Author’s note: In an earlier version of this story, I erroneously stated that at 3:16pm on Thursday, ABC finally added a line to their coverage acknowledging that "The aide did not provide details concerning the volume of threats, how much have they increased or whether they are being referred to the authorities." In fact, as an eagle-eyed reader pointed out, the link I included led to a CBS story that includes this sentence. In short, CBS repeats the death-threat meme via a USA Today story, but at least has the sense to point out that it’s all hearsay and detail-free–as ABC never does. Finally, this version includes mention of three other outlets that have picked up on ABC’s coverage, again sans evidence or analysis.
ABC’s decision, yesterday, to run a piece titled "Death Threats Against Sarah Palin at ‘Unprecedented Level,’ Aides Say," based on hearsay from Palin’s aides without any corroborating evidence, is irresponsible at best. Worse yet, U.S. News & World Report picked up on the story today—again, without once questioning the information itself or its source. (ditto for the UPI and the Toronto Star, among others).
If Palin is receiving death threats, especially at allegedly "unprecedented levels," all of us should be concerned. But Palin should be calling the police or the FBI, not mere "security experts," as reported. To neglect engaging law enforcement is a disservice to her own safety and the safety of her staff and family. Yet neither Palin’s staff nor the news outlets elaborate on this point, except to admit that the former has not signed off on changing Palin’s security arrangements. The media, however, has clearly been alerted. (Note: at least CBS, when it repeated the death threat meme via a USA Today story this afternoon, added the sentence, "The aide did not provide details concerning the volume of threats, how much have they increased or whether they are being referred to the authorities.")
By repeating the Sarah Palin death-threat meme sans evidence, these major news outlets mislead the public, continue to lower journalistic standards, divert the country from more pressing issues related to the attempted Giffords assassination (gun control, violent rhetoric and its consequences; mental illness) and reward the right-wing bloggers who have been trying nonstop to legitimate this meme, sans evidence, all week long—again, with zero corroborating evidence.
This past week has been one long, painful reminder that bullies always make the biggest whiners when the time comes to own up to the consequences of their actions. So here’s an important distinction for you folks. If people are wishing Palin would die of cancer, as The Daily Caller claims (their "evidence," a YouTube video, has been removed for violating YouTube’s terms of service), that’s pretty sick. If there are people making genuine death threats, you would do us all a real service by providing evidence and urging Palin to involve law enforcement.
But Matt Yglesias (who appears as an example in an earlier baseless inflammatory piece) tweeting, "A reminder that gun imagery and electoral politics don’t mix that well," and attaching an image of Palin’s infamous cross-hairs political map, which includes Giffords’s district, in the hours after news broke of the attempted assassination? That’s not the same thing as calling for people to kill Palin, or even insinuating that they need to keep a gun around to defend themselves from her: it’s a pointed political criticism with which you are free to disagree.
Conflating criticism, even harsh criticism, with genuine calls for violence or elimination is more than merely dishonest and offensive. It’s also (dare I say it in this climate?) dangerous. Why perpetuate the we’re-under-attack-so-let’s-lock-and-load nonsense that’s already done so much harm?