And the word of the month is: vitriol.
For this there is perhaps no one who deserves more credit than Clarence Dupnik, sheriff of Pima County, Ariz., who only hours after the Jan. 8 shooting rampage in Tucson addressed reporters, and through them a nation he found wanting. “And I think it’s time, as a country,” he said, “that we need to do a little soul-searching. Because I think it’s the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business, and what we see on TV and how our youngsters are being raised, that this has not become the nice United States of America that most of us grew up in. And I think it’s time that we did the soul searching.”
Some reporters, keen to the birth of a new star in the media cosmos, asked the sheriff to expand on his remarks, which he was only too happy to do. “When you look at unbalanced people,” he said, “how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” (If I may be forgiven a brief tangent here, given that non-Muslims are forbidden from so much as entering the city, isn’t the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry really Mecca?)
And a media star was indeed born. After presumably searching his own soul and finding it pure, Dupnik continued to harp on this theme for the rest of the week, condemning political vitriol to anyone and everyone who strayed nearby long enough to offer him a camera and microphone. And there were lots of media outlets that, eager to apportion blame for the Tucson outrage on people other than the accused killer, offered both. Among these was MSNBC, that well known paragon of reasoned and restrained political debate.
Though one might argue about which of MSNBC’s hosts is the most vitriolic, I think the consensus among people who pay attention to such things is that it would be Keith Olbermann. The irony apparently lost on Sheriff Dupnik, he appeared on Olbermann’s Countdown program, where most evenings the host anoints someone, most often a conservative politician or media figure, as the “Worst Person in the World.”