Early on Tuesday, David Brooks criticized a wide swath of pundits for linking Sarah Palin to the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. His chief targets were The Huffington Post, which published a column blaming the killings on "angry political rhetoric," Keith Olbermann, who demanded Palin explain her actions, and Markos Moulitsas, who tweeted "Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin" after the shooting spree occurred. Brooks is of the view that Jared Loughner is deeply disturbed (probably schizophrenic) and politically ambiguous. He cites Loughner's favorite books, which include The Communist Manifesto, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Animal Farm and his YouTube entries that "suggest that he was struggling to control his own mind."
"In short, the evidence before us suggests that Loughner was locked in a world far removed from politics as we normally understand it," Brooks writes. "Yet the early coverage and commentary of the Tucson massacre suppressed this evidence. The coverage and commentary shifted to an entirely different explanation: Loughner unleashed his rampage because he was incited by the violent rhetoric of the Tea Party, the anti-immigrant movement and Sarah Palin."
Brooks says critics of the Tea Party and Sarah Palin (who he has "no love for") seized on a "golden opportunity" to politicize the shootings and discredit their opponents. "We have a news media that is psychologically ill informed but politically inflamed, so it naturally leans toward political explanations."
The column attracted a lot of buzz in the blogosphere and has since found a response from The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, a frequent Palin and Tea Party critic. Since news of the shooting broke, Sullivan hasn't shied away from directing criticism at conservative political rhetoric. Was it wrong of him to raise the issue so quickly? Not at all, he argues.
David is right to call out those who flatly and crudely drew a direct link without any substantive information. But to raise the question and explore it? How could we not?
... I find this notion that in real time we should not even be discussing or airing or debating the political and rhetorical climate that preceded this to be a dangerous piety. Airing the question of how public culture affects the disturbed mind is not just legitimate in this case, but vital, in ways that Brooks of all people should understand. David is a very shrewd analyst of culture, of why it matters, of how we are all connected - and yet, suddenly, this one young man exists in a total vacuum, where politics and culture do not exist.
Such a place does not exist - however much some would now like it to.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.