FOR THE WEEK OF JAN. 17, 2011
Tucson shootings, though not linked directly to vitriol, bring calls to keep debates civil
Can you find a quote from someone endorsing toned-down political rhetoric or voicing respect for those with different policy views?
Look for reader comments on this topic in letters or responses to online articles.
Spot an example of "trash talk" in a sports headline or article. Discuss the difference between that context and "fighting words" in politics.
"Only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation," says President Obama, who spoke at a memorial service in Tucson for six victims of a Jan. 8 shooting rampage that gravely wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. "I believe we can be better . . . . How we treat one another is entirely up to us." His comments are a response to wide concern that nasty political language and provocative imagery, such as bulls-eye targets and gun sights, may somehow push unhinged people to violence.
The weekend of the deadly attack, which came while Rep. Giffords was greeting community members, the local sheriff suggested that "vitriol . . . about tearing down the government" might have played a part. Columnists, bloggers and broadcast commentators voiced similar feelings, prompting a wave of national soul-searching. Obama flatly rejects claims of blame, saying "a simple lack of civility [isn't what] caused this tragedy - though he and others still urge that public policy debates be conducted with civility instead of vitriol, to use a word heard often in recent days. (It describes bitter, hateful speech.)
Information about accused 22-year-old gunman Jared Loughner suggests he wasn't motivated by a climate of hate, but rather by his troubled mind. Polls show a majority of Americans don't link his alleged attempt to assassinate the congresswoman to Tea Party anger or a Sarah Palin political map with weapon cross-hairs. "Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own," Palin said in a video posted on her Facebook page. "They begin and end with the criminals who commit them."
President says: "It's important for us to pause for a moment. . . . What we can't do . . . is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another." -- Jan. 12 speech in Tucson
Civil rights figure says: "It is exactly the mentally unstable who are most likely to be influenced by an atmosphere filled with hate and murderous rhetoric." -- Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader
Blogger says: "The president did not ask us to put away passion, but to act with restraint. It was not a call to stop fighting, but to stop fighting dirty." -- John Dickerson, Slate online magazine
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