While the tragic shooting at a public event for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was done by a mentally unstable individual, and while there is no apparent connection to any political party, the current political rhetoric has reached an unacceptable level. Media Matters retraces the health care reform debate, when right-wing media figures relentlessly mocked concerns about violent rhetoric that dominated congressional town hall meetings and tea party protests.
Right-Wing Media Ridiculed And Dismissed Concerns About Violent Rhetoric
Beck Mocked Rep. Patrick Kennedy's Concerns About Violent Rhetoric. Fox News host Glenn Beck said:
BECK: In the media, you keep hearing about the tea party people and the tea party people are very, very violent. Here is my favorite clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I have concerns about some of the language that is being used because I saw -- I saw this myself in the late '70s in San Francisco, this kind of rhetoric was very frightening, and it gave -- it created a climate in which we -- violence took place. And so I wish that we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BECK: OK. We have to curb our -- she was worried about the rhetoric, the rhetoric that caused violence. Hmm.
Let's remember that as we now see what Congressman Patrick Kennedy said over the weekend. Quote, "My family has seen it up close too much with assassinations and violence in political life. It is a terrible thing when people think that in order to get their point across they have to go to the edge of violent rhetoric and attack people personally."
Wow. For the first time, I'm right in line with a Kennedy, because that's what I have been saying the whole show! Hey, let's talk about the issues with Van Jones. Let's not attack the person who is just asking the questions. Maybe I misunderstood Patrick Kennedy. Maybe we're not on the same side.
He says, quote, "It's fine for people to debate the issue and attack the issue, but when they go and stoop to the level of vitriolic rhetoric that we have seen this debate turn up, it is very, I think, dangerous, to the fabric of our country. It is very, very dangerous. We put a lot of people in jail around the world for threatening our country's security, but this atmosphere of attack that doesn't attack the issue but attacks the people is very disruptive to the institution of democracy which relies on the respect for the opposition."
Wow! Wow! That is so true. That must mean that he no longer believes that the debate is over. We can all continue to have conversation and express our -- let me ask you this question -- is Patrick Kennedy saying that we should jail Americans for speaking out against health care?
He continues, quote, "George Wallace didn't need a gun to pull a trigger." Let me say it again -- "George Wallace didn't need a gun to pull a trigger. We just need to be mindful of the wisdom of people who have through -- through periods -- ugly periods in American history. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
I'm going to have to go back and read my history, but I believe George Wallace was the one who was shot, not doing the shooting. In fact, I think he was shot four times and ended up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Oh, and another thing, George Wallace, that hatemonger -- Democrat. I'm just saying.
Now let me show you the tea party. Here are the crowds of the tea party. Oh, my God, I can't even look at them, they're so horrifying! Violent, violent crazy people. Look at them standing there.
Look at that guy holding his arm up! You know what that means! I have no idea. [Fox News, Glenn Beck, 9/29/09, accessed via Nexis]
Beck On Rep. Kennedy's Reference To His Family's "Violent Past": "Is That When They Were Raping That Girl On The Beach?" Beck said:
Now how many times do we have to hear people say that somebody is going to make an attempt on this president's life before we start wondering, "Why do you keep saying this? Are you trying to convince people to do it? Do you have any information?" [Premiere Radio Networks, The Glenn Beck Program, 9/29/09]
Beck went on to mock comments Rep. Patrick Kennedy made about violence in the Kennedy family's past and asked, "Is that when they were raping that girl on the beach?"
Hannity Claimed That Town Hall Protesters Just Have "Passion" And That "The Only People That Are Yelling And Calling Names" Are Democrats. From Sean Hannity's discussion of tea party-led protests of Democrats at town hall meetings in 2009:
HANNITY: The only people, John, that are yelling here and calling names -- it's Obama telling the American people to shut up, it's Nancy Pelosi attacking the American people, it's the Democrats comparing them to Nazis -- the Democrats are doing that.
JOHN McWHORTER (Manhattan Institute senior fellow): Oh, yeah. I mean, I'll tell you honestly that I think a lot of the people who are yelling in these town hall meetings do have some problems with misinformation. But, nevertheless, it seems to me that back in my day, when I used to teach at UC Berkeley and the big debate was affirmative action, I saw people on the left acting in the same way with the same lack of manners, the same volume, the same misinformation. Now, it wasn't in the formal setting of a town meeting about a national policy -- same thing.
HANNITY: Wait a minute. What misinformation? What yelling? You know what I see? I see fathers with their kids in wheelchairs. I see veterans that are speaking. Is there passion? Yeah, there's passion. You know, maybe they don't have the --
HANNITY: So that -- but that's real passion.
McWHORTER: They do feel what they feel. Yeah.
