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The current debate raging among pundits, politicians and bloggers about how much the vitriolic media environment influenced Jared Loughner or influences any other fringe-of-sanity people is, in my opinion, long overdue.

Loughner is accused of shooting 20 people in Tucson, Ariz., killing six and wounding the rest, including Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

In some of my columns last year, I addressed the hate radio/TV types who continue to use and abuse their First Amendment rights to pump up listener ratings.

I read a blog stating loudmouths like Rush Limbaugh depend as much on those who despise them as their “faithful” followers. Cynicism doesn’t get any more bitter than that. The depravity of this practice transcends all reason and responsibility when it pushes unstable people into doing irrational things.

Screamers and hate mongers such as Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter goad marginal thinkers including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin; U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.; former Republican U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, unsuccessful conservative U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle and lesser-known political wannabes into thinking they too can capitalize on over-the-top emotional rhetoric to garner attention, votes and, most important, money.

These creatures of the dark side are making pots of money on books and TV appearances.

When did this all become so insane? I’m suggesting that this “style” of politics began with the emergence of the Karl Rove philosophy of scorched-earth, attack-dog methods to alienate and divide an electorate without the benefit of intelligent or mature discourse. In Rove’s world, the candidate never admitted a mistake, blamed everybody else for his/her screw ups and attacked the character and persona of the opponent irrespective of facts or truth.

Creating scandal for the sake of scandal was strategy No. 1 for this method of electioneering.

Rove was hired by President George H.W. Bush to run his election campaigns because he saw that Rove’s methods worked. He took it to a national level when Poppy ran against St. Ronald in the Republican primaries.

Where do you think the term “Voodoo Economics” came from? Bush ran on that phrase until he realized he was going to lose and the only way to salvage his political career was to toady-up and get himself selected as vice president to the sainted one.

When Bush later ran against Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis for president, Rove kicked things into high gear and, along with Dukakis’s own mistakes, overcame a double-digit lead and helped get Bush elected. The mess around convict Willy Horton was typical Rove. It had no relevance whatsoever to the election, but it was presented in such a way as to sink Dukakis’s campaign. That was just the beginning.

You may be thinking back to President Richard Nixon’s “dirty tricks” team in the 1970s, but that was just Rove’s graduate course in divisive politics.

After Bush lost to Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election, the gloves really came off. Clinton’s hand wasn’t even off the Bible before the hate-and-scandal campaign against him began. Even the conservative, erudite pundit George Will was shocked at the depth and viciousness of those attacks.

About this time the opportunist Limbaugh saw ways to make lots of money by thumping the hate card with half-truths, outright lies and opinions that would have made Joseph Goebbels blush. He became highly successful at this “act,” eventually signing long-term radio contracts worth upwards of $40 million per year.

Limbaugh became the archetype for anger-baiting programming. Following his obvious success, Fox Broadcasting, led by the discredited Australian Rupert Murdoch, hired Roger Ailes to lead the news. Ailes worked for Rove in the Bush campaigns and wrote some of Bush’s most disturbing speeches. Ailes hired O’Reilly, Beck, Hannity and a research staff dedicated to demonizing anything more liberal than the script of the Republican National Committee and Murdoch.

To me, this use of mass communication for the specific purpose of enraging a poorly informed populace to elect their selected candidates violates every particle of ethics and responsibility by those media.

Maybe Loughner wasn’t pushed to his killing frenzy by hate radio, but somebody might; somebody who is less able to resist the gut-wrenching vitriol coming from right-wing political activism.

The multiple facts of extremist propaganda, readily available weapons, a poorly informed populace, anger/hate-mongering politicians and the number of mentally unstable people walking the streets could create the perfect storm for more political assassination attempts the likes of which we haven’t seen in this country – ever.

 

Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company. He can be reached by e-mail at vtgolf@zeecon.com.