Gabrielle Giffords shooting: Bob Schieffer speaks out about toxic talk and toning down the rhetoric

Bob Schieffer
CBS News Senior Correspondent and Host, Face the Nation
Monday, January 10, 2011; 1:00 PM

Staring earnestly into the camera, Keith Olbermann blamed Sarah Palin's rhetoric, saying that if she did not "repudiate her own part, however tangential, in amplifying violence and violent imagery in American politics, she must be dismissed from politics." He argued that Glenn Beck "obsesses nearly as strangely" about the gold standard as the alleged gunman, Jared Loughner, and accused Bill O'Reilly of using violent imagery. Olbermann, who chooses a nightly "Worst Person in the World," apologized for his own extremism, like the time he said something that "sounded," by his own admission, like a call for physical violence against Hillary Clinton.

Is the media responsible for inciting anger and does it cause some people to act on that emotion? Should the media be more responsible? Would restrictions inhibit free press?

Bob Schieffer, CBS News senior correspondent and host of Face the Nation, was online Monday, Jan. 10, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the controversy.


Bob Schieffer: Hi Bob Schieffer here to talk about whatever you want to talk about today. But I'll expect you'll want to talk about the horrendous news of the weekend and the role of the media.


Why Doesn't the Press Challenge Politicians' Vitriolic Statement?: Why does "the legitimate press" report vitriolic statements referencing guns by politicians without questioning the wisdom of those statements and challenging politicians to exclude words related to violence in discussing political differences? Recent examples of vitriolic statements include use of cross hairs and the word reload by Sarah Palin in referring to politicians she wanted defeated, references to second amendment remedies by Sharon Angle in running against Harry Reid, Michele Bachmann mentioning armed revolution to fight a proposed energy bill in Congress and Joe Manchin using a high power rifle to express opposition to cap and trade legislation. Given the tragic shooting in Arizona this weekend, the number of individuals with guns in this country and the potential for violence by mentally ill persons with access to guns, what would be the harm in the press questioning or challenging the appropriateness of such vitriolic statements at the time they are reported? Certainly the press has no qualms about questioning or challenging policy statements by administrations with which it disagrees. In criticizing the level of political discourse in this country, Pima Sheriff Clarence Dupnik displayed courage rarely seen today by public officials or the press.

Bob Schieffer: Actually I think we do. I devoted my commentary on Face the Nation yesterday to the need to think about the consequences of the language and the statements that are being made on television, cable and the internet. Here's a link to the CBS website if you want to see what I said:

_______________________ Schieffer Commentary on Face the Nation (CBS, Jan. 9)


Anonymous: The main question as an aftermath to this tragedy is how the average citizen can voice their censure of those who promote anti-government/violent rhetoric?

Bob Schieffer: By contacting them first and expressing your displeasure. But second, by trying to be as informed as we can about current events. And that means consulting more than one source for our news. Then weighing carefully what we read and hear and asking a few basic questions. Can this be true? Is this accurate? And then by acting accordingly.


Dunn Loring, Va.: Do you think it's reflective of an underlying bias that the media's first reaction was to point to Sarah Palin and other conservatives as a cause of Giffords's shooting, even after numerous reports that identified the shooter as a radical leftist?

Bob Schieffer: I appreciate your question but I must say I don't accept the premise. I do not believe the media's first reaction was to blame Sarah Palin. I believe this is a much broader question than Sarah Palin's part in it. But I think much of the press reaction was about the tone of the political debate about charges hurled irresponsibly as if we have forgotten that words have consequence. In my commentary Sunday I pointed out that words like all powerful things must be used carefully. I think that's something that all of us need to think about, not just Sarah Palin.


Washington, D.C.: Which media organizations do you feel do the fairest job of covering and reporting the news?

Bob Schieffer: CBS, of course I'm biased. Seriously, I think the mainstream media - by that I mean the national networks, the wire services and the major newspapers - do the best job because they still follow the old rules: Do not publish or broadcast something until you have made every effort to determine if it is true and accurate. You may not agree with the editorial positions of each and every mainstream media outlet, which is as it should be in a democracy, but I think for the most part the mainstream media does a pretty good job.


Billings, Mont.: Bob,

It seemed several media outlets already reported the congresswoman dead and the Tea Party responsible. Neither of which were true.

Maybe the reporters can add a page to their notebooks reminding them, the sheriff in Tucson, and the other pundits like Olbermann to get their facts before filing charges.

What is more vitriolic than accusing the innocent of murder? Did the sheriff himself fail to protect a member of Congress from someone who was mentally unstable and already had made direct threats?

Bob Schieffer: We should never broadcast or print something until we KNOW that it is true. Accuracy is the single most important aspiration that any media outlet should have. Part two, if we do make mistakes, and there will be mistakes along the way, we should correct them immediately and completely.


Demanding apologies: I think Olbermann, if the lead-in is accurate, did the right thing by apologizing. However, so few people in the media or politics do that for their errors. Is that because it requires an admission of error or what? Why don't more people in public scrutiny, when faced with being factually wrong, apologize more often?

