Any soundbite, article, lecture or editorial that begins with some variation of “Sarah Palin [or Rush Limbaugh, or the Tea Parties etc] “didn’t pull the trigger but…” is either rank intellectual laziness or, more likely, a slimy or irresponsible attempt to exploit this crime for a political agenda.
Unlike, say, the issues of mental illness or gun control, there is no fair-minded reason to turn this into a debate about Palin. There is simply no known basis in fact that Loughner was inspired by Palin’s map or any of the other alleged incitements.
Feeling that it should be otherwise is not a legitimate reason to say it is otherwise. And every journalistic outfit who thinks they’re being fair by covering the “debate” evenhandedly misses this basic point. You can’t cover a debate that shouldn’t exist in the first place “fairly.” What we have here is a variant of the “when did you stop beating your wife” question. There is no evidence of any kind of wife-beating, but we still get stories that read something like this: “…some say X does beat his wife, while others point out there is zero direct evidence of wife-beating. Still, the controversy does raise larger questions about the climate of wife-beating and X’s responsibility for it.”
It’s like covering the “debate” over whether the Jews secretly launched the 9/11 attacks. Once you’ve engaged a yes-v-no argument that takes both “sides” seriously, you’ve done more harm than good.