Reporters Defend Paper's Coverage of Tucson Shootings, Denies NYT Blamed the Right Wing

Media reporters Jeremy Peters and Brian Stelter sounded a little defensive in Monday's Business section story on the political blame game that immediately followed the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the killing of six others in Tucson. The confusing headline: "After Tucson, Blanket Accusations Leave Much to Interpretation."

For every action in politics today, there's an overwhelming and opposite reaction.

Last week, the reaction came from conservative politicians who bridled at suggestions in the media that Jared L. Loughner may have been influenced by right-wing rhetoric and talk radio when he killed six people and gravely wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords in a rampage on Jan. 8 in Tucson. In her video address on Wednesday, Sarah Palin said that journalists and pundits should not manufacture "a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn."

The question left unanswered: which journalists and pundits?

The reporters modify the word "accusations" to argue that few in the media made "direct accusations" against conservative talk radio hosts for causing the shooting. Yet the Times put out many indirect accusations in the days following the shooting implying conservative rhetoric contributed to the toxic political atmosphere from which the shooter emerged.

While there was plenty of debate in newspapers, and on radio and television about the effects of a toxic politic environment, most of the direct accusations against conservative talk radio and pundits were leveled by people online, not members of the mainstream media.

But on the Web, where anonymity often reigns, the blame game was much more pointed. In The Huffington Post, Gary Hart wrote about attacks on liberals and concluded that "today we have seen the results of this rhetoric."

On Ms. Palin's Facebook wall, thousands of supporters and detractors argued about whether she and other right-wing voices had any culpability in the shootings. Conservatives denounced Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the liberal blog Daily Kos, for writing on Twitter, "Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin" and linking to the bull's-eye map that featured Ms. Giffords's district.

Stelter doesn't point out that he himself linked to the bull's-eye map on his Twitter feed, and seemed to egg on the cable news networks to put it up, writing on Saturday in a post forwarded over a hundred times: "For the record, there has been no mention of Sarah Palin's target map on any cable news channel."

One of the first people to raise the issue was not even a member of the media: Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik suggested that "vitriolic rhetoric" on radio and television was hurting America. His first statement contained no references to any single political figure, cable network or radio personality.

But his subsequent remarks, in which he called Rush Limbaugh and other conservative commentators "irresponsible," ignited wrath from the right. The Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer called Mr. Dupnik, a Democrat, and liberal pundits, "rabid partisans." Ann Coulter, the conservative author and columnist, called him "Sheriff Dumbnik." Mr. Limbaugh called him a fool.

Dupnik's initial comments were treated with deference on the Times' front page, saying they "seemed to capture the mood of the day."

The reporters then leaped to an unusual defense of their own newspaper from attacks from the right.

Commentators on the right were quick to condemn their perennial adversaries, including The New York Times, for drawing a cause-and-effect relationship between overheated political rhetoric and the shootings.

"Besides the senseless violence, there is another disgusting display sweeping America, and that is the exploitation of the murders by political zealots," Bill O'Reilly opened his show on Monday night. "The merchants of hate who are peddling this stuff should be accountable. So let's begin with The New York Times."

Mr. O'Reilly went on to cite a column by the Times Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman and a Times editorial as evidence that The Times and others were blaming Sarah Palin for the killings and portraying those on the right as "accessories to murder."

The Times editorial did not actually blame the right for Mr. Loughner's actions, saying, "It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman's act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members." Mr. O'Reilly, who did not read that sentence on the air, did read the section of the editorial that said "But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger" that has produced an increase in the number of threats toward members of Congress and the judiciary.