Let's Take a Deep Breath

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 2, 2009; 10:33 AM

We need to be really, really careful about blaming people for murder.

The reprehensible slaying of George Tiller, because he performed abortions, shocks the conscience. The man who pulled the trigger -- a suspect is already in custody -- is responsible.

But within hours, the liberal blogosphere was aflame with posts declaring that Bill O'Reilly bears some responsibility for the killing.

I'm not going to join the attack. It is perfectly fair to hold the Fox News host accountable for his words and to question whether he has gone too far in personally assailing Tiller time and time again.

But is it his fault if some abortion-hating fanatic decides to kill another human being?

If you believe in a woman's right to choose, you have a duty, it seems to me, to speak out against those who would have the government take that right away. But if you believe abortion is murder, you also have the right to speak out against the practice. That is part of a noisy democracy that places a premium on free speech.

Tiller was shot and wounded in 1993, before there was an "O'Reilly Factor" or a Fox News Channel.

After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, President Clinton denounced the "loud and angry voices" who, he said, too often "keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate, they leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable . . . It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of reckless speech and behavior."

That came too close to blaming talk show hosts for the actions of Timothy McVeigh. Liberal commentator Carl Rowan declared that the harsh rhetoric of Newt Gingirch and Bob Dole "creates a climate of violence in America."

Rush Limbaugh responded to Clinton, and blamed "many in the mainstream media" for "irresponsible attempts to categorize and demonize those who had nothing to do with this. . . . There is absolutely no connection between these nuts and mainstream conservatism in America today."

I heard the echoes last night, when O'Reilly said that "pro-abortion zealots and Fox News-haters" were trying "to blame us for the crime," to "demonize" him, and in the process "exploiting the death of the doctor." He defended his past attacks, saying, "No backpedaling here. . . . Every single thing we said about Tiller was true." O'Reilly went on to note that Tiller had performed an estimated 60,000 abortions, and questioned why his critics in the media had said nothing "about the 60,000 fetuses who'll never become American citizens."

No one particularly likes abortion, especially late-term abortion, but those 60,000 procedures were legal. The doctor was providing a legal service.

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