ABC, NBC and MSNBC on Monday all eagerly hyped the complaints by an Arizona sheriff that the "anger and bigotry" of everyday Americans contributed to Saturday's shooting. None of the journalists interviewing Clarence Dupnik identified as an elected Democratic official. (ABC's Jake Tapper did in a separate piece.)
Former Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe and lauded Dupnik: "I think in part a lot of public officials are timid. The Pima County Sheriff is not. He is speaking out, and too few others have because they're worried about retribution."
Brokaw, directly making a connection, added, "And that's something that those of us on this side of the camera also have to be thinking about and not just be feeding that. Look, Sarah Palin with "Don't Retreat; Reload," and the crosshairs on the map."
On NBC's Today, Matt Lauer touted Dupnik for "saying he believes the harsh political climate in this country helped contribute to this weekend's mass shooting in Tucson." Over the weekend, Dupnik also lashed out at those who "try to inflame the public on a daily basis."
According to MSNBC's Chuck Todd, who talked to the sheriff on the Daily Rundown, Dupnik "believes one contributor is a climate of political vitriol which preys on the mentally unstable."
He sympathetically wondered, "Do you have any security advice to other elected officials?" Obviously one piece of advice, it seems to me, is turn down the rhetoric." ABC's George Stephanopoulos offered a similar theme.
George Stephanopoulos, Todd and Lauer, to their credit, did at least challenge Dupnik on his accusations. Lauer wondered, "Yeah can people, though, be held responsible, Sheriff, for the actions of the .0001 percent of people living this country, based on something they say?"
For more of Brokaw's attack, including complaining about Ariznona's gun laws, see a partial transcript below:
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Tom, what are your thoughts about this tragic weekend?
TOM BROKAW: Well I've had a lot of thoughts, especially being here in California where I spent so much of my reporting career. I Rushed down to the Ambassador Hotel the night that Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, shortly after Dr. King had been killed. Here in San Francisco George Moscone of course was killed as a mayor, by gunshot. And Harvey Milk. I was in San Francisco and Sacramento with President Ford when he was the subject of two very close calls of assassination attempts by gunshot. The first big story of my reporting career was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Violence and guns are a part of American politics, tragically. And I would hope that this incident will give us all great pause and prompt us to find a different way to resolve our differences in a different way, to talk about our differences.
If I can just go on for a moment Joe, we last fall did a documentary for USA on intolerance in America. 79 percent of the people think that the political system is simply too deeply divided. And 59 percent of the people that we polled in a national poll said that they think that there's a rising intolerance in this country. If we're going to resolve these problems, which are monumental, we're going to have to find a different way to talk about them and to get them resolved. And this tragedy aside, I would hope that this would be a great opportunity to do it – this is a heartbreaking event in Tuscon, but if anything good can come out of it, I would hope that can temper some of our comments and find a new climate in which to resolve these acute differences.
What we're seeing in the short term, however, is our rhetoric accelerated again, as some people are trying to blame one another or are being very defensive, so we've got to get beyond that.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: And I go now, Tom, to Sarah Palin, and the use of the crosshairs. How do you characterize that part of the story?
BROKAW: I think in part a lot of public officials are timid. The Pima County Sheriff is not. He is speaking out, and too few others have because they're worried about retribution. They're worried about the internet being lit up against them. And that's something that those of us on this side of the camera also have to be thinking about and not just be feeding that. Look, Sarah Palin with "Don't Retreat; Reload," and the crosshairs on the map – people also have to remember that the West Virginia governor Joe Mancin when he was running for the Senate, a Democrat, had an ad in which he took out a high-powered rifle and shot the cap-and-trade bill as a metaphor for what he would do when he got to Washington. I think all of you know that I have had guns all my life, I've grown up around them – but in Arizona, you can go into a gun store without a permit or a background check, buy a Glock semi-automatic with a 30-round clip, even though you've demonstrated aberrant behavior. So there's been a lot of breakdown in the situation we have to address that goes beyond the political rhetoric. Mental health treatment – if this young man had shown up in that classroom dead-drunk for three days, he'd be in jail as a public nuisance. But because he demonstrated aberrant mental behavior. And they asked him for a psychiatric evaluation; he was turned loose into society, and in Arizona he can go get whatever he wants in terms of a lethal weapon.