From Reefer Madness to the Hays Code

Pundits go mad looking for Tucson massacre scapegoats.


The left blamed the right. The right blamed the left. Half of Twitter blamed maps with little cross-hairs icons on them. But binary political gamesmanship was only the beginning in the Jared Lee Loughner blame game. Below is a pu-pu platter of outlandish explanations offered for the Tucson massacre in the days immediately following the shooting.

Marijuana. In a FrumForum post headlined "Did Pot Trigger Giffords Shooting?" the conservative pundit David Frum wrote, "The Tucson shooting should remind us why we regulate marijuana." After noting that schizophrenics are more likely to smoke weed and that weed smokers are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, Frum took a bold stand against logic: "Is correlation causation? Increasingly experts seem to be saying: 'Yes.'?" Meanwhile one of Loughner's friends told Mother Jones the gunman had actually stopped smoking pot and drinking in 2008. "After he quit," the friend said, "he was just off the wall."

Video games. Two days after the massacre, New York Times blogger Nate Silver tweeted: "Why aren't we having a debate about violent video games? Loughner was known to be a big gamer." Silver was joined by other commentators, including Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, who wrote on The Huffington Post that "all of us are responsible for supporting violent films and video games, glorifying violence on the screen that only serves to affect our children and our psyches." Silver later clarified that he was "NOT saying we should ban Call of Duty. But LOTS of things—guns, alcohol, rhetoric, video games—are dangerous to a disturbed person."

Repeal of the Hays Code. Morality in Media President Robert Peters lamented the absence of religion in popular culture in a press release inspired by the Tucson shootings. He specifically cited the Motion Picture Association of America's 1968 decision to discard rules that barred portrayals of immoral acts in a positive light. "Along with pointing a finger of blame at misuse of guns," he wrote, "the liberal news media should also point a finger of blame at TV shows, films, rap lyrics and video games that glamorize deadly gun violence and that are popular among young males."

Efforts to repeal the health care bill. The Monday after the shootings, former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) told radio host Don Imus, "Tomorrow they were going to vote to repeal this health care bill—and it's not going to go anywhere in the Senate—it's one of the reasons that this guy was angry and pretty obvious that he is, at least from me, from where I sit that he's mentally ill and deeply troubled."

Demonization of others. U.C.-Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau sent a letter to his student body declaring: "A climate in which demonization of others goes unchallenged and hateful speech is tolerated can lead to such a tragedy. I believe that it is not a coincidence that this calamity has occurred in a state which has legislated discrimination against undocumented persons. This same mean-spirited xenophobia played a major role in the defeat of the DREAM Act by legislators in Washington, leaving many exceptionally talented and deserving young people, including our own undocumented students, painfully in limbo with regard to their futures in this country."

Uncensored speech. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the third-ranking Democrat in Congress, reacted to the shootings by calling for a revival of the fairness doctrine, a constitutionally problematic policy that required balanced treatment of controversial issues on TV and radio. "Free speech is as free speech does," he explained. "You cannot yell 'fire' in a crowded theater and call it free speech, and some of what I hear, and is being called free speech, is worse than that." 

Katherine Mangu-Ward (kmw@reason.com) is a senior editor at reason.