Washington Post Hypes Anti-Giffords Vitriol in Arizona, Blurs Over Liberal Death Threat

Nine days after the Tucson shooting, the front page of The Washington Post kept relentlessly recycling the debunked view that "vitriol" was the real cause of Jared Loughner's Safeway shooting spree. In a story headlined "A place where passions run high," reporters Kimberly Kindy and Philip Rucker explained Giffords couldn't even shoot a campaign commercial without some foam-flecked conservative attacking her:

A moderate Democrat in a classic swing district, she walked a main street where American flags hang outside shoe stores and barber shops. A voice-over emphasized her strengths: independence...courage...integrity.

The camera rolling, a man stormed out of the Gadsden Hotel, a historic landmark. He screamed that Giffords was about to get "thrown out" of office, creating such a scene that police intervened.

"He began viciously, verbally attacking Gabby," said Jason Ralston, Giffords's Washington-based consultant directing the action. "I've never seen anything like it."

The man channeled his anger toward Giffords, but this was about much more than a lone congresswoman. He seemed to give voice to the long-simmering frustrations and passions in southern Arizona that boiled over during Giffords's hard-fought 2010 campaign.

Pitched emotions - centered on the issues of immigration, health care and the economy - have fueled an atmosphere here that encourages vitriol, according to interviews with more than two dozen state political leaders and residents.

Defenders of The Post could suggest that Kindy and Rucker did eventually turn to left-wing vitriol blaming the Tea Party for the killing (just as the Post had implied), but that's low enough in the story (paragraph seven) to be placed neatly just inside the paper, on page A12. But their language is far too vague:

Since the shootings, the co-founder of the Tucson Tea Party has endured death threats and hate mail that required law enforcement assistance, including a verbal threat made Saturday at a community gathering that included one of the shooting survivors.

How does a "gathering" make a verbal threat? How can the Post beat around the very newsworthy bush that a shooting survivor is making death threats? The Los Angeles Times isn't dodging the issue:

James Eric Fuller, a 63-year-old Democratic activist, was arrested after shouting "You're dead!" at Tucson Tea Party spokesman Trent Humphries, said Pima County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jason Ogan.Fuller was shot in the knee and back Jan. 8 when a gunman opened fire, killing six and injuring 13, including Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Fuller, a disabled veteran and former campaign volunteer for Giffords, was charged with making threats, intimidation and disorderly conduct and was involuntarily committed for a psychiatric evaluation, Ogan said.

Kindy and Rucker did elaborate further on the left-wing screeds:

A new Facebook page - Tea Party Tucson Massacre - has cropped up, blaming the tea party for the deaths of the six people, including a 9-year-old girl. On Friday, a new image appeared on the site mocking the tactics of Republican Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate who targeted Giffords's district during the election on a map marked with cross hairs. (A Palin aide said the image was intended to represent surveyors' marks.) The image of a T-shirt on the site shows the marks plastered atop Palin's face.

Trent Humphries, the tea party leader, said that because of the rancor, he was urged to stay away from memorial services and funerals honoring the shooting victims. "The police have told me that I had better not go to any large events right now," he said. "It wouldn't be safe."

The Post reporters then performed the usual tiresome song-and-dance routine, that there's no proof of our pet thesis of "vitriol," but we'll restate the thesis anyway:

Although the accused killer, Jared L. Loughner, targeted Giffords as early as 2007, no evidence has emerged that he did so because of a specific political issue. He was a registered independent who apparently harbored anger toward the congresswoman for her answer to his question at an earlier constituent event.

But Giffords's district offers a case study of problems that have driven much of Arizona's politics to a boiling point. The 8th District is fiercely independent, much like its congresswoman, who mucked horse stalls as a child and rides motorcycles without a helmet. The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place midway between Tucson and the border at Tombstone, now a tourist trap - "The Town Too Tough to Die" - that resembles a Hollywood lot for some Wild West flick.

The Post also tried to say their theory was plausible because a Tea Party gun nut had done this before:

In August 2009, as the health-care debate ratcheted up, a protester brought a gun to one of Giffords's "Congress on Your Corner" events at a supermarket in Douglas. The man reportedly shouted disparaging words at Giffords and drew the attention of police after he dropped his firearm.

After Jesse Kelly won the Republican primary in the 8th District, the tea party-backed candidate held a gun-shooting fundraiser. An ad promoting the event said: "Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly."

Kelly declined interview requests.

Wouldn't you if the liberal media were looking to blame you for the Tucson shooting? Then assigning blame to anti-Giffords talk radio also emerged:

Winning the district was a top priority for both parties, and in the campaign's final weeks, the sheer volume of anti-Giffords campaigning was inescapable, residents said.

Street signs saying "Giffords FORCED Obamacare on YOU" popped up at major intersections. Talk radio personality Garret Lewis devoted his three-hour show each day to Giffords, calling her a "puppet" of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and accusing the Arizonan of "masquerading as a border conservative." At debates, angry spectators booed and shouted over Giffords and Kelly so loudly that the candidates sometimes could not be heard.

Doesn't this passage ignore that perhaps there was also a "sheer volume of anti-Republican campaigning"? After all, Giffords won narrowly. It's not like the Democrats in District 8 didn't have the attention of national groups and party committees on both sides. But the Post still wants to play up the "anti-Giffords campaigning" played a role in the shooting.

Ombudsman Andrew Alexander seriously needs to take up how much the Post can keep embarrassing itself by trying to prove something unproven on the front page of the newspaper.

- Tim Graham