Articles like "Accusations Fly Between Parties Over Threats and Vandalism" in the New York Times today (3/26/10) are fairly useless. Are Republicans "fanning the flames with coded rhetoric," as a Democratic lawmaker says, or is a Republican representative right that it's Democrats who are "ratcheting up the rhetoric"?
Readers are really left to judge based on their own partisan predilections, since Times reporter Michael Cooper gives them almost nothing else to go on. The article reports that "some Democrats accused the Republicans of stoking anger on the right with their fierce language during the healthcare debate," but it only gives one example: Sarah Palin telling her followers, "Don't Retreat, Instead–RELOAD!"
It actually gets quite a bit fiercer than that–as Cooper would know if he read fellow New York Times reporter Timothy Egan's blog post on the subject (3/24/10):
"Let's beat the other side to a pulp!" Rep. Steve King, Republican of Iowa, shouted to the last stand of Tea Partiers on Sunday night. "Let's chase them down! There's going to be a reckoning."
Lest anyone accuse Egan of taking King's quote out of context, those words were immediately preceded by King's suggestion that those sorts of action were a last-ditch alternative to secession (Think Progress, 3/22/10):
I just came down here so I could say to you, God bless you…. You are the awesome American people….
If I could start a country with a bunch of people, they'd be the folks who were standing with us the last few days. Let's hope we don't have to do that!
As a professional observer of the media for the past 20 years, I can confidently state that if a Democratic member of Congress went out to address a mob on Capitol Hill that had recently been spitting at lawmakers and chanting ethnic slurs, and urged them to beat up their opponents so they don't "have to" launch a civil war, this would be a major news story.
Instead, a check of Nexis for King's quote turns up a handful of stories–one by Rachel Maddow (MSNBC, 3/24/10), another by Terry Gross (NPR, 3/25/10), an op-ed piece in the Des Moines Register (3/26/10) and a blog post from the Cedar Rapids Gazette (3/23/10). Congressional Quarterly HealthBeat (3/22/10) had a piece, and the Bismarck Tribune (3/26/10) reprinted Egan's post. There were also about a half-dozen pieces in the alternative press–and that's all Nexis wrote.
Is it really not a significant development when a political leader–even a Republican political leader–starts urging his followers to beat their enemies to a pulp? Is that really something that can only be discussed in blog posts and op-ed columns?