Sheriff Dupnik: An MSNBC Star Is Born

So the cynic might be excused for suspecting that Sheriff Dupnik is troubled by vitriol only when it comes from the mouths of conservatives. But no matter. In Dupnik, Olbermann had a genuine Arizona law man, one at the very center of the Big Story, who was not only willing to appear on his program but was also compliant enough to echo the kind of leftist cant that during prime-time hours is MSNBC’s stock-in-trade.

“When you’re talking about a person who is unstable to begin with,” Dupnik told Olbermann on Jan. 10, “and they are motivated in some cases by the rhetoric that they hear and they see. And in general terms that’s why I say that I think that people who make a living preaching hate, to hate the government, to be angry at the government, to destroy the government, to do it to politicians, elected officials and so forth, have some responsibility. Even though it may be free speech, I don’t think free speech goes without some responsibility and some consequences.”

Never mind that neither Dupnik nor anyone else had produced even a shred of evidence that the accused shooter was motivated by or even paid attention to any of those conservative media voices the sheriff finds so objectionable. I didn’t have the opportunity to see all of Dupnik’s media appearances over the past week -- there are only so many hours in a day, after all -- so perhaps I missed it when some enterprising reporter asked him what should be done about that excessive vitriol.

And I was also eager to hear someone pose this hypothetical to Dupnik. Suppose that when the home of the accused shooter was searched, police discovered evidence that the man spent his days and nights reading Sarah Palin’s books, listening to conservative talk radio, and watching the Fox News Channel. Then what? Haul Governor Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and all the rest into the dock? Silence them on pain of imprisonment? Appoint a government monitor to check their public pronouncements for inordinate vitriol?

Dupnik surely knows, as any cop knows, that there are thousands upon thousands of people roaming the streets of America today whose grasp on reality, owing to this or that mental disorder, is tenuous at best. Spend some time on the beat with the police in any city you choose and you’ll come across so many crazy people you’ll soon be afraid to leave the house.

The man accused in the Tucson shooting is clearly mentally ill (though perhaps not insane, in a legal sense), so we may never know what inspired his deadly rampage. Are we to moderate our political discussions out of fear that someone similarly ill might be motivated to violence by something he heard on the radio or saw on television? What would Sheriff Dupnik say if today’s “Worst Person in the World” were to end up dead tomorrow at the hands of some deranged Keith Olbermann fan? And, playing counterfactual history for a moment, if on Jan. 7 the accused shooter had been picked up by the police and involuntarily hospitalized, wouldn’t he have found sympathy and support among the very same people now decrying the supposed lack of civility in our political discourse?

Near the end of Sheriff Dupnik’s Jan. 10 appearance on Countdown, Keith Olbermann posed a question: “As a sheriff, is it part of your job and part of your responsibility to assess a cultural environment that might increase the chances of injury and danger to your citizens?”

“I think that I have a legal responsibility to do that,” said Dupnik.

Frightening stuff from a man in his position. I think I’d rather take my chances with the nuts.