Headline of the day: “Hodgkinson’s Disease”

James Freeman reports about Wednesday’s liberal mass shooter and the reaction thereto:

A violent assault can leave far more than mere physical scars. And it appears that Wednesday’s attack on Republican lawmakers and their associates has proven to be particularly traumatic for the editorial page staff of the New York Times. Symptoms exhibited by the afflicted Timesfolk include the making of assertions that have not been established as facts and a refusal to accept those that have.

To be sure, the last 24 hours have been highly stressful for progressive leftists. Creating conditions of extreme psychological discomfort are the published writings of suspected shooter James T. Hodgkinson. Among the revelations is that Hodgkinson appears to have accepted as fact virtually the entirety of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ over-the-top rhetoric about U.S. political and economic systems.

Perhaps as a coping mechanism, the New York Times now editorializes that Hodgkinson “was surely deranged, and his derangement had found its fuel in politics.” One can argue that anyone who seeks to assassinate politicians is by definition deranged. Some people might even argue that Hodgkinson’s proposal to lift marginal tax rates to “70% or more” was insane. But Hodgkinson’s mental condition has not been established.

The Associated Press reports that as of March 24 of this year, just before Hodgkinson set off for Virginia from his home in Illinois, local law enforcement in that state had no knowledge of any psychiatric issues. That’s when police were called to his house by neighbors concerned about the multiple gunshots he was firing. According to the AP:

St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson said Wednesday that Hodgkinson showed the deputy all required firearms licenses and documentation for the high-powered hunting rifle, which he said he was simply using for target practice.

The deputy cautioned Hodgkinson about shooting around homes, given that the rounds can travel up to a mile. No charges were filed.

‘‘He said, ‘I understand,’ and said he needed to take the gun to a range to shoot it, Watson said. ‘‘There was nothing we could arrest him for, and there was no indication he was mentally ill or going to harm anyone.

Various accounts of Hodgkinson paint a picture of a horrible foster parent with a history of mostly minor brushes with the law, but not a raving lunatic. In its news coverage, the New York Times interviews the suspect’s brother:

“I know he wasn’t happy with the way things were going, the election results and stuff,” his brother, Michael Hodgkinson, said in a phone interview after he received the news on Wednesday.

“Totally out of the blue,” he added, saying that his brother was engaged in politics but otherwise led a normal life.

The paper also quotes Charlene Brennan, a real estate agent who said Mr. Hodgkinson had conducted inspections for various of her housing sales: “He did not come off as an unstable individual. He wasn’t belligerent. He was just kind of a normal guy.”

The Washington Post found another person who didn’t seem to think Hodgkinson was deranged:

Charles Orear, 50, a restaurant manager from St. Louis, became friendly with Hodgkinson during their work together in Iowa on Sanders’s 2016 campaign. Orear said Hodgkinson was a passionate progressive and showed no signs of violence or malice toward others.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Orear said when told by phone about the shooting.

Hodgkinson’s hometown paper, the Belleville News-Democrat, interviewed Hodgkinson’s neighbor Aaron Meurer:

“I knew he was a Democrat, a pretty hardcore one. I know he wasn’t happy when Trump got elected, but he seemed like a nice enough guy,” recalled Meurer, who said the couple lived across the street for about six years.

This column could go on citing witnesses who found Hodgkinson to be a more or less normal guy with leftist views but there are even more egregious errors in the Times editorial that demand attention.

This column thinks it’s usually unfair to hold political leaders responsible for all the acts and views of their followers. Pick the nuttiest person at any large political rally of either party and you’ll find someone whose comments are not easy to defend. The Times has a different view, and seeks whenever possible to blame shootings on conservative politicians. So it may be understandable that one symptom of its Hodgkinson’s disease is a heightened sensitivity and fear that people on the right will use the Times technique against leftists that the Times admires, or even against the Times itself. Perhaps deciding that the best defense is a good offense, the paper editorializes:

In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.

Conservatives and right-wing media were quick on Wednesday to demand forceful condemnation of hate speech and crimes by anti-Trump liberals. They’re right. Though there’s no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack, liberals should of course hold themselves to the same standard of decency that they ask of the right.

Because Sarah Palin is a well-known former politician, she’s in a category of people who face enormously high legal barriers to winning libel cases. This is as it should be. We want a vibrant free press to vigorously hold politicians to account and when people step into the political arena they understand that rough treatment from the media is part of the gig. But if Mrs. Palin were just another private citizen, she would sue the New York Times and she would win. As this column’s most celebrated alumnus noted in 2011, politicians of both parties were publishing similar maps about each other. And despite the New York Times’ fondest desires, it turned out Loughner wasn’t a conservative at all but a babbler of nonsense who adopted a mish-mash of views from both the left and the right and whose tastes in literature ran the gamut from Ayn Rand to Karl Marx.

If the Times followed its own unfair standards, it would now be blaming Mr. Sanders, not dredging up long-discredited smears against Mrs. Palin. But correcting the Times’ journalistic flaws can wait. The first priority must be treating the victims on its editorial page.

The Times did Tweet a retraction about its Palin claims:

But of course corrections are never seen as often as the initial cause of the correction.


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