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First Responders: Beck, Stewart React to Tucson

In Commentaries on January 11, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Glenn Beck, top, and Jon Stewart on last night’s editions of “Glenn Beck” and “The Daily Show.” (Screen caps)

Since the Tucson tragedy has generated a much-needed public debate over the power of political rhetoric – and since I just named Glenn Beck and The Daily Show my Programs of the Year – I watched both shows yesterday to see how they responded to the shootings.

Neither surprised me.

Beck opened his Fox News Channel program by chastising the press for suggesting the alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, was influenced by conservative media.

“Common sense doesn’t matter when you’re just trying to create a storyline to fit an agenda,” Beck said. “Tonight, I want to separate the garbage … from the facts. Because if this network … and this show doesn’t do it, who will?”

OK, I thought.

There’s been an awful lot of speculation about Loughner; maybe Beck has something insightful to share.

These were the next words out of his mouth, which he spoke as he walked toward a chalkboard full of scribbled lines like “OVERWHELM + COLLAPSE SYSTEM:”

I showed you, last week, how progressives will go about implementing their agenda. It comes – all you have to do is listen to people like Van Jones and especially Frances Fox Piven – but this is an old, really, this came from congressional testimony and papers that were released and smuggled out of the, behind from the Iron Curtain – this has really happened before, this is how they’ve transformed governments before into communism. …

Click.

Over on Comedy Central, Stewart began The Daily Show by announcing he wouldn’t do what fans probably expected – showing a compilation of clips that demonstrated television’s “excesses” in covering the shootings – because “it doesn’t really feel appropriate.”

Instead, Stewart spent the next seven minutes addressing the camera, putting the shootings in perspective and appealing for civility.

His monologue can be streamed at DailyShow.com, but here are highlights:

Did the toxic political environment cause this? A graphic image here, an ill-timed comment, violent rhetoric – those types of things?

I have no fucking idea.

You know, we live in a complex ecosystem of influences and motivations and I wouldn’t blame our political rhetoric anymore than I would blame heavy metal music for Columbine.

And by the way, that is coming from somebody who truly hates our political environment.

I do think it’s a worthwhile goal not to conflate our political opponents with enemies – if for no other reason than to draw a better distinction between the manifestos of paranoid madmen and what passes for acceptable political and pundit speak.

You know, it would be really nice if the ramblings of crazy people didn’t in any way resemble how we actually talk to each other on TV.

If there is real solace in this, I think it is that for all the hyperbole and the vitriol that has become part of our political process, when the reality of that rhetoric – when actions match the disturbing nature of words – we haven’t lost our capacity to be horrified.

And please, let us hope we never do.

Perfect. Thank you, Mr. Stewart.

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