Debra Saunders Scolds Roger Simon for Tying Palin to Giffords Shooting

January 9th, 2011 4:31 PM

A conservative writer likely unknown to most NewsBusters readers scolded Politico's Roger Simon Sunday for trying to connect Sarah Palin to yesterday's shootings in Tucson, Arizona.

Surrounded by liberals on CNN's "Reliable Sources," Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle said what would be obvious to most journalists if they weren't always so quick to tie extreme acts of violence committed by a white male to prominent right-wing figures (video follows with transcript and commentary):

DEBRA SAUNDERS, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: But I also -- as an opinion person, I could just see myself getting sucked into this thing where a bunch of people -- and there were some people. There were people in the media with no impulse control. People like Keith Olbermann and Paul Krugman, who just, boom, started hitting Sarah Palin and, boom, started hitting the right before the facts were in.

You know, it's our job to first -- it's not our job to give our first impulses, because they are often wrong.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: They're often wrong. Let me get --

SAUNDERS: It's our job to get the facts.

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO: Let me give you my second and third impulse then.


SIMON: I'm not ready to surrender the point that what Sarah Palin did by putting crosshairs over congressional districts was a good and innocent thing to do.

KURTZ: No, it was a dumb thing to do.

SIMON: More than dumb.


SIMON: More than dumb.


SIMON: In fact, Representative Giffords complained at the time that these ads went up.

KURTZ: Right. We have that tape.

SIMON: Because they were bad things to do, and that they degraded the political culture in America.


Let's go from that to -- Debra Saunders mentioned Keith Olbermann. He had a stinging special comment on MSNBC last night. I want to play it.

And Clarence, your response on the other side. Here is Olbermann.


KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: If Sarah Palin, whose Web site put, and today scrubbed, bull's-eye targets on 20 representatives, including Gabbie Giffords, does not repudiate her own part, however tangential, in amplifying violence and violent imagery in American politics, she must be dismissed from politics.

If Glenn Beck, who obsesses nearly as strangely as this Mr. Loughner did about gold and debt, and who wistfully joked about killing Michael Moore, and Bill O'Reilly who blithely repeated "Tiller the Killer" until the phrase was burned into the minds of his viewers, if they do not begin their next broadcasts with solemn apologies for ever turning to the death fantasies and the dreams of bloodlust, for ever having provided just the oxygen to those deep in madness to whom violence is an acceptable solution, then those commentators and the others must be repudiated by their viewers and listeners, by all politicians who would appear on their programs.


KURTZ: Clarence Page?

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, I think for one thing, as Roger mentioned, this is not a new issue. This -- ever since Sarah Palin first posted those pictures with the crosshairs, there were complaints about them. And right now I think if the situation were politically reversed, if a liberal was using this kind of rhetoric about a conservative, rest assured, you would hear from the conservative camp complaints.

KURTZ: But that would be just as wrong.

PAGE: That said, I'm not going to jump to conclusions about any particular incident like this one as to what motivated this young man. He obviously does show signs of being unhinged. And it's a little too easy to ascribe political motive to that.

KURTZ: It's a little to easy.

But Roger, you disagree.

PAGE: At the same time though, the atmosphere has gotten too volatile. The rhetoric has gotten too volatile. We need to tone it down.

SIMON: With all respect, Clarence -- and you know I respect you -- what is too easy to do is to ignore the Sarah Palin ads and say we can't know that these ads caused the killing. Absolutely true. We can't know it, we'll never know it.

SAUNDERS: No, no, no. Do not do this. Do not --

SIMON: But then say, therefore, such ads do not require our criticism, do not require us to speak out against them, when this wasn't called for.

KURTZ: At the time, yes, but it's 10 months later.

Debra, let me get you in here because you obviously feel strongly.

SAUNDERS: Yes. Don't cheapen this whole thing. Don't do this yet. We don't know. Let's just -- this is a horrible, horrible tragedy, outrage, awful thing.

You know, what Sarah Palin did, the target stuff, Howie, you wrote about this. It's something campaigns do. It's sort of like an act of guilt, that she erased it. But, you know, this isn't about Sarah Palin.

This is about these six people. This is about a congresswoman who goes out and tries to talk to her constituents and is killed -- I'm sorry -- I made the mistake -- is shot. And don't cheapen this by trying to make it what you want it to be ideologically.

Maybe we'll find out that's the case later, but this is just not the time for it. It's wrong, and you shouldn't do that, Roger.

SIMON: This isn't about cheapening the deaths of those unfortunate people and the woundings of the others. This is about whether we collectively, as the news media, who has a big bullhorn, speak out against the use of such images of targets on people's faces. They didn't use faces, they used congressional districts.

You can't tell me we should say, oh, I'm not going to complain about that because it cheapens the death of those children. It doesn't cheapen it. It gives it meaning of some kind.

SAUNDERS: It has nothing to do with it. But, Roger, it has nothing to do with it as far as we know. If we find out something later, fine. But we don't know that there is any nexus.

Indeed. What happened on Saturday was a predictable rush to judgment by many in the media to accuse Palin and other conservative figures for inciting the person or persons responsible for this massacre.

This happened before anyone knew anything about the assailant other than he was a white male, which has become the modus operandi of so-called journalists any time an extreme act of violence occurs in the nation and the alleged guilty party fits that description.

Compounding matters in this case were press members denouncing rhetoric that is quite commonly used by politicians as well as those that cover them.

As Kurtz pointed out in a later segment:

KURTZ: And Clarence Page, I wanted to ask you -- well, first of all, I wanted to mention, because we were talking about whether it was fair or unfair to bring in Sarah Palin, on her Facebook age she posted her sincere condolences to the Giffords family and the families of all the victims. She said that she and her husband Todd will be praying for them and their families.

Don't journalists use a lot of military language in covering campaigns? I'm thinking of the "air war," and so and so "dropped a bombshell," and this candidate "returned fire."

And can we really turn around and be shocked that politicians engage in the same kind of rhetoric?

They certainly do as NewsBusters reported moments ago. Despite the sudden antipathy to such rhetoric, journalists are experts at using violent, war-related imagery to intensify a story whether it's about politics, the economy, or sports.

For folks like Simon and all the others that have been carping and whining about Palin's cross hairs and bull's eye references, they might want to go back and check their own articles and transcripts to make sure they're not guilty of that which they now suddenly find offensive.

Even Time's Joe Klein, who appeared in a later segment to discuss this issue with Kurtz, agreed with Saunders:

KURTZ: And doesn't cable news in particular, television in general, by the sound bites that are chosen, by the interviews that are chosen, by the debate segments that are set up, encourage conflict and argument, seize on it, feast on it? Because, as you say, having an in-depth or a thoughtful discussion about Afghanistan or about the economy is complicated, and maybe it's not great ratings.

JOE KLEIN, TIME: That's right. The woman who you had on previously from The Chronicle --

KURTZ: Debra Saunders.

KLEIN: -- was absolutely right. You know, the whole business, our whole business, is itching for a left-right fight over this, and they'll find some way to make it one when it probably shouldn't be.

Certainly an interest moment when Klein and Kurtz agreed on national television with the only conservative contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Nicely done, Debra. Brava.