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Tommy Christopher on Palin’s “Big Lie” About Democratic Targeting Maps

John on January 13, 2011 at 12:41 pm

I promise I’ll move on from this topic, but I’ve got at least one more in me. I think it’s pretty important to set the record straight on this. In fact, if I’ve learned anything this week it’s that setting the record straight contemporaneously can make a big difference down the road in ways you could never predict.

So yesterday in the wake of Sarah Palin releasing her video response to the Arizona tragedy, Tommy Christopher decided to focus on the “big lie” that Palin’s map was no different than maps used by Democrats:

To the extent that she did take on her critics, she did so dishonestly, claiming that criticism was centered around “maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle.”

Of course, the difference between Palin’s “crosshair map” and accompanying gun metaphors, and the more common martial terminology that is now being rethought in hindsight, is the very issue upon which criticism of Palin hinges.

No, I’m sorry, but that’s not true. Media criticism has not focused on the difference between Palin’s map and similar Democratic maps, because the networks and major papers have yet to even mention the other maps. With the exception of Fox, none of the networks have shown the Democratic maps on TV or online. How can they discuss “differences” without anything to compare Palin’s map too?

Having started with this false assumption (that the criticism is about the differences), Tommy then faults Palin for not addressing them:

Now, if Palin wanted to defend that action, she could have done so, but she chose to ignore the distinction that her critics, including Gabrielle Giffords, have clearly drawn.

Palin isn’t ignoring anything. The focus of the major media has been on the mere existence of her targeting map. What she tried to do in her speech is alert people to the fact that maps like this are not unusual. It’s precisely because the media hasn’t made a comparison that Palin is forced to mention the other maps here.

As for Gabrielle Giffords reaction in that MSNBC interview, this is really circular reasoning. We have no idea if Rep. Giffords was aware of the DLC or DCCC maps at the time she gave the interview. All we know is that she was echoing the charge being promoted by other liberals at the time that Palin’s map was objectionable. Giffords certainly wasn’t making any comparison to other maps or explaining why Palin’s map was worse than others. She was being a partisan on MSNBC. Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t prove Tommy’s point by any stretch of the imagination.

I’ll give Tommy Christopher credit for this much. He at least went where the networks refused to go and attempted to argue that Palin’s map was qualitatively different from Democratic maps. Here’s his argument:

The use of “targeting” terminology is commonplace in political talk, as Chuck Todd pointed out to Giffords in March, and many conservatives also point to the use of bullseyes in Democratic maps to defend Palin. While this tragedy has people reevaluating their use, Palin’s “crosshair” map is a degree or two worse.

Okay, tell us how:

A bullseye is commonly associated with target practice, and as such, the bullseye itself is the inert, nonliving target. Crosshairs, on the other hand, represent the mechanism by which a target is acquired and killed.

That explanation might work for the DLC map which used colorful bullseyes on targeted states. It does not work for the DCCC map which used clickable bullseyes to bring up photos of “targeted” Republicans.

By Tommy’s logic, the DCCC map is even more offensive than Palin’s because the bullseye literally helps the viewer aquire a target, i.e. a photo of a real person, not just a name in a list. In fact, the DCCC map makes the viewer complicit in act of targeting! Now if that sounds silly to you, it should. It’s nonsense. The DCCC map was a political metaphor, just like Palin’s map, no worse and no better. There is no qualitative difference to be found here.

Perhaps sensing this, Tommy offers a backup argument about why crosshairs are worse than targets:

It is also an image that resonates in popular culture through countless repetitions, in films and television shows, of the assassin’s POV shot. That the intent was to evoke something like a bullseye (only way tougher), and not the spectre of assassination, is an obvious, yet moot, point.

I’ve seen this argument made a bunch of times in my own comments. It’s really absurd in my view. Let’s consider a real example and you’ll see why. There are some bloody sniper battles in Saving Private Ryan that make the very association Tommy is making between crosshairs and killing people. But guess what, there are some far more disturbing scenes in which men wrestle to the death over a knife, i.e. hand to hand combat. So when the President said there would be “hand to hand combat” in Congress is this what we must envision?

The truth is that every martial metaphor ever used in politics has some gritty filmic associations which, if taken for the speaker’s literal meaning, would be horrible to contemplate. We simply don’t do that. We recognize that a metaphor is speech, not violence. At least we do when it’s anyone besides Sarah Palin. The media always seems to judge her by a different, much higher, standard. They have since the first day she appeared on the scene and they continue to do so now.

Again, I give Tommy Christopher credit for at least trying to argue what most of the MSM has chosen to assume sans argument, but his premise about the media’s focus is wrong and his arguments about the differences between Palin’s map and others made by Democrats are exceedingly weak. There has never been any there there.

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