With tensions simmering in Washington, lawmakers facing threats and a Facebook page “praying” for the death of President Obama, political commentators have renewed an old debate: Is there a correlation between violent rhetoric of the news media and real life violence? CNN’s Howard Kurtz looks at this question from varying perspectives.
Is it, as one interviewee says, merely the fact that more passionate rhetoric always comes from the opposition, in this case, those opposed to the Democrats, who are in power? Do media power brokers like Rush Limbaugh encourage violence?
Just two days ago, a Facebook group “praying” for the death of President Obama reached one million fans. The page brands itself by saying, “DEAR LORD, THIS YEAR YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE ACTOR, PATRICK SWAYZIE. YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE ACTRESS, FARAH FAWCETT. YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE SINGER, MICHAEL JACKSON. I JUST WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW, MY FAVORITE PRESIDENT IS BARACK OBAMA. AMEN.” Facebook has come under fire from opponents who believe the page should be taken down. This raises dangerous questions of free speech and censorship, questions Facebook has eloquently tried to maneuver.
But what does this say for our favorite pundits? Our Rush Limbaughs and Rachel Maddows and Keith Olbermanns? Can their commentary really be linked to violence? It is doubtful that causation could ever be established. On the other hand, it would always be easy for a crazy person to attribute an act of violence to a media leader. In both the media – traditional media and new media channels like Facebook – it is best to choose words carefully, never encourage violence and tread lightly on the freedoms – and barriers – imposed by freedom of speech.
Do YOU think fired up commentators could inspire violence?