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Beyond Tucson: The Violent Rhetoric of the US Media

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer suggested WikiLeaks' Julian Assange should be made to fear for his life, saying "it would be nice if people like Assange were made to worry every time they go out in the rain." (Fox News)

The discussion of violent and paranoid rhetoric in the media is
long overdue, whether or not it is ever determined that accused Tucson
shooter Jared Lee Loughner was somehow influenced or motivated by such
rhetoric. Before the shooting, there had been a remarkable surge of
politically motivated violence (FAIR Blog, 1/12/11). Despite media efforts to suggest this is a problem coming from "both sides" (FAIR Blog, 1/10/11),
any disinterested analysis would conclude that the rhetoric coming from
the right is both far more virulent and is given a much higher profile
by nationally syndicated talk radio and the Fox News Channel.

But any discussion of media support for violence
should not exclude other examples, many of which emanate from
respectable, mainstream figures in the corporate media. The difference
is that, in most cases, they are supporting or calling for state
violence, usually against citizens of weaker countries who cannot, in
most cases, defend themselves. This kind of rhetoric rarely elicits
calls for greater "civility" in our public discourse, which suggests
that some calls for violence are considered more acceptable than others.

A sampling:

--Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer (12/3/10) on WikiLeaks' Julian Assange:

"Think creatively. The WikiLeaks document
dump is sabotage, however quaint that term may seem.... Franklin
Roosevelt had German saboteurs tried by military tribunal and shot.
Assange has done more damage to the United States than all six of those
Germans combined."

"Want to prevent this from happening again? Let the
world see a man who can't sleep in the same bed on consecutive nights,
who fears the long arm of American justice. I'm not advocating that we
bring out of retirement the KGB proxy who, on a London street, killed a
Bulgarian dissident with a poisoned umbrella tip. But it would be nice
if people like Assange were made to worry every time they go out in the

--The Washington Post's David Broder (10/31/10) recommended threatening war with Iran as an economic and domestic political strategy:

"With strong Republican support in Congress for
challenging Iran's ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much
of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will
help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on.
And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the
economy will improve.

"I am not suggesting, of course, that the president
incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama
because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century.
If he can confront this threat and contain Iran's nuclear ambitions, he
will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most
successful presidents in history."

--New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (1/14/09) endorsed the killing of civilians as a military tactic:

"Israel's counterstrategy was to use its air force
to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese
civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial
property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was
not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing
with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only
long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the
civilians--the families and employers of the militants--to restrain
Hezbollah in the future."

--Former ABC anchor Ted Koppel, writing in the New York Times
(10/2/06), argued that various hypothetical attacks should move the
United States to attack Iran, whether or not they were responsible:

"But this should also be made clear to Tehran: If a
dirty bomb explodes in Milwaukee, or some other nuclear device detonates
in Baltimore or Wichita, if Israel or Egypt or Saudi Arabia should fall
victim to a nuclear 'accident,' Iran should understand that the United
States government will not search around for the perpetrator. The return
address will be predetermined, and it will be somewhere in Iran."

--Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (3/26/03) called for the destruction of Baghdad, a city of 4.5 million residents :


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"There is a school of thought that says we should
have given the citizens of Baghdad 48 hours to get out of Dodge by
dropping leaflets and going with the AM radios and all that. Forty-eight
hours, you've got to get out of there, and flatten the place. Then the
war would be over. We could have done that in two days…. You flatten
Baghdad, you flatten all the troops, we know where they go, there's
nowhere to hide in the desert. We know where everybody's moving. And you
know as well as I do, this war could have been over in two days…. It's
just frustrating for everybody to know that we have been fighting this
war with one hand behind our back."

--O'Reilly (9/17/01) recommended strikes on a
variety of targets after the 9/11 attacks. After calling for the U.S. to
"bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubble--the airport, the power
plants, their water facilities, and the roads," O'Reilly went on to say:

"This is a very primitive country. And taking out
their ability to exist day to day will not be hard. Remember, the people
of any country are ultimately responsible for the government they have.
The Germans were responsible for Hitler. The Afghans are responsible
for the Taliban. We should not target civilians. But if they don't rise
up against this criminal government, they starve, period."

O'Reilly added that in Iraq, "their infrastructure
must be destroyed and the population made to endure yet another round of
intense pain.... Maybe then the people there will finally overthrow
Saddam." If Libya's Moammar Khadafy does not relinquish power and go
into exile, "we bomb his oil facilities, all of them. And we mine the
harbor in Tripoli. Nothing goes in, nothing goes out. We also destroy
all the airports in Libya. Let them eat sand."

--O'Reilly (4/26/99) advocated attacks on Serbian infrastructure:

"If NATO is not able to wear down this Milosevic in
the next few weeks, I believe that we have to go in there and drop
leaflets on Belgrade and other cities and say, 'Listen, you guys have
got to move because we're now going to come in and we're going to just
level your country. The whole infrastructure is going.'

"Rather than put ground forces at risk where we're
going to see 5,000 Americans dead, I would rather destroy their
infrastructure, totally destroy it. Any target is OK. I'd warn the
people, just as we did with Japan, that it's coming, you've got to get
out of there, OK, but I would level that country so that there would be
nothing moving--no cars, no trains, nothing."

--The Washington Post's Krauthammer (4/8/99)
criticized the "excruciating selectivity" of NATO's bombing raids in
Serbia and applauded the fact that "finally they are hitting
targets--power plants, fuel depots, bridges, airports, television
transmitters--that may indeed kill the enemy and civilians nearby."

--The New York Times' Friedman (4/6/99)
recommended that NATO airstrikes against Serbia cause more suffering,
since "people tend to change their minds and adjust their goals as they
see the price they are paying mount. Twelve days of surgical bombing was
never going to turn Serbia around. Let's see what 12 weeks of less than
surgical bombing does. Give war a chance."

Friedman wrote a few weeks later (4/23/99):

"Let's at least have a real air war. The idea that
people are still holding rock concerts in Belgrade, or going out for
Sunday merry-go-round rides, while their fellow Serbs are 'cleansing'
Kosovo, is outrageous. It should be lights out in Belgrade: Every power
grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be

--Friedman (1/19/99) recommended the U.S. bomb Iraqi
infrastructure: "Blow up a different power station in Iraq every week,
so no one knows when the lights will go off or who's in charge."

A year earlier, Friedman (1/31/98) recommended
"bombing Iraq, over and over and over again.... We may have no choice
but to go down this road. Once we do, however, we better have the
stomach to stay the course.

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