Bob Schieffer: It's never easy to admit a mistake and Keith was absolutely right to correct his.


Boulder, Colo.: What are your thoughts about the root causes of of our vitriolic political condition? How might we eliminate this aspect of our discourse?

Bob Schieffer: I believe the current state of affairs began when we made what used to be an amateur sport into a professional sport. By that I mean when the jobs that amateurs used to do were handed over to professional consultants, strategists and so on, what became a cottage industry. When you live in a community and your candidate wins, you share in the joy of the victory. But when your candidate loses, you have to live with the loss. Professional consultants designed and devised effective negative campaigns, but when their candidates lost, they did not have to go back and live with that loss and the allegations they made in the local community. They collected their money and went on to another campaign. This eventually spread to the governing process, and not only made our campaigns more negative, but governing. This is how it began and now we are where we are.


Santa Barbara, Calif.: What, exactly, was Sharron Angle envisioning when she touted the "Second Amendment remedy"?

Bob Schieffer: I have no idea but I think these are the kinds of statements that politicians of both parties should give serious thought to before issuing them.


Fairfax, Va.: I do not wish to minimize the tragedy of the Tucson shooting at all, but the national moment of silence today might more appropriately been aimed at ALL the gun-related deaths that occur in the U.S. each year. And is Congress really stopping business for a week because of the events in Tucson? That seems totally unnecessary.

Bob Schieffer: I respectfully disagree.


Berks County, Pa.: Do you think we'll see real changes in how elected officials interact with the public? Were there any law enforcement at the event given the fact that Rep. Giffords's office door was shot at back in February after the health-care vote?

Bob Schieffer: To the best of my knowledge there was no security at this event. Part of our democratic way of life is that our elected officials are able to move among the people who have elected them. An attack like the one in Tucson is more than an attack on a member of Congress, it is an attack on all of us and our way of life. If members of Congress cannot meet with their constituents without a fear of being shot, then we have come to a very bad place in American life. Let us hope that what happened in Tucson can be a wake-up call for all of us.


Moraga, Calif.: While Democrats see Loughner as a byproduct of aggressive imagery favored by right wing zealots and Republicans seek to characterize Loughner as an isolated, demented individual, can you take a moment and try to explain and contrast how the two political parties have operated in their rhetoric? There was fury with Bush and Cheney, but nothing that approaches the relative mainstreaming of what Republicans are promoting. Where are the Democratic versions of Swift Boaters, Death Panel promoters, birthers, Socialist-takeover of America, godless baby killers? Forget Loughner for a moment, and try to explain how rhetoric detached from reality is a good thing for Americans' sanity and future as a nation?

Bob Schieffer: I think rhetoric detached from reality is an awful thing for America and I think both sides have gone over board. If a visitor from another planet came to Earth and all he knew about our politics was what he learned from our campaign commercials he would conclude that only the dregs of society, deviates, liars, thieves and sometimes murders were the only people who run for public office. This is what's wrong with our politics and both sides have gone too far.


Springfield, Va.: When I saw the Sarah Palin's "target" poster on the Huffington Post, I was immediately reminded of a paper that my father wrote in the immediate aftermath of Medgar Evers's assassination entitled, Medgar Evers and Mississippi: The Anatomy of Martyrdom. As a young lawyer for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, one of my father's responsibilities was to monitor the local newspapers in Mississippi. He cited numerous instances where newspapers and political leaders were complicit in the assassination through mass media targeting and fomenting of violence: "When Evers announced that a petition had been filed with the school board to desegregate Jackson schools, the Jackson Daily News gave the names, addresses, and directions to the home of each of the petitioning parents. To locate the Evers's home, (the address not being in the Jackson telephone directory) the newspaper related: 'Guynes Street is off Ridgway in Northwest Jackson.' How do you feel this incident will affect Sarah Palin's candidacy in 2012?

Bob Schieffer: I have no idea, honestly. I'm not yet convinced she's going to run for anything.


Stafford, Va.: This may be a little off topic but amidst all the sadness, I was amazed that this Congresswoman Gifford was having a public event at all not related to an election. I hear all the congressmen saying they have to fly home many days a week to meet with their constituents regularly. Really? I have lived in the same district in Virginia since 1987 and have NEVER seen a congressperson out in public except for just before an election. I have written and e-mailed so who knows what staffer may be reading(or not) the letter. How I would love the chance to directly meet the rep without the filter of a staff person - guess that will never happen now...

Bob Schieffer: I would suggest you check your representative's website or simply call the U.S. Capitol and ask for your representative's office. Someone there will be glad to tell you when your representative is going to be in the district. I think you're probably right, you're more likely to see them during the election season, but the truth is most of them do hold town hall meetings throughout the year.


Bob Schieffer: Time's up! Thank you all so much. Really enjoyed your questions. Sorry I was unable to get to all of them but I've got to get back to work.


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