
Parents are most responsible. Then teachers. But so are others who influence thinking.
We don't know what fed the rage of Jared Loughner, but we do know that many mental misfits like him are teetering on the edge. Vitriol on the air around the clock, mostly on cable TV, can stir the unstable mind while reinforcing its nutty notions.
Most media personalities who express opinions in print or on the air do so with some measure of common sense. But some don't. Examples of those who deliberately agitate to irritate:
• Fox's Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck, whose primary purpose is to arouse right-wingers.
• MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow who deliberately agitate left-wingers.
• Rush Limbaugh, who stirs up nuts of all sorts.
As a middle-of-the-road political independent, I make sure I have acquaintances, associates and friends with views — or prejudices — across the spectrum.
But I am frequently amazed or shocked at how otherwise intelligent persons buy the stuff that is peddled by media extremists or just plain prejudiced people.
With six young chosen (adopted) children ages 10 to 19, I also am shocked at how often they come home from school and talk about some nutty notions of classmates — often tolerated by teachers.
Media people and teachers have huge influence on young people — often more than their parents do. In the wake of the Tucson tragedy, those in both professions should re-examine their role and the job they're doing.
Feedback: Other views on Tucson tragedy
"We all must do better. However, those that you compare us with are wholly partisan and assume everyone else is malevolent. MSNBC presents analysis and opinion based on fact. Distinctions matter, Al. Shame on you." — Phil Griffin, president, MSNBC
Distortions of reality can be powerful drivers of behavior in troubled young people. Let's go easy on parents, teachers, and even outlandish media personalities." — Paul S. Appelbaum, MD, psychiatry professor, Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons
I'm not a big fan of the Rolling Stones, who have on balance been a very negative cultural influence, but one of their songs pegs Neuharth's ignorance perfectly. In "Sympathy for the Devil," Mick Jagger as the devil says (I don't call what he does "singing"), "I shouted out, 'Who killed the Kennedys' -- When after all, it was you and me."
Al, if everyone's responsible, no one's responsible, apparently in this case, based on your failure to specifically blame him, not even Jared Loughner, who pulled the trigger about 20 times.
Available information indicates that Neuharth's entire premise concerning outside influences has little if any foundation, as a high school friend of Loughner's relayed to ABC's Good Morning America (HT Drudge archives):
He did not watch TV. He disliked the news. He didn’t listen to political radio. He didn’t take sides. He wasn’t on the left. He wasn’t on the right.
But silly things like facts and direct observations of those in a position to know didn't stop know-nothing Neuharth from frantically fueling the fire of illogic. As a result, he once again utterly failed to live up to his own mission statement for his publication 28 years ago:
"USA Today hopes to serve as a forum for better understanding and unity to help make the USA truly one nation."
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.