HANNITY: Because they see their country's going bankrupt. They see that every promise that has been made has been broken, and they're being attacked and called Nazis by people that are supposed to be public servants. [Fox News, Hannity, 8/11/09]
Limbaugh Claimed Sen. McCaskill Town Hall Was "Civil" And Said "There Is Nothing To Apologize About." Rush Limbaugh claimed that protests at a town hall meeting hosted by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) were "civil." Limbaugh further said that "there is nothing to apologize [about] regarding any level of passion about what's going on with any of this." [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 8/11/09]
- AP: Protester Said "If They Don't Let Us Vent Our Frustrations Out, They Will Have A Revolution." The Associated Press reported that a woman at that town hall meeting said, "If they don't let us vent our frustrations out, they will have a revolution," and that a man was arrested for ripping another woman's poster of Rosa Parks. [Associated Press, 8/11/09]
Beck Guest Host Pat Gray Mocked Media Concerned With Protesters Carrying Guns To Obama Events: "Oh, The Humanity! A Gun!" Co-hosting for Glenn Beck, Pat Gray played audio of CBS' Katie Couric asking, "Are we really still debating health care when a man brings a handgun to a church where the president is speaking?" Gray responded, "Yes, we are, Katie." He also said:
He didn't do anything wrong with it. He wasn't there to hurt the president or anyone else. The guy just had a legal handgun. And it's happened a couple of times now, and, "Oh, the humanity! A gun! Someone had a gun!" [Premiere Radio Networks, The Glenn Beck Program, 8/19/09]
Limbaugh Mocked Those Who Warned Of "Rising Militia Groups, Rising Hate Crimes, White Supremacists, Worried About Doing Harm To Obama" After falsely claiming that health care reform legislation contained "death panels," Limbaugh said:
The American people are legitimately outraged about what is being planned here, and this is how they are treated: rising militia groups, rising hate crimes, white supremacists, worried about doing harm to Obama, and then in advance, trying to link me to it. This is Jeremiah Wright. I predicted this. I said Obama was going to spark race problems when everybody disagreed with whatever his policy was. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 8/14/09]
Right-Wing Media Mocked Pelosi's Condemnation of Violent Rhetoric
Pelosi Expressed Concerns About Violent Rhetoric And The Climate It Creates. The Associated Press reported:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that the anti-government rhetoric over President Barack Obama's health care reform effort is troubling because it reminds her of the violent debate over gay rights that roiled San Francisco in the 1970s.
Anyone voicing hateful or violent rhetoric, she told reporters, must take responsibility for the results.
"I have concerns about some of the language that is being used because I saw this myself in the late '70s in San Francisco," Pelosi said, suddenly speaking quietly. "This kind of rhetoric was very frightening" and created a climate in which violence took place, she said.
Former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White was convicted of the 1978 murders of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist. Other gay rights activists and others at the time saw a link between the assassinations and the violent debate over gay rights that had preceded them for years. [Associated Press, 9/17/09]
Hannity Mocked Pelosi's "Phony Tears," "Crocodile Tears." Hannity ridiculed Pelosi over comments she made connecting violent rhetoric to real examples of violence in the past:
I like what Pete Sessions of Texas said: "The speaker is now likening genuine opposition to assassination." Now, if anyone is ratcheting up the rhetoric, this talk about inciting violence and the phony tears, the crocodile tears, and, "Oh, I wish we had more civility." Nancy Pelosi was silent when Al Gore said what he said. She was silent when Harry Reid said what she said. She made incendiary remarks herself. [Fox News, Hannity, 9/18/09]
Limbaugh Mocks "Pelosi's Tears"; "Wouldn't Put It Past Pelosi To Want To Be Trying To Create Some Violence With This." Discussing Pelosi's comments, Limbaugh criticized the media for "falling for Pelosi's tears" and said he "wouldn't put it past Pelosi to want to be trying to create some violence with this." [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 9/18/09]
Beck Ridiculed Pelosi For Condemning Violent Rhetoric And Said: "Open Your Eyes A Little More. Somebody Blow In My Eyes." Months later, Beck was still mocking Pelosi's comments:
BECK: Well, the boss, Nancy Pelosi, she's so scared of the violent rhetoric from the Tea Party.
PELOSI [video clip]: I saw --
BECK: Oh, come on.
PELOSI [video clip]: I saw this myself in the late '70s in San Francisco.
BECK: Open your eyes a little more. Somebody blow in my eyes.
PELOSI [video clip]: This kind of rhetoric was very frightening, and it gave -- it created a climate in which violence took place.
BECK: Yes, in the San Francisco in the '70s where the violence -- wait a minute, that was Jim Jones. Hey, wait a minute. Wasn't he a communist? Yes. She has heard that kind of rhetoric -- from communist revolutionaries. And the same rhetoric from the 1960s [Fox News, Glenn Beck, 7/14/10]