Within minutes of reporting the horrific shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and other innocents in Tucson, as the early reports wrongly cited Giffords as dead, CNN found a local liberal cartoonist/columnist to suggest the violence was “inevitable” because local conservatives had been “stoking the fires of heater anger and rage.” When CNN anchor Martin Savidge pointed out there was no information yet on the shooter, the cartoonist acknowledged “That is correct,” and then added blame to the state's “fetish” for guns and repeated his attack on the “rabid right.”
The CNN anchor buttered him up by saying “We do appreciate your insights” even as he repeated there was no evidence. The liberal cartoonist was David Fitzsimmons of the Arizona Daily Star:
MARTIN SAVIDGE: I want to turn to David Fitzsimmons who is with the "Arizona Daily Star," a political cartoonist. He is on the scene at Safeway. David, are you there?
DAVID FITZSIMMONS, "ARIZONA DAILY STAR" (via telephone): I'm pretty shaken, frankly. This is a very surreal dream-like experience.
SAVIDGE: David, were you there when this happened?
FITZSIMMONS: I was not. I live nearby. In fact, I would say it's my neighborhood Safeway so I sped up here and here I am trapped alive behind the yellow tape and fire engines and sheriff's vehicles with the press corps. We're on our cell phones and trying to guess what happened because we are waiting for the information officer to hold another informational meeting.
SAVIDGE: And the mood of people there -- clearly you are all in a state of shock even though you didn't see it happen, to come up on such a scene must be horrible.
FITZSIMMONS: Yes, indeed it is horrible. I must tell you as a columnist who has covered politics in this state it was inevitable from my perspective.
SAVIDGE: Why do you say that?
FITZSIMMONS: Because the right in Arizona -- and I'm speaking very broadly -- has been stoking the fires of heated anger and rage successfully in this state.
And you know it's just stunning when you consider Congresswoman Giffords' positions on the issues. She is a centrist, she is a moderate. I don't know who the shooter is, have no idea who the shooter is, but what could possibly motivate an individual to be enraged against or to take down a moderate centrist? To me it just paints a picture of how off the mark the politics of this state has grown.
Throughout the interview, Fitsimmons seems to imply that it's bizarre to shoot a “centrist” – but would make more sense to shoot someone fringy. It should be bizarre and plain wrong to shoot a politician, period. (If it mattered at this point, Giffords has an ACU voting score of 14.6, which would make her moderate if you're grading on a Democratic curve, even if that's not the “center,” near 50 percent.)
How would the CNN newsman react to wild political blame with no evidence yet to emerge? He stated that reality, but didn't suggest his guest was reckless. There was apparently time to fill, and CNN doesn't seem to mind filling that time with reckless allegations:
SAVIDGE: I just want to -- David, hold on as I talk with the audience a bit with the audience. What we're talking about here is a shooting that has taken place in Arizona. And we know among those who have been killed and CNN has confirmed this, is Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. And joining us on the television is David Fitzpatrick. David, as a person who is on the scene and obviously a journalist -- Fitzsimmons. Excuse me.
FITZSIMMONS: Thank you.
SAVIDGE: You've made very strong statements here. I should point out none of this has been confirmed.
FITZSIMMONS: That is correct.
SAVIDGE: We do not know the motivation ever the individual who may have been involved.
FITZSIMMONS: That's correct.
SAVIDGE, restating the thesis: Politics in the state of Arizona has become so tumultuous this was inevitable.
FITZSIMMONS: So tumultuous. And this is a gun-happy state. I myself enjoy guns from time to time. I'm not opposed to guns. But for this state it has become a fetish. This is an intense gun culture here in Arizona.
The politics of the state does tend to be far to the right, I would say even rabid right. So I was amazed that Congresswoman Giffords survived this last election. It was very close, and she had a Tea Party candidate running against her, but she managed to survive and win a second term.
SAVIDGE: When you say survive, of course you were talking about a political aspect here.
FITZSIMMONS: Oh, yes, yes, indeed. I want to correct you. I would not describe myself as a journalist. I am a cartoonist, and I am an opinion columnist.
SAVIDGE: Understood. I understand that. Thank you.
FITZSIMMONS: Don't expect unbiased truths from me. You'll just get --
SAVIDGE: What we expect is your opinion and what you're seeing on the scene. And we do appreciate your insights as well.
It's not uncommon on a breaking news story to be appreciative to gain a local perspective, but there were no “insights” being offered here, just unproven accusations. To “appreciate” those suggests only that you appreciate hearing smears on conservatives, no matter how much evidence has been provided. It wrapped up with a little repetition:
SAVIDGE: And this has been an issue raised. And again, I just underline that nothing has been proving here as to motivation, but the atmosphere in Arizona as a person who lives there, you say that you see politics that has become very emotional and apparently very controversial.
FITZSIMMONS: Very emotional, yes. I grew up in Arizona, spent all spent all of my life here. And it has evolved into a state that generates a lot of political heat. That's as kind as I think I'll be today.
It's really tough for me because I knew Congresswoman Giffords. And she is one with individual who held great promise as a blue dog Democrat, a very intelligent, articulate, informed congresswoman who thought a great deal about the future for Arizona. It's just heartbreaking to me that such an individual would be struck down.
SAVIDGE: David Fitzsimmons is a political cartoonist, and he is one of those who came up on the scene after the shooting occurred. And as he has expressed about himself and many other people, there is a state of shock there.
Daryl Cagle's Cartoon Weblog also highlighted the CNN interview, and included cartoons, like this one:
[Hat tip: Tom Johnson]
UPDATE: Fitzsimmons apologized the same day, but then drew a cartoon mocking Congress, picturing an off-screen congressman saying under his drawing of the Capitol: “When can be get back to demonizing each other?”