Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Giffords shooting brings out our worst

When President Ronald Reagan was shot in March of 1981 he told his surgeon, Dr. Joseph Giordano, a Democrat “Please tell me you’re all Republicans” and he responded “Today, Mr. President, we’re all Republicans.”

I first heard about the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords through Facebook. At the time there were very few hard facts. Most of the early reports said that she was killed and about 12 others were wounded.

The facts were: Rep. Giffords was shot, along with several other people; it was at an event she hosted regularly called “Congress on Your Corner” where she would meet with constituents on an individual basis; and Giffords is a Democrat.

In our instantly-updated, mobile, multitasking, we’re-all-experts-on-everything world that last fact meant only one thing on Twitter: the shooter must be a right-wing, tea party extremist. This conclusion was reached very quickly, without any evidence, without even knowing the shooter’s name. Even as every political figure from every part of the spectrum made their support and prayers for her recovery known, the unempirical, two-fact based hypothesis on the politics and personality of the shooter became a “fact” of its own on social networks.

Remember, the shooter didn’t even have a name at this point.

Eventually the Associated Press found it out: Jared Loughner, or, in keeping with the determination that assassins must have three names: Jared Lee Loughner.

The YouTube channel that may belong to him is odd, to say the least. In his videos he talks about the importance of grammar and literacy – in borderline-incoherent run-on sentences; he wants to run a business around “conscience dreaming”; and he wants to start a new system of currency. His list of favorite books included Orwell’s “1984,” Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Bradbury’s “Farenheit 451,” “Mein Kampf” and “The Communist Manifesto.”

Not only does this list show him as more complex than a political slogan, but it begs the question of how Twitter users in say, Tennessee or Illinois can draw conclusions based on only a few facts. There really isn’t an easy way to say this, except to say it: we are all suffering from a delusion where we make all the facts we learn try to fit in to our conception of how the world works.

No one wants people to be shot at, but if people are shot and killed, on some level we want the shooter to be something Other. So Jane Fonda blames Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann for Loughner’s actions; conservatives say he’s insane, or retweet the remarks of Caitie Parker, who knew him in 2007: “As I knew him he was left wing, quite liberal. & oddly obsessed with the 2012 prophecy.”

I’m not immune to it, either: I worry about Loughner’s apparent support for the gold standard – something heavily associated with my brand of libertarian politics and so I take issue with what I hope was a facetious tweet by blogger Matt Yglesias: “Loughner YouTube indicates the thin line between utter insanity and gold standard advocates.”

So I say thank God for Rachel Maddow, who tweeted “There is nothing to be gained from speculating on the motives and affiliations of AZ shooter w/o facts.”

As I write this at 7:40 pm the day of the shooting there still aren’t many more facts than there were right afterwards. We know here in Amherst that Loughner is in custody; that Giffords’ office was vandalized last year; that federal Judge John Roll, who was also killed, received death threats in the past; and counting Roll, six people were murdered.

The flow of rumor has yet to be staunched. In addition to the “Loughner is a Tea Partier” “hypothesis,” a number of people on Twitter were saying that if he was a Muslim he would be called a terrorist, but since he’s white he’s “insane.” Some people are calling Loughner a terrorist: Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips said in an e-mail posted on The New York Times’ “The Caucus” blog “The shooter has been taken into custody and let’s hope he gets the death penalty he so richly deserves . . . No one should be a victim of violence because of their political beliefs . . . we can all be happy that the Congresswoman survived this terrorist attack.”

In a time of extreme uncertainty like this it is more important than ever not to latch on to unfounded rumors coming out of Twitter or Facebook, but to remember our reason and concentrate on the facts. Let the unknowns be unknown instead of pretending to know. As a journalist I’m acutely aware that things can be misreported or misunderstood, but that doesn’t mean we should make things up wholesale, either.

The day of the shooting we all should have been Democrats, but the way we’ve been trying to pass off Loughner as coming from the opposite side of the political spectrum as our own says more distrurbing things about us than any of his YouTube videos say about him.

Matthew M. Robare is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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  • K

    KrisJan 22, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Good piece. I too was baffled by the finger pointing.

  • B

    BorisJan 17, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    Good article.