Last month, through some combination of incredible good fortune and immense personal courage, the United States barely escaped a historic, nation-shaking massacre after an angry Bernie Sanders supporter named James Hodgkinson opened fire on a field full of unarmed Republican lawmakers practicing for Congress’s annual charity baseball game.
Had Representative Steve Scalise’s security detail not been present, America might have witnessed the wholesale slaughter of GOP senators and representatives. The consequences would have been catastrophic. The capital would have been plunged into mourning, and political tensions — already high after our contentious 2016 election — would have risen dramatically. Instead, in part because of the convenient forgetfulness of a media laser-focused on Donald Trump and the threat of right-wing extremism, the incident quickly faded from the public’s mind.
Narratives, however, still must be serviced, and the Washington Post was on the case. This weekend, it published a report from Hodgkinson’s hometown. Did it go beyond earlier reports that traced the shooter’s life, explaining in detail how he became radicalized to the point where he wished to assassinate Republican leaders? Did it analyze the influence of left-wing rhetoric on his descent into vicious violence? Did it find and interview the media figures that he quoted and demand to know whether they somehow felt responsible for the shooter’s white-hot rage?
Take a wild guess.
Instead of doing any of the valuable journalistic work listed above, the Post’s reporter found and profiled Bob Romanik, an angry right-wing shock jock whom Hodkinson may never have even listened to. No, I’m not making this up. Here are Romanik’s alleged ties to the shooter:
Despite being a die-hard supporter of President Trump who has perfected the art of the dire populist message, many of Romanik’s biggest fans in southern Illinois are disgruntled Democrats like Hodgkinson.
Oh, and this:
“I can’t say for sure if this Hodgkinson guy listened to me, but he probably did,” Romanik said in a recent interview. “If people would be honest about what drove Hodgkinson to the point of violence, you’d probably see a lot of people right on the same page with him all over the country. But around here, for sure.”
Further down the story is this little caveat: “Romanik doesn’t subscribe to Nielsen . . . and he said the total number of on-air listeners, as well as the number of people listening to his program online, is unknown.”
Let me translate. The Washington Post doesn’t know how many people listen to this man. It doesn’t know who listens to this man. It doesn’t know if the shooter listened to this man. But it profiled him anyway.
It is simply stunning that a major media organization would choose a left-wing shooting to once again highlight the supposed threat of right-wing speech.
Spend much time in left-wing circles — especially the kind of deep-blue progressive urban centers that produce our nation’s mainstream media — and you’ll find a sincere, abiding fear that “angry white-wing rhetoric” is on the verge of spurring a wave of murder and violence. I’ve had multiple conversations with otherwise smart people who are just convinced that people like my Rush Limbaugh–listening friends and neighbors are so seething with rage that they’re a hair’s breadth from snapping.
At the same time, many of these same folks are utterly unconcerned with the effects of angry left-wing rhetoric. Politician after politician can accuse Republicans of killing people with their health-care plan, and that’s just “speaking truth to power.” When Hillary Clinton calls Republicans the “death party,” then that’s just the #Resistance in action. When left-wing riots break out across the land, then the resulting chaos is glossed-over as “mostly peaceful” protest. The Nation actually printed, just days after an attempted mass assassination of GOP congressmen, an article that asked, “Why does the far-right hold a near-monopoly on political violence?”
There is a problem with far-right violence, but that problem so far comes from the same people it always has: white supremacists who are far removed from the mainstream GOP. That violence exists, it may be escalating, and the GOP should maintain extreme vigilance to push the fools, cranks, conspiracy theorists, and hatemongers far outside its political tent. But it is simply stunning that a major media organization would choose a left-wing shooting to once again highlight the supposed threat of right-wing speech.
The media is right when it declares that speech has power and that narratives can shape debate. Indeed, its speech has the power to stoke destructive and misguided fears, and its narratives can actively deceive Americans concerned about escalating political violence in American life. There is, in fact, a problem with far-left violence, and the roots of that rage should be explored with at least the same energy the media devotes to perceived right-wing threats. But don’t tell the Washington Post. The narrative demanded a right-wing villain, so a right-wing villain was what their reporter produced.